Directors who’s hot who’s not

From the Legends to the Wannabes, Soho is ready to bust with talented directors. Caroline Marshall inspects the market

From the Legends to the Wannabes, Soho is ready to bust with talented

directors. Caroline Marshall inspects the market

Some commercials directors launch like fireworks and burn out fast.

Others, like Tony Kaye, have slow-burning fuses and the capacity to

change our view of the world. Consider that there are 930-odd directors

signed up to about 250-odd production companies in London (about a

quarter of each group are dedicated solely to ads) and you realise that

all members of the directing species need thick skins, persistence, an

ace producer and optimism to rival Pollyanna’s.

Since we published a similar feature just under two years ago, the

commercials market has seen competition intensify, budgets get tighter

and few directors with guaranteed work.

And yet Campaign once received, anonymously, a copy of the accounts of a

production company that showed the owner had personally banked about

pounds 3 million in the previous financial year. But such stories are

rare, and with newcomers to the business far outnumbering the scripts

available, it is obvious that many are destined to be also-rans.

The Advertising Association calculates that the industry spends about

pounds 495 million a year on producing commercials, a sum which Campaign

estimates represents about 5,000 films. Given that only a fraction of

the production companies dedicated to making ads can guarantee a

continuous stream of work for their directors, the industry can be

divided into a number of ‘species’ defined by talent, experience and


The most exclusive group of the directing species is the Legends: film-

makers whose fame dates from the 70s and who now shoot commercials only

when on leave from Hollywood or pet projects.

This group encompasses the likes of Tony and Ridley Scott and Alan

Parker; Parker’s last commercials were three Commitments-inspired spots

for Murphy’s through Bartle Bogle Hegarty. He is now working on Evita

and will be tied up in post-production until 1997.

A second select crew runs the Legends close. Averaging about two

commercials a year, these top-flight features directors include Mike

Newell, Mike Figgis, Jon Amiel, Richard Loncraine and Mike Leigh, who

won the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival with his latest release,

Secrets and Lies.

At Leigh’s production company, Cowboy Films, Lisa Bryer, the managing

director, says that these features stars have one thing in common: they

are brilliant with performers. She says: ‘When commercials are not all

style over content, it is extremely important to be able to direct

talent. The look and the feel comes from the lighting cameraman and the

art director, but the performance can only come from the director.’

Newell, who followed his hit, Four Weddings and a Funeral, with

commercials for Yardley’s and Nescafe, has just finished his latest film

and is now back in London looking at commercials scripts. Richard

Loncraine, who has worked through James Garrett for 30 years, released

Richard III this year and shot ads for Renault’s Megane and Laguna, plus

some BT Bob Hoskins spots.

The truly maverick talent, Tony Kaye, who directs for pounds 10,000 a

day, is still out on his own. His combination of high craft and art-

house style brought him multiple honours (and the only gold) for Volvo’s

‘twister’ at this year’s D&AD. The last year has seen Kaye

characteristically busy, with his Reebok celebrity extravaganza and the

black-and-white films, ‘old man’ and ‘bicycle’, for Guinness, through

Ogilvy and Mather.

A fourth clutch of directors is the Establishment. These elder statesmen

command between pounds 8,000 and pounds 10,000 a day - a hefty price tag

reflecting that they have been working at the top of the commercials

world for a decade or more.

Establishment directors include Paul Weiland, Graham Rose, David Garfath

and John Lloyd. Garfath’s film for the Queen Elizabeth Fund for Disabled

People, for Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, was considered the best work at

Cannes last year, where it received a special award - not the Grand

Prix, but only because of its charity status.

From Establishment to Stars, where the talent is typically (though not

always) younger. Importantly for agencies, Stars are cheaper. They work

for a daily rate of between pounds 6,000 and pounds 8,000.

Three names have graduated to this category from our Crossovers section

of 1994: Frank Budgen of Paul Weiland, Paul Arden of Arden Sutherland-

Dodd and Jeff Stark of Stark Films.

Budgen, one of London’s most prolific directors, has notched up numerous

spots recently, including the Holsten Pils ‘asshole’ spot and the

Capital 95.8 ‘static’ ad, both for GGT. Add to this VW’s spoof sci-fi

documentary through BMP DDB, McCann-Erickson’s ‘feeling is everything’

for Durex, and BBH’s ‘yuppie’ for the Audi A4 and you have an idea of

the Budgen effect.

Another Star director to watch is Tarsem, who left Spots in May for the

new UK office of the US production company, Tarsem’s

recent credits include Wieden and Kennedy’s ‘forces of darkness’ for

Nike and BBH’s ‘washroom’ for Levi’s.

Nipping at the Stars’ ankles is a unique species - the pounds 3,500- to

pounds 5,000-a-day directors who have switched from being agency

creatives. These Crossovers have direct experience with clients that

breeds a very specific approach that the idea of an ad is as important

as its look. These include Mark Williams, Mark Denton, Graham Fink and

Trevor Robinson, of Tango fame.

The Crossovers could have included Chris Palmer, who was in the category

last time with Mark Denton, under their joint alias, Bert Sprote. Bert

Sprote was the Redwing directing partnership that produced the sensual

Haagen-Dazs heat-sensitive ad though BBH. But the workaholic Palmer, now

out on his own as Gorgeous Enterprises, has crept up a category into


This is the place for the pounds 5,000-a-day film-makers with unique

edge who are building their reels and their reputations fast. Palmer’s

elevation is thanks to his ‘walker’ spot for Golden Wonder through O&M,

as well as films for Birds Custard, Budweiser, Carling Black Label,

Cadbury, NatWest and others.

Palmer is joined in the Hotshots category by the Douglas Brothers, who

are moving into commercials from photography; by Andy Morahan of Guess

jeans ‘cheat’ fame; and by Danny Kleinman - the star Limelight director

whose recent credits include ‘Ron’ for BMP DDB and the National Dairy

Council, the title sequence for the Bond movie, GoldenEye, plus imminent

spots for John Smith’s through GGT and Boddingtons through BBH.

Laura Gregory, who produces for Andy Morahan at Great Guns, says of the

Hotshots: ‘These names would never be up for the same job, they each

have a distinguishing style that’s their own. But, if they were to

compete, Andy would be my favourite.’

Next comes a prolific group of directors, the Workhorses, who often

command more than the Hotshots in daily fees, but whose work for high-

profile household names is seldom awarded or lauded by their peers. This

breed includes the likes of Ross Cramer, the veteran commercials

director who left Rose Hackney Barber last year for Will Van der Vlught

and has recently made his mark for casting and directing every ‘Harry’

Safeway spot.

From the Legends, who command up to pounds 15,000 in daily fees, to the

Workhorses, who make a good living from shooting slick commercials for

household names, these groups dominate the production industry. But

still more film-makers, the Wannabes, are anxious to join the fray.

Here is a fit-to-burst bunch that runs from features directors such as

Larry Clark, the director of Kids, who has just signed up for

commercials, to the television sitcom star, Martin Clunes, and includes

new-generation talents such as Anand Tucker and Tom Connolly, both of

whom are accomplished documentary film-makers.

Sara Cummins, a producer at Sloggett Films, where Tom Connolly directs,

says: ‘There are so many Wannabes out there - some of whom have genuine

talent, vision, craft and technical ability. They will definitely endure

any fads to become stars if they are well sold and supported. However,

there is a huge number of trendy directors whose existence as such is

justified by their ability to fulfil, albeit in a unique way, merely one

or two of the criteria needed to be termed a true craftsman.’

The sheer number of Wannabes is the single biggest factor governing the

commercials production market. That, coupled with the fact that top US

directors like Peter Smilie are increasingly keen to work for UK

agencies, where they find the best scripts, is set to make Soho more

competitive than ever.