Daniel Bergmann, Stink, London

By Tk Published on .

With the directorial talent of international hotshot Ivan Zacharias at the top of its roster, London-based Stink, in a word, doesn't. Guided by 39-year-old Czech Daniel Bergmann, Stink opened in 1998, born of a merger of Bergmann's Prague-based Stillking Films and London's Blink. An artist-management type well before becoming involved in commercials, "I started to develop indigenous talent and original projects in music video and elsewhere," explains Bergmann, which is how he hooked up with then up-and-comers Zacharias and, later, Fredrik Bond, who has since moved on to MJZ.

But around 1997, "no foreign directors, apart from a few Americans, were doing a lot of work in the U.K.," recalls Bergmann, whose English is more articulate than that of most Americans. "Traktor and Michel Gondry weren't really around at the time. It was a new thing for British agency and production company producers to consider: directors whose native language isn't English. But I had this very naive idea of bringing foreign directors to work in the U.K. So I visited production companies in London and asked what they thought of my idea. Some told me it was absolutely out of the question, I had no chance; others were a bit more optimistic. One of the more optimistic ones was Blink," where James Studholme was eventually ready to make a deal. "We didn't intend to have a strange name, but this name popped out and we went with it," chuckles Bergmann.

But the union didn't last long. "We realized it was quite a complicated thing for two production companies to exist in tandem without competing with each other," Bergmann explains. "So we had a very reasonable and pragmatic divorce in 2001." Stink bought itself out of Blink and is now a completely independent company - but the expansion fun was just beginning. "There are a lot of production companies content to be in the U.K. market and only the U.K. market, but I took the opposite view from the beginning," Bergmann says. "We must be open to working anywhere in the world that a good script comes from. Our chief concern has always been the quality of the scripts."

Though hardly known abroad for a plethora of great boards, the U.S. market beckoned, of course, which resulted in a fruitful alliance with bicoastal Smuggler. Prior to that, "I'd tried very hard to have something going on in the States, because I respect American commercials," Bergmann insists. "During the dot-com boom there were a lot of great things happening in the U.S., and I think there's still a consistent movement toward great advertising. I went there, met with everybody, Propaganda, Radical Media and so on. Everybody was interested because we were a bit established by that time." But he didn't find anyone on quite the same wavelength, because Bergmann seems to take an Old World artisan's approach to commerce. "I'm going to say something that everyone will say is completely pretentious, but I insist it's the truth: we don't really care about money - to begin with. Money is a secondary effect of what we do. Obviously, I have a business strategy, I'm a running a company and I have to make sure we're successful. But I have a philosophy that I think is rather unusual in the United States - maybe it's found at The Directors Bureau, or Satellite at one time. So it was difficult to find people who would match with us; we're too idealistic, too utopian. The heavyweight American production companies like to say they develop creative aspects, but they do that in combination with making money on average commercials. I don't agree with the philosophy that a good company can have average directors who are the workhorses, and edgy directors who can do whatever they want because the average directors already made the billings. I believe that once the seed of doing work just for the money is inside the company, the company deteriorates. But that's just me, and for some time I couldn't find any partners. But I met one person back in the Satellite days - Brian Carmody - and I have to say this Irishman and I have very sympathetic philosophies. He started Smuggler, we kept in touch, and about a year and a half ago we came to an agreement. We basically swapped our rosters."

With the combined talents of Zacharias, Brian Beletic, James Brown, the Snorri Bros., the Danish directing consortium known as Bacon and the American consortium known as Happy, among many others, Bergmann and Carmody are packing a very promising international creative wallop. "And all of our directors have been built from the beginning," says Bergmann. "We've never poached from other companies; I never go to directors at other companies and ask if they're happy there, if we can make a deal. We're more like Manchester United - we build our own players."

So what does the future hold for Stink? "The plan is to focus on doing advertising exceptionally well, but we've also been developing other aspects of filmmaking," says Bergmann. "We're involved in short films, music videos and we're exploring the connection between longer form and advertising, like our 10-minute Absolut vodka film. And we're indeed developing scripts for feature films; we're building slowly and surely an arm of the company that will allow directors to get funding for their scripts." All told, this must be the dollars and scents approach.

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