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In the director’s chair: Wilkins & Maguire on creating heartfelt stories and the disconnect between quality and cost

In the director's chair: Wilkins & Maguire

In the latest Drum series of ‘In the Directors Chair’, Stink Films creative duo Wilkins & Maguire, famous for award winning documentaries including ‘Gypsy Blood’ and ‘Dogging Tales’, discuss how they have made a name for themselves in authentic stories.

Past interviews have included The Sweet Shop’s Pierre Michel-Estival and D&AD Next Director-awarded Henry Busby.

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

Leo - I went to Steiner School, so I wasn't allowed to watch TV as it was against the school’s philosophy. While visiting my father in Cornwall, he took me to see Spielberg’s ET. I had never seen a cinema screen before. The scene of ET dying was the most visceral experience my young mind had faced. Terrified and upset I grabbed at my father for a cuddle, but he was sound asleep snoring next to me. I realised then the power of the medium.

Robert - My elder brother (then an actor) was an early inspiration, he helped me to direct my school play. We cast the school football champion as gay, which was a big hit as all the school came to see him. This was in Australia where everyone is sports mad, and at the time no man was supposed to be gay.

Outside of work, what are you into?

Robert – I love the outdoors, fresh air… I also love books. I’ve got two kids so I like to learn things together with them like playing instruments.

Leo - I focus on my art, photography, sculpture, film and writing. I read, research, listen to podcasts, educate myself and try to expand my ways of thinking. When there is time, I love to escape to the mountains for snowboarding.

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

The majority of our work is making authentic heartfelt stories, often involving real people. We feel that we bring a genuine humility and heart to whatever we work on, and that sensibility is transferable to many areas in the creative sphere.

Channel 4 "Dogging Tales" from Stink Films on Vimeo.

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?

We love working on character-led scripts with a strong narrative, we like the process of finding the transformation within a story or character, the Hero’s journey Joseph Campbell moment. But ultimately we are very open to approaching new things. Often in commercials you get pigeonholed, it’s why certain ads look the same for many years. Sometimes a director who doesn't fit the mold is brought in, they approach a subject differently, and it brings a new vitality to the work.

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

Is there room for us to make it our own, can we bring a unique angle to the telling of this story that no one else sees?

What's your funniest moment on set?

There are so many it is hard to pick one. Watching a folded gazebo get picked up by a strong wind and punch two large holes into the underside of a Boeing 777 plane that we were filming with, was one of the scariest. After the repair bill didn't land on Stink’s desk, we could laugh.

What's your best piece of work?

We haven't done it yet, we always feel unsatisfied, we promise ourselves that the next piece will be better. It’s what keeps us moving forward.

The pair recently won a D&AD award for their Guinness work.

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Which ad do you wish you'd made?

Canal+ ‘Bear’ by Matthijs van Heijningen, it’s the perfect marriage of cinema and commercials. It’s also a clever homage to the French who gave birth to cinema, genius.

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

There is a lot of information flowing, often through many layers of filtration, things can get diluted, but we always make it work. We try to keep everyone happy and informed, communication is key, however simple you think something is it still needs to be communicated clearly.

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

Budgets seem to be decreasing and agencies and clients expect more, there is a real disconnect between cost and quality. Coming from a documentary background we can think outside the box on how to make projects work, but sometimes it’s just not possible to meet everyone’s ambition. If a project has real depth and humility, Stink are very supportive in helping us create it.

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

We did one with Stink Studios directly for Sony. We wrote the script and found the story, which is often how we work anyway. Agencies come to us with the spark of an idea and we try to help them form it into something special. Coming from backgrounds in journalism and long-form TV, it’s our ability to write stories and scripts to fit a brand’s philosophy that sets us apart and hopefully in future will allow us to work in unconventional ways.