Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tuesday Tip No.52 - How To Get The Best Out Of Directors

I'm delighted to have Mark Denton guest-writing this one.

Mark is one of Britain’s most successful and best-loved commercials directors; who can forget Bad Barnet? He also runs Creative Circle, his own production company (Coy! communications) and is basically just an all-round top chap.


It really comes down to getting the right person at the beginning. When I was a Creative (Scamp note – Mark’s partner was Chris Palmer) we did 11 jobs with Vaughan & Anthea. We just worked well together, and there was a mutual respect.

When you’re looking at treatments, make your decision based on what the Director says, and your gut feel, not what they write. Treatments are often just a string of clichés anyway. Have you noticed how every single one of them begins “I love the script”?

If you are able to snag a top director, just let them do what they want to do. I had Ridley Scott agree to do a job for me once, but I let him go because I didn’t like his treatment. Looking back on it, his idea was pretty good and I was an idiot.

Beat out all the questions before shooting starts, so you’re never sitting there on set wondering “what the hell are they doing now?”

During the process of making a commercial, there is no one single way to deal with Directors, because every Director is different. But there will always be some way that gets a result. Sometimes it’s putting your arm around someone, sometimes it’s giving them a kick up the arse.

Creatives don’t seem quite as bolshie as they used to. Chris & I used to do our own storyboards, then turn up on set with stopwatches, and tell directors “that shot’s taking too long.” We were a nightmare.

Maybe that’s going too far - make it too hard for them and they might mentally give up and just start going through the motions. And if you’ve chosen someone because you like their work, you’ve got to respect their way of working. You want to get out of them whatever they can give. So for example if they want their space, and prefer comments to be filtered through a Producer, then do that.

Personally, I’m the opposite. I believe the Director and Creatives should be a team of three. I like Creatives to be standing right next to me, by the camera. It really aggravates me when the Creatives are off reading a book or playing with their mobiles. Not involved means not excited. But don’t go and tell the actors what to do – that’s what I’m being paid a lot of money to do. And actors like to hear one voice.

Creatives also need to shield their Director, to some extent. Clients are getting more and more difficult. They are getting more involved. Nowadays, they can pick a typeface on their home computer. Creatives need to have the bollocks to stand up to Clients and Account Handlers. Especially when it comes to the edit, the post, and everything that goes into finishing-up a commercial. Be champions of your own idea. Don’t let the forces of darkness water it down.

Previous Tips:

Don't Write Ads, Write Strategies; How To Choose Where To Work; Working Outside London; What Would John Webster Do?; What Would Paul & Nigel Do?; The Hidden Flaw; How To Write Copy; Be Funny All The Way Through; How To Do Virals; How To Get A Pay Rise; Be Wary Of Punding; Challenge The Brief; Tell The Truth; Playing To Lose; How To Write Headlines; How To Do Direct; How To Do Radio; How To Do Press; How To Do TV; How To Do Digital; How To Do Posters; Look At Weird Shit; Presenting To The Client; Presenting To The Team; Presenting To The Creative Director; How To Deal With Rejection; Look Creative; Don't Be Afraid To Ask; Your Idea Has To Be 120%; Read Iain's Tips; Don't Behave; How To Discuss Ideas; Read Hugh's Tips; How To Get A Job In Advertising Part IV - How To Turn A Placement Into A Job; How To Get A Job In Advertising Part III - How To Approach Agencies (re-print of Tip No. 7); How To Get A Job In Advertising Part II - How To Put A Book Together; How To Get A Job In Advertising Part I - FAQ; Make Friends With Traffic; Get Reference; Don't Stop Too Soon; Be Very; Breaking Up; Working Well With Your Partner; Finding The Right Partner; How To Approach Agencies; Never-Seen-Before Footage; Dicketts' Finger; Two Blokes In The Pub; Play Family Fortunes; Should You Take A Bad Job?; Don't Overpolish


Anonymous said...

Top post, cheers Mark.

Do you have any advice of how to deal with the situation of where you've managed to get a top director, like yourself, for the job, but you've got a tiny budget (i.e. pretty much none)...

Anonymous said...

This advice is pretty awful. For example: "If you are able to snag a top director, just let them do what they want to do."
Take responsibility for creating powerful and compelling communications and provide a clear vision that inspires a director to bring it to life.
Oh and when it comes to bollox - any good creative needs it as much with the director as the 'forces of darkness' on the client or account handling sides. The client and account team are trying to meet the objective for the commercial - probably in a terrible way, but trying nonetheless - the director is most likely shooting for his reel and has no interest in whether the commercial works or not.

Anonymous said...

I cannot judge this afvice as we never had a tv shot yet, but it does sound really good to us, we'd follow it.

Anonymous said...

steve is wrong. mark is right.

did you really used to do the storyboard and stopwatch thing??? that's hilariously wrong and insufferable. mother of jesus!

the thing to remember when you're working with a director is that you're the client. and you have a choice. are you going to be the cool client who lets the person you hired do what you hired them to do. and make it a pleasant experience. or are you going to be the annoying tight-arsed git? put yourself in their shoes. what would you want?

one thing i've found that really works (but requires creative freedom) is to act blase and nonchalant and OK every thing they suggest initially. so long as it's cool obviously. casting etc. and give them the impression that it's all on their shoulders. ie, pass on to them any creative freedom that you have. if they're any good (and if you've made the right call) they'll cotton on to this and realize they have a real opportunity and will work ten times as hard than if you're being a controlling micromanaging jackass.

the atmosphere on the set shows up on the screen. take chances. have fun. it's only an ad.

Anonymous said...

Steve. Your last comment about directors not caring if an ad works is so 80's darling. Have you actuall ever worked with a decent director. I'm guessing you're not a creative anyway

Anonymous said...

To anon with the tiny budget.........
Whether you're successful or not depends on the quality of the script. You'd be amazed at how many wallets spring open ( including mine) when you've got a great idea.

Anonymous said...

Scamp, did you enter your Levi's posters into Cannes?

Anonymous said...

Dear Steve,
of course a team has to take responsibility for the creative end result but if you've hired a director for a particular vision then you have to give him/her the space to realise it.
A frustration for me is that I sometimes win pitches with treatments that contain what are deemed to be 'nice touches' (you know the entertaining stuff that makes the punters want to watch the ad).
Thats great. Except that quite often these touches (the ones that got me the job in the first place) are the first things that are removed by the client in the edit.
That's just one example of a time when an application of bollocks is required.

If you are shooting with a director who doesn't care if the ad works or not you've got to take some responsibility for that. You chose 'em.

Anonymous said...

Hover over the director at all times, suggest changes to the lighting, ask why there's a big black cross in the middle of the monitor, remind them to take the lens cap off and check they've got film in the camera (that dates me doesn't it), get your head right in front of the monitor so no one else can see, start directing the talent yourself, insist on shooting three more takes after the director is satisfied, say "anamorphic" as if you understand it, ditto "14:3,"insist on removing a prop even when it's not in shot. Directors love all that stuff. No one will spit in your tea. Honest.

Anonymous said...

That sounds like me and Chris circa 1986.

Anonymous said...

anon. 2.51: funny

can i just say what a prince mark denton seems to be?
stopwatch and redundant storyboards notwithstanding.

i'd hire him in an instant. in fact i think i may well do just that. and then rub our success in all your faces.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark, I am in total awe, having just read your advice! may I ask are you the Mark from Keston that I haven't seen since you worked in or around St.Martins(1984) I was at Heals, now Sue Hall but then Sue Bacon?x