For an advertising agency looking to shoot a lovingly crafted, hard-working script, finding the right director can be difficult at times, yet a necessity - hundreds of potential directors to choose from, hundreds of different showreels to trawl through.
So, of course, the production houses that represent the different directors strive to have only the best directing talent on their books for agencies to peruse. Still, what can be a problem for the production house is finding fresh, if somewhat raw, new talent. Certainly, the quantity of hopeful directors is constant - if an agency has hundreds of potential directors to choose from, then you can only guess at the number of reels a production house will view – however, the quality is often outweighed by the quantity.
But, with so many aspiring directors, the danger is that undiscovered talent can slip through the net into obscurity through the filtering holes that sift through the wannabes, making it hard for unsigned directors to make a name for themselves.
But the task remains to find the right talent. And if that talent comes locally, then that will benefit all.
With that in mind, The Gate Films - who last year opened an office in Edinburgh to compliment its teams in Manchester and London - launched a competition to uncover some of Scotland’s top undiscovered directing talent.
“First and foremost we wanted - for wholly selfish reasons - to uncover some raw Scottish directors so that we could add to our roster,” says Steve Byrne of The Gate. “We understand how difficult it is to get a step up in production so we wanted to offer any burgeoning talent the chance to enter a competition based around a proper commercial environment.
“In doing so we really test their ingenuity and gusto and they get to showcase their skill in front of leading agency heads.
“Secondly we wanted to offer the agencies we work with the opportunity to see their script ideas brought to the screen without the big production bill. For the most part this meant a script already in the pipeline or sometimes a creative route that had been knocked back. The intention was to provide agencies with something of a test shoot that could be added to a presentation and inspire those clients who often struggle to grasp a TV idea from a board.”
The Gate asked a number of Scotland’s agencies - including The Leith Agency, Newhaven, The Union, 1576, Frame, The Bridge, WWAV Rapp Collins, Family and GRP, to name just a few - to supply scripts that were, as yet, unused to distribute at random to the competition’s hopeful directors.
“With such an array of scripts handed out to the entrants it was crucial the judging panel were able to pick out not the best ad, but the best directing talent,” continues Byrne. “As such we spent hours analysing each film with regard to understanding and interpretation of script, originality, style, use of audio and graphics.
“At the outset of the competition we stated that the winning director would acquire a place on our directors roster and after much scrutiny the winners were a duo - Tom Shrapnel and Rory Lowe. That said, we were mightily impressed by a number of others and have asked to see more of their work with a view to developing them further.”
A panel of high-profile judges met to judge the director competition. From the dozens of entries received, The Gate narrowed down the final shortlist of commercials to 14 – from students to designers, from editors to wannabe film-makers - each fresh to the role of directing.
These 14 films were judged by Gareth Howells, creative director, Newhaven; Les Watt, agency producer, The Leith Agency; Adrian Jeffrey, creative director, 1576; Angus Walker, creative director, Frame and Mathias Julin, agency producer at Hasan and Partners in Finland. The decision on the winning director(s) was unanimous... But what is it the judges look for in a director?
Gareth Howells, creative director, Newhaven:
“A good director must listen. They must listen to the script and they must listen to the creatives. But, in saying that, a director must also be able to bring something new to the table. They should have their own ideas. They should be able to provide different interpretations of the script, nurturing it. It’s important not to be limited in the ideas, as ideas are so important... Sometimes the script is just the starting point. But, as well as being able to listen, a good director should be able to communicate, as the team needs to be just that – a team. If all parties can pull in the same direction the results will only be beneficial. The director must also understand what it is the client wants out of the film.
“Of course, you can’t polish a turd, so the script is very important, but the role of a director is to add that polish and maybe just a little sprinkle of magic dust for good effect. But at the end of the day, teamwork is so important.”
Les Watt, agency producer, The Leith Agency:
“As well as natural talent an ability to recognise and stay true to the advertising idea and not to stray of track. Chemistry is important, you have to spend months working with the director/ producer/production company so you need to respect and get on with each other. The key is to share the same vision from the start. Don't ignore differences of opinion and hope they will get sorted out on the way. They rarely do and it can become very messy. A director crucially must have the ability to get over to the actors what he wants them to do. It sounds simple but quite a number struggle to do it.”
Adrian Jeffrey, creative director, 1576:
“I believe it’s very important to work with people whose creative skills make your idea even stronger. So, for me, a good director is also a good creative thinker. Someone who will use their knowledge and talent for direction to bring the idea to life on film. Someone who is collaborative, someone who also recognises the importance of other creative people in the process (DP’s, editors, colourists, producers), because a great ad needs more than a great script and great direction. That’s why it’s important to find the right director. Because good ideas are hard to find and easy to mess up.”
Angus Walker, creative director, Frame:
“Ultimately a good director should add something to your script. Same with the editor, the producer, the art department, the actors and everyone else involved. They should all be adding something to your idea.
A good director runs with your script to help make it fly. A bad director runs away with your script.
A good director listens but offers his or her own opinion. A bad director just does what you say.
A good director is invisible. A bad director leaves their fingerprints over everything: self-conscious camera moves, clunky visual devices, an extreme "look at me" film grade.
Judging who is the best director for a job is hard. A common mistake is to choose one because you like the scripts they've shot.
You're not judging the scripts. You've got to see beyond the script to the film itself. Did the actors work well? If it was comedy, was the timing right? Were the jokes telegraphed? Too subtle? Was the camera work too self-conscious? Did they get the eye lines right or wrong? Do they get it? Do they get what you're trying to achieve? Do they understand the script? Can they coax a great performance out of an actor? Are they collaborative? Are they authoritarian? (either can be good)
Most importantly, could you spend a week of your life with them sharing the same catering van, eating lukewarm shepherd's pie and watching the rain bounce off the top of a tarpaulin as you wait for Basingstoke to look a little more like the sunny destination you originally wrote into the script?