Chaka Sobhani’s film education began at the age of seven when she watched every classic film and musical that was broadcast on the BBC on rainy Sunday afternoons. Having spent the first decade of her career in film and TV, Sobhani set up ITV’s first in-house creative agency, during which time the network created its most successful content in shows like the X Factor and Downton Abbey, and won numerous BAFTAs, Golden Globes and the prestigious Rose D’Or. Now the Global Chief Creative Officer of Leo Burnett Worldwide and the Chief Creative Officer of Leo Burnett UK, Sobhani has worked on brands including McDonalds, Coca Cola, Google, Kellogg's, Samsung and adidas. Here, D&AD’s Film Jury President for 2024 tells us what she’s hoping to see in the year’s best creative work and why she thinks the stakes are higher than ever for creatives to be excellent.
What is happening in the creative industry right now that you think is important?
We're in one of the most creative periods, not just in our industry, but for creativity overall. I think technology has been a massive democratiser of creativity for so many more people. Instead of it just being about a hallowed few, who are lucky enough to have the means and funds to be able to study and then make a career out of it, I think it's been laid open. When I was first starting out, you never had access to cameras or edit suites as they were extremely expensive but nowadays you can shoot, edit, and mix sound on an iPhone - it’s basically a studio in your hand. I’m not saying that means you’re immediately good, but at least you have the ability to create and learn and grow. Being good takes practice and you have to put the hours in, which is the same as it was 20 or 30 years ago, whatever your medium. I'm really excited by this constantly changing and evolving state because it’s giving voice to talent and people who we wouldn’t have necessarily have heard from before. And I love the fact that I'm learning from people who can do those things in different ways and better ways than are native to me, whether that person is 21 years old or 60.
What does creative excellence in film mean to you?
Ultimately, if you create something that can elicit genuine feelings from your audience, that's when you know you're getting it right. For me, the definition of creativity is connecting with someone, whether that's through film, or sculpture, or animation, or illustration or whatever the medium. Making someone genuinely feel something, striking a chord that has resonance and meaning. It’s the hardest thing to do in the world but it’s the desire and possibility to have that effect that spurs us all on everyday. It’s takes a whole lot of skill and experience and craft but also a lot of luck. But I think if you have a story to tell, and it’s authentic in its heart and how it’s told, then you have a chance of creating that magic.
What can the advertising industry learn from the feature film industry?
I don't know whether it’s about one learning from the other, but I hope that we find inspiration in all filmmaking generally. It's the craft closest to my heart. When I was a kid, the one thing that I always had clearly in my head was I just wanted to direct. I think there's less snobbery around flipping from commercial filmmaking to feature filmmaking these days because I think the best creatives are people who just want to make the best ideas. So they don't care about the medium, whether that’s a music video, commercial, feature film, or TV show. I feel that we're not as segregated in terms of these genres. There’s more opportunity for crossover, and there are brilliant filmmakers experimenting in the world of commercials and music videos and vice versa. Creating narrative arcs whether over 90 minutes or more, or condensing them into 60 seconds with the same level of craft is such a skill and I’m in awe of people who can do that either way.
What are the current challenges the commercial film industry faces?
I think it is a bit harder to stick your head above the parapet and for work to be noticed these days. Now more than ever, you have to turn up and do the best that you can, so that your work doesn't get swallowed up amongst all of the stuff that is out there. I don't see it as an industry challenge and I don’t see it as a negative, I thinks it’s actually the thing that hopefully keeps us at our best and maybe even a bit more competitive and focussed. I actually love that you can't just assume that you’ll buy a spot and everyone's going to see it or that something will catch fire. There's a lot of really good stuff out there now and I love that, be they longer form or Tik Toks - wherever and however your film turns up, the stakes are higher and that’s brilliant for creativity.
What are you going to be looking out for in D&AD Award-winning Film work?
Unsurprisingly in the Film category, story and craft are going to be massively important. The first thing is story, does it feel original, authentic and well told, and does it make the jury room feel something. And then there’s craft - the coming together of all those delicious ingredients from cinematography, performance, art direction, sound etc that amplify the feeling and make the experience visceral and elevated. It's very difficult to give one black and white answer, because the beautiful thing about film is its diversity of style and magic. You can’t quantify it, because you can have all of the ingredients — the right director, the right budget, the right cast, the right brand, and yet somehow it doesn't work. And sometimes it can be something that's completely off kilter that somehow does work. There's some magic in there, and that's the bit I’m sure we’ll be looking for.
D&AD Awards 2024 is now open for entries. The Film category celebrates advertising for all platforms, including social, TV/VOD and cinema commercials for B2B and B2C, fashion films, awareness campaigns and public service announcements. Learn more about and enter the Film category here.