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Why Ads Aren’t Funny Anymore

I highly recommend the latest episode of Dave Dye’s podcast. It’s a chat with Orlando Wood, who has written two books on the links between psychology, creativity and advertising.

When I commented on it via Twitter, Dave said, ’It occurs to me that, although they seem different, all of our ad blogs, yours, mine, George’s, Dave T’s, Gregg Benedict’s, etc are essentially the same – Don’t forget this thing, it works.’

Yep. Or to put it another way, we like to point out where creative advertising could be better, while trying to offer solutions that often seem self-evident and easily accessed.

I wrote a post about this entire subject a while ago, so if you want to have a wallow in the weirdness of our collective insanity, go right ahead. 

In that post I explored some of the thinking behind the madness, but I didn’t really discuss humour, and the reasons why there’s not so much of it about. So here’s my attempt to do just that:

The Oscars Reason

Have you noticed that comedies very rarely win the Oscar for Best Film? Look at recent nominees: maybe CODA is a slight comedy, but it’s mainly a drama, and so is Licorice Pizza. Jojo Rabbit is a proper nominated comedy, albeit a black one. The Big Short is funny, but is it a ‘comedy’? Kind of. Ditto The Wolf Of Wall Street and Django Unchained. But that’s it: one proper comedy and a few funny dramas out of the last 100 nominees.

I think that’s because comedic artistic expression is both very hard, and not considered as positively as something serious. It’s thought to be trivial and silly, so you have to expend far more effort to do do it well, and you get much less credit for the result.

There are quite a lot of articles that go into the disappearance of the movie comedy (TL/DR: they are less profitable and Marvel-esque blockbusters have driven them out of cinemas and and onto streaming services), but I wonder if we have become a more serious planet in the last ten years. There’s a climate crisis, a pandemic, various wars and an explosion of political resentment and disagreement in many countries. Funny ads could help to alleviate all that, but they might appear out of step with the cultural vibe.

The Difficulty Reason

Very good comedy is a real craft that requires great writing, casting, editing and direction, and it’s harder to seem funny in the initial script, especially when it is now often passed around as a deck to be read rather than a presentation to be performed.

Maybe clients have seen many supposedly funny scripts fall flat, and subsequently found themselves drawn more towards a straight manifesto that’s read out over some stock footage. They’re hard to love, but they’re easy to visualise before they’re produced (you can knock them up in a ripomatic on a laptop these days), and you can easily swap out or alter lines right up until five minutes before you supply them to go on air. They can accommodate the wishes of all the client’s departments, which makes everyone’s life easier, but also makes the ad duller.

You can’t do that with a comedy. It’s impossible to pre-produce that magic alchemy of script, performance, timing and direction, so everyone has to take a leap of faith, and people (especially clients) don’t like doing that if there’s a cheap, easy non-leap of faith alternative.

Write a script with people dancing and everyone can imagine it because it’ll be like the other fifty dance scripts currently on air. The same with the serious purpose-based initiatives and the po-faced celebrations of how your chocolate bar or loo cleaner is changing the world.

The ‘Our Biscuits Are A Big Deal’ Reason

Dave and Orlando mentioned that clients probably prefer a script that says their crumpets are the best thing since sliced bread, rather than one which self-deprecatingly recognises the true insignificance of practically everything on the average supermarket shelf. They make fish fingers all day; fish fingers are very important to them; why wouldn’t they be important to the rest of the nation? Because they’re just bloody fish fingers, but try telling that to people who think about and talk about nothing but fish fingers, all day, every day. Good luck!

The Victim Reason

Comedy also needs a victim. In the past the Doofus Dad has often taken that role (idiot dad that we all roll our eyes at because he’s childish or irresponsible), but it might just as easily be a clichéd societal convention or a crappy musical genre. However, that means someone, somewhere might get offended, and then express that offence on Twitter or Instagram. No client wants that! It’s a PR disaster! Fiona in Basildon actually likes the music of Steps, thanks very much, and she’s mobilised eighteen Facebook friends to protest the pisstakey use of Tragedy in  your latest jam commercial. Quick! Pull the ad, and let us never speak of it again. And we must now apologise. Profusely.

That’s a situation best avoided, so instead let’s just be safe, and nice and not funny, because funny can be provocative, and ‘provoked’ people like causing a stink on social media to take revenge on the provokers.

The John Lewis Reason

Humour seemed to disappear around the same time as the rise of the serious/tear-jerky John Lewis ads. Some very talented people created an entirely new genre: the 60-second heart-warmer, and every client seemed to want one of their own. ‘That worked, so give us one’, is a common refrain from many clients (and many CDs), and the dominance of the John Lewis-alike may well have knocked the entire industry off its axis.

And if your biggest ad of the year is going to be one of those then you’re unlikely to spend the rest of the year being ha-ha funny; the two things would make your brand inconsistent, and many clients (and many CDs) do not like an inconsistent brand. So the tail kind of wagged the dog until it almost became weird to stand out with a throwaway gag (yes, standing out is a GOOD THING, but it also requires ‘BRAVERY’, and people don’t like being ‘BRAVE’ because it’s KINDA SCARY).

So it’s obvious why humour has fallen by the wayside: it’s difficult, expensive, hard to communicate in a deck, trivialising, guaranteed to annoy someone you want to sell things to, and not like a John Lewis ad.

That’s a pretty hard tide to swim against, but I would urge you to try because I like funny things, and, funnily enough, so does literally everyone else on earth.



How Long Till Your Current Job Ends?

The other day I was reading an article about the longevity of stardom. It asserted that stardom can only last for three years, after which stars can remain famous, but only as a kind of reminder of what people liked their three years of stardom.

I mentioned this to my wife, and we then considered various stars and the degree to which they reinvented themselves at the three-year mark: George Michael with three years of Wham, three years of Faith, three years of Listen Without Prejudice, then a kind of retirement; Bowie with three years of Ziggy/Aladdin Sane/Diamond Dogs, three years of Berlin, three years of Let’s Dance, then another kind of retirement; Eddie Murphy with three years of tyro parts like Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hrs, three years of superstardom (Coming to America etc.), then an enforced sabbatical imposed by making shitty films no on wanted to see, and a late-career return with three years of dressing up in fat suits.

My wife went on to say that she’d read an article that said Baby Boomers tended to stay in their jobs for twelve years, while Gen X-ers were six years, Millennials were maybe three years, and Gen Z were looking like one-and-a-half.

I assume this reduction has something to do with the grotesqueries of late-stage capitalism, as it increasingly robs us of stability and security, the better to enrich the already copiously enriched. But that aside, our attachment to jobs, and by extension, corporations, is worth examining.

When I worked at AMV BBDO I remember having a chat with Mary Wear, who told me that she and her then-partner had a policy of staying at each job no longer than three years. She then split up with her partner, who may have have then pursued his own three-year stints at Mother and Lowe before founding his own agency. Mary, however, stayed at AMV for a good few years, but with different art directors, perhaps each partnering her for something like the magical three years. So it wasn’t necessarily the agency that dictated the length of cycle. Sometimes it was the art director. 

I look back at my own career in this context and see quite a few three-year chunks: an art director, another art director, an agency I co-founded, a period of freelancing, ECDing Media Arts Lab in London, doing something similar but larger in LA, starting another agency etc.

It makes me wonder if there was some kind of natural progression to that time frame. Unlike Mary, I wasn’t conscious of making moves at the thousand-day mark, but perhaps there was a kind of corporate circadian rhythm that made me feel as if it were time to move on. Some of those changes were not by my choice, but is it possible that I was subconsciously sabotaging my circumstances, readying myself for the chrysalis and attendant reinvention?

Going back to the article my wife read, are we all leaning towards shorter stints at each place, or do we keep the timelength with which we started? There could be an arc to any situation, one that we adhere to without realising: a beginning, a middle and an end, with each new act feeling appropriate at a certain time. ‘Here comes year three. Time to start packing my parachute and putting out feelers for another position. Or to look for a new copywriter who can refresh me…’

It’s also possible that people get tired of people after a certain amount of time, and we collectively conspire to move on and be moved on. Or at least the excitement of the new is bound to fade over that time: just look at Madonna’s 3-year cycles, often starting with something provocative (the lyrics of Like a Virgin, the video for Like A Prayer, the Sex book) that echoed to faintness before she found another way to ‘shock’ us. 

Does going over the allotted time simply lead to a kind of disappointment or failure? Do you have a different timeframe that dictates your career? Do you try to jump before you’re pushed?

I need more data. I’ll add a question to wherever I end up posting this, but do feel free to comment with your own experiences…



Let’s face it: older people are kind of crabby and gross, and younger people are just idiots.

Come on! Let’s just get it out there: older people are icky and lame. They are often covered in a layer of dust. They need help going to the loo (which is why so many smell of wee). They have no idea what Zoom, Twitter or Charli D’Amelio are. They talk about things that happened in the last century. They look at you funny when you insist on creating an 80-page deck to convince a fifth-rate director to take on your 6-second blipvert. They don’t know how to create DAOs, and they think crypto is a pyramid scheme for the terminally credulous.

But on the other side, look at the kidz: their faces are buried in their TikTok feeds instead of an old One Show annual. They have no idea how to craft anything, or what ‘craft’ is. They think ‘Create The Future Together’ is a great endline, or maybe a great strategy, or possibly a great campaign idea. They spend more time comping visuals than thinking about why they’re comping those visuals in the first place, and they think that a Cannes Bronze is actually something of value.

In short, both are making advertising worse. One is too expensive while the other is too ignorant. One is too stuck in their ways while the other flits from fad to fad. One thinks everything was better in the 1990s while the other has no idea what happened in the 1990s.

But other than the people who are 30-35, everyone is too young or too old, so maybe we should try a bit harder to make the best of both worlds rather than condemn the worst.

As luck would have it, I just read an article that might help us with that. Although the title is ‘The kind of smarts you don’t find in young people,’ it’s really an explanation of how the brains of younger and older people have separate specific abilities, both of which are essential to the creative process:

In the mid-20th century, psychologists set about finding an explanation for a great mystery. Researchers had long noted that some skills—analysis and innovation, for example—tend to rise quickly very early in life and then fall through one’s 30s and 40s. Meanwhile, one’s knack for combining complex ideas, understanding what they mean, and relating them to others rises throughout middle age and can stay high well into old age.

The two groups of skills originate in two basic types of intelligence: fluid and crystallized. The first is essentially the ability to solve abstract problems; the second represents a person’s knowledge gained during a lifetime of learning. In other words, as a young adult, you can solve problems quickly; as you get older, you know which problems are worth solving. Crystallized intelligence can be the difference between an enterprise with no memory that makes lots of rookie errors and one that has deep experience—even if the company is brand new.

In a neophiliac industry like advertising, new stuff is always highly prized. From Second Life to NFTs to the latest bands, influencers and pop-ups, adland always likes to jump in first and ask questions later. Is it right to recommend the latest fashion to a client? Sometimes, but many agencies feel compelled to do that without considering or waiting for the consequences; after all, by the time you’ve done your due diligence, your new thing is longer new.

But older people are more predisposed to seeing the patterns that point to the mid- and longer-term futures of what is currently untried and untested. Sure, it’s not as whiz-bang to move slow and fix things as it is to move fast and break them, but older people have seen the fashions come and go, so they tend to have a better idea of how your current circumstances might play out in the weeks or years to come.

The point is, as a general rule, using the old to optimise the implementation of the new makes a lot of sense. Yes, that might seem like clipping the wings of the crazier ideas, but it also might mean that strategic or creative rigor is applied, leaving less chance for errors or problems further down the line. As that article says:

Companies would do well to install master teachers throughout their business. Don’t target people who pine for the “old days” in their careers and abilities. Instead, look for elders who recognize that it is healthy and normal to see some of their capabilities decline with age, and that this presents an opportunity to foster those abilities in others. Older leaders should be enthusiastic about making great teams, developing others’ ideas, sharing knowledge openly and generously, and making prudent judgments based on their own deep experience.

Obviously, doing this requires hiring or retaining more older people, and I’m fully aware that such a practice is heresy for many agencies. Even though St Luke’s recently took on my friend Mark Denton as the Oldest Intern In Advertising for a month’s placement, that was still unusual enough to be worthy of lots of ‘How’s That Ker-Azy Idea Going To Work Out???’ articles, while further agencies giving it a go seem to be thin on the ground.

But oddly enough, it’s one of the closest things I’ve seen to the ‘master teacher’ suggestion in that article. Mark’s conclusion, ably assisted by another elder statesperson, The Ad Contrarian, is that he could be a ‘Brain In A Bottle‘, a kind of Yoda, sitting in the corner of the creative department as a wisdom resource for his more callow colleagues. We saw how things worked out for a month, but what about a year? Twelve months where course corrections could be made and feedback could be taken on might well add more value than whatever a ‘Mark’ might cost. Advertising is always exhorting clients to be brave. Shouldn’t we take our own advice occasionally?

One other factor might be the fear and competition bred by the situation: young people have to use whatever edge they can to get their job, and when that happens they know that they only succeed by having their idea chosen over that of the other team on the brief. So may the best team (or the team that creates the most sellable idea) win, which means that the other team loses. That is the implication of every day in the agency.

For the older ones, you know that every raise increases the size of the target on your back and the number of knives aimed towards it. No one says no to a raise, but we all know that the higher the salary, the more you stick out to the network CFO in Manhattan, who just needs to cut costs by 8%, and can see that one easy way of doing that is to delete the names of you and your partner. What is the magic danger-number, and when does the axe-person start looking around? Nobody knows, but your career is generally spent inching closer to the guillotine, and it’s coming for us all.

So if you take those two situations and run them simultaneously, you get fear and competition instead of something that might be far more useful: collaboration. We’re taught from the start to try to be the last team standing, but an atmosphere that gets us all to try to improve each other’s work would surely be better for both the work and our mental health.

Instead we take our place on the conveyer belt, watch as the people some distance ahead fall off the end of it, and brace ourselves for that inevitability. But if the more experienced people were retained and given the chance to continue contributing to the young, that might improve the system and the advertising for everyone.

Mentors, mentees, education, growth, improvement, success.

It’s not exactly a new idea, but then sometimes the things that stand the test of time do so for a reason.



Your Idea Is Nothing Without Execution

Last week I was listening to the peerless Graham Fink on his second episode of Behind The Billboard. If you haven’t had a listen yet, stop reading this now and rectify that scandalous situation. Then listen to episode 1. I’ll wait.

You’re back? Good.

Wasn’t it brilliant? There were many excellent anecdotes, but the part that really stuck with me was an almost throwaway comment at the end where Graham quoted Hugh Laurie as saying, ‘There’s no such thing as great ideas; only great execution of ideas’ (the actual quote and interview are here). Graham went on to say that there was a big difference between having ideas and getting those ideas made exactly as you want, or even better. 

He added that we never really present ideas to clients that are above 8/10, but then you go into execution, and that’s when you crank it up a few notches with great photographers, typographers or directors.

OK. There’a a lot to examine there, so let’s start with the main point; the one that says execution supersedes concept…

Many years ago I went to Watford (West Herts College) to study Copywriting and Art Direction under the great Tony Cullingham. He instills in his pupils the opinion that concept is 90% of the endeavour. The other 10% is the actual writing or art direction bit (the execution).

And he’s not alone in that thought. We’ve all heard those creative department insults: ‘Yeah, but what’s the idea?’ or ‘There’s no fucking idea’, suggesting the primacy of the conceptual underpinning, but you only have to go back to my penultimate post (and this one I wrote seven years ago on a similar theme) to see that we don’t even agree on what an ‘idea’ is. This incredibly valuable currency of the ad agency is… what exactly? 

If we go back to Hugh’s suggestion, and Graham’s agreement, it’s not that important. 

According to the winner of the Commercial of the Year at last week’s British Arrows, it’s ‘Show models dressed in Burberry jumping and dancing around a street while snowballs land on them’. You might say that fashion advertising doesn’t usually have ‘ideas’, and you’d be right, but this is undeniably a brilliant ad. It was liked, shared and awarded all over the place. It might even have sold some clothes:

As far as the concept went, Riccardo Tisci, Creative Director of Burberry, said, ’It’s about that fearless spirit and imagination when pushing boundaries.’ That sounds like bollocks to me, but the end result, like great fashion, is all about emotion and attitude, so it makes sense to skip the logic of a conceptual foundation. This is all about execution, and the distance between ‘People dance around in a snowball shower’ and the finished ad is like the distance between a Cadbury’s Creme Egg and a Fabergé Egg.

So is the idea ever important? Well, Good Things Come To Those Who Wait, Mac vs PC, Beware Of Things Made In October and Write The Future make very effectively the argument that it is. But Burberry, Flat Eric and Whassup are equally powerful on the ‘no idea’ side of things.

So why don’t we just get it out in the open? Sometimes advertising ideas matter, and sometimes they don’t. It’s OK not to bother with a solid concept, but if you have one, great. No biggie either way.

But idea-wise, what really does matter are the thousands of little creative contributions that happen between brain and reality. Let’s stick with the Burberry example: many, many ideas happened even after someone suggested dancing around in the snow would demonstrate the fearless spirit and imagination one displays when pushing boundaries. What kind of street? How many models? What size snowballs? When do they fall? What are the dance moves? Who goes where? Who should shoot it? Who would be a good DOP? 

And those are just the basics. You’ll then have: which lens do we shoot with? How heavy should the greens be in the grade? Should we shave three frames off the end of that shot or that one? Four frames? Five? Back to three again? How far should we roll up the second dancer’s cuffs? What expression should the dancer at the back have at 1:23.06 seconds? Should the camera move this far to the left? Another inch? Three inches? Three feet?

And even then there will be another thousand questions that pivot from those answers, but you get the idea. (Yes, I said ‘idea’. That was deliberate.)

So many ideas happened to improve this ad, and yet there was no discernible ‘Watford’ idea underneath it all. Then they made something similarly idea-less a year later and it was just as loved:

And it was all in the execution. So Hugh and Graham were right. Kind of.

I remember having a conversation with a colleague ten years ago. He had come up with an idea for a story and he asked me if there were people who would write a book or script based on that idea. He wanted to be an ‘ideas’ guy, who just thought up basic premises, which he would then pass on to a supposed executor.

I told him that if there was something like that I was not aware of it. Sure, there are staff writers, or people who accept commissions from studios (‘We just bought the rights to this biography of Marilyn Monroe. We’ll pay you X to write the script’), but that’s not the same as ‘I just had an idea for a story. Could you spend weeks/months writing it on the off-chance someone will like it enough to buy it?’ For a start, most executional writers have their own ideas for stories, ones that they would be happy to spend hours getting just right. In addition, great ideas are so easy to find, here are 100 of them, left on my blog eight years ago by a commenter, who said ‘Shit ideas are ten a penny. The problem is, so are good ideas’.

The example I always give is, if I came up to you in 1990 and said, ‘I’ve had this idea for a book about a theme park with real dinosaurs that are brought to life by adapting and developing their genetic coding’, would you have thought, ‘Well that sounds like a massive bestseller that will become the highest-grossing film of all time’? Probably not. You’d want to see what the characters were like, how exciting the plot could be, what kind of dinosaurs there were, etc.

I could even say that a man parks his car outside a bank, and that would still require answers to questions like, what kind of car? What kind of bank? What is the man wearing? What is the weather like? Are there any passers-by? How old are they? What city are we in? What year did this take place? Any one of your answers could make the scene better or worse.

So execution is a very large proportion, of the final work.

Which brings me to the second thing Graham said: that we never really give a client any idea that is above 8/10, and usually more like a 6 or 7. And that means that’s the level of what you tell your partner, or your CD. I can tell you for sure that paragraphs of ideas are not particularly helpful. At best they can get someone to say, ‘OK, write it into a script and show me what you mean. Stress test it’. Then, in some form of execution, it can be judged with greater clarity.

There are thousands of rejected ideas for Happiness Is A Cigar Called Hamlet, Good Things Come To Those Who Wait, and Mac vs PC. There is a smaller number of ads that got made, then binned because the execution didn’t live up to people’s expectations of the idea. There are also great ideas, executed to everyone’s satisfaction that then appeared before a public that did not not give a toss. At every step of the process you are dealing with subjective interpretations of ‘funny’, ‘quick’, ‘irreverent’, ‘cool’ and hundreds of other abstract notions. The idea just gets you to the next stage of execution, where it can get better, worse or stay about the same.

Imagine you saw the script for Guinness Surfer. Could you have executed it with the same brilliance as Tom and Walt, Jonathan Glazer, Johnnie Burn, Ivan Bird etc.? Part of the buy-in from the Guinness client must have been the track record of the agency, especially the creative department. Otherwise they’d be looking at a few paragraphs about a surfer waiting for a perfect wave, and have no idea (there’s that word again) if it was going to be worth committing a giant budget to its execution.

The idea stage is where you can change anything for tuppence (your chargeable hourly rate notwithstanding). Changes in commitment are equally cheap and insignificant. A chat over a pint of beer can lead to a joke that doubles the quality of the script. Ten more ideas can appear between lunch and home time. A client’s feedback can alter the whole thing, or be argued with until the idea is better, worse or dead. Then you just go again, for no more than your hourly rate. The idea stage is where you can watch a short film to pass the time and decide that, with the addition of your client’s logo, what you are watching could be the ‘idea’.

But execution is where the rubber hits the road. It’s where the real money is spent. It’s where the commitments are made from which you cannot return. It’s what takes the most time. It’s where specialists form a team that elevates something invisible to something tangible. It’s where you can make something great or something shit, no matter whether your ‘idea’ is great or shit. 

Let’s not say one is better or worse, or more or less noble than the other. The idea is necessary to get to the execution, but the execution is absolutely necessary to make the idea any good.



The Best Accounts In Advertising

How topical is this?

I wrote this post a few days ago, but what I witnessed at the Oscars tonight helped prove my point.

Here’s a question: which category of advertising offers the best opportunities to produce brilliant, famous and (if you’re into that kind of thing) award-winning work?

Is it the heartstring-tugging, gritty edginess of the Charity and Public Service sector? Is it the in-built coolness and decades of brilliance of sportswear? Maybe it’s tech, or alcohol, or luxury.

Nope. It’s media.

Here’s why: if you are a newspaper or a TV channel or some kind of social media platform, you are the conveyers and/or creators of things the public finds very interesting. If you in turn have to advertise those very interesting things then your work has a much better chance of being interesting itself.

This gives you a massive head start over washing powder, chocolate bars or even brilliant things such as holidays. Those three things are also interesting to the public, but they are also broadly the same things, offering the same effects, year after year.

But media is different. Even if you watch BBC1 every single day, you might find yourself experiencing anything from sport to drama to horror. The Guardian covers everything from the climate crisis to sexual dysfunction. Twitter will drive stories on Black Lives Matter, murder and Taylor Swift. All of the above will run millions of words about Will and Chris’s little contretemps.

So you’re not selling these intermediaries; you’re selling what they show, and as these intermediaries want to seem as compelling as possible, you will usually be given the opportunity to advertise their most interesting content.

About ten years ago I was freelancing at 4 Creative. Their idents had just won D&AD Gold, their Paralympics coverage was just about to win D&AD Gold, and in the meantime they had to tell people about sexy Skins, superlative Sopranos and global cultural touchpoint, Friends. 

One day the creatives were called into one of the meeting rooms and briefed on a new show called Black Mirror. We were told about the plot of the first episode, which sounded fascinating, especially when the planner said, ‘They’re going to kill the Princess of Wales unless the Prime Minister does something specific.”

They’d been pretty forthcoming to that point, so I wondered why they were suddenly being so coy. “What does he have to do?” I asked. The planner looked a bit sheepish before replying, “He has to fuck a pig in Trafalgar Square.”

This, dear reader, is why media clients, especially those as edgy as Channel 4, are so great to work on. 

Sure, Persil Automatic washes whiter, Beanz Meanz Heinz and Autoglass repairs and replaces, but none of them has a central proposition that involves the leader of the country being blackmailed into practicing bestiality in public.

Even if you don’t get to go that far, just take a look at the best media ads of all time: decades of The Economist; years of LWT; The National Gallery (another D&AD Gold); endless great work for The Guardian, including D&AD Gold for its redesign; brilliant posters for The Times; Endless pencil-winning genius for Fox Sports; Twitter’s Cannes Grand Prix-winning billboards; more Cannes Grands Prix for The Tate Gallery; more D&AD Golds for The New York Times; D&AD Gold for BBC2’s idents; D&AD Gold for Channel 4’s logo; D&AD Golds for Channel 4’s second Paralympics campaign and Film 4’s idents. Time Out, Britart.com, Uncommon’s current ITV work…

This extends into the world of design, where books, albums and especially movies have inspired hundreds of indelible and iconic images. Just think of the Jurassic Park logo, the helmet from Full Metal Jacket, the shark rising to towards the swimmer of Jaws, The spiral of Vertigo, the characters of Trainspotting… 

Media properties are almost always created to elicit an emotional reaction, so their representative communications must be able to to the same. distilling those feelings into a single image or a minute or two of film. That’s a great target to aim for, one that is rarely part of the KPIs of your average ad campaign. 

On top of that, you have a never-ending churn of product. Instead of trying to breathe new life into yet another year of KFC, Travelodge or Audi, you get to sink your teeth into new shows, new issues, new stories and new people. That helps with morale, recruitment and retention, and of course fame and awards, which also help with morale, recruitment and retention.

Charity accounts were always famous for being the easy route to a prize because they dealt with issues that were inherently compelling. That meant you had to do far less heavy lifting to persuade people of your way of thinking. But there was a stigma to that: work was often created for free, as a kind of quid pro quo for the opportunity to win awards and feel a bit better about yourself. Was it proper work to proper briefs? Sometimes; sometimes not so much.

But many media accounts offer creatives a product that is already fascinating, without the suggestion that they’re doing the work as a cheap shot at grabbing a Cannes Lion.

These are real companies, looking for real success, often via work that is original, riveting and as brilliantly crafted as their own offerings.

In many ways that’s advertising’s dream, and unlike many other parts of the industry (and Will Smith’s career), it’s alive and well.



We Are Speaking Different Languages

I once wrote a popular tweet that listed ten words that are used in every advertising meeting, even though nobody really knows what they mean. I only mention the popularity to indicate that there was quite a lot of agreement with the list. Anyway, I had a look for it, but it’s buried too far beneath my thousands of tweets despairing of Boris Johnson, so here’s an attempt to recall the magic ten with an additional one for good luck:

Organic

Graphic

Human

Idea

Platform

Strategy

Digital

Effective

Brave

Emotional

Simple

Yes, I know you all know what brave and effective mean, or at least you could give me a definition that’s pretty close to the one in the dictionary, but you know what I’m saying: these words take on new meanings in the advertising boardroom or creative review.

Does that stop us throwing them about like confetti, with no thought for how they ended up in your hand, nor where they might finally fall? Of course not

So let’s take them one by one, examining the advertising definition and how far it has traveled from its origins.

Organic

I just looked up the dictionary definition of this word, only to discover that is has several, and NONE of them is the one we use when we talk about ads. Then I realised I have no idea how to define the advertising version.

I think it’s kind of ‘pertaining to nature’, or ‘naturally occurring, but not like a flower, more like naturally occurring from a situation or process. Like when a man hits his head in a way that isn’t contrived, we say that it happened organically’. How’s that for a definition?

We tend to use it as if it vaguely means what I just wrote but can any of us define ‘advertising organic’ clearly? I don’t think so, which means we all mean something slightly different when we use it. And we’re all talking bollocks to some degree, and no one is calling anyone out on the bollocks, or admitting they don’t understand what’s just been said.

If you think that’s a little bit crazy, read on…

Graphic

The dictionary says graphic means ‘relating to visual art, especially involving drawing, engraving, or lettering’ or ‘giving a vivid picture with explicit detail’. (There are other definitions, like the one that pertains to the phrase ‘graphic sex’, but none of them is relevant here.)

Of course, none of that is what we mean in our agencies. The advertising definition of ‘graphic’ is, ‘with straight lines and corners, and probably quite a lot of negative space’. That’s it. In advertising, ‘organic’ pictures are full of curvy lines and natural colours, but ‘graphic’ imagery is closer to the work of Mondrian, or the contents of a geometry text book.

Again, this has never been said explicitly, or agreed upon, but that is what people in ad agency meetings seem to think graphic means. Pay attention next time someone says it (almost certainly at some point today) and see what they’re really suggesting. From art directors to clients, all departments seem to use this meaning, possibly because all departments seem to use this meaning. It’s another silent agreement that means we can’t really go back to whatever meaning ‘graphic’ used to have.

Human

As a noun, easy; as an adjective, it’s nowhere near as simple. The Human League song Human appeared to suggest it meant that you’re born to make mistakes, but of course an ad agency chat takes it elsewhere.

When someone says, ‘It’s really human’, I think they are saying that something is organic (see above), as in ‘pertaining to nature’, but with a further emphasis on ‘not like a computer or robot’. So the human characteristics of love, kindness, thoughtfulness tend to be what we mean by the advertising version of human. Humans can also be evil, envious, anxious, jealous etc., but those are bad things, so they do not describe characters in ads or products we try to sell (see ’emotional’ below).

A close cousin to ‘human’ is ‘intuitive’, which is more of a product word, and is closer to its real definition, but when we add it to a pre-prod meeting we soon find that any real meaning disappears and it’s simply a surrogate for ‘soft’ or ‘nice’.

Idea

Bearing in mind how many times it’s used in an ad agency, you’d think that we’d have a clear definition of what an ‘idea’ is.

But we don’t.

I know this because I once attended a management meeting where we discussed all sorts of things, one of which was ‘ideas’. It soon became clear that we were talking about different things. Some said ‘Just Do It’ was an idea; others suggested the idea was the articulation of the concept that could then be copied by anyone else, eg: ‘show how something can be worth waiting for’; others thought it was more like ‘Dell computers are easy to use’.

So we all say ‘idea’ fifty times a day, and we’re all talking about different things.

Let me complicate it further by asking you to explain the idea in the VW Lemon/Think Small campaign. Could you please articulate it in a way that is consistent with your definition of the ‘idea’ for Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet? Or the entire Old Spice campaign, from The Man Your Man Could Smell Like to Wolf CEO, to Momsong? Or the idea for the Whassup campaign?

As an industry we definitely use ‘idea’ to mean several different things, but it’s one of the most important terms we employ, so how does that work? Poorly.

Platform

This is a new one. For decades it meant that place where you found your train, but 10-15 years back it became the word used to describe a giant medium, such as Facebook or Google; a thing that acted as a starting point for lots of other things (kind of like a train platform).

But more recently I’ve heard it being used for that Old Spice thing; a campaign above a campaign. Wieden and Kennedy clearly sold P&G some kind of über campaign that could encompass the various manifestations of The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, including Terry Crews as a manipulable online character, that crooner playing the piano, Wolf CEO, Momsong, and everything else we’ve seen on behalf of that brand during the last decade.

I think The Power Of Dreams is the clearest articulation of an advertising platform (although it was never referred to as a platform), but even then, it’s kind of vague. Cog, Grrr, Impossible Dream, the banana press ad… yes, you could say they came from the power of dreams, but doesn’t everything? You think something up, and if that thing is exciting enough, it drives you to bring it to life, whether that’s a Kit-Kat, a board game or a Honda Civic.

If platform can accommodate sub-campaigns, is it a campaign, or is it something else? I think it would help to call it something else; but if you do that, what do you call it? Platform makes sense, except that it already has a significant meaning in the advertising world. But here we are with two ‘platforms’ when we could have one ‘platform’ and one ‘springboard’, or one ‘trigger’. I dunno. I bet there are fifty good names for the campaign above the campaign that aren’t ‘platform’, but we now have ‘platform’ creeping into that space, so we may have to just accept the unnecessary stupidity of that.

Strategy

Here’s a contentious one.

So ‘planners’ are now ‘strategists’, and by implication everything they do is in service of the creation of a strategy. But it’s not. Most strategies that I read (having ploughed through a massive deck that leads up to the hallowed ‘strategy’), are not strategies at all; they are maybe tactics, or abstract sentences that sound a bit like a strategy but are really just… not strategies.

Great strategies are hard. Bogstandard strategies are apparently also hard, because I rarely see them. They should be overall guides for what an advertising campaign is supposed to achieve, distilled into a sentence, or (these days) a paragraph (or, God help us, a deck). But they are often less specific, like ‘PayPal is the way we all need to live our lives’, or ‘Adidas is ambition, distilled’.

Those are not strategies, but we tend to accept and discuss them as if they are. Then we use Slack, Teams and WhatsApp to bitch about he fact that they are not. And then we go into the process of creating the work without a strategy…

Digital

A few years ago I attended a three-day Hyper Island course, along with the entire management of my agency. A couple of hours into it, one of the people running the course asked us (maybe 60 people) what we thought ‘digital’ meant. He received different definitions from every single person. (By the way, mine was ‘not analogue’, which was as correct as it was useless).

The point was that we all used that word without agreeing what it meant. So, to emphasise the point of this entire post, Hyper Island made it very clear that we were not speaking the same language, when it would make a lot of sense for us to do exactly that.

What do you think digital means? Do you think your definition is the same as that of everyone else in your agency? Your department? The other voices in your head?

The reality is that we all say the word ‘digital’ every day, and it could mean a dozen things from ‘online’ to ‘non-traditional’, and that is not a great basis for a useful conversation.

Effective

The weird thing about effective is that we are often left in the dark as to what it means, and what it is supposed to mean.

Is it sales figures? Awareness? Likes? Or a bunch of other odds and sods that we’re never told about?

I once asked this question of my bosses and was told (sheepishly) that our client just wanted to look cool to his colleagues. That was the effectiveness we were aiming for. Yes, we all understand what effective means; it’s just that the thing we’re trying to achieve in those terms is often kept from the people trying to achieve it, rendering it essentially meaningless.

Do you know the ultimate aim of your current campaign? Are you sure? If you’re not sure, what the heck are you doing?

Brave

People who are staying in Ukraine to protect their country are brave. Nothing that happens in an advertising agency comes under that definition.

Yes, all things are relative, but come on. How brave is ‘advertising brave’? About as brave as driving five miles an hour above the speed limit.

Of course we like to think that some of our decisions take some kind of courage, but as we all know, bland advertising is brave because it’s likely to fail. But exciting advertising is also brave because it some people might not like it. So everything is brave and nothing is brave (especially your decision to add a serif to the client’s typeface, FFS), so let’s just retire that word and allow it to go back to describing actual, y’know, bravery.

Emotional

If your ad isn’t funny, or incredibly straightforward/dull, it’s  almost certainly emotional, but what does that mean?

There are many emotions. Here are the eight basics: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, anticipation, trust, joy. How many times do you see all of those in an ad break? Not much disgust, I’d imagine; probably not much fear. The more negative emotions tend to be shunted off to the side, so when we say an ad is emotional, which emotion are we talking about?

The odd thing is that I’m not sure human beings are particularly good at specifying emotions, never mind advertising people. My reaction to Guinness Surfer is definitely emotional, but is that excitement+surprise+anticipation? And how much of each? I have no idea.

When we talk about very powerful ads, we often use the ‘E’ word, but it’s more of a verbalisation of ‘it makes shivers run down my spine’ or ‘it gives me goosebumps’. But if we all speak of something being ‘emotional’, that must be something both subjective and unspecific, and thus functionally meaningless.

Simple

Simply put, your simple ain’t my simple.

Simple briefs, simple scripts, simple solutions, simple edits, simple endlines, simple decks, simple meetings…

I have definitely had different expectations of that simplicity to other people in the room. Whenever I’ve said that we want something simple, I think everyone nodded in agreement, but what were we agreeing to? Different things, of course!

You know when you brief a photographer or a sound designer or a director as to what you would like to achieve? Do they always produce the exact thing you were hoping for? Or an even-better version of that vision? Not always, right? They misinterpreted what you were after, and those people were fellow creatives. Imagine how differently a client or account person defines ‘simple’. Now you know why your pleas for simplicity fall on subjective/deaf ears.

Your ad, which was striving at all times for simplicity achieved exactly that, by which I mean it achieved nothing of the sort, and all because your simple wasn’t the same as the strategist’s, the account handler’s or the client’s.

So there we have it: we’re constantly speaking different languages in quite fundamental ways.

The good news is that the first step to a solution is admitting you have a problem.

The bad news is that no one thinks this language gap is a problem.

Perhaps I can magically sum that up in language we all understand:

¯\_(ツ)_/¯



The Ages Of An Agency And The Longevity Of A Career

I heard a podcast recently that compared the ages of companies to the ages of humans: in short, when they’re babies they need a lot of help and attention; when they’re teenagers they’re prone to making errors as they attempt to transition into being grown up; as they get towards the end, they need to downsize and, well, prepare to die.

Interesting enough, but it was the corollary that really caught my attention.

Each one of these different phases of growth needs a different set of people. Maybe not 100% different in every department, but enough to make the company work properly and seem appropriate for its new age.

New companies often need someone with a great vision that they can bring to life in an inspiring way. More energy and charisma can attract more investors, along with the kind of employees that will agree to work on a project that barely exists. On the other hand, older companies need a safe pair of hands to wind things down and sell off assets for the best price.

I used to work at an agency with a talismanic president. She was the kind of leader many people would crawl around the world on broken glass to please (although she inspired as much fear and antipathy as respect and love). She was perfect for a while, dragging the company from its infancy through to its teenage years, but then things had to calm down as we entered maturity. After a tussle with her network bosses and our major client, she was eased out and replaced by someone less incendiary.

Would people have followed the new president through fire? Less so than the woman he replaced, but instead of that trait we now had calm, compassion and a little more sanity, along with a happier client and more confident network management. The work was still excellent (some might say better).

Three years later CEO number two was out, along with the CCO, who had been there from the start. A new president and a new CCO arrived. I don’t know too much about them as I left as they arrived, but things seemed to be humming along well, with plenty of award-winning work continuing to flow into the usual media channels.

Considering all this, a few questions popped into my mind: are advertising creatives suited to certain needs of a company, and do those needs only appear at specific stages of its existence? Are we aware of when we change to fulfill a different need? Do the skills we develop at the start of our careers continue to make us valuable in the later years? And when so much changes, how can you predict and aim for those new needs?

I think most creatives go into advertising with the belief or ambition that they will be the ones who create enormously famous award-winners on a regular basis. No one thinks they’ll be the steady workhorse, or the pitch specialist who wins business but never makes anything. But there are far fewer awards or culturally significant ads than there are teams, so by that mathematical logic, most of us are doing a job that does not fulfill our original ambition.

Is that a problem? It depends on the extent to which you can make peace with that reality. In this day and age a creative is even less likely to produce famous work because so much of it exists in the dark recesses of the interweb. No taxi driver will be aware of the great line you just cranked out for Audi’s Snapchat feed, so you’d better be OK with sweating buckets to produce work that is seen by hardly anyone you might know, and disappears forever the day after it runs

But these lines need to be written (and art directed), so that’s now a big part of the job. If you’re able to turn great (in reality, decent) stuff around quickly, and be OK with its 99% insignificance, there is a place for you in this industry in 2022, possibly with a decent salary in a big agency. So you have the right ability for a current need, just like a CEO who is covering an apposite growth stage of a company.

If, however, you are not that person, you might now find it harder to justify a good salary.

In the mid-Nineties, you had to develop an ability in press, posters, TV and/or radio. You might have created something we now think of as experiential (much of the ‘guerilla’ categories of those days seemed to cover that kind of thing), but it was usually no more than a nice-to-have niche, often created specifically for awards.

Now you have to be adept at far more disciplines, reducing the time you have to hone your craft skills or explore the outer edges of your concepts. Distant deadlines and generous budgets are largely a thing of the past, so you now need to adapt or die.

This is especially true as younger people coming into the business have known nothing else, so they might ironically be the equivalent of the late-stage CEO that keeps the ship steady despite increasingly straitened circumstances. Clients are now more willing to pay for quantity than quality, so cheaper (younger) people who can do that to a competent level are what the industry currently needs (I say ‘needs’ knowing full well that the industry actually needs the exact opposite of that, but more immediately it needs to get paid, so here we are).

As someone who has gone through these changes, I can say that a degree of pragmatism is essential. I feel like the requirements for good quality at high quantity rather than exceptional quality on a more occasional basis have actually improved my headline writing. Instead of stressing over one great line, I can now produce larger numbers at greater speed, at least one of which is up to my former standards.

So I’m in no way the creative I was when the Spice Girls first appeared. Back then I was insecure, awards obsessed and not particularly good. Now I’m confident, entirely uninterested in awards and (excuse me for blowing smoke up my arse) better than I used to be.

The other thing I get asked to do is CD/GCD/ECD projects, where I’m client facing and have the responsibility of overseeing and improving the work of others. That might be on a production or a pitch, but it’s where my management experience comes in handy. 

I guess that makes me a little more Swiss Army knife than someone who has never been an ECD, maximising my opportunities by being able to fit into more roles. On that subject, I occasionally consider learning design and Photoshop because those skills are where the industry is currently leaning. The creation of decks, comps and social layouts are three requirements that didn’t really exist 10-15 years ago, but are now daily needs in almost every agency on the planet.

So if I want to be the right-place-right-time CEO in the next 5-10 years, adding those strings to my bow would not only improve my chances of getting a gig as a creative in 2027, they would also make me a better CD/GCD/ECD by improving my ability to evaluate the non-writing elements of a project.

But I know how specialised the writing side of things is, so I get that learning design and art direction to a CD-level, including those software skills, is something I would have to devote a lot of time to. Is it worth it? Probably. I bet my time in and around advertising has given me a decent foundation, which I could then spend a year or two building upon. And if it extends my employment by a couple of years, it will surely be a good use of my time.

I get that (possible AI contributions aside) advertising will always need human concepting and writing, but who knows what else the future holds? I am aware that I am entering the autumn of my career, and that advertising is an inherently ageist industry, so if I can squeeze a few more years out of the journey, learning along the way, where’s the downside?

You can expect the industry to constantly have a home for your current contributions, or you can adapt to fill its changing needs. Some people have managed the first option successfully, but I think it makes more sense to see what you can do to bring about the latter. It will increase your odds of employment, and thus your longevity.



There’s a war (there’s a war).The kingdom’s on fire, the blood of a young messiah, I see sinners in a church, I see sinners in a church. Sometimes I might be the weekend.

‘Nooooooooooo!’ button for dire situations.

Are you you?

Six degrees of Wikipedia.



You and me we come from different worlds. You like to laugh at me when I look at the weekend.

Global database of fruit trees on public land.

Explore music history an album a day.

Guess where global food dishes come from.

NYC with the sound back on:



600+ Films and Counting

Back in October I wrote this post about the couple of lockdown months I’d spent watching classic films.

Well, in the year since I subscribed to the Criterion Channel I’ve watched many, many more of them, so I think it’s time for an update.

As the title of this post suggests, the first year of my Criterion fun, between August 2021 and August 2021, took in just over 600 films. A lot? maybe, but remember we were mostly in lockdown, so it was a good diversion when I was unable to go out for dinner, drinks, and, crucially, to the cinema. So I bought a big telly and a good sound system and turned my living room into my Odeon/Arclight.

I’d say about 90% of the films were feature length, with 10% being shorts. I finished maybe 85% of the films, and gave up on the other 15% before they finished. Not sure of an average length, but as older films were closer to the 90-minute mark, and many were over three hours, I’d guess at around two hours.

I did see other films during this time – as a dad I am compelled to watch Disney and Marvel movies – and although I enjoyed many of them, and think they are good (in their own special way), I only included them if they were good good, by which I mean they had to have the kind of artistic merit that would allow them to seem at home on this list (examples include Pixar’s excellent Soul, and Mad Max: Fury Road).

I also found a few kindred spirits, some who were going through the same process as me and a few who had already been on a similar journey. It was fascinating to chat through some of these classics with those people, and discovering the depths of others’ movie fandom was always a real kick. I recently went through the production process of a commercial with directors whose references were movies like Playtime, and I was delighted to be able to understand them and discuss their nuances. It’s great to expand an artistic frame of reference, then use that expansion beyond just a nichey nerdiness.

If anyone wants to discuss the relative merits of Ozu vs Mizoguchi vs Kurosawa (and, at a push, Kobayashi, although he’s a little on the nose), hit me up. I will happily chat Rohmer/Malle/Chabrol/Demy/etc., or Fellini/De Sica/ Passolini/Antonioni/Visconti tilll the cows come home.

Here are some of the films you might not have considered watching because they’re kind of ‘deep cut’, but I loved them:

The Music Room (Satyajit Ray). Is about a rich Indian man who has spent all his money and is now on the verge of poverty. However, he decides to have one last blowout on a concert in the music room of his house. It made Indian music surprisingly (to me) compelling, and took me into a world I’d never even considered, let alone visited.

The Wages Of Fear (Henri Clouzot) is one of the most entertaining films you’ll ever see. It concerns a group of roughnecks who have to drive trucks of nitroglycerine across the bumpy terrain of an unspecified country in South America. Great characters combine with endless tension to make a Palme D’Or winner that never lets up.

Viridiana (Luis Bunuel) is funny, dark, twisty, crazy. Of Bunuel’s work, Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is the best-known, but Viridiana is the bravest. He returned to Franco’s Spain after decades spent in exile in Mexico and made a shockingly irreverent film against the wishes of the religious authorities.

High And Low (Akira Kurosawa). Kurosawa kindly invented the action film (Seven Samurai), the medical procedural drama (Red Beard) and this film, the first police procedural. We begin by spending an hour in one very cool room, then the hunt is on…

Le Plaisir (Max Ophuls) is a kind of anthology, split into three. The great thing about Ophuls is his camera movement: although the lack of editing keeps you immersed in the story, at some point you realise you’ve been watching the same unbroken shot for ages, then you start to wonder where it began, rewind and marvel again. Have a look at the same technique in La Ronde and The Earrings of Madame de… In Le Plaisir you’ll see it to stunning effect in the first and third stories.

Closely Watched Trains (Jiří Menzel) is just so warm, charming and funny; full of delightful little touches, wonderfully observed moments and gorgeous photography. Yes, it’s a Czechoslovak film about some people running a rural train station, but that only proves that greatness can come from anywhere, through any story.

Z (Costa Gavras) is one you might have heard of. It’s the thinly-fictionalised account of the death of a Greek politician, and it’s insanely gripping. It feels as if it lands between a documentary and a movie, but not in the same way as, say, The Battle Of Algiers. It’s more fun than that: a tense ride unlike anything you’ve seen before.

Army Of Shadows (Jean-Pierre Melville) was dismissed on its initial release for being sympathetic to de Gaulle, so it languished, forgotten and unknown for forty years until it was reappraised as one of the best films of 2006. There’s a lot of great Melville out there, but this is his masterpiece: a fascinating, compelling tale of a small band of French resistance fighters in World War Two.

Black Orpheus (Marcel Camus) is a vibrant reworking of the Orpheus and Euridice myth, transplanted to the favelas of Rio during Carnival, it has colour, music, energy, passion, joy, tragedy and pretty much everything else.

La Terra Trema (Luchino Visconti) isn’t usually mentioned in the Italian Neorealism conversation, but as far as I was concerned it might as well have been a documentary. It features no real actors and follows the lives of some working class fishermen in a small Italian port. It really transports you to that time and place, and gets you deeply involved with one man’s tragic attempt to break out of his circumstances.

Ashes And Diamonds (Andrzej Wajda) is set on the day the allies win World War Two, and is impossibly cool. The lead actor modeled his performance on James Dean, bringing an oddly American vibe to a very Polish story. Again, it takes you right into that time and place, wondering how communist Russia would take control of war-torn Poland.

I Vitelloni (Federico Fellini) is the film that most other people who have been on this kind of journey bring up to me as a favourite. It’s Fellini at his best, telling us a wonderful story of a bunch of layabout young men in a small seaside town. It’s a clear influence on Swingers, Goodfellas, and any other film with a bunch of guys having fun and taking no responsibility for themselves.

The Turin Horse (Bela Tarr) sounds like the dullest, most depressing film ever made, but it’s the exact opposite of those two things. Never will you find the sight of two people eating a potato so compelling. A man and his daughter live on a decaying, windswept Hungarian farm, then something happens to the well…

Au Revoir Les Enfants (Louis Malle) is the only film I saw that made me cry. I’m pretty sure I saw it when it came out, but I didn’t remember much about it. It’s one of several autobiographical films made by Louis Malle, which gives it an added poignancy. From Zero De Conduite and Les Quatre Cents Coups, to Les Murs and Etre Et Avoir, the French make such great films about childhood and school. This is one of the greatest.

The Servant (Joseph Losey) is an utterly English film, directed by an American. The plot is very unpredictable (although the makers of Parasite must have seen it a few times), as are the performances, but as it descends further and further into a rabbit hole of insanity, you’ll be dragged right along with it.

Another Round (Thomas Vinterberg) is among this year’s Oscar nominees. It’s a Danish black comedy that’s so wonderfully life-affirming (even though the director’s daughter died tragically at the beginning of filming), culminating in a giddy, delirious dance. I think the message was ‘drink more booze’; it certainly tempted me to do just that.

The Fireman’s Ball (Milos Forman) is another film made all the better for it’s use of non-professional actors. If you’ve ever wondered how and why Milos Forman was plucked from Czechoslovakia to direct One Flew Over The Cockoo’s Nest, watch this and all will become clear. It’s a sort of One Flew Over The Strange Little Community Get Together, hilarious, touching and beautifully observed.

Town Bloody Hall (Chris Hegedus and D. A. Pennebaker) is a documentary/filming of a debate on feminism in The New York Town Hall, featuring, among others, Germaine Greer and the provocatively sexist Norman Mailer. It’s shown in all it’s ugly, fiery energy, dumping you right in the centre of a full-throttle battle of the sexes.

The Kid With A Bike (Jean Pierre and Luc Dardennes) is a modern Belgian film with all the authenticity of Italian Neorealism at its best. The story of a young boy whose idolises his dad, who in turn would rather his son didn’t exist. It is played so realistically you feel as if you were given a front-row seat as all this happened for real. I’d also encourage you to seek out other Dardennes Brothers films, such as The Child, The Son and Lorna’s Silence, all similarly brilliant.

Il Sorpasso (Dino Risi) is a comedy, so it won’t be mentioned alongside all the serious dramas that tend to make up the lists of greatest-ever films. But this hilarious road movie, combining an uptight guy with a random ‘friend’ who doesn’t give a shit about anything, is as good as many more lauded Italian films of the 1960s, and has an ending you won’t see coming.

Le Trou (Jaques Becker) is the best prison break film of all time. It is almost entirely about five guys who tunnel out of jail, making more progress, night after night. It has all the tension, twists and great character acting (including some people involved in the real-life breakout it was based on) you need to make a film like this work perfectly.

But you want to know what they all were, don’t you? Relax, I’ve got you. Here’s the list, chronological from 15th Jan:

  1. Man with a Movie Camera
  2. Late Spring
  3. Au Hasard Balthazar
  4. L’Avventura
  5. Le Mépris 
  6. Ordet
  7. Andrei Rublev
  8. Stalker
  9. The General
  10. Metropolis
  11. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
  12. Sátántangó
  13. Pather Panchali
  14. Gertrud
  15. Pierrot le Fou
  16. Close-Up
  17. Ugetsu Monogatari
  18. La Jetée
  19. M
  20. Sherlock Jr.
  21. La maman et la putain
  22. Sansho Dayu
  23. Modern Times
  24. Pickpocket
  25. Sans Soleil
  26. A Man Escaped
  27. L’eclisse
  28. Beau Travail
  29. The Spirit of the Beehive
  30. Fanny and Alexander
  31. The Colour of Pomegranates
  32. Greed
  33. A Brighter Summer Day
  34. Partie de campagne
  35. Intolerance
  36. Yi Yi
  37. Touki Bouki 
  38. Imitation of Life
  39. Madame de…
  40. The Conformist
  41. Meshes of the Afternoon
  42. Two or three things I know about her
  43. Stalker
  44. The Gospel According to St. Matthew
  45. Come And See
  46. Close-Up
  47. The Passion of Joan of Arc
  48. Playtime
  49. Viridiana
  50. Hour of the Wolf
  51. Vivre Sa Vie
  52. Husbands
  53. Los Olvidados
  54. Opening Night
  55. The Gold Rush
  56. Zero de Conduite
  57. L’argent (1983)
  58. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
  59. Mouchette
  60. The River
  61. Meet Me in St Louis
  62. Memories of Underdevelopment
  63. Vampyr
  64. Nosferatu
  65. Chung King Express
  66. The Music Room
  67. The Story of Apu
  68. Chimes at Midnight
  69. Alexander Nevsky
  70. Daisies
  71. Closely Watched Trains
  72. The Great Dictator
  73. Madame Verdoux
  74. A Woman Under The Influence
  75. Husbands
  76. Wanda
  77. Sawdust and Tinsel
  78. Through a Glass Darkly
  79. Winter’s Light
  80. Red Beard
  81. Amarcord
  82. Dr Zhivago
  83. Giant
  84. The Virgin Spring
  85. Smiles of a Summer Evening
  86. High and Low
  87. Sanjuro
  88. Stray Dog
  89. The River
  90. The Most Beautiful
  91. The Life of Oharu
  92. The Tale of the Last Chrysanthemum
  93. Street Of Shame
  94. Scandal
  95. No Regrets For Our Youth
  96. Sanshiro Sugata
  97. I Live In Fear
  98. The Lower Depths (Kurosawa)
  99. The Hidden Fortress
  100. Dersu Uzala
  101. I was born but…
  102. An Autumn Afternoon
  103. Late Autumn
  104. Princess Yang Kwei Fei
  105. The Crucified Lovers
  106. Utamaro and his 5 Women
  107. The 47 Ronin (Mizoguchi)
  108. A Canterbury Tale
  109. The 49th Parallel
  110. The House Is Black
  111. Aparajito
  112. The Big City
  113. I Knew Her Well
  114. Ashes and Diamonds
  115. The Wages of Fear
  116. Cleo from 5 to 7
  117. The Devil and Daniel Webster
  118. A Nous La Liberte
  119. Dogtooth
  120. Mon Oncle
  121. Mr Hulot’s Holiday
  122. Two Men and a Wardrobe
  123. Beauty and the Beast
  124. Red Desert
  125. Umberto D
  126. An Angel At My Table
  127. The Philadelphia Story
  128. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
  129. Arsenic And Old Lace
  130. The Seventh Seal
  131. Pygmalion
  132. Cries and Whispers
  133. The Silence
  134. The Night Porter
  135. Rome Open City
  136. Germany Year Zero
  137. Journey to Italy
  138. Paisan
  139. Gallipoli
  140. The Year of Living Dangerously
  141. Army of Shadows
  142. Weekend
  143. Strike
  144. Lift To The Gallows
  145. Ivan’s Childhood
  146. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
  147. Belle De Jour
  148. Britain Is Listening
  149. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
  150. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
  151. The Shop Around The Corner
  152. The Exterminating Angel
  153. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
  154. 1917
  155. The Double Life of Veronique
  156. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.
  157. Mildred Pierce
  158. Le Plaisir
  159. Lola Montes
  160. Letter From an Unknown Woman
  161. Accatone
  162. I’m No Angel
  163. Holiday
  164. The Heiress
  165. Stagecoach
  166. The Men Who Tread On The Tiger’s Tail
  167. Drunken Angel
  168. The Bad Sleep Well
  169. Charulata
  170. Masculin Feminin (chronological order starts here, 15 Jan)
  171. Le Petit Soldat
  172. I Vitelloni
  173. Juliet of the Spirits
  174. Nights of Cabiria
  175. Il Bidone
  176. 8 1/2 + 8 1/2 with commentary
  177. La Strada
  178. Les Mistons
  179. Les 400 Coups + commentary
  180. Shoot The Piano Player
  181. Jules et Jim
  182. L’Atalante
  183. Day For Night
  184. The Last Metro
  185. La Regle du Jeu (Jan 26)
  186. Persona
  187. Wild Strawberries
  188. City Lights
  189. Meantime
  190. Le Corbeau
  191. Arrival
  192. The Mirror
  193. Night And Fog
  194. A Trip To The Moon
  195. Hiroshima Mon Amour
  196. A Bout De Souffle (Jan 31)
  197. Marketa Lazarova
  198. Tokyo Drifter
  199. Black Girl
  200. Faces
  201. Antoine and Colette
  202. The Soft Skin
  203. Stolen Kisses
  204. Bed and Board
  205. Two English Girls
  206. Love On The Run
  207. Throne of Blood
  208. Yojimbo
  209. Bande A Part
  210. Dodes’ka den
  211. Day of Wrath
  212. Soul
  213. Les Dames Du Bois De Boulogne (Feb 7)
  214. Osaka Elegy
  215. Sisters Of The Gion
  216. A Touch Of Zen
  217. La Bête Humaine
  218. Paths Of Glory
  219. The Secret Of The Grain
  220. The Seventh Continent
  221. Code Unknown
  222. The White Ribbon
  223. The Piano Teacher
  224. Gate Of Hell
  225. Rashomon 
  226. Dheepan (Feb 14th)
  227. F For Fake
  228. Wavelength
  229. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
  230. Divorce Italian Style
  231. Rocco and his Brothers
  232. A Taste of Cherry
  233. Certified Copy
  234. The Kid
  235. Black Orpheus
  236. La Notti Bianche
  237. Foreign Correspondent
  238. Floating Weeds (Feb 21st)
  239. Floating Clouds
  240. Three Colours: Blue
  241. Three Colours: White
  242. Three Colours Red
  243. .In A Lonely Place
  244. Celine and Julie Go Boating
  245. Nomadland
  246. Ivan The Terrible, Part 1
  247. Ivan The Terrible, Part 2
  248. Ministry of Fear
  249. Judas And The Black Messiah
  250. Senso
  251. Red River
  252. Kings of the Road
  253. Paris Texas 
  254. The Bad and the Beautiful 
  255. Vagabond (Feb 28th)
  256. The Traveling Players
  257. The Damned
  258. Fun With Dick And Jane
  259. Out of the Past
  260. A Tale Of Tales
  261. La Terra Trema
  262. Only Angels Have Wings
  263. The Black Panthers
  264. The Gleaners and I
  265. Le Bonheur
  266. Don’t Blink – Robert Frank
  267. The Battleship Potemkin
  268. The Revenant
  269. The In-Laws (1979)
  270. Kung Fu Master
  271. Let The Sunshine In
  272. October
  273. Zazie Dans Le Metro
  274. La Pointe Courte (March 7th)
  275. The Turin Horse
  276. Underground
  277. Distant Voices, Still Lives
  278. The Southerner
  279. The Sacrifice
  280. Riot In Cell Block 11
  281. Letter From Siberia
  282. Nostalghia
  283. Mauvais Sang
  284. Steamboat Bill Jnr.
  285. Z
  286. Portrait Of A Lady On Fire
  287. Fear (Rosselini)
  288. The Servant
  289. Le Silence De La Mer
  290. Bamboozled
  291. The Go-Between
  292. La Collectionneuse
  293. Samurai Rebellion
  294. The Chase
  295. The Flowers Of St Francis (March 14th)
  296. Ma Nuit Chez Maude
  297. Doubt
  298. King Kong (1933)
  299. Stromboli
  300. Promising Young Woman
  301. Safety Last!
  302. Always Sometimes Rarely Never
  303. Les Enfants Terribles
  304. Saute Ma Ville
  305. The Sound Of Metal
  306. Love In The Afternoon
  307. Christmas In July
  308. Another Round
  309. Ida
  310. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  311. The American Friend
  312. The Green Ray
  313. Magnet Of Doom (March 21st)
  314. Paris Belongs To Us
  315. Europa 51
  316. Locke
  317. Le beau Serge
  318. Les Cousins
  319. The Idle Class
  320. Lola (Demy)
  321. Autumn Sonata
  322. The Private Life Of Henry The Eighth
  323. Grey Gardens
  324. Shame (Bergman)
  325. Mon Oncle D’Amerique
  326. Victim
  327. Mad Max Fury Road
  328. Life And Nothing But
  329. Le Coup Du Berger
  330. The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant
  331. Charlotte Et Son Jules
  332. We Need To Talk About Kevin
  333. The Beaches of Agnes (March 28th)
  334. Tokyo-Ga
  335. L’Amore
  336. 24 Hours In The Life Of A Clown
  337. Mamma Roma
  338. Junkopia
  339. La Ricotta
  340. Lacombe, Lucien
  341. The Father
  342. Mur Murs
  343. They Live By Night
  344. California Split
  345. The World Of Gilbert And George
  346. Duck Soup
  347. La haine
  348. White Tiger
  349. A New Leaf
  350. The Mission (April 2nd)
  351. Tampopo
  352. McCabe And Mrs Miller
  353. Caught
  354. The Firemen’s Ball
  355. Days Of Wine And Roses
  356. Man Push Cart
  357. 35 Shots Of Rum
  358. Le chant du styrene
  359. Sunday In Peking
  360. Grand Illusion
  361. The Loves Of A Blonde
  362. Man On The Moon (April 12th)
  363. Gregory’s Girl
  364. Les Enfants Du Paradis
  365. One Night In Miami
  366. The Bird With The Crystal Plumage
  367. Sacrilege
  368. This Sporting Life
  369. Where Is The Friend’s Home?
  370. Nanook Of The North
  371. Life Goes On
  372. Bottle Rocket
  373. Through The Olive Trees
  374. Overlord
  375. Cast A Dark Shadow
  376. An Education
  377. Detour
  378. The Mattei Affair
  379. Town Bloody Hall
  380. The Big Short
  381. Brute Force
  382. Dark Days
  383. Accident
  384. In The Mood For Love
  385. Tom Jones
  386. Black Peter (April 19th)
  387. Sunset Song
  388. Gilda
  389. His Girl Friday
  390. The Thin Blue Line
  391. Nadja In Paris
  392. Eraserhead
  393. A Nos Amours
  394. Claire’s Knee
  395. Kapo
  396. The Bakery Girl Of Monceau
  397. Bad Timing
  398. Suzanne’s Career
  399. Police Story
  400. Losing Ground
  401. Mikey And Nicky
  402. Sons Of The Desert
  403. 48 Hrs
  404. And God Created Woman
  405. The Naked City
  406. The Fall
  407. Bob Le Flambeur
  408. Morocco (April 25th)
  409. Tunes Of Glory
  410. One False Move
  411. Wooden Crosses
  412. Le Samourai
  413. Ghost Dog: Way Of The Samurai
  414. Weekend
  415. My Brilliant Career
  416. Harlan County USA
  417. Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence
  418. Salut Les Cubains
  419. La Chambre
  420. The Third Man
  421. A Clockwork Orange
  422. Secrets And Lies
  423. The Last Detail
  424. Kajillionaire
  425. Day Of Freedom
  426. House Of Games
  427. Minnie and Moskowitz
  428. The Last Movie
  429. Roman Holiday (May 2nd)
  430. The Wild Bunch
  431. On Dangerous Ground
  432. Irma Vep
  433. The Great McGinty
  434. Shane
  435. Phantom India Part 1
  436. Patton
  437. L’enfance nue
  438. L’amour existe
  439. Doodlebug
  440. Murmur Of The Heart
  441. Palm Beach Story
  442. Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe
  443. Gloria
  444. The Reflecting Skin
  445. Buena Vista Social Club
  446. Bay Of Angels
  447. The Hustler
  448. Horse Feathers
  449. Remember The Night (delightful Christmas movie)
  450. Synonymes
  451. White Rock
  452. Weekends (May 9th)
  453. The Stranger
  454. Girlfriends
  455. Le Trou
  456. George Washington
  457. Ars
  458. La Luxure
  459. The Lady Eve
  460. Pixote
  461. The Taking Of Power By Louis 14th
  462. Le Havre (May 16th)
  463. Burn
  464. Revanche
  465. The Miracle Of Morgan’s Creek
  466. How Green Was My Valley
  467. Donkey Skin
  468. The Gambler
  469. The Warriors
  470. Bad Trip (May 23rd)
  471. Adam’s Rib
  472. The Human Condition
  473. Le Amiche
  474. La Gente Del Po
  475. Le Deuxieme Souffle
  476. To Sleep With Anger
  477. Daguerrotypes
  478. Judex
  479. The Last Emperor
  480. Chocolat (Denis) (May 30th)
  481. Blood of the Beasts
  482. Tucker: The Man And His Dream
  483. The Kid With A Bike
  484. Sansho The Bailiff (again)
  485. L’Enfant
  486. Le Grand Melies
  487. La Promesse
  488. Mr And Mrs. Smith (Hitchcock)
  489. 2 Days And 1 Night
  490. Incoherence
  491. Rosetta
  492. Young Ahmed
  493. Lorna’s Silence
  494. Moonstruck
  495. Aguirre Wrath of God
  496. Fitzcarraldo
  497. Last Year At Marienbad
  498. Fantastic Planet
  499. The Cranes Are Flying
  500. Ikiru
  501. Kill List (June 6th)
  502. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  503. Safe
  504. A Week’s Vacation
  505. The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit
  506. Hard Eight
  507. Images
  508. Deep Blue Sea (2011)
  509. Ran
  510. Along For The Ride
  511. The Class
  512. Gimme Shelter (June 13th)
  513. Diabolique
  514. Under Satan’s Sun
  515. Panique
  516. Henry 5th (Olivier)
  517. The Aviator
  518. Orphée
  519. Hunger
  520. Sea Countrymen
  521. Rush
  522. Carnival of Souls (20th June)
  523. Jacquot De Nantes
  524. India Matri Bhumi
  525. The Tree Of Wooden Clogs
  526. Crossfire
  527. Cameraperson
  528. Cruising
  529. Miss Julie
  530. Bird
  531. Animal Crackers
  532. The Long Good Friday
  533. Il Posto
  534. I Fidanzati
  535. Il Sorpasso
  536. Golden Parable
  537. La Cotta (27th June)
  538. Late Chrysanthemums
  539. Moonrise
  540. Topsy Turvy
  541. Spartacus
  542. My Dinner With André
  543. Swimmer
  544. Born Yesterday
  545. Bad Day At Black Rock
  546. No Sudden Move
  547. The Blue Angel
  548. The Leopard (4th July)
  549. Drugstore Cowboy
  550. Mona Lisa
  551. Andrei Tarkovsky: A Cinema Prayer
  552. La Ceremonie
  553. The Blue Dahlia
  554. Scarface (1932) (11th July)
  555. Cold Water
  556. A Running Jump
  557. The Set-Up
  558. Drums Along The Mohawk
  559. Hoop Dreams
  560. The Children Are Watching Us
  561. The Primary
  562. The Young Girls of Rochefort
  563. Confidential Report
  564. Fat Girl
  565. Lenny Cooke
  566. Women Of The Night
  567. Clouds of Sils Maria
  568. The Trial Of Joan Of Arc (Bresson)
  569. Following (18th July)
  570. Day Of The Fight
  571. L’Assassin Habite Au 21
  572. High Fidelity
  573. Limelight
  574. La Ronde
  575. Kuroneko
  576. The Ruling Class
  577. The Steel Helmet (25th July)
  578. Minari
  579. Dis-Moi
  580. A Story Of Children And Film
  581. Knock On Any Door
  582. One Sings The Other Doesn’t
  583. White Material
  584. The Life Of Brian
  585. The Other Side Of Hope
  586. Toni
  587. The Steamroller And The Violin
  588. Au Revoir Les Enfants
  589. Clockwatchers
  590. Salesman
  591. Tout Va Bien
  592. Anatomy Of A Murder
  593. La Chienne
  594. It Should Happen To You
  595. Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love (August 1st)
  596. The Spy Who Came In From The Cold
  597. Kings Of Pastry
  598. The Dead
  599. Richard The Third
  600. Vertigo
  601. Bicycle Thieves
  602. The African Queen
  603. Bells Are Ringing (August 8th)
  604. Lord Of The Flies (1963)
  605. Black Narcissus
  606. The White Sheik (August 15th)
  607. That Obscure Object Of Desire
  608. Night Moves
  609. Slacker
  610. Tristana
  611. Diary Of A Chambermaid
  612. Simon Of The Desert
  613. This Is Spinal Tap
  614. Death In The Garden
  615. The Asphalt Jungle
  616. The Phantom Of Liberty (August 22nd)
  617. The man Who Would Be King
  618. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
  619. Knife In The Water