SECRETS OF THE WORLD’S TOP DIRECTORS: As the Commercials Book, a collection of stills and thoughts from 32 of the best directors, is launched by D&AD, Andrew Cracknell and Mike Figgis give their verdicts on the value of the tome



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

call them.

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



Mike Figgis

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


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