THE CREATIVE DIRECTOR
In the pre-television age, when I was eight and my brother was 11, we
worshipped a tall, elegant top-order batsman who played for Kent.
His effortless grace, his liquid style, his imperious presence at the
crease thrilled and inspired us month after month at county grounds
around Kent. If we had just one tenth of his athleticism, his eye, his
control ... we would talk of him endlessly, a deity in our eyes.
And then one day, my brother spoke to him - and he spoke to my
It wasn’t, I admit, the most auspicious timing as he’d just been clean
bowled, second ball. But my brother happened to be standing next to the
pavilion steps, autograph book in hand, as he returned. With all the
politeness of a 50s Home Counties grammar school boy, he asked for his
’Fuck off,’ squeaked a voice far from the Corinthian drawl we’d
expected, a blast of halitosis practically knocked my brother off his
From that day on I’ve been wary of meeting my heroes. Aren’t they better
just doing what they do, as magic-weaving footballers or distinct
flickering figures in white against green?
Watch the reel that comes, at an additional price, with the Commercials
Book and you see the brilliance that this collection of 32 directors can
produce. It’s as entertaining and inventive as any 90 minutes of film
you could wish to watch. Then read the book and one or two - just one or
two - doubts emerge.
’Advertising is art with a motive,’ says Louis Ng in his piece. That’s
as good a perspective on the nature of creating advertising as I’ve ever
seen but, without dwelling too long on the implication that art has no
motive, it does raise the question of the motive of some of the
directors of commercials, or ’films’ as almost all of them choose to
Ng is a good place to start. He also says: ’I ask myself, if I look at
my commercial, will I buy the product?’, an admirable sentiment. Would
that all of them were so focused. But there is a terrible tendency to
psychobabble, especially when lovingly discussing themselves and how
they feel about what they do. As with other ’personalities’, I love what
they do, but I’m not sure I’m interested in anything else about them. In
this book, for example, Jean Paul Goude’s sketches are considerably more
interesting than his musings.
This doesn’t detract from the book’s usefulness - if anything, the
psychobabble is equally as instructive as the pages of fascinating
detail about how people work, because there are a few here who, by their
own onanistic blather, are allowed space to condemn themselves.
It’s the sort of text book that has parts all clients should read and
other parts that would best remain undiscovered. I’ve always felt I’ve
heard the most common sense coming out of the creative side of this
business and this book is packed with it. Frank Budgen’s piece alone is
worth the purchase price. And it goes a long way, in the frankness and
the enthusiasm with which several of the directors talk of the practical
steps they’ve taken in their preparation for shoots, to remove a lot of
the myths about profligacy and, at the same time, reassure us of their
direction to getting what’s needed.
As a supplement to the usual hopelessly inadequate ways of choosing a
director, it’s an enormous aid. The parameters covered in the text - the
copy is a synopsis of interviews where the directors respond to
questions, not, as it reads, an essay where they set the agenda
themselves - seem to be geared to what agency people want and need to
Its greatest benefit will be to those just beginning to make commercials
on a regular basis, who already know something of the problems and have
started to wrestle with the answers. Any agency worth its salt should be
making sure they’ve got a few copies lying around for their junior teams
and their junior producers. And before they’re all nicked, it wouldn’t
be a bad idea if account handlers had a browse through it as well. They
need all the ammunition they can get in their increasingly difficult
production budget meetings with clients.
But also, any agency worth its salt will hand it out with a health
warning: these directors are still only part of the team. If production
companies and their directors have been, as some suspect, getting away
with spanking their monkeys at our expense, we’ve only ourselves to
blame. It is we who elevate the director to godlike status, who feel
that, as soon as they have accepted the job we hand over all rights,
that even to question their whim runs the risk of, at best, a nervous
breakdown and, at worst, expulsion from that gilded circle who are
permitted to nod at Famous Directors at award ceremonies.
These people aren’t gods but they are a vital part of what we do. This
book helps show you how.
Andrew Cracknell is executive creative director at Ammirati Puris
THE FILM DIRECTOR
When I was a lad of about ten, I made my first commercial. I was at
school in Newcastle, just in from the colonies, suffering from culture
shock and finding it hard to bond with Geordies. I must have seen a
commercial on the new ITV channel, because at school I did a soap-powder
ad. A cardboard box became a washing machine into which I stuffed a
white shirt. I spoke to the class about brand X and then pulled out a
torn and oily rag. It did the trick, I bonded and my life changed. This
episode is not mentioned in the Commercials Book (How 32 of the world’s
best directors make their commercials) but I can understand how
difficult it must be to decide who are 32 of the world’s greatest
directors of commercials.
And I guess that decisions like these (who are 32 of, etc, etc) have to
come from within the commercials industry rather than from the people
who watch commercials. I think it is important that we remember that the
mass of people who watch these (30- to 60-second) films see them as part
of something else ... something on the telly that subdivides the thing
they decided to watch, or in a cinema before a film. So, while we all
get varying amounts of enjoyment from watching commercials, we don’t
actually pay money to see them, they come free, whether we like it or
I’m not sure who the book is aimed at (but then again I am just as
bemused by the plethora of books about cinema directors), but clearly
the audience is reading. This worries me. I think they should be
watching and listening.
And, talking of listening, what’s really missing from this big book (11
x 14 inches) is the companion CD. How many of the commercials mentioned
would have worked without music?
Flicking through the book, going from image to image, I am struck by how
everything looks like something else. There are exceptions; some of the
stills from the Michel Gondry examples look rather beautiful and messy,
but a lot of the portraiture seems a bit naff and art schoolish, by
which I mean that colour and composition seem to be more important than
subject and the wide-angle lens often runs riot. Stills from ads have
the same problem as film stills, the illusion only works when the image
moves, freeze it and it looks really fake.
Tarsem more or less compares himself to Picasso in his first quote and
then goes on to say that he hates artists. So I assume he’s still got an
open mind on both issues.
Michael Bay’s biog snapshot confirms something a famous actor said of
him, namely that it’s worrying when the director is better looking than
the actors he works with.
If the book was intended primarily for the industry, then it’s too short
and should have been written by a panel of clients. (Surely the only
real test of a commercial is whether it sold more stuff?) If it’s for
the general public then maybe it’s a bit pretentious. I mean it’s hard
work reading how highly someone thinks of him or herself.
We film-makers (lumping us all together in one moving-image stew) often
forget that, as an art form, cinema still needs its arse wiped regularly
compared to literature, painting and music. And loadsa computers a
Leonardo does not beget, it merely does a high-definition laser copy. Or
am I out of line here?
There’s something else about this list which is a bit strange. On the
cover, it says ’32 of the world’s best directors’. The introduction
(from the FrameStore’s Sharon Reed) refers to ’the portfolios of those
31 directors’, then in the index it lists 28 entries. Vaughan and Anthea
are clearly two persons, and Aardman Animations - oh, I see
now ... they’re three - but one of the world’s best directors is still
missing. And talking of missing, where are David Fincher and Tony
I really liked the pages from Jean Paul Goude’s notebook. It has always
been a secret ambition of mine to have notebooks that looked like
In fact, I think his drawings seem more interesting than the stills from
his films. Hey, wait a minute, maybe he should move over to Aardman
It’s been interesting, though, looking at all this stuff (I now know
more about Andy Morahan’s work than I do about Eisenstein). I am
reminded about how much time and effort is spent on every fucking detail
and how hard it is for film directors when they come to do commercials.
It ain’t easy. It’s like trying to do keyhole surgery when what you’ve
been used to is general practice. It really is a different world. We’re
cousins, and sometimes we kiss but most of the time we eye each other
suspiciously over the garden fence.
Mike Figgis directed Internal Affairs and Leaving Las Vegas. He is
available for commercials through Helen Langridge Associates from early