Just how does one become a director? Apparently, there are more than 1,500 "commercials directors" in London, so why would anyone want to join a massively competitive market?
I suppose you should ask some.
Many years ago, I used to work at a design agency as a directors' representative.
This was my introduction to the design world and, to be honest, the whole thing fascinated me. Graphic designers, especially. Their incredible, almost fanatical attention to detail was unbelievable at times. Many a time I would wander in around 10am to find them sleeping under their desks with empty pizza boxes and crushed cans of Red Bull scattered about the place. I had a great time there, but missed production so I joined The Mob.
I had a call a year later from one of the aforementioned graphic designers.
Michael Williams has a First in graphic design so, as I'm sure you can imagine, his attention to detail is close to scientific. We had a coffee and he told me he had done some live-action projects since we last met - an inflight film for British Airways in Australia and a music video for a band called Recoil. He was looking to make the giant leap of leaving his well-paid job as a creative director at a very successful design agency to try his luck as a full-time commercials director. (I never asked him why!)
Michael was 27 at the time and looked 23. My business partners trust my judgment and so he joined The Mob. The first thing was to cut down the BA film to a 60-second ad and make a cutdown of the promo.
In my opinion, any production company that commits to a young director must be prepared to invest financially and emotionally. You never know what you may be taking on; a good way of seeing if they can cut the mustard is to make a test film with a good agency.
We have a great relationship with TBWA\London. A very good friend of mine was a producer there, so I sent the reel to her, she looked at it and forwarded it to some teams she thought might be suitable.
We looked at about 30 scripts. Some good, some bad and some very ugly.
A script arrived on my desk from Pat Burns and Gavin McGrath. Sony PlayStation was the product. It was perfect. Both the agency and The Mob treated this as a paid job. There is always the chance that a client may pick it up and put it on air. This happened to one of the directors at The Mob, Morgan Hutchins, with some Kit-Kat tests he made, and I think this is vital in getting the director used to the whole process. Even the client got involved.
If the agency is completely behind the project, and you have a strong and experienced agency producer, they'll be able to organise the post- after Avid and keep the creative's schedule free for any meetings, sessions and so on.
We shot the test and it turned out well - everyone was happy, including the client. However, some excuse was given for why it shouldn't air. But we had committed to the project, the agency kept its side of the bargain and Michael had a strong piece on his reel.
All directors, young and old (sorry, more experienced) get a little nervous when things go quiet. There was nothing for a while after the Sony job.
When someone tells you they want a quiet word, alarm bells ring. Nothing had happened for a couple of months and Michael was feeling a bit fed up. The answer is to remain positive and encouraging. After all, if directors are quiet, so is the company. It's the same with the young guys, but they tend to take it more personally. It's not until they do a good few pitches that they start to get a thicker skin.
One piece of advice I will give - if I may be so bold - is that directors should always respect the production department and have a strong and experienced producer looking after them for the first couple of years.
If they get their way with a young producer, this always ends in tears.
All the directors within The Mob are made aware of any budgeting issues.
Young directors often have difficulties with crew, especially cameramen, but they need to develop strong relationships so it is important to have a regular crew for your directors. The obvious reason for this becomes clear when they need tests or favours. If a director insists on using a different crew for every job, you just don't get the consistency that young directors need.
So how is Michael doing, and did we succeed in nurturing and developing a good young director? Well, yes we did. Michael has been working consistently on jobs for some great agencies and clients. These include Seat, Thomas Cook and LG Mobile Phones. We have shot in Manchester, Mozambique, Miami - lots of wonderful places.
After making commercials with Thierry Henry and then Rio Ferdinand for The Sun, he made his first venture into TV with a documentary called What Rio Did?, which was all about what the footballer got up to during his ban. Michael seems to have become the football director of the moment, which is great timing for the next year's World Cup in Germany. We have just shot a campaign featuring some of the best players in the world for a snack brand.
So, if you believe in your directors, stick with them, be tough when you need to be and lend them a few quid when they're skint. Developing young talent is a great responsibility and, if you are completely committed, you sign up for the long haul. It worked for me, and everyone at The Mob is immensely proud of our young talent.
My advice to young creatives would be to give young directors a chance - after all, someone gave you one. If you have a good agency producer, they will be able to spot trouble a mile off. Just because a director hasn't got exactly what you want on his reel, don't worry. If you like what you see, get them in anyway - it's good experience even if they don't get it. If you go with a safe pair of hands, you get a safe commercial.
Of course, sometimes you may need just that. But, when you can, give the new generation a fighting chance.
- John Brocklehurst is the managing director of The Mob Film Company.