Production Company of the Year 2014: Academy

Quality work from new signings, old hands chipping in and an eye-catching return to form by its star player saw the production company back on top - and all without a Christmas ad in sight.

  • Canon


  • Nike


  • Volvo


  • KFC


  • The Sunday Times

    The Sunday Times

  • England Rugby 2015

    England Rugby 2015

  • SSE


  • Glazer


  • Us


  • Soderlund


  • Si & Ad

    Si & Ad


Academy is such a prominent fixture in the UK ad industry and produces such quality work that it may come as a surprise to learn that it has been 15 years since it last won Production Company of the Year.

Back when the company last picked up the award (in 1999 for its 1998 work), its reel included ads that have since become classics, such as Audi’s "golf club", and its star director, Jonathan Glazer, was collecting gongs for Nike’s "parklife".

Indeed, it is no coincidence that Academy has again won Production Company of the Year at a time when Glazer has been busier than usual.

First, the legendary director shot "risk everything" for Nike ahead of the 2014 Fifa World Cup. The ad brought together the footballers Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney but was a restrained affair that served to build tension for later ads in the campaign.

Glazer’s best work was for Canon and its "come and see" campaign. He filmed urban wildlife for one spot while, for the other, he shot a game of calcio storico – a glorious melee that was reminiscent of "parklife".

And that was it for Glazer. You might think that this level of output hardly merits 2014 being called a busier-than-usual year but, for him, it was. The director also released a feature film, Under The Skin, which has been called a masterpiece – meaning it may be some time before he is this active in advertising again.

Fortunately, Academy is not lacking in depth when it comes to directing talent. In fact, two of its best spots in 2014 came from new signings.

The debut from the directing duo Us (Christopher Barrett and Luke Taylor) displayed some of the finest camera work seen in any commercial this year on "icons" for The Sunday Times. The ad consisted of a single long shot showing two actors recreating scenes from films and artworks, and relied heavily on lighting and camera movement to make it a success.

The spot earned Us, who are not yet into their thirties, a place on Saatchi & Saatchi’s New Directors’ Showcase at Cannes. Speaking about the spot, the Saatchi & Saatchi worldwide film and content director, Andy Gulliman, said: "The level of detail to maximise the scene time for each icon and the way the transition from each one happens is a credit to Us and their directing talent."

Jeff Labbe was another new signing. He has been in the directing game for a while (he previously worked through Sonny in the UK) and joined Academy in June. One of his first tasks was to help KFC with its transition towards more emotional advertising.

Labbe achieved this with a spot called "rodeo", which told the story of a real father-and-son bull-riding team in the US. Labbe’s own experience of riding bulls no doubt helped with the authenticity of the beautifully shot ad.

Academy also hired Molly Manners in 2014. Manners was a creative and director at Channel 4’s in-house agency, 4Creative, and was behind trailers including "shorts" and "mini in Chelsea", which featured children acting out scenes from the TV show Made In Chelsea.

The old hands at Academy were busy too. Si & Ad were behind the thoroughly charming "the apologist" spot for Branston pickle and managed to get entertaining performances out of children for the "back to school" campaign for Marks & Spencer.

Meanwhile, Peter Cattaneo filmed a rousing spot for England Rugby 2015 (in advance of the World Cup next autumn) that featured the Game Of Thrones actor Charles Dance.

Marcus Söderlund proved to be on fine form in the Avis spot "unlock the world" but, in particular, excelled with "the swell" for Volvo. The ad showed a lone surfer about to catch a wave and was put together with such a mastery of visual and audio techniques that you almost feel you have to dry off after watching it.

While "orangutan" for SSE, directed by Frédéric Planchon, contained a message that some said rang false (an energy company using imagery from a rainforest), it was still a fantastic example of mood-setting and CGI technique.

So it is a welcome return for Academy as Campaign’s Production Company of the Year. It is also worth noting that the company has achieved this honour without having a big Christmas ad under its belt.

Given that John Lewis and Sainsbury’s went all out this year to produce spots worthy of Christmas advertising’s new moniker as "the UK’s Super Bowl moment", that is no mean feat.

Recent winners: Rattling Stick (2013); Blink (2012); Blink (2011); Rattling Stick (2010); Partizan (2009)



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