with Molly Burdett

31 October 2023

After the triumph that was the first ever Young Arrows, we are super excited for the 2023 awards which are right around the corner. We can talk about the benefits of recognising young talent until the cows come home, but who better to tell you why than our inaugural winners. Our very first Young Arrows Director of the Year Molly Burdett has gone from strength to strength since winning for her film “Respite” for Women’s Aid.

YA Molly Burdett 1

Molly won the Young & Emerging Talent Award - Production for the film Respite for Women's Aid through ENGINE by Spindle and No.8

“I have to be invested in the meaning behind the work, particularly in projects where having a shared passionate and aligned team is crucial.” Helping to bring about social change has been a driver for several of rising director Molly Burdett’s acclaimed and award-winning spots. Burdett’s work ranges from the inspiring, challenging “Ashton’s Story” for the NHS, to her award-winning campaigning spot “Respite” for Women’s Aid – her advertising debut, in fact, on which she worked with Oscar nominated DOP Robbie Ryan. Meanwhile 2022’s “Have A Word” for the Mayor Of London, went massively viral, receiving more than 307 million reaches, and winning a Glass Lion award at Cannes Lions 2022, two Silvers, for Best Commercial and Best Charity Commercial, as well as The Impact Award at the British Arrows. Strikingly impressive for a first spot.

Now signed with Spindle Films for advertising and other film projects – she started out directing the English singer-songwriter Arlo Parks’ music videos – her most recent work is a series of 10-second idents for John Lewis, “For All Life’s Moments”. Here, the sense of social purpose is adjusted to the lower lighting of our domestic selves, where a lamp, a dining table, or a sofa is the hero, around which family life turns, and crawls and climbs, captured with naturalistic flair by Burdett, the static eye of her camera opening a small window onto what you sense are richer, bigger stories just beyond the lens.

Burdett had a day job as office manager at a production company when she first started making videos in her spare time with Arlo Parks, back in 2019. “ A pivotal moment in my career came with the release of the video I created for Arlo called “Black Dog”, which helped bridge the gap between my work in music videos and advertising,” she says. It wasn’t long before Spindle spotted her work. “I officially signed with them in 2020,” she says, “and directed my first commercial the same year. There have been setbacks and learning experiences since then, but a key part of the process is finding the people who you believe are going to fight for your vision and nurture you.”

Collaborating with Arlo Parks, they experienced, she says, an amazing creative synergy. “The lyrics in Arlo’s music are so rich and poetic, packed full of meaning, which lent itself well to delicate, powerful stories,” she says, “and the videos acted as stepping stones for my journey into advertising.”

Moving from videos to spots, one distinction she uncovered between the two is the difference in pace. “Working with larger budgets on adverts, and having more time to develop ideas, certainly expands possibilities,” she says. “However, I think there’s still something important about working within constraints, as it often allows you to be more creative. I believe that the two can enrich each other.”

Her first spot, “Respite”, for domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid, came during the dark days of Covid, and “was a response to the concerning rise in domestic violence during lockdown”, she says. The following year she made “Have A Word” for the Mayor of London, encouraging men to call out sexist and misogynistic behaviour – this in the wake of the horror of the Sarah Everard murder.

“Both of these campaigns tackle issues that are deeply important to me,” says Burdett. “My goal was to ensure that both narratives felt as genuine and timely as possible. They were directly influenced by the pressing issues of their times, which, in turn, contributed to their success in spreading their messages more widely and making a significant impact.”

For both campaigns, Burdett spent a good deal of time in development gathering primary information, which included talking to other women about their personal experiences, reading survivor stories and collaborating with organisations and charities to gather essential details that would enhance the narrative or build the character development. “While there was plenty of room for creating visual tension,” she adds, “I was cautious not to overdo it. I wanted to maintain a visceral and authentic feel, aided through our casting choices, immersive cinematography and raw sound design.”

The force of the impact of the campaign blew her away. “It was overwhelming to witness it being so widely shared,” she says, “not only within the advertising world but also permeating popular culture. It has resulted in so many positive changes. The government has invested £18m to combat violence against women, laws have been changed and it’s shifted the way boys and men are educated in schools. This campaign has made me aware of the immense power that advertising can have in creating positive change.”

After winning the Young Arrows award to then win silver and bronze arrows respectively – the Impact Award and Frank Budgen award for Best Director – for “Have a Word” is a remarkable recognition of a distinctive directorial talent. “Winning Gold at the Young Arrows was a huge milestone moment for me,” she says. “As this was my first commercial, it really helped to establish my name within the industry and define my tone of voice as a filmmaker.”

It’s a level of recognition that has taken her a while to get used to. “It felt totally surreal to win these awards at the British Arrows after winning a Young Arrow the year before. I didn’t expect to be shortlisted, let alone win, and it meant so much for my work to be appreciated at this level. I’m currently in the process of developing a short film which delves into themes similar to those explored in “Have A Word”. Having these awards under my belt has not only helped to accelerate future projects such as this one but has also helped establish my work outside the advertising industry too.”

Now she has been a part of the 2023 British Arrows Craft Jury, the recent award-winner is now an award-giver. “It was inspiring to witness such a diverse array of creative work all in a single day,” she says of the judging process. “Understanding the significance of what these awards mean heightened my awareness of each rating or debate held within the room. Having your work recognised at the YAs and BAs opens doors – it’s a significant seal of approval, but it’s not a golden ticket. For me, it’s motivation to keep my head down and keep hustling.”

The recent John Lewis idents add a different, domestic tone to her reel. “My aim was to capture an intimate, subtle reflection of family life,” she says. “To elevate the look and feel, bringing emotionally charged images to life with artful, unique framing.”

Her aim was refresh our perspectives on those everyday objects in the home that are so familiar we barely notice them. “I wanted to unearth the stories behind our favourite bits of furniture and to capture family life unfolding and flowing around our hero items,” she adds, “I enjoyed finding the little nuances, subtly hinting at the passage of time and portraying these products as they evolved into well-used and loved items in the home.”

For the future, having just shot a new music video for London Grammar, she’s now prepping her short film shoot, and looking to collaborate with more agencies in the coming year. “While I’ve loved working on such important socio-cultural campaigns over the past few years,” she says, “I’m also keen to work with brands with exciting, cinematic narratives at their heart.”

Winners for the Young Arrows Awards 2023 will be announced on Wednesday 1 November at BFI Southbank.

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