The Shock of the New

Bob Isherwood looks back on 14 years of the Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors' Showcase.

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Isherwood looks back.
The first showcase was the idea of Paul Arden when he was the creative director of our London office. What Paul presented 14 years ago was a fairly eclectic collection of work. At one point, irritated by whistling and booing, Paul paused the reel and told the audience, "Some of you people out there must have tin eyes!"

The following year, when I presented the showcase, the first two ads were also met with vocal derision. I stopped the show and said, "The two films you've just seen were made by Ridley and Tony Scott when they were at exactly the same stage as the new directors you are about to see on this reel. I ask you bear that in mind as you watch the work that follows." I think it set a tone of respect for the content, which has remained over the years.

What generally stunned the audience in those first few years was the widespread depth of talent from places far away from the traditional ad centers of the U.S. and Western Europe. Suddenly, people were seeing amazing work from Thailand, Poland and New Zealand; locations where, coincidentally, it was also really cheap to shoot. One result of this is that submissions for new directors from around the world are often sent to us now by production companies here in the U.S., because they now scour the globe to bring a point of difference to their lineups.

Over the years, the reel has also reflected changing opportunities for creativity. There's always been a strong showing of short films. Music videos were once a great outlet for new directors, but over time they have become little more than three-minute pack shots of the artists. However there happily continues to be some outstanding work in this area, which is featured on this year's reel.

The good news is another creative outlet seems to be opening up for directors in the shape of viral campaigns. This year the showcase has some really daring, imaginative work in this new frontier for ideas. Animation always provides visually stunning and entertaining material for the reel and this year is no exception. As the world's greatest animator, Walt Disney, used to say, "If you can dream it, you can do it."

The showcase now draws an audience of about 3,500 people, filling the Grand Palais, and we always try to do something unexpected around it each time. This has ranged from Tony Kaye jumping out of a coffin and singing an Abba song to Cirque de Soleil coming to Cannes especially for us (we renamed the event Cirque de Cannes). Last year, to commemorate the 50th year of the festival, we wanted to do something that felt celebratory. Our theme was "retraining," in the sense that the established directors were busy retraining for other jobs, should they be replaced by the new directors. In the opening, I introduced the director Tarsem who came onstage wearing beautiful Indian robes. He paused for a moment, then turned his back on the audience. At that point, the big red curtains parted and there was a full symphony orchestra, which Tarsem conducted through Prokofiev's "Montagues and Capulets." In the audience, I heard someone gasp, "Wow, this is so Saatchi & Saatchi," and my thoughts went back to a frustrated Paul Arden presenting the very first reel. Tarsem had been one of his featured directors.

(Bob Isherwood is worldwide creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi. This year's Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors' Showcase will be presented this Thursday, June 24, at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes.)

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