An excited Bob Isherwood is over from New York on a flying visit to Charlotte Street. He rushes into the meeting room and sits himself down. "This lot," the worldwide creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi enthuses, gesturing for the video to be played, "is the best yet."
Isherwood and his peers on Saatchis' worldwide creative board have spent the past few months scouring the network for the hottest new directing talent they can find. The best were put on a reel and will be shown to an audience of thousands at the Grand Palais in Cannes today (22 June).
Of course, not all of you are lucky enough to be strutting your stuff on La Croisette this afternoon, so a select few of Saatchis' young guns feature on these pages. So what makes this year's crop - the 16th Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors' Showcase - so special?
For Isherwood, it is the variety. Among the latest crop of films is a moving allegory involving a sleep-deprived badger and a race between two German airline pilots. "It might not be the best reel we've seen, but the talent pool is the strongest, and broadest, yet. Our directors have come from very unexpected walks of life," he says.
A mathematician, an architect, a linguist and a qualified barrister find themselves on Saatchis' reel this year. "They are discovering or living out their dreams," Isherwood says. "Look at Jamie Rafn. He went to Oxford, studied law, took his exams, qualified, and then chucked it all in to start making films."
"It takes balls, doesn't it?" he adds. "Film-making is so haphazard. There is no structure to it. You either make it or you don't, and you have to live with the knocks. You need thick skin as well as bundles of talent and a good eye for a story."
And yet making films, ads in particular, is increasingly exclusive. "There aren't many interesting scripts around for new talent because the established directors are hogging them by lowering their prices," Isherwood complains.
This is not helped by problems on the agency side, Stephen Gash, the producer at QI Commercials, argues. "Advertising agencies are being squeezed from all ends and there are not many agencies big enough or bold enough to put their shrinking production budget in the hands of an unknown quantity."
This, Isherwood says, has led to new directors finding other outlets: pop promos or short films they are writing themselves. And websites such as YouTube and Google Video, which allow anyone anywhere to upload three-minute videos, give directors another way to find an audience. "Perhaps we should look at pulling talent from the web next year," he muses.
But more outlets do not necessarily mean more opportunities. There are 1,500 listed commercials directors in the UK. But, Steve Davies, the chief executive of the Advertising Producers Association, says, the vast majority do not have regular work. And of those who do, only a handful are front of mind in agency TV departments.
So how can new directors get a foot in the door? One way is to specialise. Stephen Mead was a director at Academy who made a name for himself directing hair and beauty commercials. In September last year, he launched his own production company, Short Films, with the producer Holly Hartley, and has a reel that reads like a who's who of beauty brands (Max Factor, Wella, Pantene, Clairol and a certain L'Oreal commercial starring the former footballer David Ginola).
"I started out doing different kinds of work, but I found that unless you were best in a certain field, you would not get the best jobs, so I consciously chose to do the beauty thing," Mead says. "Yes, beauty scripts can be mind-numbingly basic and lack a genuine idea, but there is a skill to doing them well. We try to give them a sense of person, place and reality."
It is rare, however, for production companies to specialise. This, Gash says, is because "there's a temptation for production companies to look at the market as a dartboard. They will think 'we've got a director who's good at shooting cars, but we need someone who can do comedy'. So you wind up with a roster that is a photo-fit of the advertising categories."
The reality, of course, is that the best directors can turn any script into a decent ad, which is why the same names crop up time and time again at awards ceremonies. "The top two directors in the UK at the moment are Frank Budgen and Danny Kleinman," Richard Myers, Saatchi & Saatchi's creative director (ideas, company, culture) and a member of the worldwide creative board, says. "Both will always find a way to shoot something and make it outstanding, whatever the script - and they must have tackled some turkeys in their time."
"The great directors are naturally curious, slightly obsessive and constantly looking for a different approach to their art," Myers concludes.
JAMIE RAFN - UK
She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not (below) is a short film about the swings and roundabouts of a relationship between two young lovers. With its witty story-telling and canny observations, it doesn't look like the work of a rookie with no formal training, Isherwood observes. Born in Spain to British and Danish parents, Rafn spent his early years travelling the world with his family. He completed his education at Oxford, where he graduated with a Law degree and then qualified as a barrister. But he decided law wasn't for him and set out to fulfil his life-long ambition and become a film-maker.
Production company: HLA (London)
NAGI NODA - JAPAN
Noda's name may already be familiar. So might the fairytale feel of her video "sentimental journey" for the Japanese pop queen Yuki. Noda directed Mother's "what goes around" spot for Coke (above), and "sentimental journey" was its inspiration. It is the story of a girl's emotional life. Each change in emotion is played by one of 100 or so body doubles frozen into a slightly different position from the one in front. The film is made from a single shot. "We talk about sound enhancing images. This is definitely a case of a song made more attractive by the visuals," Myers says. "It's 'cog'-esque in its attention to detail. Clever Mother for spotting it."
Production company: Partizan (London)
DAGEN MERRILL - US
Merrill made an early start in film-making - his first job was working pyrotechnics in the jungles of Western Samoa, aged 13. Still only 27, he is now regarded as one of the hottest young directors the other side of the Atlantic. Already an Honorary Fellow of the American Film Institute, Merrill broke into the limelight with the short film Accomplice (left). This is a story that hints at the events leading up to the assassination of JFK, which was a finalist in the Sundance Project Greenlight competition for young directors. The film was pieced together using completely nonsensical dialogue written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.
Production company: Accomplice (LA)
MIKE LONG - US
Beatbox Family (above) is, surprisingly, Long's first outing behind the camera. But with ten years' experience as an art director under his belt, he knows a thing or two about making an ad. After graduating in Graphic Design, Fine Art and Photography at the Ringling School of Art and Design in Florida, Long spent the next decade in agencies all over the world, from New York and Chicago to Warsaw and London (including, coincidentally, a spell at Saatchi & Saatchi). His debut is an interesting spot for MTV. A young man arrives at his new girlfriend's house to discover the entire family, the pet polecat included, communicate using various scratching noises typical of a human beatbox. "A sterling first effort," Myers says.
Production company: Epoch Films (NY)
CHRIS CAIRNS - UK
Manchester born and raised, Cairns excelled at school and got into Oxford to read Languages. But he pretty soon realised being a linguist wasn't for him, so he left to do an art foundation course at Salford University. After building an appetite for film-making in his final year, he became a runner in Soho. In his spare time, he made animation and music videos, particularly for his housemate, the soon-to-be rock star Tom Vek. A Tom Vek video led to him being snapped up by Partizan in 2004. "Eclectic breaks" (left) is one of his latest works - an ad for a music-mixing brand in which a DJ uses two roundabouts as decks.
Production company: Partizan (London)
SI&AD - UK
Simon Atkinson and Adam Townley are the directing duo Si&Ad. They are an unusual pairing: Atkinson went to art school to study Graphic Design, Townley graduated with a degree in Maths. They met at Virgin Records in 1998 and together created websites for The Rolling Stones, The Chemical Brothers and Massive Attack, winning awards along the way. In 2001, they started shooting music videos before joining Academy a year later. But it was Sweet Dream (above), a short story of a young boy's day, which caught Saatchis' attention. "Of those we've selected, Si&Ad are probably the most natural contenders to make it in commercials," Isherwood says.
Production company: Academy (London)
SHAUN GLADWELL - AUSTRALIA
Gladwell's approach to directing is not the gung-ho action extravaganza one might expect from a keen skateboarder from Sydney. His videos - one featuring a man spinning on his head, called Pata Physical Man (left), another showing people rising and falling as if on an invisible trampoline, called God Speed Verticals - are designed to run as hour-long installations at exhibitions. "There is a grace and visual poetry in the way Shaun treats the urban sports genre; the antithesis of the epilepsy-inducing fast cutting we're used to on MTV," Myers says. Gladwell graduated from London's Goldsmith's College in 2001.
Production company: Revolver (NSW)
ALEX KIESL & STEFFEN HACKER - GERMANY
The directing duo run the visual effects department at Unexpected, a post-production company in Germany. Kiesl is an animator, specialising in 3-D. He's also the company chief executive. Hacker is a composer and a 2-D compositing specialist. Together they directed "747s" (below), a so-silly-it's-funny ad for Xbox. The spot opens with two pilots lining up on the runway like boy racers at traffic lights. Mayhem ensues at the airport and in the skies, before the winner screeches his plane to a halt at the passenger dock. Cue wild high-fives from the winners and a bitter yelp of "Scheisse!" from the losers. "Of course, you don't have to speak German to get this," Myers sniggers.
Production company: Spy Films (Toronto)
SHANE ACKER - US
Acker says he was a hyperactive child but his mother didn't like the idea of putting him on tranquillisers, so she gave him a set of drawing materials instead. A sensible decision, it turns out. Two masters degrees from UCLA (in Architecture and Animation) were followed by the animated short film 9 (below). This earned Acker a gold medal at the Student Academy Awards and a commission from Universal Pictures to make it into a full-length feature film. 9 follows the adventures of a creature (called number nine) struggling to survive in a oil-starved world made of living, squeaking bits of rusting metal.
Production company: ICM (Beverly Hills)
SHARON COLMAN - UK
Inspired by her fear of nuclear weapons stored underground near her home village on the shores of Loch Lomond in Scotland, Colman produced Badgered (left), an animated tale of a tired old badger whose only wish is to get some sleep. At first, a pair of rowdy crows keep him awake, then his set is disturbed by the building of a nuclear storage facility. The film's lolloping pace, gentle humour and soft colours give Colman's sense of foreboding added weight, Myers observes. Badgered was Colman's graduation piece from the National Film and Television School. It was nominated for a student Oscar in 2005.
Production company: Tandem (London).