When I were a lad

“So, what do you want to do?” asked my careers advisor.

Since I first started to plan my career I knew I wanted to make adverts. Two things swung it. The first was the unending joy that is the Cadbury’s Smash advert, you know, the one with the laughing robots.

Having been bamboozled into believing that beans means Heinz and hands that do dishes can…. erm…. something….errr… something … with mild green Fairy Liquid, the idea that an advert could be entertaining, even funny, was a revelation. Entire films packed into bite size morsels, carefully crafted to make you laugh, cry but mainly buy.

Adverts suited my adolescent attention span and a megalomanic need to influence people, or as others might put it, manipulate them. But if the twin incentives of mind control and creating miniature cinematic masterpieces didn’t fully convince me, my final call to action as a fifteen year old wannabe advertising man was my mate Simon Kaufman, well his dad anyway. Simon lived in the coolest house in the coolest road and had the coolest parents. He called them Mike and Val, for those were their names. And what was Mike’s job? Yep, you guessed it, advertising.

“I want to make adverts” I replied to my careers adviser without a hint of hesitation or dilemma.

Imagine my acute disappointment when he patiently explained as if to an imbecile, that no one person makes an advert. The adverts we see on TV are the work of legions, snaking in a long chain of command linking from the client to the advertising agency to the creative team to the pitch to the storyboard to the market focus group and eventually to the filmmaker who just points the camera and does what he’s told.

But things have changed. Nowadays we have a whole new way of dispensing commercial information, a far less costly process of utilising the most powerful medium of communication on the planet. And there I was, perfectly placed as a filmmaker of some considerable experience with a background in marketing and copywriting. My earliest career goals were about to be fulfilled.

A company can spend hundreds and thousands of pounds on an advert and no one will be interested or they can spend flumpence and have a viral video influencing millions of potential customers. Throwing huge amounts of money at a commercial film project is no guarantee of success. A successful film is all about the idea and it’s execution. Advertising has moved on. No longer do companies need to enlist the expensive and often needless help of an advertising agency or film production company. They have marketing experts devoted to that very task. And here I am with over fifteen years experience disseminating audiovisual information. Between my clients and myself we have truly cut out the middlemen, which means that together we can produce great quality ads for a fraction of the cost. We are truly living the dream.

Here are a couple of my favourites. One is older and more expensive, the other newer, and costing a lot less. Both of them are mini masterpieces, but more importantly they advertise their products perfectly and precisely.

Sound and Vision

We’ll try anything. Strange gurgling sounds, funny faces, hitting ourselves over the head with inflatable hammers.

Engaging the attention of a baby is a tricky and often humiliating business, and once we finally do gain their attention, keeping it becomes an escalating war of attrition. Louder coos, desperate arm waving and increasingly extravagant facial contortions all too often end in dismal failure as something far more interesting catches their eye.

And so it is with filmmaking albeit in a slightly more sophisticated way, for without the full and constant attention of our viewer, the vitally important message that we’re trying to convey will be lost.

As with babies, the viewer’s attention can be grabbed and held with a carefully constructed blend of sound and vision. Unlike other mediums of communication, the moving image engages two rather than just one of our senses and therein lies the power of film, a power that pivots on one vital lynchpin, the audience.

It doesn’t matter how much money has been spent or how important the message. If the attention of the audience hasn’t been engaged, the message is lost to the wind. Gaining and keeping that attention is the true art of the filmmaker.

“Work is fun!”

I used to laugh at people who came up with statements like that. The type of people who see challenges instead of hurdles, personal achievement rather than getting the job over and done with, team players pulling together whilst I the lone wolf was roaming the corporate steppe trying to avoid eye contact with my line manager. I used to be a stranger to hard work but no longer. I don’t want to sound smug but I actually love my job and I love doing it well….he said smugly.

Case in point a short promotional film I made for a well-known pram company. A few days spent casing out locations around the wonderful city of York and the beauty spots of North Yorkshire, could have been confused by those with an untrained eye as an enjoyable jaunt but of course it was nose against the grindstone stuff, and I loved it. Then came the arduous task of a three-day shoot with a disparate group of stylists, models, marketing directors, stills photographers, not to mention BABIES! I tell you it’s not easy pulling faces to elicit smiles. It’s a fine line between funny face to make them laugh or scary face to make them scream in terror but once I’d worked out which face would best placate the marketing director then the real graft began.

With the warm sunshine beating relentlessly down we went about the tough business of filming happy gorgeous babies, first on the open golden sands of Saltburn beach where we were mercilessly buffeted by a light sea breeze, and then further inland onto the lush verdant woodland paths that had been selected weeks before through sheer dint of my laborious scouting trip. It should be noted that there is a maximum time limit that babies can be filmed each day so we were forced to start late and finish early, but the law is the law and we worked tirelessly to make certain that we obeyed it to the letter.

Exhausted from all the effort we wearily made our way to York city centre for a final half-day of filming. Grim it was, but by the time we’d finished and got all the shots in the can, I felt a great sense of personal achievement. I had risen to the challenge and I was proud of the way the whole team had pulled together through such tough circumstances.