Director Eric Ifergan, who's directed spots for Mustang jeans, Delta Airlines and Jaguar, gives voice to a veritable trend in commercial
production: agencies are granting more creative control over post to commercials directors today than ever before. Whether a simple pendulum swing or a permanent shift, the trend is a clear departure from the 1980s, when agencies cut side deals with editors, special effects houses and film labs, and often seized control of footage at the end of the shoot.
A number of factors have conspired to elevate the role of directors in post. First, agencies recognize that many of today's top directors also shoot films and videos, media in which they design and oversee all of postproduction. Second, the restrictions on music video budgets insure that top directors have become masters of improvisation, efficiency and technical innovation. Third, directors muck around in the trenches with the staggering array of new digital production techniques in a hands-on way that most agency producers can't match. And fourth, the influence of European and Canadian directors, who call the shots in post, has opened the eyes of American creative directors.
"I'm trying to win this battle -- it's been lost for a long time," say Ifergan, whose production house, Serial Dreamer, is a satellite of The End, Los Angeles. "The agency doesn't have a clue what they are doing in postproduction. They know how to generate concepts, but you can't have five or six people sitting in an editing room, trying to make decisions." Ifergan started shooting music videos and spots in Paris in 1987, relocating to L.A. in 1992. Typically, he presents his director's cut to the agency. "If the director is supposed to guide the story, then they should trust me all the way to the end," he says.
Peter Nydrle of Case/Nydrle in New York does not understand how anyone -- editor, agency producer or client -- can step in and take control once production ends. "I'm being paid an extravagant amount of money to construct a story. How can someone else take over the footage? It goes against the whole logic of the process."
Spot ace Bruce Dowad, who directs out of Bruce Dowad & Associates, Los Angeles, agrees. "I design my execution toward an end objective. I'm delivering a product, and, like any product, I need to follow it carefully, through each stage of development."
As in feature films, most directors believe editing to be second in importance to principal photography. To that end, they develop working relationships with individual editors. If the agency is happy with the shoot, it will usually grant the director's first choice of editor. While even A-list directors don't typically demand that they be allowed to work with their favorite editor, it is understood that their choice will generally be respected.
Choosing a CG animation house or visual effects company is still subject to negotiation between agency producer and director because of the complexity, cost and length of effects/animation jobs. But choosing a Flame artist and a colorist have become two of the primary decisions a director will make.
The lack of DP involvement in spot transfer sessions is equal parts agency politics, director/DP politics, plain old history, and, to a lesser degree, the desire of DPs to move on to the next job. This raises the central irony of directors' rise to prominence in post: they're not getting paid once the shoot is over. Since directors generally cannot charge for time they spend in post, the more they get involved after the shoot, the more they lose in potential earnings. The negative stereotype of the shoot-and-run director of the '70s and '80s, greedily counting his shooting days, still hangs over the business. "I wouldn't be in this business if I couldn't be in control of the whole process," says Dowad. "It would simply be unfulfilling creatively. There are 101 ways a job can get off track. I look at this as a matter of my own longevity."
Peter Nydrle agrees. "You can shoot and run, and you may be rich, but one day your career will be over and you won't even know it," he warns. A minority of top directors charges a token fee for post work. "I charge one day for prep and one for editing and post," says Ifergan. "It's a nominal charge, symbolic of my involvement."
As a rule, agencies have awarded control of post to top directors who create the big-budget national spots. But now control is expanding through the business, even to comedy directors, once considered visually challenged. "I get my first pick of editor on at least 70 percent of my jobs," says Tom DeCerchio, who has been shooting comedy spots for four years and now directs out of his own production company, Nitro Films, Santa Monica. His latest work is a Calvin Klein spoof for Visa, starring Linda Evangelista. "Up until a year and a half ago, it was a non-conversation. Now, because of my experience, and the size of the jobs, I'm getting my choice of colorist and special effects house," he says.
Comedy shooter Robin Willis, who directs out of Crash Films, Santa Monica, started his career in Portland, and was given control of post by regional agencies, who "would let me try anything, because of the [tiny] budget." Now that he's graduated to bigger spots, Willis is trying to formulate a more desktop-oriented approach to post, avoiding expensive devices like Flame in favor of lower-budget solutions like Adobe Premier and AfterEffects. "It's about efficiency," Willis explains. "In comedy, the shot selection, the angles, the timing is usually there in the boards. You should be able to work with the agency to cut the spot together more simply."
Bob Giraldi of Giraldi/Suarez Productions, who was a creative director at Y&R before he started directing almost 20 years ago, says few commercials director can demand a final cut. Still, it can't hurt to ask; these days, agencies are listening, and persistence pays off. "Great directors will always get whatever they need to make their work look good," Giraldi says. "That, and you have to be