What were your first thoughts when you were asked to be an Arrows jury chair?
AG: I was honoured because British Arrows has always been one of my very favourite award shows. Partly because they always put on a really good show and I think it’s also one that production [companies] especially looks forward to and production often bring the party to the party. I also think the show is that genuine marriage of idea and craft, and I think you get a really good sense of what the best work is. So, it lays down the marker for the year, and for other shows. It may not be the biggest, but I think it’s hugely respected and enjoyed by everyone who enters and attends. Even the actual award is really nice, just the arrow trophy. Everything’s done with class at the Arrows.
SD: For me, it’s the first ever award show I went to. I took a bottle of wine home; there was one there and I thought, 'Yes, I’ll have that!'. And it was the first one I was on the jury for. To me, it’s like tracking the changes that have happened in advertising over the last 20 years. The craft part, for me, is obviously close to my heart and [the Arrows] celebrate that very specifically and, at the same time, put on a good party.
Have you chosen your juries yet or is that still ongoing, and how hard is it to choose who you’ll be judging with?
AG: I’ve done a first pass, so it’s nearly there.
SD: Yes, me too.
AG: I think [the challenge is] making sure that there’s not a crossover [between juries] or people who got invited last year, and that there’s the right range in the people that we’re approaching.
SD: It’s a responsibility, picking a jury. I took it lightly at first, but when you actually start thinking about it, it’s quite a process to go through. A nuanced process of balancing different kinds of voices and the length of time people have been in the industry. But, yes, I want every single person to be someone that I look up to and who has done work that I admire, because I think that then gives me a benchmark for why you’re choosing the people you’re choosing. I also think that the choice of people will influence the work that gets awarded. So, yes, it was about experience versus creativity versus diversity, and the breadth of different types of voices.
AG: I concur. It’s very interesting because when you get the gig and the opportunity to go and pick a jury, my first thought is, 'Oh, that won’t be that hard'. I know quite a few people and there're people who you respect and think could be on there. And then, the more you get into it, the harder you realise it is. It becomes a bit of a mind-melt, the whole thing, because you're trying to balance people, [you want] diversity that’s actually going to work and enhance the thing, not some kind of box-ticking exercise. Also, having a little bit of a surprise, a different element in there, but not just for the sake of it. And then, ultimately, the overriding thing is a real jury that’s respected by the people who have entered, so it feels like a proper celebration and reward of their work. So, yes, my first instinct was, 'I’ll just get a load of my mates in', and then you think, that’s absolutely the wrong thing to do.
It's understandable that the default approach is to go for very experienced people, but is it quite useful to have fresher eyes, those coming at it from a slightly different perspective?
SD: I’ve tried to do that. We’re all probably doing work that might be longer form than the classic 30-second commercial. We’re all doing these different lengths and working in different areas. I’m doing a TV show at the moment [so] we’re all mixing things up. I’ve tried to get a few people who're still doing traditional advertising, but who are also known for, say, casting a show that we all might go, 'Oh wow, they did that', or they might have composed some music for a film. I tried to balance that out because I thought, if they haven’t done advertising so much, they’re bringing a bit of an outsider point of view, which I think is interesting. They’ll view advertising with a slightly more distant perspective so that we’re not all just in an echo chamber.
AG: I agree. Especially on craft, it's really important to have different voices. On my jury, because there’s a responsibility around assessing the best ideas, I do think you do need some experience in the room, but I also think it’s really good just having some younger, fresher, maverick voices in there to just ensure that, potentially, you can just call bullshit on a few things and go, 'Guys, this is nonsense'. Especially with the more interesting ideas on different platforms and, without getting ageist and suggesting that if you’re over 50 it means you don’t understand TikTok, but it’s kind of true. So, having people who are a bit closer to some of those things I think is useful. I’ve got a couple of people who are kind of outside the industry, so I don’t think have any agenda and will hopefully come with transparency and candour. They’re not in the game. so I think it’s really interesting to see what they now think the game is.
This is the first proper year post-Covid; how do you think the industry coped over that pandemic period and how has the response been post-pandemic.
AG: I’m curious because I think, at things like Cannes, the quality of the work did dip a bit, which I think is understandable. I think the industry did brilliantly, but we all went into survival mode. There was a lot of over-servicing of clients, which I think was necessary because they were surviving too, and, at times, creativity took a bit of a backseat to efficiencies. I think in that time as well, a lot of clients concentrated on infrastructure and stuff like that because they had the time to do it. So, there was less focus on what was in the infrastructure.
I think we’re now coming out of that. [At the Arrows] I think there’s going to be a mix of the tail-end of Covid, where better work started to appear, and a little bit of the upswing that’s coming out of it. But, without sounding like a doom-monger, because I still think there’s brilliant work being done and at times, some of the very best work that’s ever been done, but the layer of cream is thinner. I do think, back in the day, it was just deeper. You had more great work and now you get two or three things rather than five or six. So, the best things tend to come and dominate a bit, which I always find a bit of a shame, but it’s becoming a bit more regular. I mean, we’ll wait and see.
SD: It’s always really difficult to separate your own personal career with what’s going on out there. I would say that, yes, the work I get is actually getting better and is still as interesting. It hasn’t taken a dip and I’m not thinking, 'Oh God, there’re no good scripts out there'. I wish for more narrative-based ideas, which I think are harder sells these days [and] I do wish clients would be edgier and braver and really want to take more risks.
What are you expecting to be the most challenging part of your roles as the heads of the two juries and what part are you most looking forward to?
SD: I love the debate on a jury, and I love the idea of stoking that fire and then also being the soothing balm when it gets a little bit too heated. And I love the idea of doing it in person because I haven’t done that for a while. It can be difficult that [some] voices are loud and other voices are less loud, and that the louder voices start to dominate a little bit too much. I think [the challenge] is trying to keep everyone engaged in the conversation and not thinking, 'Oh, well these two are going to slug it out, I’ll just switch off in my head for a bit and then come back when this is fixed'. Especially because there’s no point having diversity in your jury if only two people are making all the big decisions.
AG: Yes, it’s always the challenge. It’s why you adopt the role of a teacher, where your job as chair is to make sure that the quiet kids at the back get to be listened to. I mean, I’m sure it’s in the Craft jury as well as the jury I’m responsible for, but there’s lots of big characters, but you’ve just got to manage that. But the balance of characters and personalities is what’s really interesting. The danger is that you get two or three people grandstanding so it’s just, in a diplomatic way, telling them to shut the fuck up.
SD: In Craft, the other thing that I notice is people look at their specific area. So, say it’s production design or costume or visual effects, I think you have to keep in mind the overall end result and how successful the piece is as a whole, not just [that specific thing]. That’s difficult because, then, you don’t want to go too far that way because someone else's problem is the reason why you're not going to get an award. I’ve felt annoyed by that at points. You know, you’ve directed really well and [not won] just because the idea’s not as good as it cold be … sorry, Alex, but you know what I mean. From a direction point of view that can be quite frustrating sometimes, but I do ultimately think it’s the piece of work, as a whole, that the audience is going to watch [that we have to judge].
Can that be challenging, to take a step back as professionals and think, 'let’s try and think like the audience'? You need the craft and the idea to be great, but you generally need it to have appealed to a broad swathe of people outside of the industry.
SD: I know I'm banging on, but the other thing is that sometimes the more flashy, bigger ideas [overwhelm] these quieter, smaller, subtler films that fit into a bit of a different place.
AG: I’ve been on a few craft things [and] it's especially things around editing and stuff like that; the whizzbang films at the expense of a beautifully edited, dramatic narrative piece. You really have to direct and say, 'No, this is much better edited'. That the craft and skill in this is much better than this collection of images that have basically just been shoved together. I think the thing on my jury that happens sometimes is that the power of a brand can overwhelm everything and you get, 'well, it’s brand X and that’s a famous brand'. But, sometimes, the idea from this famous brand is not actually that good, and the idea from this smaller brand is actually excellent. So, you just need to get some balance there. It’s kind of brand snobbery.
SD: Yes, but there’s also that the other way around, where there’s the legacy of the brand and you believe that the brand should be doing really good work. So, when it does a piece of work you’re judging it against all the other work its done, and not the other work that’s in the category that’s being judged.
AG: It’s all those unconscious biases, isn’t it? I guess that’s our role, to try to correct those [biases] as much as possible. The good thing about the Arrows is, by and large, they get the decision right. Most years you go and think, 'Yes, that was the best of the year'. Not always, but they’ve got a much better track-record than other award shows.
How important are the British Arrows and, beyond the Arrows, award shows in general, to the industry?
AG: I think the truth is they’re both hugely important and massively unimportant at the same time. You have to get into the spirit of thinking it’s a nice reward for something you’ve done, but not the only measure of something. But I think there is a reality that it does define talent and attract talent.
If you’ve won many awards over a period of time it is an indicator that you are good, and have a good track record. I think our industry has an obsession with awards, though it’s getting slightly better. I throw this fact out quite a lot, but I think advertising has the second most award shows of any single industry in the world. It’s only hairdressing that’s above us.
Article courtesy of Shots: https://www.shots.net/news/vie...
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