The Commercial Process: A Director's Point of View – Part 2

by Peter D Marshall

“The Commercial Process: A Director’s Point of View – Part Two” by Tony Johns.

There are various ways you can break into the world of commercial directing but the first step for all aspiring directors is to put together a Showreel. Think of it as your Curriculum Vitae with moving pictures. Without one to show your abilities, you won’t be offered a script.

A number of directors start out directing music clips and short films to build their reel. Another approach is to write and direct your own spec (speculative) commercials – i.e. commercials that have not been commissioned. In other words any cost involved is the director’s burden. A number of established directors, myself included, still write and direct spec commercials. It is one way to try out new ideas or to add variety to one’s Showreel. Luckily for me, I have built up a rapport with crew and post-production houses over the years and can usually get time and facilities donated for nothing. After all, if the spec commercial is good enough, they can put it on their Showreels as well. For those of you, who are starting out, don’t despair; there are plenty of DOP’s (Director of Photography), grips, editors, etc. out there who are starting out also.

Quite a few commercial directors have broken into the ‘moving picture’ commercial world through their photographic work (stills). DOP’s sometimes make the move to directing. There is an increasing trend on lower budget commercials to use a DOP/director simply to save on the cost of employing both. There are DOP/Directors out there who handle the duel roles superbly but some efforts leave a lot to be desired, especially where direction of talent is involved. Recently there has also been a trend for agency creatives, writers, etc to take the plunge into the world of commercial directing.

There are several ways directors can be offered a script (board). The producer or the director will receive a phone call either from the agency producer or the creative team to set up a meeting to view a script. A creative team will be after a particular director from a particular production company. If the preferred director is unavailable the production company’s producer will try and sell another one of their directors. Right time right place. After setting up a meeting to show your reel and, following its viewing, the creative team might give you a script to look at there and then. On occasions the agency will simply phone to say that a script is on its way via fax, email, etc.

A word of advice, never write a director’s treatment unless you have spoken to the creative team first ­ even if it is over the phone. Rule of thumb, listen to how the creative teams visualise the script e.g. characters, pace, look, style, etc. All agency creative teams place a different value on a director’s role. I have often been given a script and have been allowed total creative control. The only guidelines given are to stay true to the idea. In some cases I have been directly involved with the creative conception of the idea. I have just as often been given no creative control whatsoever. The creative team want only what is in the script, nothing more, nothing less. On this type of shoot it is easy to feel frustrated and creatively stifled but, at the end of the day, if the creatives believe you have given them everything they ask for and if the clients are happy, then you have done a good job. If nothing else you have built relationships and, hopefully, guaranteed your next job.

Some directors don’t mind them, some love them, and most loathe them. The Directors Treatment! A producer once said to me “what do they want – a writer or a director?” The fact is that if you want the job you have to write a treatment. Once a job would be offered merely on the strength of a director’s Showreel. Not anymore! There are the exceptions – a few of the top directors refuse to write them ­ they are going to get the work anyway. Director’s treatments should include some of the following: a script summary, filming techniques, talent, locations, lighting & grading (the look), scene break down, storyboard, etc. A good idea is also to include photo references with the treatment. This could include anything from the type of wardrobe to the location and props, look, etc. The more information you can give the better.

It’s not uncommon for directors to shoot a rough version of the commercial (script) on a Handy cam and present that a long with the treatment. You can spend days working on a treatment but that does not guarantee you the job. The sad truth is you might have been asked to submit a treatment simply to make up the numbers. Agencies can sometimes ask up to four or five production companies to submit a treatment and budget already knowing full well who they intend using. Don’t look at this in a negative way. If the agencies are impressed with your treatment they may seriously consider you for their next campaign. Remember there are no set rules in the commercial world. No two agencies or creative teams are the same nor are production companies and directors.

In my next article – the production company and the production process.

Tony Johns Bio – An award winning international television commercial Director, Tony Johns came to this profession through his involvement as a successful recording artist in the 1980’s. Tony began directing music promos for his own band and was the first independent director in New Zealand to do so. Until that time all band promos had been directed by Television New Zealand staff. Impressed with his refreshingly innovative and creative music promos airing on Television New Zealand, Tony was invited by music promos for other recording artists of the day. Advertising agencies Saatchi & Saatchi and Colenso, attracted by Tony’s success with music promos, commissioned him to direct television commercials.

The demand for Tony’s directing talents compelled him to defer his musical ambitions to concentrate on his burgeoning directing career. It was a natural career change he was more than willing to make given the new opportunities to indulge his passion for story telling. Tony’s ability to see beyond the basic script, visualising all the details from the selection of professional talent, to the details of art direction, visualizing camera angles and creative lighting design, to the final edit design in the planning stages of every project, sets him apart.

Tony has directed commercials in New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and Indonesia. Tony has recently come under the umbrella of WeDoFilms in the USA. Samples of Tony’s work can be viewed at www.wedofilms.com and he can be contacted at lintonfilms@xtra.co.nz

Copyright (c) 2000-2009 Peter D. Marshall / All Rights Reserved

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