The Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors' Showcase is a global initiative that was set up 22 years ago with the aim of discovering up-and-coming directing talent from around the world. Each year, the Publicis network presents its findings at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity and, in doing so, exposes these bright young things to an elite commercial audience that could one day help them become famous. Spike Jonze, Tarsem Singh, Kinka Usher and Jonathan Glazer are just a few of the names to have appeared in the showcase at the dawn of their careers.
Saatchi & Saatchi is very serious about finding the freshest, most diverse and, quite simply, the coolest talent from across the globe. As a result, it is almost unfathomable that the network then gifts these findings to the rest of the ad industry.
"It is the Saatchi & Saatchi culture to share," Saatchis' executive broadcast director, Andy Gulliman, explains. "It's a chance for the whole industry to look at what directing talent has been influential over the past 12 months and what can be beneficial for the business that we do. We look at it and think this is the work that we are jealous of."
Tom Eslinger, the network's worldwide creative director, digital, says this year's reel, made up of 17 directors, features "heavily graphical work". Many of the films are created using computer-generated imagery. One of the reasons that computer animation has featured regularly on the reel in recent years is due to the increased availability of CGI software and faster computers. It has seeded a subculture of young adults creating professional-quality films from their bedrooms. They are then able to instantly upload their work on social network sites, in some cases attracting so much viral attention that Steven Spielberg calls.
At least, this was the case for James Curran, a 28-year-old from Nottingham whose film appears on this year's reel. When Steven Spielberg's 3D film The Adventures Of Tintin came out last year, Curran, a fan of the books, worked on a reimagination of the opening title sequence just for fun.
He posted his witty animation on the video sharing network Vimeo. And that's when Spielberg came calling and offered the graphic designer a job on his next film.
Eslinger points out that, increasingly, films on the reel are those that create a huge social buzz online, which is helpful when it comes to searching for new talent. As a result, websites such as Vimeo and YouTube become essential research tools for the Saatchis worldwide creative board. This year, a handful of the films from the reel were, in Eslinger's words, "crazy viral".
But not every director seeks to create graphic, polished films, especially if a piece is contrived to look rough and ready - another style trend on this year's reel. To create this effect, directors are having fun with cheap digital camcorders and even mobile phones.
Gulliman says: "We are wowed by what technology can do today."
It also fits with the criteria that Saatchis refers to when looking for a new director. "It's good to see if they have some range," Eslinger says. "I hate to say the c-word but, as a creative agency, we are in the business of making content, so we are interested in how these people behave when they are doing something across different devices such as a phone or a tablet."
Scanning the highlights of this year's reel, the vast majority of directors seem to have impressive, self-made CVs to date. A few are founders of graphic animation companies, one has worked on the Hollywood film The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and another is the lead singer of the pop group OK Go. It seems a level above what might be viewed as a fledgling new director showcase.
Does this simply mean that the standard is getting better every year? Eslinger thinks it is, but Gulliman notes that, as well as "the kids that have built stuff on their Macs in their bedrooms", the reel also represents emerging talents who are making a name for themselves in Hollywood or the music promo scene, and whose work would be a good fit for the commercial world - hence, they are new to the world of advertising. Either way, these directors are viewed by Saatchis as being "on the cusp", in Gulliman's view, or just getting some recognition, and the New Directors' Showcase "gives them that extra jolt".
Andrew Huang's film, called Solipsist, is, as Gulliman says, "a piece of art", which is perhaps less surprising when you discover that the 27-year-old director graduated with a degree in fine art and animation from the University of Southern California. Huang says he wanted to "make a piece that harkens back to my fine-art roots". The film is very difficult to describe as it is abstract by design and, as Huang opaquely says, "a non-narrative experience designed to transport viewers through a hypnotic, dreamlike journey". Filled with elaborate costumes, visual effects and underwater puppets, the film took two days to shoot and nine months for the special effects to be spliced in. Gulliman's verdict: "It is very well-crafted. It is on the reel to inspire. Previously, what has happened is pieces of art like this then become the inspiration for commercial work."
FLEUR & MANU
Fleur Fortune and Emmanuel Cossu are graphic artists and worked together at the H5 graphics studio in Paris before taking charge of the artistic direction for the French high-society and fashion magazine L'Officiel. Now in their thirties, the pair are represented by Division Paris and direct commercials and music videos. Their film, No Brain, is a music video for the French DJ etienne de Crecy. The pair say they have always been fascinated by op art, and that de Crecy's music inspired them to draw on the genre. "We researched how to make op art in 3D and then, little by little, we built a sort of LSD-psychedelic-tunnel trip ..." Indeed, No Brain is like Tetris on acid and could easily induce an epileptic fit. Eslinger agrees: "It looks like an 80s video game. It's beautifully graphic."
BRIAN L PERKINS AND DAMIAN KULASH JR
Damian Kulash Jr is the lead singer of the Chicago-based indie rock band OK Go. Brian L Perkins is a creative at the integrated agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in California and a principal collaborator with the quirky music group. Their film, Needing/Getting, conveniently doubled as a Super Bowl ad for the car-maker Chevrolet (one of Perkins' clients) and a music video for OK Go's new single. For the film, the band drove down a two-mile stretch of desert with a rubber stick attached to the side of the new Chevrolet Sonic. A selection of baby pianos, jam jars and water containers had been placed at specific locations en route so that the stick would hit the objects in time with the music. Eslinger says: "Is OK Go a band now or are they a performance art group? Their videos are certainly more memorable than their music for most people."
The duo Skinny, or 30-year-olds David Hache and Marc-Edouard Leon, are inspired by youth culture, fashion and music and are described as the enfants terribles of the production company Partizan's new era of directors. Their promo, Iconic, for the German DJs Moonbootica, is what earned their place on this year's reel. The film, which seems like a Hollywood movie condensed into five minutes, focuses on a gang of young adults living in Los Angeles' Skid Row, the largest homeless population in the US. "To achieve this with authenticity and realism, we shot everything around there, from a squat house known as the Drunk Tank to a back-alley trailer park," Skinny say. The pair mainly cast underworld non-actors including skate punks, strippers and tattooed naked ladies. "The execution is brilliant," Gulliman says. "It is very mature for what we class as 'new directors'."
Born and raised in Scotland, 41-year-old Stuart Aitken studied design at the Glasgow School of Art and is a co-founder of the animation studio Axis Animation. Aitken's contribution to the reel comes in the form of a promotional trailer for the zombie computer game Dead Island. The film, which features the zombies and human characters from the game, is gory but strangely touching, set as it is to sweeping classical music. Aitken says he wanted to "give the piece a sense of emotional resonance that would link the audience to the characters" - something that Gulliman says he delivers in spades: "The film is computer-generated so it should effectively not have any soul, but the power of the film is that it totally moves you." The trailer won Aitken a Cannes gold Film Lion in the internet film category at last year's International Festival of Creativity.
Tim Miller is a co-founder and creative director of Blur Studio, a visual effects, 3D animation and motion design company based in California. Miller worked on the title sequence for the David Fincher film The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The opening, set to a cover of Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song, sees naked bodies rising out of seas of oil, motifs of alien-like tentacles and flames and an almost erotic seeping of inky liquid from a woman's lips. It is, Gulliman says, evidence of "craft in every category - the edit, the pace, the style, the post-production, the energy. The overall impression is one of class." Gulliman is particularly impressed with Miller's skill working with liquid - "a specialist thing" - and in the overall dark tone. He says: "To be able to bring that much energy and life out of a black frame is impressive."
Now represented by Partizan, James Curran made his name by reimagining the opening title sequence to Steven Spielberg's movie The Adventures Of Tintin. Curran, who has been a fan of Tintin since spending his childhood holidaying in France where he would collect various Tintin books and merchandise, finished the film in "a couple of intense weekends". The animation references the full range of Tintin characters featured in the books, and which Curran was reminded of when re-reading his collection. "With the long-awaited release of the movie, it seemed like a good opportunity to work on an animation about a subject that I'm a fan of," Curran says. Both Gulliman and Eslinger are charmed by the fact that Spielberg himself got in touch with the young director. "We loved the fact that Spielberg saw it and gave him the reward of giving him a call and showing his respect for the work that Curran has done," Gulliman says.
JAMES W GRIFFITHS
So far, in his 28 years of existence, the former National Film and Television School student James W Griffiths has notched up a few career highs, from directing a film starring Ray Winstone to having a short film premiered at the 2011 Edinburgh International Film Festival. The film in question? Called Splitscreen: A Love Story, it does what it says on the tin - the screen is split in two and follows a girl and a boy on one day as they cross two cities and seem to eventually meet face to face on a bridge. The idea is simple, but the jaw-drop comes when you are told it was all filmed on a Nokia mobile phone. Griffiths created the film for a competition set by the mobile phone maker. Gulliman says: "It is a split screen but it feels like one world. It is frame-by-frame perfect."
Rick Mereki, 28, is an independent film-maker and music-video director from Melbourne. Mereki's film trilogy, MOVE, EAT and LEARN, are part of a commercial project for the travel brand STA Travel. Pitching direct to the client, Mereki successfully sold the idea of three short films linked around the idea of inspiring people to travel. Mereki pulled together a small team and spent four months testing, shooting, editing and engineering their online release. MOVE is the second-most-liked video on Vimeo of all time. Mereki says creating the film "was one of the most exhausting, rewarding and amazing experiences of my life". Gulliman says: "The execution is a great result. Plus, it wasn't like there was an agency who wrote a script and commissioned a guy to do it on behalf of a client. It's a guy who had an idea, went direct to a client, and said: 'It fits with your brand, what do you think?'"
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk