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I was born in Montreal, Canada, in the middle of a blizzard apparently. I’ve always liked the drama of how that sounded, but I just googled the weather on that date and I see no precipitation recorded. I’ll choose to believe the internet is lying.

I used to have a stock catalogue of ‘earliest memories’ in my head, but then I was looking through a box of my mother’s photographs and I realised most of my indelible memories dovetailed very neatly with old pictures; were the memories recollections of actual moments or just flashbacks of images I’d seen when I was little?

My mother ran an art gallery and my dad was a mechanical engineer. They split up when I was about 14, which was a bit of a personal earthquake at the time, and probably closed my carefree childhood chapter and kicked off a turbulent teens phase. 

[My parents] split up when I was about 14, which was a bit of a personal earthquake at the time

But I do think of my childhood as a happy one. School was pretty easy, summers seemed long, misadventures were always at hand.

Above: Godsall was born in Montreal [Photo courtesy of Marc-Olivier Jodoin]. 


As a kid, I always thought I wanted to be a marine biologist. I loved the idea of living on a boat and posing for photographs in front of submarines and as-yet-unidentified specimens of the Carcharodon species. But then the whole biology homework thing kind of got in the way.  

I was not a great student a lot of the time. Mostly I just day-dreamed and doodled my way through.  

My backup plan, once the whole advertising thing crashes and burns, is still to just go around on steel boats wearing Cousteau-type gear and smoking Gitanes…squinting at navigation charts and pointing knowingly at horizons.

Advertising sounded fun and also a more viable way to pay rent in New York. 

Long before I ever thought about a job in advertising I saw a reel of old Cannes prize winners. It was at a restaurant in Toronto that would project them on the wall as a gimmick. Some of them were so clever and artful – they seemed to be these little motion pictures that were brilliantly distilled.

Above: Godsall worked as editorial assistant at Spy, a New York-based satirical monthly magazine published from 1986 to 1998.


I started off wanting to be journalist and at 23, I joined Spy in New York, with the vague notion that it would involve writing, travel and a certain amount of adventure. 

I’m probably clear of any trouble with US immigration now, but I didn’t have my legal work papers as a Canadian, so they paid me some sort of possibly controversial low wage in cash. 

I got into advertising because a friend came back from shooting a commercial, with Ridley Scott or some famous director, in LA and was telling me about it. It sounded fun and also a more viable way to pay rent in New York. 

I bluffed my way into a job as a junior copywriter in Toronto by creating a kind of fake portfolio. My goal was to get back to New York legally. 

David Kolbusz blacklisted me because he thought I stole his Avril Lavigne T-shirt.

Then I got hired by Kirshenbaum Bond in New York. One of the first projects was something with Spike Jonze, then another was with the Coen brothers, and I just loved it. I loved being in production. 

At the time that I was starting out in the industry there were these rockstar London-based directors – Jonathan GlazerFrank Budgen – who were doing this beautiful work that inspired me. 

The Guardian – Guardian News and Media: We Own The Weekend

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Above: Among the work Godsall did with David Kolbusz is the lauded 2013 Guardian ad, We Own The Weekend. 


In answer to the ‘anyone you’d like to work with in the future?’ question, I’d have to cite David Kolbusz. We had a nice run of working together for a while, which I really enjoyed, but he blacklisted me because he thought I stole his Avril Lavigne T-shirt, which is not true — I just took it to get it dry cleaned.

The most exciting day of my career was the day I found out I was getting a job I really wanted, and for which I had to compete against some very big-deal directors. I loved the final film we made, but it ended up being killed by the client due a ‘congressional inquest into violence in video games’ taking place in Washington. 

I loved the final film we made, but it ended up being killed by the client due a ‘congressional inquest into violence in video games’.

Learning that it was being buried was probably the worst day of my career — so that one project was book-ended by a very high high and a very deflating low.

Now, if I’m invited to, I do like to get involved in the writing bit. I always like to look at a project in a different way, or just come up with some ideas that might augment the idea in its current form. 

I do love just simple character studies. Ads where there is narration or the characters' inner thoughts in a voiceover are as simple as they get. I think the Girlfriend series for Axe were the first things I had done with BBH London. That was interesting as it wasn’t the characters’ inner thoughts but a voiceover commenting on them.

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Axe – Sporty Girl

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Axe – High Maintenance Girl

Above: High Maintenance Girl and Sporty Girl, part of 2012's The Girlfriend series for Axe.


I enjoyed making the Girlfriend series and that shoot gave me a nice celebrity cameo because we recorded the VO with Nick [Offerman, best known as Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation] in LA’s San Fernando Valley, in this little house; it was a famous studio where big 70s and 80s albums were recorded, apparently. 

There we were at the studio, and I asked the sound engineer where the bathroom was and it was down this corridor. There was only one, and when I got to it I knocked and someone said, “Just a minute”. A moment later, the door opened and this little guy wearing a Scottish football sweater came out and apologised for having taken so long. It was Rod Stewart and we had a little brief chat.

A moment later, the door opened and this little guy wearing a Scottish football sweater came out and apologised for having taken so long. It was Rod Stewart.

Slow motion is a kind of cheat as it’s great for character studies, because it gives you the ability to slow it down and get that microscopic study of someone’s expressions – catch little changes in their demeanour. 

Southern Comfort – Southern Comfort: Beach

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Above: The much awarded spot, Beach, was the launch film for Southern Comfort's 2012 Whatever’s Comfortable platform. 


When you get to the edit stage of a piece of work and you’ve gone through all the check points – great idea, good scripts, great actors, and you’ve got footage that’s interesting and you’ve got edits you really like, then there’s this incredible luxury at that point – to experiment with sound. 

I never cry. Except at the slightest cheap emotional provocation in a bad movie on an airplane.

It’s just the playtime. You might be thinking of taking the prescribed route, maybe Edith Piaf, or Rod Stewart. You wonder what would it be like with Mozart or a 70s industrial band from Germany. Or maybe you think what’s it like with no music whatsoever and just interesting sound design. Or something that’s the opposite of what you originally thought would work. 

The sound will change it 200 per cent, every time. The Southern Comfort spot, Beach, probably had, like, five different songs on it, which made it five completely different commercials.

It I could change one thing about myself, I’d change a whole bunch of things: I’d be more considerate, less of a baby about needing sleep, more fit, less lazy, possessed of sage wisdom, a good memory and keen wit. I’d be able to draw, spin a ball on my index finger, and think of the perfect comeback line on the spot rather than four minutes later.

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Squarespace – Winona in Winona (Extended)

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Booking.com – Idris Elba Says Things

Above: Winona Ryder excelled in Godsall's whimsical 2020 character study for Squarespace, while Idris Elba starred in Godsall's recent campaign for Booking.com.


One of my weaknesses right now is the need for dark chocolate with breakfast before I head out the door for a day of shooting. Who eats chocolate at breakfast? As it turns out, I do — more often than I should admit. 

I never cry. Except at the slightest cheap emotional provocation in a bad movie on an airplane, in which case I cry at the drop of a hat. 

I think I’m an introvert who has to play the role of an extrovert on a regular basis. I’m not intrinsically comfortable being the centre of attention at all, but sometimes you have to slap on the extrovert hat for work.    

Go out on limbs. Embrace failure. Be yourself.

Sometimes there will be an accumulated build-up of various life issues that‘ll end up making me argue with someone in line at the cappuccino stand because I think they took my coffee. It’ll be an out-of-character little moment of prickliness. Then I feel sheepish and guilty and overly apologetic when I realise it was in fact Jim’s coffee and not mine.

My advice to anyone who wants to direct is to just direct. Make things and learn as you go. Try to work with inspiring people. Go out on limbs. Embrace failure. Be yourself.

Photo credit for images at top of page: Kal Weber

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