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Talent will out, the old saying assures us, as if success comes as naturally to the gifted as leaves to a tree. 

But talent needs nurturing and pruning to achieve its full potential, with good timing and luck as attendants. Plenty of directors have broken through from art, film or design school, while plenty more get their big break via the industry’s range of awards and academies, but the mechanics of nurturing new director talent from the nursery slopes to the off-piste thrills of the real-world marketplace is a challenging one.

We promote and discover and nurture new talent. And if we don’t, who’s going to replace those guys who are already famous?

Veteran producer Francois Chilot has been helming the Young Director Award – which is supported by shots, and presented annually at Cannes – since 1998, and his sizeable footprint in advertising goes all the way back to his first job at TBWA in 1971. Currently fielding issues around the coronavirus and this year’s Cannes, for him, nurturing new talent is as essential to the industry and its future as breathing is to staying alive.

Above: Francois Chilot, President of the YDA.


“What is it we do together?” he asks. “How do we, as producers, survive and make sure we have a future? We promote and discover and nurture new talent. And if we don’t, who’s going to replace those guys who are already famous? That’s what the YDA is about. That’s what we have to do if we want to survive and to grow and evolve.”

We want to award the producers who successfully discover and promote new directors.

More than 600 entries from all over the world filled YDA’s roster last year, says Chilot, with a 50-50 gender split – which would have been unlikely even just a few years ago – and the Special Jury Award going to 26-year-old filmmaker Thessa Meijer. He also emphasises the crucial importance of the director/producer relationship – because who will replace the people who make it happen, like Chilot, when they’re gone? 

It’s team work. You need both. Talent and team work.

“Every producer who enters the film of a young director automatically is now entered into the Producers Award,” he says, “because we want to award the producers who successfully discover and promote new directors.” For Chilot, success in the industry depends on the right partnerships as much as raw talent. “If a director wins a YDA, they get phone calls immediately from producers from all over the world, but with a producer who really believes in what they do, then they have all the chances to enter our world.” 

He cites Thessa Meijer’s trajectory to Special Jury Award. “She was not in the commercial world, and now, because of her film, she is entering that world and they are going to succeed and push her through that world and probably far beyond. It’s team work,” he adds. “You need both. Talent and team work.”

The Walking Fish

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Above: Thessa Meijer's YDA-winning short film. 


For Paul Drake at D&AD, whose New Blood Academy has been running for the best part of a decade, teamwork skills are key on many levels. “A big part of what the Academy is about is developing a group of people who are there for each other, who support each other, who regularly contact each other, and become points of reference for each other. It super-charges them and allows them to flourish in those early years.” 

The economic barriers to entering the creative workforce at entry-level salaries have led to an increasingly homogeneous and shrinking talent pool.

New Blood is an intensive four-week programme, supported by WPP, and providing a crucial bridge between education and the workplace. It’s about collaboration, bravery of thought and multi-disciplinary learning. It’s about selling and presenting, and understanding how the industry makes money. And it’s about understanding how you can expand and grow and dig beyond an idea; that element of creative strategy and disruptive thinking. Could you imagine what the next Facebook could be or where Facebook would go in the future?” 

As an industry we trade on people, so if we’re not getting the best people in... it’s going to start to reduce the quality of the products we sell.

The impact of tuition fees, the downgrading of creative subjects in schools, the economic barriers to entering the creative workforce at entry-level salaries have led to an increasingly homogeneous and shrinking talent pool. “The industry side tells us how incredibly difficult it is to find different talent,” says Drake, “and as an industry we trade on people, so if we’re not getting the best people in, and if we’re fishing from a very small pool of talent, eventually it’s going to start to reduce the quality of the products we sell.”

To open up the doors to a more diverse range of talent, D&AD launched SHIFT in London and New York, a five-month programme held over evenings and weekends, specifically for people without a university education but who are already making work. “Diversity in the workplace offers a whole new set of problem-solving techniques, different craft executions, and allows the creative industry to flourish,” says Drake.

Who doesn’t want a burst of creativity in their industry?

It’s important for us to demonstrate that creativity doesn’t have to come from a certain set of universities, that it could come from a whole range of different places. Because the routes into our industry have become incredibly narrow, and they are probably serviced by a three-year degree programme that is taught in a certain way, and that’s not fit for the industry. What we’ve seen in the New Blood Academy and SHIFT is that once their eyes are opened there’s a host of different places new talent can go to to fulfil their creative wants and needs, which is very exciting. Who doesn’t want a burst of creativity in their industry?”

The British Arrows is another major player guiding young talent into a highly competitive arena. “It’s so important that the industry that creates our marketing messages is as diverse as the audience they create for,” says Operations Director, Lisa Lavender. “The huge focus on diversity and inclusion is a collective recognition by the industry that more needs to be done to achieve real change. Talk isn't enough. These businesses need to create the opportunities, actually recruit more diverse talent, and address their organisation's culture to ensure that talent actually stays.”

It’s so important that the industry that creates our marketing messages is as diverse as the audience they create for.

Partnering with Create Jobs, British Arrows are behind the launch of the new Young Arrows awards, with the first prize-giving due in October. “The proceeds of this year’s event will be used to fund an annual creative and production course targeted at under-represented young people trying to break into the industry,” adds Lavender. And while she sees opportunities for new talent in the plethora of new platforms and corresponding explosion of content that comes with it, she warns that the industry needs to expand the number of entry-level roles, as MCP did last year with its new apprentices scheme.

As less work is commissioned, and top talent is more easily accessed, it’s hard right now for new directors to establish themselves.

“Creatives are always in search of things they’ve not seen before,” says British Arrows’ Co-Chairwoman, Clare Donald, “which is why new talent and thinking is so critical. But in a crowded and competitive world, experience often outweighs new. As less work is commissioned, and top talent is more easily accessed, it’s hard right now for new directors to establish themselves.” 

The reason there has been a shortage of emerging talent is that few of us are truly advocating for the next generation.

“Entering into the industry as a new talent is far more complex than it ever has been before,” adds fellow BA Chairwoman, Jani Guest, “and the reason there has been a shortage of emerging talent is that few of us are truly advocating for the next generation. We mostly hide behind the accolades and strengths of the current one.”  

Above, from left: Clare Donald, Jani Guest and Lisa Lavender from the British Arrows. 


An initiative launched back in 2014 by edit house Stitch’s Leo King and Tim Hardy to find and reward new directing talent, Homespun Yarns offers unsigned, recently signed or aspiring directors to make a film in collaboration with the industry’s finest talent. “Which means they gain invaluable insight, exposure and hands-on experience along the way,” says Leo King, “and it’s a great opportunity for the creative industry to make new connections and discover new talent.”  

It’s a great opportunity for the creative industry to make new connections and discover new talent.

From a very open brief, three to four films are selected to go into production with a £2,000 budget, with up-and-coming talents such as Zak Razvi and Thomas Ralph among previous winners. “We’re really proud of all it has achieved and that it is now an acknowledged passport to industry recognition,” adds Hardy. “It’s a definite career-launching springboard and that’s why we do it, it’s so important that filmmakers from all backgrounds have the chance to showcase their talents.”

Zak Razvi – JORDANNE

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Above: Zak Razvi's short, Jordanne, which won at Homespun Yarns in 2014, and also at that year's shots Awards New Director of the Year. 


The likes of Homespun Yarns and other industry initiatives to expand its creative gene pool are proving effective. Two years ago, Rosie Arnold stepped down from AMV BBDO to join Creative Equals, for whom diverse teams mean diverse audiences means successful campaigns. Creative Equals works with agencies and individuals to improve and embed diversity in the agencies scrambling to cater to today’s diverse cultures. Arnold gave mentor support to a young illustrator named Megan Egan, who had won a spot on the D&AD Academy in 2017, which led to her coming to London. 

There's still a huge amount of people who remain under-represented. I can't wait to see them rise up.

“The only reason I was able to survive and thrive was thanks to the generosity of Creative Equals and Rosie Arnold,” she says. “They awarded me a bursary to move down here, and organised cheap accommodation for my first year, so I didn’t have as many financial worries. The London bubble is very hard to burst from the outside.”

Now an art director at Creature London, she used a Creative Equals bursary to attend Brixton Finishing School, AKA, School of Communication Arts 2.0. “It’s a portfolio school that runs for nine months of the year, and that's where I met a lot of people in the industry and learnt the skills I needed to be hired in advertising. It opened a lot of doors for me, and they're doing it for a lot of other people too. You just have to walk into the room to see each cohort is far more diverse than the industry as a whole.”

The only reason I was able to survive and thrive was thanks to the generosity of Creative Equals and Rosie Arnold.

As a creative without a degree, she hails initiatives like D&AD’s SHIFT. “Everyone I meet at my level went to university,” she says, “but SHIFT is a really exciting programme that’s changing that, and there's some amazing talent coming through from it. Diversity is a complex issue, but one that the industry is beginning to wake up to and take important steps to address. Personally, the recent championing of upcoming female talent and those without degrees is a wave that I rode straight into the industry – and that's great – but there's still a huge amount of people who remain under-represented. I can't wait to see them rise up.”

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