Top Performers of 2005: Production Company of the Year - Stink

Stink won this title not just for the exemplary quality of its work; its canny tactics in growing its roster and developing its talent made it best in class.

What's the word for a dilemma with more than two horns? Drawing up a shortlist of three production companies when there is very little to distinguish the top seven or eight is no easy task.

Gorgeous made some great ads: the subtle-but-shocking "under my skin" for the British Heart Foundation and the surreal "bench" for Stella Artois.

Partizan had another great year, with strong work for 3 and Bacardi. Independent and Blink both had good cases for inclusion: the former had a great year, particularly in the amount of work that its larger-than-life US-based director Noam Murro produced for the UK. Blink has come on in leaps and bounds, with its creative-turned-director Dougal Wilson producing a string of pearls for Mother on both Boots and Orange.

But quality has a way of rising to the surface: the reels were watched, watched again, discussed and watched again for good measure. Three companies emerged ahead of the pack - Stink, MJZ and Academy - and, of these, Stink stood head and shoulders above the rest of the field.

Comparing production companies always involves an apples-and-pears equation: any judgment on quality of work is necessarily arbitrary, and size is not always a mark of quality.

Stink has won the accolade of Production Company of the Year because its work, like that of many of its peers, is brilliant, but also because it has made a string of canny signings and has continued to develop its existing talent by pushing directors in new directions.

Stink was founded in 1996 by the production company Blink and the production services outfit Stillking as a European venture for Ivan Zacharias (bottom, second right) and his producer, Daniel Bergmann (bottom, far right), now the Stink managing director.

Five years on, James Studholme, the Blink managing director, sold his stake in the company so Bergmann and Zacharias could more effectively target the UK market - Stink needed to own Zacharias, not share him with Blink if the company were truly to be successful.

And successful it is, although over the years the advertising industry has tended to regard Stink and its roster as somewhat dominated by Zacharias.

But while his presence at the company is still strongly felt, his infrequent stints behind the camera mean other directors have been afforded the chance to shine this year.

Chief among these are Ne-o, the husband-and-wife directing team of Jake Knight and Ryoko Tanaka, whose currency was raised among the creative community when they shot the music promo for the Futureshock track Late at Night.

That film was produced through Ne-o's music video representative, Academy.

The company will surely be kicking itself that it didn't sign them for commercials at the same time: this year, Ne-o directed the enormous "Singin' in the Rain" spot for Volkswagen Golf GTi through DDB London, and the guinea-pig ads for Egg through Mother.

Both ads demonstrate a marked development in the duo's style, a move away from the edgy, neon-lit minimalism of their music videos and commercials last year into far more effects-heavy work.

Meanwhile, the Swedish directing collective Stylewar has continued to grow, this year producing strong work for COI's anti-drugs initiative Frank through Mother; the charming Nike Free "feet" through Wieden & Kennedy and a string of US ads through Stink's representation deal with the production company Smuggler in the US.

Stink's roster, and its reel, has real strength in depth now: Neil Harris' "sixth sense" T-Mobile work for Saatchi & Saatchi and his Travelocity films for Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy; David Franklin's excellent series of Talk Talk idents for Big Brother; James Brown's "winner stays on" and "tunnel" for EA Games through Wieden & Kennedy. Viewed together, the films demonstrate the production company's ability to cover comedy to drama on low to high budgets.

This talent is reflected in the awards the production company has either won, or been involved in winning in 2005: three Pencils at D&AD and three silver Arrows at the British Television Advertising Awards for Stella Artois "pilot"; a gold in Cannes for Sure/Rexona "Stunt City" directed by Zacharias through Lowe London, and a pair of bronzes for "pilot" and "Singin' in the Rain".

Stink's awards haul is likely to be bigger next year with the signing of the Thai director Suthon Petchsuwan, who, along with Daniel Kleinman, is the only director to have been included in The Gunn Report's Top 25 every year since the report was launched. Stink doesn't expect Petchsuwan to make more than three films in the UK each year, but given his ability to win awards (particularly at Cannes), these are all likely to be big.

Judged by its work, MJZ was another strong contender for Production Company of the Year. Nicolai Fuglsig has had a particularly good 12 months, starting with "the race" for Carling through Leith London, directing "Rio", the second ad in Mother's new "the future's bright" campaign for Orange, and finishing the year on a high with the "balls" film for Sony Bravia through Fallon London.

Meanwhile, MJZ's star director, the former Harry Nash stalwart Fredrik Bond, turned in three strong films: "milkmaid", the third in the surreal series of WCRS-created films for 3; the 180 Amsterdam "gimme the ball" spot for Adidas - an epic series of maze-like runs made by professional footballers through a wood populated by a Lord of the Rings-style cast, and "love", the interactive Smirnoff ad from Nick Bell's creative department at JWT.

Academy, too, can boast a good reel this year. Jonathan Glazer made a triumphant return from Hollywood with the brilliant "ice-skating priests" spot for Stella Artois through Lowe London. And Frederic Planchon scored a critical hit with his "downhill" ad for Miller through Mother and an epic PlayStation 2 spot for TBWA\London.

But commercially, Academy will still be reeling from the loss of the director Stephen Mead, who left to form his own production company. Mead's work rarely charts in awards ceremonies - he's a beauty director - but his contribution to the company's bottom line over the years has been huge.

Recent winners: Gorgeous (2004); Partizan (2003); Gorgeous (2002); Gorgeous (2001); Partizan (2000).

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