Spike Jonze turned down Sony ‘Balls’ but still likes ads

Cannes 2014: This is my sixth Cannes (I realise that saying that as a 26 year old makes me appear even more like a horrible smug git), so I’d like to think that I’ve worked out a couple of tricks and tips that helps to get the very best out of the festival.

And high up on my list of hints is to try and avoid the shameless celebrity-filled seminars that litter the week, put on by agencies desperate to sign up a crowd puller so that their session won’t be empty.

Usually this approach works on the capacity front, but it comes at a severe quality cost. Rarely do these celebs have anything of interest to say, and even if they do they struggle to articulate it, mainly because they’re still a little confused about where the hell they are and why some advertising agency they’ve never heard of seem willing to give them thousands of dollars to speak to an audience who are spending most of the session on Twitter.

So naturally, with this piece of advice at hand, today I went to see a session by a world famous director.

images-3But please, give me the benefit of the doubt. That man was Spike Jonze (left), the guy behind such brilliance as Being John Malkovich, Jackass, Where The Wild Things Are and music videos for acts ranging from Fatboy Slim to the Beastie Boys.

If there’s one thing this guy knows, it’s creating amazing, innovative, creative content.

Sadly, if I’m honest, the talk still left a little bit to be desired, with the questions asked being a little staid, and the session leaving you want to delve a little bit further into the psyche of the great man.

But Jonze was a fitting guest for the session’s theme – ‘Meeting the disrupters’ – and it’s credit to him that he still managed to keep the audience on his side, with some crowd-pleasing – and valuable – messages.

There was no greater evidence of this when Jonze encouraged everyone, particularly clients, to be a little braver.

“My message for the clients in the room would be to be willing to get fired in order to save a good idea,” Jonze said, to the inevitable rapturous applause. “It’s easy for me to say as I don’t have to pay your mortgage, but find brave people and push them to make great work all the time.”

Of course, what made this quote special was that Jonze practices what he preaches. Here is a man who began his career in the industry simply because he wanted to have a laugh and create some cool stuff with his friends. A decade later, some of his mates had helped him produce some of the greatest work committed to film.

But that’s not to say Jonze gets it right every time. He admitted during a rare candid moment in the talk that he’d turned down the iconic Sony ‘Balls’ campaign because he didn’t ‘get it’ at first. But obviously another director did and “created a masterpiece.”

But Jonze has no regrets, and if anything, he pondered, it just goes to show that a piece of work can only be great if you have some ‘joy’ in making it.

“Everything I do starts with a feeling,” Jonze explained. “I’d rather not take a job if I’m vague about the idea…you have to do things that surprise you, that starts with a feeling of excitement…and amid the chaos and the problems you encounter on the way, you have to keep coming back to that original feeling if you want to produce something great.”

In this day and age, that’s easier said than done. But when you do look at the work at Cannes that goes on to win the awards, you can see why the very best share that philosophy.

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About Matt Williams

Matt Williams is head of content at Partners Andrews Aldridge.