Where directors should draw the line
A view from Sara Dunlop

Where directors should draw the line

With more pressure from clients to deliver targeted results, agencies are up against it. So where does that leave directors?

"Directors require a level of confidence that can border on the delusional. You have to push it right up to the edge of arrogance, but never cross the line." This is a quote from a director recently relieved of his duties on the next Star Wars instalment.

From reports online, it sounds like his behaviour very much did cross the line. 

Recently, a young director called Eve Mahoney sent me an email. This was its opening line: "Directing is fucking hard work. OMG. How do you do it? I swear to God, I want to be nice to everyone, but you simply can’t... everyone tries to fucking direct for you if you do. Right nightmare. But they’re not getting rid of me that quick."

That’s the spirit, Eve! 

And this got me to thinking, how much is it the duty of the director to toe the line versus cross the line? I started directing at a time where stories of out-of-control directors were rife: stealing rushes, walking off shoots, completely disregarding the brief. And most of these stories were about the unforgettable ads, so go figure.  

But with more and more pressure from clients to deliver targeted results, agencies are up against it. So where does that leave directors now?

I believe we shouldn’t bow to any pressure. We come into the process, free from the baggage of getting the script across the line (thank you, agency), and I’m sure most of us don’t take this lightly. After all, it’s a privileged position to be in. 

We’re fresh blood, full of crazy ideas, unaware of the politics. (Or, if you’re me, still a little unsure of how agencies even work.) You’ve come up with a strong idea, done all the strategic thinking, and all I want to do is make sure you get a great film. 

With that, come a clear vision and a focus on the process of how to do it. One vision, preferably. Not 100 visions. 

One hundred visions water down the end result. One hundred visions create confusion and an unfocused final result.  

"One vision," she cried. 

See, I’ve crossed that fine line already and I’m in danger of sounding like a "difficult" director, so I’ll shut up now and leave the advice to a couple of friends from the other side. 

The first comes from Oli Beale, executive creative director at Anomaly London: "If the ad turns out great, then all the pain along the way is forgotten. I always call mates in the industry that have worked with a director before picking them. I sometimes hear things like ‘they are really difficult to work with, but it’ll be worth it in the end’. That’s enough for me, as I just want the best ad. 

"There is a line, though. There are a couple of people I would never work with again, because they are just massive cunts, although they would say the same about me, so it’s not really much of a choice."  

And the second piece of advice is from Kit Dayaram, creative director at Wieden & Kennedy: "The best directors always add another dimension to a script, like having a third leg that makes you run faster. If that third leg starts running in a different direction, it becomes a penis. No-one wants to work with  a penis."

Any penis directors out there, you have another possible career, and, thanks guys, at least there is gender equality in your insults (if not in the industry yet… yawn).

But I’d like to add that it is possible to be a good director without gaining a reputation for being a penis or a massive cunt. We can do what we do with charm, a collaborative spirit and a belief that everyone working together will make the best piece of work possible.   

So, to agencies, I say, let us help you. Throw us in front of your client; let us say all the things that no-one else will. If your client looks happy, take the credit. If they don’t, just shake your heads behind our backs. We won’t be offended. Just let us try, it might make the difference between a good ad and a great ad. 

Sara Dunlop is a film director at Rattling Stick.