30 Jun 2017

Spencer Dodd's Young Director Award Diary

A judges-eye-view of the experience of watching and rating work from this year's Young Director Award.

Spencer Dodd [above, far left], MD of The Sweetshop London, reveals his YDA judging experience in Cannes last week.

MONDAY: 22:25 arrive in Nice

By the time I get to the apartment in Cannes it’s already 11:30pm and tomorrow is a relatively early start so I don’t venture out. I have just enough time to shower, grab something to eat and watch the shortlisted YDA films once again before bed.

The shortlist was compiled the previous Thursday and we are given the opportunity to look at it again and to present an argument for any piece that we feel should have been on the shortlist and considered, but which isn’t.

What I’m looking for is a simple, core idea expressed well and that makes me feel something. The art of storytelling and the ability to move people is something that’s central and key to a director’s craft.

It’s nice to see the work again and I’m excited to meet everyone else and get their thoughts on it all tomorrow.

Got to get to sleep. It’s now 1am already.

TUESDAY: 7:00am

I’m up early to unpack, shower and make some breakfast before heading out the door. Judging starts at 10:30am but we’re all encouraged to be there for 9:30am to find our place, settle in and introduce ourselves to the other judges.

By 9:00am I’m walking along the Croissette to the Marriott where today’s judging will take place. At 9:20 I am the first to arrive, so I have 10 minutes to catch up with Francoise Chilot, the president of the awards, someone I’ve known for the past six years because of my involvement in the French market.

With him is Antonin Burbaud, the co-ordinating director; it’s great to see him and to be able to thank him in person for all his hard work. He has been extremely helpful throughout the judging process. There were in total over 490 entrants ranging in length from 20 seconds to over 30 minutes, to be judged over a three-week period, so it’s a huge amount of material, not only for us to consider, but for him and his team to research, upload and categorise.

The rest of the judges soon start to arrive. They have been selected from agencies, production companies and industry press around the world to make up the panel. Some I know and I’m familiar with, some I’m not but it’s a great chance to meet new people in the industry.

After a quick coffee, it’s time now to find our places at the table and settle in for the day. There’s a lot to get through and discuss and it’s anticipated we’ll be there until about 7:30pm, although last year it was closer to 2:30am.

Once everyone’s settled, there’s a short introduction to the awards and to Daniel Bergmann, Stink founder and EP and this year’s jury president. He thanks all the judges for their time before reminding us that we’re not judging the idea or the script here, we’re judging the director and their craft.

In order to score the work, we’re all given a mini iPad. Each film is listed by category and region, while the entrant remains anonymous. Over the course of the day we will all individually score the films between one and 10. If the average score from the judges totals 60 per cent of the total available score or above, it will be considered an award. A low-60 per cent is generally a shortlist, mid- to high-60 per cent a silver, and a 70 per cent or above score is considered for gold.

Daniel’s very good at keeping everyone focussed on the job in hand and guiding us when we start to deviate away from the core principles to the judging that he’s set out at the start of the day. It’s not an easy job, there are some strong voices in the room, but he is able to make sure that everyone is heard and contributes.

The more emotive, longer format work is performing well and reflects the balance of entries that were submitted. It is disappointing not to see as much good short form work in the mix, but, apart from a few standout pieces, the quality genuinely isn’t there.

At the point at which we break for lunch, Emma from FREE THE BID is introduced and speaks to us all for 10 minutes. For those of us that are aware of the initiative, she updates us on its progress and for those that aren’t she outlines its key principles and objectives which is advocating on behalf of women directors for equal opportunities to bid on commercial jobs in the global advertising industry.

The afternoon’s session forms a similar format to the morning, although opinions are a little more divided than they had been. A couple of pieces are border-line and split the jury; some feel strongly for and some feeling equally strongly against. I have my say alongside a few others, pointing out the perceived weaknesses I see in a couple of the pieces and then having heard everyone’s views we vote again. It doesn’t go my way, but sometimes you just must accept that you are in the minority and that people have differing opinions. As long as you’re following a diplomatic process, then invariably the right work will end out on top and, overall, I feel that the right work has risen to the top throughout.

Again, the afternoon sees the ability to move people in a way that’s memorable and distinctive rewarded. A piece of work that receives widespread approval is The Hardest Word. This heartfelt story about a 93-year-old man’s attempt to get his 1974 conviction under anti-gay laws overturned is inventively told. It is a fitting winner in the newly formed category Changing the World Frame by Frame; something initially conceived by Sir John Hegarty and which aims to both reflect the evolving nature of advertising and to encourage the industry to further embrace its global social responsibilities. It means we finish the shortlisted entries on a positive note.

By 7:30pm, we’ve covered all the material and there’s a discussion about The Special Jury Award and a few pieces that were seen early in the process to examine whether they have been judged consistently with the rest of the work. One pieces is upgraded as a result and which had perhaps been judged harshly given it was the first piece of the day to be seen. It’s a strong piece of work and justifiably promoted in my opinion.

It’s now 8:30pm and we’ve been there for the best part of 11 hrs. It’s been a successful day, but a long one. So, given we’ll all be seeing each other on Thursday at the presentation and the subsequent jury it’s a quick goodbye and everyone disappears down La Croissette towards the evening’s commitments.

You can see the full list of YDA winners 2017 here and in the upcoming issue of shots, issue 171, we will have interviews with all the gold Screen winners plus the full showreel of the winning work from the 2017 YDA.

This article was published in shots.net on 29 June 2017.