Deciding on the Production Company of the Year when it's barely possible to slip a cigarette paper between the front-runners is no easy task. For one, 2004 hasn't been vintage for quality. We just haven't seen the standard of commercials of previous years: the epic campaigns that galvanise opinion in agencies and living rooms alike have been curiously absent this year. On a business level, 2004 was fairly quiet, best described in terms of modest expansion, not rampant growth. And the awards for 2003's crop of ads, where the PlayStations and Hondas sang loud and proud, were split frighteningly evenly.
There can only be one winner, though, and Gorgeous noses into first place this year on the strength and depth of its reel. Commercials such as Chris Palmer's decade-spanning history of the VW Golf, "a life in a day", for Volkswagen, and the Easy Rider-themed "okay" for HSBC stand out. As does Peter Thwaites' beautiful "fluid motion" ad for Castrol - shot almost exclusively in camera - and his worrying "human sundial" for Thomson Holidays (according to the ad, we spend an average of three-and-a-half weeks at work for every day we spend sunbathing). There's also Tom Carty's sublime "can fu" for Pepsi Max - one of those rare ads that demands repeat viewings and gets better with each - and "home game" for Nike. It's a reel any production company would be proud to send to TV departments, and that's all the more surprising considering there isn't a single ad on it from the company's undisputed heavyweight champion, Frank Budgen.
This success was reflected at the 2004 award ceremonies, albeit mainly for work the company produced the previous year. Gorgeous enjoyed a good night at the 2004 D&AD Awards. It nabbed the Grand Prix at Cannes for Budgen's 2003 "mountain" spot for PlayStation and earned itself the title of Most Awarded Company in the World over the five-year period between 1999 and 2003 in a survey in The Gunn Report.
This success was very much a team effort. Budgen earned four D&AD and three BTAA golds for "mountain". Palmer walked away with a BTAA gold and silver for the Wilkinson/Beckham head-to-head "kicking it" for Adidas and had three separate entries in the Advertising Producers' Association APA 50 collection. Thwaites took two D&AD silver Pencils, a BTAA gold and One Show and Creative Circle awards for Honda "sense". And Carty won the Chairman's Award at BTAA, sharing the honour with his former partner, Walter Campbell. As a company, Gorgeous received 22 out of the total 65 nominations and took home 11 out of a possible 22 gongs at the BTA Craft Awards. Pats on the back all round.
Run by the affable and talented producer and managing director, Paul Rothwell, Gorgeous has built its reputation on a small pool of talented directors who produce a large body of work (Budgen's absence this year is accounted for by his working on three separate film projects, not a lack of scripts or interest). Former creative directors make up the bulk of the talent at the company, and additions to the roster in 2004 included Vince Squibb, an occasional director for The Paul Weiland Film Company, and Ben Seresin, who is soon to make his directorial debut for Gorgeous with a spot for DDB.
Both signings illustrate Rothwell's uncanny knack for finding talent with transferable skills and triggering a desire to change career. Squibb needs no introduction as a legendarily talented copywriter from Lowe; his Great War-themed "pilot" spot for Stella Artois this year was his last as a full-time copywriter at the agency, but he has pledged to "keep his hand in", producing the occasional script. Seresin is an experienced director of photography, who this year lit the "jellyfish" and "cherry" ads for 3, shot by MJZ's Fredrik Bond for WCRS.
Next year sees the production company move into new offices-Gorgeous House -in Soho. And, with Budgen returning from his sabbatical for at least one job (there's a US spot for Jeep in the pipeline), further success looks likely in 2005.
But what of the runner-up? Choosing between Gorgeous and the second-placed Partizan wasn't easy. Partizan, too, enjoyed a hugely successful year at the award shows, mainly on the strength of Antoine Bardou-Jaquet's "cog" spot for Honda. The 2003 ad scooped three yellow Pencils and a BTAA gold. Other notable awards included BTAA gold and silver respectively for Tango "barrel" and "postman" (both directed by Traktor) and bronze awards for Eric Lynne's work for United Airlines and The Saturday Times.
Partizan made a number of significant signings in 2004, including Edgar Wright (the director of the Channel 4 sitcom Spaced and the 2004 film Shaun of the Dead) and Michael Gracey, who joined the company from Australia for commercials and music video representation. The company also launched a dedicated animation arm - Partizan Lab - to push the animation talent at the company.
Creatively, Partizan's 2004 reel is strong, but possibly not as powerful as it has been in previous years. Traktor, one of the company's stars, has had a quiet year, pulling out the stops late with its brilliant "diamond" spot for Smirnoff through J. Walter Thompson. Bardou-Jaquet's Sony Cybershot and Ikea "unlimited possibilities" ads are respectively creatively and technically brilliant, but trumping the precision of "cog' will be no mean feat. Eric Lynne has enjoyed continued success in 2004 with the hugely popular "hole in one" for HSBC through Lowe, and Thomas Hilland, who was signed from Mother in 2003, was one of the directors on the Diesel "dreams" campaign for KesselsKramer.
And Stink deserves special mention here, too. The third contender for Production Company of the Year, Stink took two Cannes gold Lions for Ivan Zacharias' "everyday" Honda work, and a gold Shark for his Stella Artois "pilot" spot, surely the first of many awards for the commercial.
Never one to rest on its laurels, Gorgeous will no doubt pull out the stops - and spots - and make a strong case for glory in 2005. But with companies such as Partizan and Stink circling, it's going to be an interesting year.
Recent winners: Partizan (2003); Gorgeous (2002); Gorgeous (2001); Partizan (2000); Gorgeous (1999).