It's no secret to anyone who's reading this that our industry is continuing to undergo huge changes.
Budgets keep shrinking and exceptional opportunities are dwindling. Not surprisingly, this has resulted in a much more risk-averse advertising culture.
Traditional commercials have suffered amid our ‘content everywhere’ realities. When the big jobs do come in, the agencies and clients behind them are hesitant to hand them over to new talent, preferring to hire award-winning, world-class names to helm their multi-million dollar campaigns.
Now, these amazing directors have earned their place at the top, but they too were once fresh young talents not being given the chance to prove themselves.
Those who see the potential in budding talents have a huge role to play in elevating young directors’ voices.
Recently, this exact scenario played out with an incredibly talented up-and-coming director I have the privilege to work with. The agency adored them and had made them their recommendation to the client. The director's idea really pushed the envelope in an interesting way and it was an exciting approach for the brand. Despite the agency's reco, the client wouldn't accept, choosing to play it safe and go with an established director.
This situation happens often and is magnified if the production company is also less established. In this climate, young talent are finding they need to take on lower-budget freelance work; or they’re tempted to take jobs that don’t creatively inspire or move their career forward in the right direction. This might be the current state of things - and let's be honest, things have been strange - but it's not the end of the world.
There are actionable steps that both new talent and those supporting them as executive producers can take to break through these barriers. Let’s face it, those who see the potential in these budding talents have a huge role to play in elevating young directors’ voices and getting them in on work that can propel their careers forward.
Have a strong point of view and be bold
What’s key is for young talent to have an opinion and be confident in it. A strong POV is essential. As soon as an agency or client smells uncertainty it will hurt a young director’s chances of getting the award.
If the concept and angle are cool and interesting, it can be the key to winning them over, so don't dilute the vision.
Get detailed, aka always be prepared
The thoroughness of a treatment can make up for inexperience and can help to close the bias gap.
A strong POV is essential.
Paying attention to the little (and not so little) things, such as listing some of the key crew you’d like to hire, can assuage a client’s hesitancy.
Dig in and go a step further
Show enthusiasm and dedication by shooting a test video or creating storyboards. These can be shot on your phone or hand-drawn if they get the idea across in a strong way.
Anything above and beyond expectations can give new talent a necessary leg up.
Practice. Practice. Practice
Running practice calls to role-play the dynamics between agency creatives, clients, and directors can be the most valuable to young talent. Bonus points for snagging a creative director friend to jump on a call. They are uniquely positioned to alert new talent to potential red flag moments or cracks in their preparations, thereby setting directors up for a higher chance of success when it's the real thing.
Shadow a master
Find out which of the more established directors on the roster are comfortable mentoring young directors. This can range from having new talent sit in on their calls with the agency to hear how they handle them to shadowing them throughout an entire commercial production.
Something that has become second nature to an industry pro may still be overwhelming to young talent, so this can really help them be more confident.
Make something out of left field, aka don’t be afraid to get weird
What is it that they have that others don’t? Experiment with creative projects that hone in on this rather than falling prey to spec spots that emulate what’s been lauded in the past.
Something that has become second nature to an industry pro may still be overwhelming to young talent.
What decision-makers really want to see is a super simple idea really well executed, rather than a complicated concept that is difficult to execute well without the right budget. A singular, revealing moment of humanity. Bonus points for great dialogue!
Mix up who you’re working with
Even when using favours to get films made, try sourcing different DPs, editors, and colourists so that not everything has the same exact look and feel. It also helps new talent grow when they work with different people and personalities.
It’s a challenging time for young directors, but there are a few bold agencies and clients making interesting work and trusting young talent to shoot it. I’m confident that these young artists will continue to use their distinct voices and rise to the top.
I’m hopeful that even more agencies and brands will realize that giving new talent a shot, even if what they want isn’t yet on their reel, isn’t so high-risk in the end.
Fresh perspectives may surprise you with just how impactful they can be when given the chance.