Framestore: When Roger met Danny

The directors Roger Woodburn and Danny Kleinman got together to chat about their careers in commercials.

Roger Woodburn was the first client through the doors at Framestore CFC, closely followed by Danny Kleinman. The two directors sat down to discuss the changes they've witnessed in the years since - both behind the camera, on location and in the post-production suite.

Roger Woodburn: When I started, you'd do anything to do it in camera. Special effects were the poor relation - something that solved little problems in the story. Nowadays, it's 90 per cent of the idea sometimes, isn't it?

Danny Kleinman: I've always thought good ads are based on good ideas and never based solely on good special effects. You can have a brilliant special effect and a bad idea and it'll still be bad. But if it's a brilliant idea and a poor effect, people will still like it. The mix made in heaven is a brilliant idea and a brilliant special effect. I don't think that using special effects is anything to do with a lack of ideas, but they should enhance and illustrate an idea well. The only way they shouldn't be used is gratuitously, for the sake of the effect.

RW: There was a changing point in my career when an agency asked if they could come round and talk to me about a script. We sat down for the meeting and he said: "OK, Roger, what tricks have you got?" It was a moment of revelation to me that instead of being handed a really good idea, he just wanted to know if I had a box of tricks that he could hang a product on.

DK: Like you, I started when you edited the actual film print. You'd look through the Moviola and see all the Chinagraph marks and the bits of Sellotape. Unfortunately, at the time, some of my films looked better with all the Chinagraph marks on them.

RW: Yes. You'd show clients this stuff with the colour all over the place, there was Sellotape, footprints, jams ... and they used to give it approval.

Now when you show clients a cut and there's a bit of sparkle on one of the shots, the whole presentation grinds to a halt. Maybe it's the fact that it's their budget they're spending and not the production company's.

DK: That's not always the case - sometimes the production company does deal with the post. It could seem more expensive for the agency because the production company will make a small mark-up on the post, but it can be more cost-effective because they are more au fait with how things work and can do things quicker and more efficiently. I tend to see it through either way, because I want it to be good in the end.

RW: How has the process changed for you?

DK: In the past, you'd sit with an editor and he'd not only cut the film but also do all the special effects and all the sound. Now, each element is created in a different place. You've got one guy who makes CGI models, another who animates it, another who composites it. There's no way that you can be completely on top of all the different disciplines. And, from a director's point of view, I don't think you need to be.

RW: But don't you think the important thing is to suss out the creatives at the agency, because if they're frustrated directors, they really want to be directing. They've brought it to you because they need somebody to give it clout, but what they really want to do is to play. You can find yourself being taken on a huge ride by two creatives who want to make all the mistakes that you made 20 years ago.

DK: Or you could get an early Chris Palmer or Frank Budgen, who make you look good.

RW: I worked with some American creatives and they gave me a hard time up until the morning of the shoot - they wanted to know how every penny was going to be spent and where everything was going to be on the set.

The moment I started shooting they sat in the corner and read the paper.

They looked at it from time to time on a monitor, but from that moment it was mine. The difference, compared with a British agency, where I would have had creatives on my back all the time, was stark.

DK: What's the most memorable shoot you've done?

RW: I noticed something when I looked at my showreel recently. I looked at the films that had been most successful in terms of winning awards or regarded as being good; they were the films that were the happiest shoots - the shoots where I had the least aggravation and politics to deal with.

Carling Black Label "dambusters" was a wonderful shoot because we didn't have a deadline; we shot bits as we went along. I did a rough cut, looked at what was missing and shot another shot of the aeroplane. There was nobody from the agency there when I shot that - they were all too worried about losing their jobs. Have you had any like that?

DK: I think the most stretching shoot I've done was for Johnnie Walker "fish". It was a crew on a flat raft that was lashed to a tug in the middle of the ocean filming a load of special-effects guys dragging people through the water. I couldn't get on the raft - I had to be on the tug - and the two things were going along, bashing into each other, with the grips hanging off the jackknifing luma crane, and William (Bartlett, Framestore CFC) was going: "I think you could be about two degrees lower on that shot." The stunt people said we ought to invent it as an extreme sport as they really enjoyed it.

RW: In the days when we did it in camera the crew were very integrated; they could see what was happening and you got a lot of feedback and great ideas from them.

DK: And if it's good, it's your idea ...

RW: But the with the video revolution you tend to shoot these unrelated bits. You hope you know you can put the pieces together in post; but the crew are sitting down or doing time-sheets. It's hard to keep the energy going and there's less fun on the set.

DK: I've got a technique here: If there's any shot that's exciting, like a girl with no clothes on, you leave that to the end. They'll keep going to get to that bit quicker.

But have you got a favourite commercial you've done?

RW: For me, "dambusters", because it was very successful. There are sentimental things. I did a film for Dolly Mixture years and years ago - real 70s crap, but it was the first thing I got an award for. I've only started looking back in my dotage. I had a round-up of tapes and put them on DVD.

Some of it is awful, but every now and again there's something you think: "Oh, that really wasn't bad."

DK: The way I learned how to be a director was through doing music videos in the early 80s when you were still allowed to come up with wacky concepts and the record companies didn't really have a great knowledge of film, so you had great freedom. I used that time to learn and experiment and quite a lot of that stuff was crap, actually - some really deeply embarrassing music videos that I haven't looked at since. I doomed the musical careers of several 80s bands in America, although, on reflection, I was probably doing a public service. Everybody comes a cropper now and again, but if you don't chance your arm, you're never going to do anything innovative.

RW: And that gets you away from that danger of being the type of director who has a style that gets associated with an era and you get locked into it. You've got to take a few risks and make some turkeys. One of the jobs that I loved doing was two films with no cuts - just one take. They were among the most difficult films I ever shot. It was a one-day shoot and 90 per cent of it was rehearsing.

DK: You have to have a go at doing the one-shot thing, even Hitchcock did it. But I think it's a sort of pointless exercise - it's saying: "I'm clever and I can do it without any cuts." It's not true to the way you look at the world.

RW: I totally disagree. First of all you have to make it fit 30 seconds - and I kept coming in three frames over. But with no camera moves, it's all about performance. It's the opposite of saying: "Aren't I being clever?" It's about acting.

DK: Having said that, one of my more successful ads was one shot - John West Salmon "bear". Forget I said that.

RW: What's the strangest thing you've had to have removed from a shot?

DK: I spent quite a long time on a Harry once removing a dog's penis. It's weird - you're allowed to look like a dick, but you're not allowed to show one in an ad.

RW: My strangest was a horse's. It was an ad for Lloyds and the only way we could get the stallion to rear up was to show him a mare in season. He got very excited.

Is there an improvement you'd like to make to the production process?

DK: One of the good things about directing commercials is that it's never the same - it's always a different challenge and we're always trying to improve the production process. But an espresso ma- chine in the edit suite might help.

RW: One of the things that annoys me about shooting now is agencies telling me which post-production company to use. That gets me really angry - it's rather like them telling me which cameraman to use because they've done a deal with him on a golf-course somewhere. You should be able to choose which facility you want.

What's the most memorable wrap party you've had?

DK: Not memorable for me - I didn't find out about it until afterwards, but we did a big shoot in New Orleans. I took a lot of people out there. It was the first time it had been a full moon on Halloween for 25 years and they all went bonkers - I didn't find out about this until afterwards, but my producer had spent all night getting half the crew out of jail. People were arrested; some couldn't get out of the country.

RW: End-of-picture parties terrify me - we're always being sued by some hotel because there are two doors missing from a room. There was one I did in the Alps - it was a disastrous shoot; the helicopter broke down, we had unbelievable trouble with customs and excise. Both I and the cameraman knew the job was going to be a disaster; half the crew were sick and I ended up with a clapper loader trying to do the focusing and he didn't close the camera door properly.

We had this huge party - people were tearing the hotel apart - and I and the cameraman knew that we had to get back to London and try to make a film out of this rubbish.

DK: It's all changed now: insurance won't let you give people alcohol on the set.

RW: And that's where we differ with France - by law, in France, you have give people wine with lunch.

Is there a job you'd like to have done that you didn't get?

DK: Sony PlayStation "mountain" was down to me and Frank (Budgen, Gorgeous) at the wire, and they gave it to Frank. I would have liked to have had a crack at that. But he did a very good job on it, so I don't mind particularly. And also, this year, they gave it to me.

RW: I can't think of any. I've lost lots of work, but once it's gone, it's gone. When I was starting out, I used to get angry with agencies leading me along. As you get more experienced, you know it's never on until you're shooting.

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