Close-Up: Live Issue - Do creatives make good directors?

Does life in an ad agency prepare a creative director for a career behind the lens, Noel Bussey asks.

It's understandable that creatives sometimes feel frustrated that they are forced to hand over control of a commercial to a director for its completion.

On occasions, some actually make the move to the other side of the business and last week, the former WCRS joint executive creative director Leslie Ali, decided to make the leap into directing by moving to Partizan.

While such a move may go some way to assuage their frustrations, it also begs the question of whether agency creatives actually make good directors.

Predictably enough, both Partizan and Ali claim to be "excited" about her move, but Ali would not commit to whether she thought her background will help her in her new job. "Give me two years and I might be able to tell you," she says.

However, anecdotal evidence suggests creatives can bring a certain insight to the role, although there are examples where it has gone wrong. Some claim that those creatives who move into directing for purely personal vanity reasons find there is a long way to fall if they are not up to the job.

Among those who have tried is Mark Wnek, who has just taken on the role of chairman and chief creative officer at Lowe New York. His attempt at commercials directing, including a spot for Cirio pasta sauce in 2002, went largely unnoticed.

However, Frank Budgen, Tom Carty and Chris Palmer are mentioned regularly as those former ad creatives who have successfully made the transition.

"They are great directors because they were great creatives," Malcolm Poynton, the creative director at Ogilvy & Mather, says. "They have good advertising brains, know the politics of the business, have a clear purpose, fantastic creative flair and know how to sell the product. The good directors tend to be those people who are the most passionate about advertising."

There are a wealth of reasons why an advertising creative makes the decision to move into a directing role. Gaining greater creative control is obviously high on the agenda (as is the opportunity to earn better money). And undoubtedly, the glamour of being a director also features as a factor. Career progression, however, is not generally seen as a major motivation.

"I would say it's more of a lifestyle choice because these people are already successful and don't need to drive their careers any further," Poynton says. "When working on the agency side, the work is very notional, philosophical and theoretical, whereas with directing, it's the practical side that excites them. Actually bringing the idea to life is what draws them in. I think they find that liberating."

Lizie Gower, a producer at Academy Films, adds: "Presumably, control is a massive factor as well and fewer politics, or certainly different politics. And, hopefully, more money - I think that becomes very important as well."

Directors from different backgrounds have different styles but former creatives can successfully meld numerous styles together.

"Ex-TV directors are generally good at comedy and bringing the humour out of a script," Russell Ramsey, the deputy executive creative director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, says. "Promo directors know how to enthuse class and style into an ad, while a creative can confidently do both."

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"Undoubtedly, yes. An agency background gives directors a knowledge of the politics and protocols that go with a shoot, something that directors like me, who came into the business through a different route, have to learn along the way.

"They also know that a set is a democracy, whereas I like to think that it's a democracy where everyone does what I say.

"However, there are obviously a few creatives-turned-directors that don't make the grade. One of the major pitfalls is that some creatives feel like they are browbeaten in their agency, so once they get started directing, it can be a case of them trying to get their own back."


"Creatives don't necessarily make good directors. But of course there are many exceptions. There are some who have a vision that goes beyond the written word and they are able to extend that into film. And, of course, they understand advertising.

"Over the years, we have seen some of our most celebrated and talented directors come from advertising agencies, but sadly for every familiar name, there are a stack that never made it.

"The choice of the production company and producer are so important, although obviously I would say that, but I believe that nurturing and guidance are paramount for a new director."


"Lots of creatives think they can direct but most will be pretty ordinary. There is only a small group who have made a successful transition.

I don't think creatives have got the magic that we as creative directors are looking for from directors.

"I wouldn't be wary of choosing an ex-creative as a director but sometimes a production company picks an ex-creative because they have a better understanding of the overall industry. However, this is not a motivating factor in my view."


"It is difficult to make a sweeping generalisation on this subject.

Success as a director really depends on the person behind the camera and their creative flair, not necessarily where their experience lies. It is a help to have an in-depth knowledge of advertising, but this can be picked up in many different places, not just in an agency.

"Of course there are some fantastic directors that have come from advertising backgrounds who have created brilliant work and influenced a whole generation of new directors, but there have also been some really bad ones.

"However, I do think that agency creatives will always be drawn to directing because of the passion they have for advertising."