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In the director’s chair: Henry Busby on social media’s impact on creativity and the need for agency input

Director Henry Busby on his influences and passions

For the latest in The Drum’s director’s chair series, in which directors discuss influences, passions and career highlights, recent D&AD Next Director-awarded Henry Busby discusses the industry through a newcomers eyes, discussing how social media has impacted creativity and arguing the case for agency input.

An earlier interview in the series saw Andrew Lang discuss funny moments in an Ikea ad and documentary making, while Camille Marotte discussed why the best jobs come from asking to shoot anamorphic and how having many skills, including being your girlfriend’s photographer, can influence a director’s style in another. Mea Dols de Jong spoke about avoiding being pigeon-holed as a female director and making authenticity cinematic.

Last month Klaus Obermeyer discussed impossible logistics and growth with a vengeance. Well-known horror director Eli Roth also discussed his step into commercial film making and how his inspiration came from Ridley Scott.

Mate Steinforth talked new formats, such as his 360 video for Moderat, and why the 30-second TV format is probably now dead.

Who or what inspired you to be a Director? (or who are your creative heroes and why?)

I bounced around a lot of different art forms as a kid and young adult. never had any real formal arts training, but I just had a feel for art intuitively and I liked trying out different things. So I’d say it was like I slung a bunch of mud at the wall and for whatever reason, film is the one that stuck. It’s the only art form that frequently makes me cry tears of joy or sadness. Well, music does, but I don’t have a musical bone in my body so that wasn’t an option. I just followed the feelings.

Outside of work, what are you into?

Also following the feelings. I like to be around things or people that make me laugh.

How would you describe your style of commercial/film making? What are you known for?

I don’t know what I’m known for yet. I don’t think I even count as “known of” at this point. I am very proud of bringing something unique to each piece I’ve done. They all feel very different to me, but I can still see some of myself in them and I like that. I always want to try something new because I want to feel new things. I think maybe that’s translated into some strong images and memorable moments because I poked around into the unfamiliar. I’d like to be known one day for iconic images. Simple images can become so iconic. It’s not about the beauty, it’s about the fit. I like when my work comes out of nowhere.

Have you got an idea about what sort of projects you’d like to work on or are you quite open minded about what work comes your way?

I don’t do much planning for what I want to work on. I stay open to all the things floating downstream. I usually fall in love with a project on the spot. I like the idea of directing a very broad range of things though. I’d get bored too easily doing similar spots repeatedly. As soon as I finish a project, I make a loose pact with myself not to consciously do anything like it ever again.

When you’re looking at scripts and projects that come in, is there anything in particular that you’re looking for?

Just trying to fall in love. It can be with anything though. Sometimes I may take a job because there is a very particular aspect of it I can fall in love with and that’s all I need. But if I’m lukewarm, or worse, about a script or board on all levels, I need to pass. there’s no hope if I’m not falling in love. There’s has to be love on some level or it’s a waste of time.

What's your funniest moment on set?

I was co-directing a shoot with my friend, Marcus, recently. We were doing a two-day doc-style shoot with a dancer in LA. It happened to be her birthday on our first shoot day. We already felt guilty about roping her into a shoot on her birthday, and then to top it all off one of us - *ahem* Marcus - accidentally lost her cell phone while running across a beach during the shoot. Our art director (AD) and producer had a team of PA’s roaming the beach with flashlights while we wrapped the last bit of the day. A few hours of searching turned up nothing and it was time to break the news at wrap. Marcus and the producer pulled her off to the side to let her know. She was devastated. it turned out she hadn’t backed up her phone in three years. I was completely unaware that this conversation was happening, so I started blaring “Happy Birthday” over the PA system and came dancing and singing like an idiot into this very sombre moment. It looked like a funeral. everyone felt terrible, especially Marcus. He wasn’t ready to give up yet though. He and the AD marched out to the beach one last time with flashlights. somehow, someway, against all odds, Marcus found the phone, buried in the sand, alone on a dark beach hundreds of yards away from us. I’ll never forget the look on his face when he came charging out of the darkness with the phone. That was one of the best and funniest moments of my career.

What's your best piece of work?

Land of Talk - "It's Okay" from Voyager on Vimeo.

I’m very proud of the video I did for ‘It’s Okay’. It was a big step towards me realizing where I want to go and creating from the heart. I get a little lost if I don’t step outside of this world once in a while to refresh myself. That was the first thing I felt like I made totally for myself in a bit at the time. It was awesome because I ended up bringing so much of what I learned and unlocked on that shoot back into my commercial work. Then my commercial work started getting bolder and more interesting to me as well.

That was a light-bulb moment like, “oh, every once in a while it’s important for me to step out into the woods and get a little lost artistically. when I come back from a journey like that, I bring all these new lessons into my commercial work.” That is exciting. The flip side is exciting too. With my time in commercials I get so many opportunities to be on set and experiment or push new parts of the craft. I can learn so many tools for the tool belt. Then I’m heading back into the wilderness more equipped to survive in the woods. That all sounds a little silly, but that’s the balance for me now.

Which ad do you wish you'd made?

Right now? I like the Spike Jonze gap commercial ‘pardon our dust’. I want to make a piece of chaos right now, especially after 2017, it’d be fun to blow some stuff up.

How well does the information flow between client, agency and production company on a job?

There are so many checks and balances and the machine feels very big and slow sometimes. It works, but it’s slow. I’ve had mostly good experiences, but there is honestly so much bloat to the way this process works. I’ve been thinking about how much better off we’d be sometimes just to simplify the whole thing. The most magical projects I’ve been a part of have always been very, very small. I get so sad when I see something really creative get strangled or trampled by a cumbersome process.

What's been the biggest change to the industry during you career?

My career is short enough right now that I haven’t seen a major sea change in the industry the same way veterans of a few decades have seen things change. It blows my mind to hear stories of the ad industry of the 90’s.

It’s not really an industry specific change, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much life has changed in my lifetime because of the internet and social media. I’m not trying to being a grouchy old man. I’m not old enough to be that grouchy yet, but it’s incredible to really think about. I like the tools, but I’m having a “step-back” moment to examine how to balance them in my life. That’s on a lot of people’s minds right now I think. It feels like this amazing tool is turning into more of an addiction for our generation. A lot of young creative minds are suffering, or at least I can see mine has to some degree. The internet has a way of keeping me stuck in such narrow lanes creatively. We create a world that agrees with us and then we only consume that. That becomes more comfortable and the real world feels like an inconvenient and harsh place. I don’t want a world that I perfectly agree with at my fingertips at all time. I want some friction. The coziness of the internet and social media has replaced a certain sense of wondering and wandering I had before. Maybe that’s just nostalgia for childhood though, who knows? I should probably stop watching Black Mirror.

Have you worked on any client direct commercials (no agency involved). What's been the difference?

I have. Communication gets much harder. Agencies are under appreciated for being able to speak the language of both sides and get everyone to the table and find ways to agree. I’m super grateful for what they go through with each campaign. They’ve often been on these jobs so, so, so much longer than I have. They already fought and are fighting so many battles that I may never know about.