Saatchi’s Kate Stanners on discovering and employing the best new director talent

Kate Stanners is creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi London and worldwide spokesperson the agency’s News Directors’ Showcase, now in its 21st year at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity.

Here she discusses what the NDS has achieved for Saatchi and the chosen directors (including famous names like Jonathan Glazer and Spike Jonze) and why storytelling remains the key directorial skill.

1/ The Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors’ showcase is now in its 21st year. Has its longevity surprised you? How have the films changed over the years? What has it achieved for the agency and the business generally?

I think the success/ longevity of NDS is not a surprise. As an industry we are constantly curious. Always looking for new ideas and new talent. That is the nature of the business. The showcase gives the industry a chance to sit back and be inspired by fresh new talent. Over the years we have seen the nature of the films change. To start with there were a lot more ads. Over the years we have seen the influence of promos, film schools and now more than ever YouTube.

In what was once a job to find new talent, now we see ourselves editing out a lot of the content that exists. This year’s companion competition with Vimeo and Moby resulted in 600 entries who responded to the brief to interpret the idea of ‘Hello, Future’ in the form of a music video for one of three tracks from Moby’s new album Destroyed. The showcase is Saatchi’s way of helping to promote new talent, and help launch future directors’ careers.

2/Which directors among those you have featured over the years have had the biggest impact on the ad world?

We have had great young talent in the showcase who have gone on to influence the industry. Jonathan Glazer, Spike Jonze, Danny Kleinman, Frank Budgen to name a few. Exceptional talents that have gone on to help shape our industry.

3/ Do directors now see advertising as a first step on the road to feature films (as many used to) or one of many means of expressing themselves?

I think directors do see advertising as a place to develop their talents as a move towards features. Working in a commercial environment helps, and acts as a stepping stone. And as we know, advertising itself is commissioning longer formats.

4/ The directors featured in this year’s line-up all appear to be male. Is advertising film-making male dominated? Why should this be so?

It happens that this year’s showcase seems to be predominantly male. I could not tell you why. It is a shame…but it appears that directing still seems to be male dominated.

5/ Do you look for different qualities in the directors you select for commercials and viral films?

You look for different qualities in directors according to the script, rather than viral v commercials. The different craft skills, narrative, effects, photography, timing, comedy, dark, drama…the list goes on. Ultimately you try and match the script to the different talents.

6/ Do clients ever become involved in choosing directors?

Clients very rarely come to us with their directing choice. What happens is we make a recommendation to them. We might show them a shortlist and talk about why we think they are right for the project.

7/ How easy is it for your NDS directors to make the breakthrough to winning real commissions?

I think it is always hard for new directors to get commissions, the showcase is there to help provide a platform for them. It helps them get recognition. I know we have gone on to use many of the showcased directors at Saatchi & Saatchi…and other agencies do the same.

8/ Do you ever approach a production company first over a project and then perhaps choose a director from their roster or is it always a known director first?

Sometimes we have an ongoing relationship with a production company, and use a roster of their directors. This often happens on big and fast-moving pieces of business.

9/ In your comments on the NDS list you talk about the ability to tell a story. Which directors do you think are the masters of storytelling? What’s their best work?

I think all good directors are great story tellers. They make you want more, they envelope you with the story. They engage you.

Right from the opening scene you should be drawn in. Jonathan Glazer (a previous NDS director) is a master of that, both in his commercials and, brilliantly, in his film Sexy Beast. Another example is Daniel Wolfe’s film for Plan B. To show this ability is often hard in short formats, but all the previous NDS film makers who have gone on to be so successful have this incredible talent.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.