The symbiosis between advertising and Oscar-winning creativity

William Sargent is chief executive at Oscar-winning content company, Framestore

This weekend sees the red carpet unfurled in Hollywood whilst the world’s eyes analyze A-lister attire and, lest we forget, anticipate the odd award. But what do the Oscars have to do with advertising? This year’s nominee list, widely touted as representing a vintage year, again features people who share their talent with commercials, so proving advertising remains a fertile laboratory for creative storytelling.


From Philippe Le Sourd (who has previously worked alongside Antoine Bardou-Jacquet, director of Honda ‘Cog’); to costume and production designer Catherine Martin (Channel no. 5); to Spike Jonze (a familiar name to any self-respecting creative); there is once more a rich seam of advertising talent running through this year’s nominations.

Even Scorsese, this year tipped for The Wolf of Wall Street, has directed a campaign for Freixenet. And then there’s our company, Framestore: a commercials stalwart that is already a proud Oscar winner… and a contender for the 2014 visual effects award for three-years work on Gravity.

There’s a fine history of commercials talent moving into features and stealing the show; with Alan Parker, Ridley Scott and Tom Hooper leading the way. This evident crossover shows how advertising remains a lush ground on which to nurture moving image craft.

But just what is it that makes advertising a fertile place for such hi-end film talent to cut their teeth? In a constant drive to stay ahead of the curve, advertising has a tendency to cast a critical eye upon itself, but it has enduring qualities to be proud of: speed, tenacity and a healthy competitive spirit. It’s these very characteristics that have helped foster some of the world’s finest film craftspeople.

Relative to features, commercials are a training ground for speed. Where blockbuster films can take four years to produce, a blockbuster commercial needs four months. This comparatively quick approach is underpinned by agility of creative thinking. When working in commercials, we have to adopt a nimble mindset to one day create a dancing koala bear, and a surfing car the next. This reflects a big turnover of creative ideas and engenders an ability to work with multiple creative minds – an invaluable advantage in the world of film.

Tenacity is another priceless asset for which the advertising industry can be thanked. To succeed in commercials, you have to have a ‘nothing is impossible’ attitude. Without this advertising-fostered mindset, Gravity simply wouldn’t have happened. At the outset, directors like James Cameron said it was impossible to film Gravity convincingly without hemorrhaging money or physically going into space. The technology just didn’t exist.

But with a hunger for innovation that stems from partnering with agencies on groundbreaking commercials, we decided to rise to the challenge by experimenting with fundamentally new ways of filming – converting a car assembly line robot into a fully programmable camera and creating a completely controllable and actor-friendly lighting environment via a lightbox with 1.9million LED lights. It’s this attitude that sets new benchmarks, both for film and advertising.

People who move into film are given an added edge through advertising’s inherent competitiveness. Films are bred in an auteur culture. But advertising’s competitive drive fosters a more collaborative and ‘going-the-extra-mile’ attitude. Everyone is challenged to devise innovative solutions and everyone is wanting to impress. This develops a culture where ideas, be they creative or technical, are encouraged and leads to collaboration that pushes the boundaries of collective capabilities.

The relationship between advertising and the zenith of filmmaking doesn’t only run one way. When ultra successful film talent remains enthusiastic about advertising, it’s something that benefits the whole industry. In the same way that Formula 1 cars pioneer auto tools and knowledge that cascade down into consumer vehicles, the game-changing techniques developed for films like Gravity soon get used by commercials.

However, it’s not just the classic 30-second TV ad that benefits. Integrated advertising now frequently taps into award-worthy film magic in a scaleable way, whilst also providing immense opportunities for innovation. Back in 2012, Framestore worked with Wieden+Kennedy to turn Coca Cola’s iconic polar bears into real-time interactive creatures. This was a technical first and something that set in motion a very exciting future. Thanks to this advertising-pioneered technique, it’s not inconceivable that one day film characters will interact with audiences in real-time.

So regardless of who comes home clutching a gold statue, the symbiotic relationship between advertising and the Oscars is something we can all take shared pride in.

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