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D&AD’s Direction Jury President on what the industry can do to prevent homogeneity

PRETTYBIRD President Ali Brown shares the advice her father gave her that shaped her work ethic

Still from the Yellow Pencil-winning The Greatest by Somesuch & Co UK Trim Editing for Apple

Ali Brown is the President of production company PRETTYBIRD and co-founder of creative studio Ventureland, where her current projects include The Deepest Breath (2023) and Beckham (2023). Having started as a receptionist in the film and TV industry, Brown worked her way up to become an industry leader with global accolades including multiple D&AD Awards. In 2020, Brown created “Double the Line” — an initiative supported by AICP’s Equity and Inclusion Committee, which gives production and post-production companies, agencies, and clients the ability to create access and opportunity for BIPOC crew. Here, 2024’s D&AD Jury President for Direction explains why she thinks taking a chance on new talent is well worth the risk and what the industry can do to prevent homogeneity.

What are you hoping to see in D&AD Award-winning work in the Direction category?

I would love to see new voices. It's been a really, really hard year to be a new director. With the strike in the US, we were flooded with director options — everyone from film and TV was available, and you had these marquee names that were suddenly bidding against the person who only does commercials. Of course that person will then get the job, because people feel like it could be their only chance to work with them. There are gems in there of course that these filmmakers created, but what I’m excited to try to find is work that isn't from the massive names, the massive brands, the massive agencies. Moments like these create the opportunity for brands and agencies to come in, and be the ones that are finding the new talent and finding the new voices. It will be a challenge because there will be tremendous work from very well-known names, but I'm excited to find within those gaps, the new voices that are coming through.

Still from the Yellow Pencil-winning We Cry Together by pgLang

What is a challenge the commercial film industry currently faces?

The biggest thing that I see going on right now is a loss of trust. Clients are not as beholden to agencies right now, so there's a lot of one-off project work, or “if you mess this up, I'm gonna go somewhere else”. Agencies are terrified of that, because their margins are small, so they can't afford to work with talent they don’t know if they also have someone that's won 1000 Super Bowl ad metres, and they're worried about losing the client. There's no motivation or passion to be the person saying, “I found the next big thing”. If it becomes this very small group of people that are making all the commercials, then they are only speaking to themselves. If I'm not being spoken to, because nobody with my background, or that looks like me is talking to me, I worry about that as a trend born out of this fracture of trust.

What can the industry do to give new talent a chance?

It could be time to start including the client earlier on in the process. If the client at the end of the chain is going to decide who gets the job, then should we bring them into the conversation earlier. It could be time that we have to rethink the process and include all the decision makers in all the steps along the way, because the passion that goes into bidding, treating, all the calls — all of that is completely isolated and removed from the person that's making the decision now. If they are brought into the process and exposed to all of that from the inception, I do believe there can be a shift from decisions being made based on reels and resumes to the creative thought and energy put into bidding a specific project.

Still from the Yellow Pencil-winning Lonesome Traveler by Mohamed El Zayat Tarek Nour Communications for Magdy Yacoub Heart Foundation

Do you have any advice for the industry?

Respond fast. They call me the first responder, because I always respond and I do it fast. My dad told me that even if a boy invites you to the dance that you do not want to go with, you still have to call them back and show respect to the person on the other end of the line. It's funny because that was a lesson as a child that has stayed with me. So every person that emails me, every person that calls, every script or reel I get sent, I watch them and I respond. I just believe you should respond if somebody has had the courage to reach out blindly and put themselves forward as an artist and be vulnerable, or to put themselves forward as a person like I did when I was just starting out and trying to get a temp job, right? I needed somebody to respond. And even if they said no, I felt like I was seen and I was a person and I was humanised. That’s my advice for those coming up in the industry — always respond, even if you aren’t sure what to say. You’ll be surprised at how grateful people are just to be acknowledged along their path.

Do you have any advice for directors?

For the directors, my advice is be an A+ student of the career that you want to have. I think too often there are directors that don't know who their competitors are, who the directors they want to be like are, or what brands are doing the best work. Your homework needs to be done leading up to that first call on a project — what has that team created, what has the brand done, is this a new path for them. Go in educated. I would also say that the first call is just as important as the last call. If you’re excited about something, and when you hang up that energy has been transferred to the agency, it’s going to show when they go to the client. Directors all need to watch their zooms back. They need to listen to themselves. They need to be tortured by their pauses and uncomfortable silences and weird questions, and understand that the chemistry that goes into that first call could get you that job. If you look at some of the greats in our industry, they are so charming. On that first call, they're just so captivating and charismatic that you want more of them. The treatment doesn't have to be 52 pages of words that nobody wants to read, that sound like somebody is defending their thesis. Just explain what your vision is, use images and regular words, and then on that call, make sure you're communicating it in a way that is so crystal clear that when you hang up, your vision can be articulated by someone else on your behalf just as passionately and succinctly. 

D&AD Awards 2024 is now open for entries. The Direction category celebrates commercial advertising projects where the Director's vision brings a creative idea to life. Judges prioritise craft over ideas in this category. Learn more about and enter the Direction category here. 

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