In Orbit With... Simon Veksner

TMU: Let’s start with the obvious – what makes a great Director?

SV: It’s indefinable. My best guess is that it’s something to do with great decision making. A Director will make somewhere between 100 and 10,000 decisions in making an ad. From big ones like “who will I pick as the DP on this?” to small ones like “which earrings should this actress wear?” and a director is as good as his decision making. 

 TMU: What makes a winning Treatment?

SV: There’s no single answer to this. Sometimes it’s bringing an exciting new idea to the table, sometimes it’s expertly bringing to life exactly what was in the script. A treatment that takes the script in a completely different direction is a high risk manoeuvre, even if the people on the other end of the phone say they love it. (They will always say they love it, won’t they?)  If I were a Director, I’d only do the different direction thing if I didn’t feel I could make the script work any other way, or if I just didn’t want to do it any other way. 

There’s a higher chance of winning, I feel, by bringing to life what’s there. Or rather, what isn’t there. Because let’s face it, when the Creatives write a script, there is plenty they leave out. They write the dialogue and the actions, but there’s usually little on the characters, relationships, mood, tone, feelings, atmosphere. The bones are there, but the flesh is missing.

TMU: You find out a Director is working with a Ghost Writer for the treatment – are you fazed?

SV: How would I find out? But I suppose if I did, I wouldn’t really care. The Director would be choosing a collaborator just like they choose the DP, the editor, etc.

TMU: In the treatment visuals, are you expecting a mood board or almost exact references?

SV: A mood board. One quibble about these: I would like to see more signposting in the treatment. Sometimes it feels like just a slew of random images. I need headings like “this is a reference for the guy” and “this is a reference for the house.”

TMU: How do you see treatments/ the pitch process (Prod Company to Agency) evolving in the future?

SV: To be honest I am surprised that treatments are still as detailed as they were 10 years ago – perhaps more detailed – given how much less time we are giving directors nowadays. And I can only see that time period getting crunched still further. N.B. I blame the clients! I’ve heard talk of treatments being submitted as websites, or full-on interactive experiences. There’s definitely an element of “peacock’s tail” syndrome going on here – a director’s treatment may go well beyond what is strictly useful or necessary, but nevertheless, the more elaborate your treatment, the more it impresses.

TMU: We all know the classic Ad Agency model is totally ripe for disruption – how do you see this happening?

SV: Ah, this topic is one of my favourite hobby horses. I could ride it all day! I have written quite a few posts on the subject for my blog. The fact is that since 1960, when Bill Bernbach added Art Directors to Copywriters and formed the creative team, we have added more and more people to the process. We have added Planners, Engagement Planners, Digital Specialists (of many types), Social Specialists… the list goes on. But they’re all additionals. We haven’t taken anyone away, or merged any roles. With the increasing pressure on agency margins, we will surely have to lose a role or two. And couldn’t new technology play a part here? I mean, buses in the UK were always staffed by two people - the Driver, and the Conductor. Once they introduced electronic tickets, it became quite easy to lose the conductor. Heck it might not be too long before we lose the driver.

TMU: We’re seeing a big blur between advertising, content and entertainment – what does your crystal ball tell you?

SV: The blur is good! I’ve always hoped that the increased measurement possibilities of digital would make advertising more and not less creative. After all, it’s now super easy to see that an entertaining video gets 1 million views and a dull one gets about 47. My crystal ball is therefore highly optimistic. I’m predicting that in the very near future, clients will insist that every ad must be a piece of entertainment, and they will move away completely from the “let us tell you how amazing our product is” style of advertising, since otherwise their spots just won’t get viewed.

TMU: Do events like Cannes help or hinder advertising?

SV: Argh. Great question. I’m going to say that Cannes helps advertising, but doesn’t necessarily help marketing. It’s become a bit of a festival of creative innovation, rather than brand building.

TMU: Do Agency Creatives really trawl through YouTube all day looking for the next big idea?

SV: Yeah but no but yeah but no. Oh dear, I think that answer is itself from a comedy sketch I saw on YouTube. Yes, Creatives are watching YouTube all day long. As is everyone! But don’t forget, Picasso borrowed heavily from African art, and Shakespeare nicked a lot of his plots from the Greeks. I don’t see why ad creatives should be held to a higher moral standard than those guys. I also like that quote “it’s not about where you take an idea  from, it’s about where you take it to.”

TMU: You learned to code aged 14. What tech / apps are impressing you right now?

SV: Well, Google is still the number 1 computer thing of our time. Uber X I also like. The whole ‘sharing economy’ is something new that is pretty interesting. I’m also heavily into gaming and there’s never been a better time to be a gamer. The games are just getting better and better.

TMU: What tech do you see as disruptive to the advertising community in the near future?

SV: I’d love to see more use of collaboration tools. I don’t think anyone has really cracked that yet, or at least not in a way that works for the ad industry. In agencies, we currently waste an enormous amount of time having internal meetings, in which we speculate as to whether the client might or might not like something. If we instead could share our progress every 24 hours using some kind of online sharing tool, we could make the process a lot smoother. I mean, when you’re having a renovation done on your house, you check in almost every day with the builder, don’t you? It just avoids work being done that you don’t like.

TMU: What’s the best work you’ve seen in the last 12 months?

SV: Everything by Wieden & Kennedy. Everyone talks about the power of emotion, and authenticity. They actually do it.

TMU: Tell us about those canines with the laser-powered eyeballs? Or, what’s your new venture all about?

SV: My new venture is a social media agency. Social is booming, but I don’t know of any ‘regular’ creatives who have yet moved into a purely social position; I’m thinking I may be a pioneer here. My offer to clients is “better content.” Better content will give them better results, and let’s face it, it shouldn’t be too hard to do better than most of what we are currently seeing in our Facebook feeds.

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