My best ads ever

By The Drum, Administrator

August 27, 2004 | 11 min read

If you’ve finally succumbed to the lure of the screen – big or small – and you dream of seeing your company’s brand trapped in 2D glory, it’ll be paramount that everything looks the dog’s wotsits. Nothing screams “awful product” like an awful-looking TV ad. What a dubbed or poorly shot TV commercial communicates to your potential consumers is a scary thought.

So, like all communication material, your ad is representing your brand and, as such, should be treated with great care. If the ad looks good, the product or service looks good.

Therefore, scouring the country for some safe hands in which you can place your forthcoming commercial, Adline has pinpointed some genuine talent. Talking about what they do best, producers and directors from the world of commercial production are here to chat about their favourite times on set and the commercials they’re particularly proud of.

Bluey Durrant, Director

The Gate Films

“Well, probably two of my favourite commercials were for relatively small punters. This is something I imagine is quite common amongst directors, since, even though there is a certain thrill to having millions of extras and helicopters etc., ads that have those kinds of budgets tend to be slightly paranoid experiences for all concerned.

“Except in the rare instances that one comes across a client with any real confidence, you are generally delivering the most nervous part of the advertising process to both the agency and punter and consequently they lose their ambitions and end up becoming fundamentally un-creative.

“The shooting of the Mortal Kombat “Deadly Alliance” ad for Greg Clarke (then of The Source) was a joyous experience. Everyone had to work like a motherf**ker but WANTED to because the material was so hot. Greg had come up with a series of images that were outstanding and, having satisfied himself that he and I understood each other, he absolutely left me alone to produce the feeling we wanted the images to possess. We had limited means, hardly any lights or crew and a cast cobbled together out of our long-suffering friends (special thanks to Mr Dave Palmer of Love fame), but a mutual respect for each other’s methodology made for an extraordinary outcome.

“Secondly, and at the opposite end of the scale, I shot a series of little ads on videotape for Boro TV, the Middlesbrough football team’s cable channel. It involved a load of ultra-simple visual gags from Glenn Cartwright (then of Seven). The whole shoot was just an exercise in leaving the ideas alone. I think quite often directors feel the need to over-contribute to their projects and it made me feel ever so grown-up and sophisticated to show such restraint. In actual fact, there wasn’t much choice, ’cos they were such cute ideas there wasn’t much you COULD do to them, except let them breathe.

“I much prefer those kinds of jobs because they almost always produce better ads. I suppose the general rule of thumb I work on is that if it’s not engaging my mind, then it’s not going to engage anyone else’s either.”

Steve Salam, Producer/Director

Dene Films

“We were commissioned by ‘Different’ to produce a commercial for the launch of Newcastle Airport’s new identity. The agency had come up with the idea of using the new logo as a bit of a mystery symbol throughout the commercial, and revealing the meaning of it at the end.

“The budget was modest, but the agency asked if the commercial could be shot in Barcelona, first to give it a Continental look and secondly because the weather in Newcastle in October is a little on the chilly side!

“After a lot of consultation, the storyboard and art direction were signed off. We jumped on the easyjet and found ourselves in the worst weather Barcelona had experienced in 35 years. There were floods, we had to hire in extra lighting and stand round for hours for the slightest break in the clouds. The last straw came when, having been forced out of one location due to the fact that the storms had caused the beach to disappear overnight, we were then evacuated from another beach by the civil guard, because it was too dangerous.

“Crew, cast and agency were superb and philosophical throughout. I had thought that one to two days would be enough to shoot this commercial. In the end we returned after four days to shoot the final scenes on the beach at Whitley Bay. At least we had a good match for the light!

“In the end, the commercial received much praise and, although it didn’t have the sunny look I expected, some of the scenes were dramatic in other ways, which made up for the lack of sunshine.”

Phil Brice, Founder

Koala TV

“The brief from the client was one line: “Ordering DVDs from is so easy, the dog could do it.” This was one of the reasons this ad stands out for us. No eight produces and spinning prices, wonderful. The other was that it was a lot of fun from start to finish.

“The ad revolved around Sykes – the cross-terrier, who ordered, collected and played his DVD (‘Cats and Dogs’, of course) – watched by his bandaged-head-to-foot owner.

“The problem was to train Sykes to tap on a keyboard, move a mouse with his paw and operate a DVD player! It took eight days of training by Stunt Dogs Incorporated, using a sausage on a stick. We had the usual paranoia on the day that he wouldn’t do his stuff, but he did everything in a couple of takes.

“It was more difficult for our actor, who, trussed up for the day under hot lights and having to do all acting directed through his eyes, said it was one of his tougher jobs.

“Another ad was for Popz Microwave Popcorn. It seemed simple enough. The “Friends”-type crowd are all round for a night in watching TV. The twist in the script being that what they are all intently watching turns out to be a microwave.

“The first problem came because the bag of popcorn had to grow in size while cooking in the microwave, but all microwaves have mesh doors so that you can’t shoot through them. Unfortunately, every prop maker was booked up. A microwave engineer was on hand to make us two disabled doorless models before the shoot, then with a hole drilled through its turntable and base, we rigged a plastic tube to a balloon inside the popcorn bag. The theory being that we could blow into the tube and the bag would inflate. Then came the test run – both microwaves blew up!

“We made a fast repair on the set on the day, with no idea whether the plan would work. Much relief came all round as the sound recordist blew into the tube, the microwave plate turned and we finally had a result!”

Dave Moss, Producer


“My current favourite PSA commercial is ‘Circulon’ for Meyer cookware, directed by Mitch Walker and beautifully photographed on 35mm film by John Keen. It is also one of our most recent productions.

“The theme is the circle, and we see concentric circles and circular motion in every sequence. As the plans and food turn through shot, the light plays dramatically on the Circulon non-stick groove system.

“The commercial is cut to an original piece of music, which builds with a swirling energetic rhythm as each scene turns and flows into the next. The food dances lightly round in rings and circles – all in beautiful, elegant slow motion that is charged with excitement, energy and pace.

“All in all, it is a well-thought-out and well-crafted piece of TV advertising, which focuses on the product USP.”

Mark Platts, Director


“When a client looks you in the eyes and says, “And I don’t want some arty farty s**t ... I WANT IT AS STRAIGHT AS F##K!!” it’s very easy to look down at your notes, rip them up and start again. This is the situation I was faced with eight years ago when sitting in the then very dingy offices of Safestyle UK Double Glazing.

“With an annual turnover of £10 million it was their first venture onto TV and a local YTV package was the full extent of their media spend, but the promise was there ... “Make the phone ring and we’ll go on TV everywhere.”

“So the challenge was set, and we did make the phone ring and, indeed, the commercials are “As straight as f**k”. The company now has a turnover in excess of £100 million and is the market leader in its industry.

“We learned from this that, in some cases, subtleties don’t go. You just need a man with a strange face, a J9 wide-angle lens and an understanding sound engineer.

“Above all, not only has this client given us a reputation for DRTV, and a very acute understanding of how to make the phones ring, whatever the industry, from debt management, claims specialists to mobility products, but has given us a platform to push back the boundaries, get out there and have fun!!!”

Nicki Casey, Producer


“I have two favourite ads that I have produced: ‘The David Beckham Soccer’ ad for Rage Games (agency Sass Panayi) and ‘Submission’ for Alton Towers (CBJWT).

“The creative idea behind the Beckham spot was to take all the skills and thinking of the England captain and transform them into a challenging and progressive computer game with the end line ‘Train like him. Play like him. Be him.’

“The job started on a high, personally, for the obvious reason of Mr Beckham being there (sorry!!!).

“Aside from this, what made the commercial special for us was that we were able to treat it like a promo in the sense that we were able to throw lots of our own creative into it. There was a good relationship between agency, client and us and I don’t recall too many BACC issues.

“Because of this, we got 110 per cent out of the crew and suppliers because everyone wanted to work on the project.

“‘Submission’ for Alton Towers was just a 10” spot that required a series of different shoots to create the layers needed to produce the final ad. First we took our artistes to a motion control studio in Hounslow, where we did a 360-degree mapping of their heads. This would later be used in CGI. Then we shot in studio various technical instruments and models of the Newton’s Cradle and other textural elements. Finally we did a night shoot at Alton Towers of the ride itself. We also had Perspex domes made with Newton\'s theories etched onto them to again layer into the commercial.

“I enjoy these kinds of commercials as, while the process can often be long, complicated and sometimes daunting, what you end up with is a rich combination of film and post elements to create a high-quality commercial that you feel proud to be part of. No ad is the same and it’s a constant learning process, which keeps my job exciting. My only regret is my inability to remain calm in the presence of Becks – hence my nervous laughter and crap joke about anchovies ... sorry David!”


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