Share

After two years of remote working, Zoom conferences and all-round digital dominance, when it comes to the traditional routes for new talent, such as art college, film school, spec spots and the like, has the footfall faded away, in favour of digital and social platforms – the new gateway for new talent?

For some, online platforms have begun to rival production companies as places to go in search of new talent, and for new talent to find potential clients. So are aspiring young directors no longer treading the streets of Soho or Shoreditch to present their reels to agency producers? 

Increasingly, creators and artists are building their own brand identity on social media.

And from where are they coming? The film schools, art schools and communications courses (such as the late, lamented Watford Course) that fed talent into the creative industry for generations? 

Or via the music videos that have been a low-budget proving ground for legions of new directors? Or are we dealing with a new generation of dedicated and focused self-starters who’ve been making stuff since they were kids, posting it online to increasingly large social media audiences?

Berwyn – I'd Rather Die Than Be Deported

Credits
powered by Source

Unlock full credits and more with a Source + shots membership.

Credits
powered by Source
Credits powered by Source
Above: Stink director LOOSE helmed a spectacular one-shot music video for the Berwyn track, I'd Rather Die Than Be Deported. 

Hannah Bellil is global head at Stink Rising, which has nurtured up-and-coming directors since 2018. Among her new signings are video director and music strategist LOOSE, who started out shooting garage sets on her mobile as a teen, and songwriter, producer and filmmaker Wesley Joseph, who came out of Birmingham’s OG Horse Collective of musical and visual artists. 

The ability to promote and platform and communicate who you are; to have a point of view and a creative DNA that’s yours and unique – that’s cultural capital, and that’s valuable.

“The routes in which talent becomes visible have definitely evolved over the past few years,” she says, “though all the traditional tactics are still relevant today.” 

She talks of recently signing another new director, Sinan Sevinç, from Germany, yet to complete his studies at film school, off a “really amazing” spec spot for Apple. That spot, Dirty Money, went on to bag a Young Directors Award and a D&AD.

Music videos, too, remain a well-trodden and relevant route. “But increasingly creators and artists are building their own brand identity on social media,” says Bellil, “Building a presence and a brand – that’s appealing to any production company, the ability to promote and platform and communicate who you are, and to have an identity, and have a point of view, a creative DNA that’s yours and unique. That’s cultural capital, and that’s valuable.” 

Apple – Dirty Money

Credits
powered by Source

Unlock full credits and more with a Source + shots membership.

Credits
powered by Source
Credits powered by Source
Above: Dirty Money was an Apple spec spot by new director Sinan Sevinç that bagged a YDA and D&AD. 


But the traditional ways in are still resonant. “I do stick to the classic channels,” she says, “the YDAs, the Shiny, keeping an eye out for unsigned talent on the award networks, as well as on social media – many of my recent signings have been discovered on Instagram.” 

First it was Facebook, then Twitter became more of a thing, and now the best platform for any director in the world by far is Instagram.

At Stink’s offices, the place is heaving with productions, front and centre. “And on lots of those projects we have trainees, and there’s progression in the company happening all the time,” Bellil says. 

“We like to grow our own talent, from a production perspective and a directorial one, too. It’s quite a traditional structure in that sense, but it really works.”

Innocence Project – Born Guilty

Credits
powered by Source

Unlock full credits and more with a Source + shots membership.

Credits
powered by Source
Credits powered by Source
Above: Born Guilty is a powerful film about a miscarriage of justice, directed by Sinan Sevinc, who is still studying at Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg.


Over at Kode Media, which celebrates its tenth birthday this year, CEO Alex Harman sees new directorial growth springing up out of the digital topsoil, and especially from social spaces. “First it was Facebook, then Twitter became more of a thing, and now the best platform for any director in the world by far is Instagram,” he says. 

“Every job is fully credited, so you can find who’s done everything on a specific job. You can follow directors’ careers, and you can have a conversation with them … These platforms are so much easier for showing work than how it was before they existed.” 

I think younger directors are better at networking and doing their own new business than they probably ever have been.

That’s not to say turning up at agencies with a reel is strictly yesterday. “People still walk in,” he says. “But I think younger directors are better at networking and doing their own new business than they probably ever have been. 

"Directors, for a long time, relied on production companies to do a lot of that work for them. There are so many directors now who are really amazing at freelancing with lots of different companies, making great work, and being in control of their own future and life. Some are brilliant at that. Some aren’t, but that’s another big difference from how it used to be. They don’t need a production company per se to make it.”

Simply Business – You Name It. We Insure It.

Credits
powered by Source

Unlock full credits and more with a Source + shots membership.

Credits powered by Source
Above: This Simply Business spot was helmed by Kode's new signing, Jonnie Malachi, a comedy director with a background in commercial photography. 


At Park Village, Leonie Ellis, Business Development EP, also sees a powerful, digitally-led evolution of the talent pool, especially when it comes to values and commitment. 

There’s probably more creative integrity... I feel they are much more able to turn down something that does not resonate with them.

“They’re very much focused on getting work they believe in,” she says. “They make work that has a purpose and a message; that’s been a big change. There’s probably more creative integrity, and I feel they are much more brave, to be able to turn down something that does not resonate with them. And there’s a greater sense of independence, in general. And confidence in where they are going to get their work from.” 

For the new generation, mutually agreed values go hand-in-hand with the business of self-branding and publicity. “They are savvy, they have all the publicity tools,” she says, “it’s natural for them to talk about their work and publicise it, on these platforms, and network and connect with people online. That need to be solely represented by one production company is changing.” 

Not that she believes the production company model is on the way out. “You get so much more,” she says of it. “You’re able to purely focus on being creative, if someone else is dealing with going out and finding the work, dealing with production, giving you support.” And at Park Village – as elsewhere – they have set up a community network of freelance directors they produce for, called The Village.

Greenpeace – Wasteminster

Credits
powered by Source

Unlock full credits and more with a Source + shots membership.

Credits
powered by Source
Show full credits
Hide full credits
Credits powered by Source
Above: The multi-award-winning Wasteminster was created by Park Village's Studio Birthplace, a collective founded by Sil & Jorik to create work around the climate crisis and marginalised communities.


And with the new platforms, formats are also changing. “The spectrum of what is created now has broadened,” says Ellis. “Brands and agencies aren’t just looking for your first or second ad, or your one-minute cinema spot. There are so many different new formats that have to be satisfied – branded content, or different social briefs, or a mini-series, one-minute episodic stuff.”

In the ‘olden days’ – the only way into directing came via “six art colleges, or to have a friend or parent in the industry”.

However, for Caroline Bottomley, of the Shiny Awards and New Directors Network, the digital new dawn of social platforms studded with great new directorial talent waiting to be plucked is a chimera. 

“I don’t think there’s a lot of development from people making User Generated Content into people who want a career as a filmmaker,” she says. “You might think it would happen a lot, I haven’t seen much evidence of directors coming into filmmaking after being successful on social. But there’s a lot of buzz around filmmakers who know how to make great social content – the direction of travel is the other way around.” 

In the ‘olden days’, all of 20 years ago, she says, the only way into directing came via “six art colleges, or to have a friend or parent in the industry”, but today, fewer gatekeepers, mixed with an entrepreneurial youth culture, the dominance of video and the continued vigour of consumerism, means a lot of new talent jostling in the same spaces for attention. 

And rather than social being their spotlight, Bottomley opts for the pivotal role of talent curator. “They’re a valuable time-saver,” she says, “because of the huge number of directors entering the marketplace from all kinds of places. 

Soft Animals – Soft Animals

Credits
powered by Source

Unlock full credits and more with a Source + shots membership.

Credits
powered by Source
Credits powered by Source
Above: The trailer for Renee Zhan's Soft Animals, which was selected for the Saatchi & Saatchi New Creators Showcase and was one of the five winning films in this year's Shiny Awards


“At its heart,” she continues, “Shiny is a curator; from the Shiny Awards, which are a public place to spot new talent, to Shiny Curated, which sends monthly collections of new director signings and freelancers to subscribers.” 

And she describes Shiny as a curator with purpose – “the majority of new talent we surface is from sectors under-represented in the industry. A lot of people we talk to say they want to work with more diverse talent but have difficulty finding that talent. It's one of the needs we address. We build relationships with a lot of grass roots activists, which is how we find less obvious new talent.” 

It opened my eyes that a storyteller can come from various backgrounds into the branded space and give a fresh perspective – from film, TV, visual arts, music and many other storytelling realms

Cathleen O’Conor Stern co-founded Reverie Content in LA in 2019 with Rich Pring. She says the company is growing into what she calls “a family of creators”, with a directing roster that encompasses storytellers from journalism, the visual arts, television, film, graphic design, animation, choreography and music videos. For her the focus is the power of storytelling.

That power resides in the authenticity and distinctiveness of the teller. “When I started in the industry,” she says, “it was a time when we were looking for directors from different backgrounds. It became more about the visual story, and storytelling from different perspectives.” 

She cites working with François Vogel and his launch into advertising with his audacious 2007 HP spot, Picture Book, as a prime mover for signing talent from different backgrounds. "François was not in the branded space before that spot; he was a visual artist and still is. It opened my eyes that a storyteller can come from various backgrounds into the branded space and give a fresh perspective – from film, TV, visual arts, music and many other storytelling realms."

Hewlett Packard (HP) – Picture Book (:60)

Credits
powered by Source

Unlock full credits and more with a Source + shots membership.

Credits
powered by Source
Show full credits
Hide full credits
Credits powered by Source
Above: Artist Francois Vogel moved into advertising following his innovative ad for Hewlett Packard, Picture Book. 


One such incoming talent is Walter Thompson-Hernández, New York Times journalist and author of the book The Compton Cowboys. “He had directed two pieces,” says O’Conor Stern. “A music video and a spot for the 2028 LA Olympics; we knew he had a unique, authentic perspective from his voice as an author and the films he had created.”

“We talk about diverse storytelling and diverse filmmakers,” she continues, “brands wanting this opportunity to find authenticity in their stories and what they present – why not find filmmakers who bring a different perspective from their backgrounds?” 

Why not, indeed? She feels vindicated in Reverie Content's strategy with Thompson-Hernández winning the 2022 Sundance US Fictional Jury Prize for his short, If I Go Will They Miss Me. “It’s that type of authenticity that provides a new perspective,” she says. “I feel that this is translating to agencies and brands understanding you can take a chance with a good storyteller, even if they haven't directed in the space before, to provide a fresh view.”

If I Go Will They Miss Me – If I Go Will They Miss Me - Trailer

Credits
powered by Source

Unlock full credits and more with a Source + shots membership.

Credits
powered by Source
Show full credits
Hide full credits
Credits powered by Source
Above: The trailer for the Sundance-winning short, If I Go Will They Miss Me, by Walter Thompson-Hernández.
Share