How do you eulogise someone who’s still supposed to be here?
How do you distil the life and career of such an enormous creative talent and humanist into a tidy, 1,000-word article?
The world has been without Ringan Ledwidge for less than three weeks and the vacuum he has left is incomprehensible.
But then again, that word aptly describes so much about the director.
Everything about Ringan was incomprehensible. How could a man so talented be that handsome? How could a man that handsome be that kind and generous of spirit?
He was relentlessly curious. Endlessly patient. He treated every interaction with each person he spoke to as if it were the most important exchange happening in the world at that very moment. When you had him, he gave everything of himself to you. There was no B+ grade Ringan experience.
Ringan Ledwidge was an A+ director with a flawless track record. Which is why, paradoxically, my favourite way to talk about him and his canon is in the context of his uncelebrated efforts. Because even the work that didn’t make it on to the force-ranked top 10 Ringan spots of all time were stellar achievements in filmmaking. “Minor Ringan” was still major.
Ringan had a knack for making bite-sized pieces of film that contained more emotion, intrigue, warmth and visual panache than most features. But the measure of any director’s worth is not by how great their most celebrated work is, it’s the pieces forgotten by time. The experiments. The personal favourites. The “misfires” that demand reappraisal because the world wasn’t ready. Ringan had a career full of hidden gems. His cast-offs would be hero pieces on any other shooter’s reel. Often these hidden gems remained outliers because it wasn’t the work the world wanted from him. And so if he made something silly or disposable or outright strange, it was set to one side. Hovis and Axe and The Guardian and Audi delivered the emotional highs that he was famed for but he loved the weird ones just as much.
Three of my favourites are Drench “Brains”, Sneak “Exploding teenager” and Cadbury “Zingolo” (see below). These pieces that seemed the least “Ringan” were, in a way, the most emblematic of who he was. They encapsulated his contrarian spirit. He loved flying the plane towards the cliff face, only to pull up at the last second. And he’d always succeed. Not just because he trusted his gut, because he was curious enough to want to understand why his gut was telling him to do something. He was a theoretician. He liked to break down the science of why his body compelled him to make a decision. To fight for an aesthetic choice.
Ultimately, he’d always return to the crowd-pleasers, not because he sought adulation but because he loved pleasing crowds. He loved making people happy. There was a kindness to Ringan that is rare to find in most humans. He wanted the best for everyone – he treated every stranger on the street as an equal. He was good down to his bones. And he identified the good in others and made them better.
He made me better too. I shot three films with Ringan. “Ivan Cobenk” for Logitech, “Three little pigs” for The Guardian, and “Nutcracker” for Baileys. They were all wildly different pieces – not at all straightforward and unlike anything he’d made before. But in each case he remained confident and undeterred. His attitude was always “let’s figure this out together”. That was the great thing about his vision. He had no house style but you always knew when a film was his. He was a master of expansion and reduction. He had the ability to take small moments, simple stories and bestow them with outsized importance. He was also able to take big, unwieldy scripts – massive SFX jobs – and find the humanity in the bloat. I regret that I wasn’t able to work with him more. We had several near-misses. Even a feature-length project that never got off the ground. I’ll always mourn for what we didn’t make because the “doing” was such a joy. It was conspiratorial. Playful. Like we were getting away with something. I’ll miss him dearly.
The last time I saw Ringan was at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. We met for coffee and talked about the film he was developing. The very one he was in pre-production on when he took ill again. Then we brainstormed how to get my parking validated in spite of not paying for museum admission. One last conspiratorial act. This wasn’t supposed to be the end.
When the heart opens up and you share a part of yourself with another person, and they afford you the same in return, you enter into a bond in good faith never considering the end. It’s why the older we get, the more tentative we are about making new friends. Because you develop an understanding of how much your time and emotional energy is worth. Now I’m left with a collection of random memories assembled in a non-linear fashion, representing our friendship – and so much more to give. I believe you never fall out of love with anyone. You just learn to live without them. It’s a hard lesson that none of us who held Ringan dear is looking forward to.
David Kolbusz is chief creative officer at Droga5 London
This 90-second epic saw the marionette aerospace engineer from Thunderbirds vamp around a modest set to Rhythm is a Dancer. The concept was dumb as shit but treated with a simplicity and sincerity that hooked you from the first frame.
Sneak “Exploding teenager”
Made for celebrity rag Sneak, this film followed a schoolgirl on her journey through campus in a desperate attempt to find someone to gossip with. Unable to compel any of her peer circle to listen and incapable of keeping all the titbits of information inside, she explodes with pink goo going everywhere. It’s a gorgeous film, shot like a thriller. And while the subject matter seems trite, I love that he elevated the inner workings of the teenage mind.
This was an ad for the chocolate brand’s fair trade credentials. It featured a giant, floating cocoa head spinning and weaving through a village, as locals danced and cheered him on. It was impossible to categorise and I return to it more than I do most of his work. I’m still trying to figure out why it’s so great.