This week 'We Sit Down' with the talented Director Tim James Brown.
Over the years Tim has worked in various roles across the advertising arena making a name for himself along the way. In more recent years he's concentrated on directing and has created many great spots.
This year has been super busy for the freelance director, so we were delighted to grab a few moments with him.
Tim's work is instantly recognisable. Though he works across many genres the common DNA thread is his passion for great casting. As we find out Tim approaches his work from a different angle to many. He's not simply driven by a script, but also the cinematography, editing and post-production, but more importantly his innate knack for subtle performances, and observed comedy have since garnered him many awards for casting, and his reel is a testament to this.
At Soho Soho we love a commercial that encompasses all aspects of the industry and wanted to hear more about Tim's journey towards directing. So, over to you Tim James Brown...
1. Firstly let's kick off by saying thank you for joining us today. We know how busy you are. We'd love to hear more about your start in advertising as you appear to have had such a broad career
I grew up in Yorkshire in the middle of nowhere and everyone had proper jobs - I didn’t know advertising agencies existed. Every parents evening my teachers would say Tim has all his eggs in one basket - art and music, he 's dormant in other subjects. After leaving school, I joined an art foundation course and I discovered photography and the dark room. I would stay until the caretaker threw me out. One night he locked me in to teach me a lesson, how to do a bleach bypass. In the library I found a beaten up old dusty D&AD annual with no front cover. I poured over every page - I discovered there was a job as an 'art director' which involved ideas, photography, film, music. Everything I loved - well, that was the job for me. On the foundation course, I was painting a white feather with mayonnaise on white paper, when I realised I didn’t wanna do fine art anymore. My tutor s were disgusted told when I told them I wanted t me of an advertising course at Hounslow Borough College which specialised in copywriting and art direction. However, she said you'll never get in the competition is too fierce. I applied and she was right, I didn't get in. There was no other college I wanted to go to. I got a job washing up in a hotel, saved as much as I could, left home at 18 and went traveling - Asia and Australia.
Days before I flew I stumbled across a book ‘The CRAFT OF COPYWRITING’. I read that book three times, and it had more influence on me than any other book I’d read at school. Whilst I was traveling I would ring the college asking if I could get on the course. On my 7th try, the receptionist said to hold the line - somebody has dropped out. If you stop ringing we’ll give you a place. I flew back from Australia and went straight to London. I loved it. First time in my life I felt I was with my kind of people. In D&AD annuals I'd seen the work created by Rich & Andy, Ben & Matt and Nick Studzinski, and they had all come through that college. A few months in I realised magic markers cost a fortune, and I couldn’t afford them. An ex-student did a talk. They said if you did a placement in an agency you got free Magic Markers and layout pads. But our college would only let you do placements in the 2nd year. I couldn’t wait.
2. So your next step was getting into an agency. How did that go?
During college, I teamed up with a creative in the year above and we started going in to see agencies. We got in to see Dave Trott, he threw our book in the bin. We kept going and going, our book got better. We loved the Tango campaign and wanted to work at Howell Henry, we finally got in to see Naresh and Buonaguidi, they'd set us briefs. We had an interview with Steve and Axe, but we didn't get the gig (so gutted). Then we had a changing moment after dropping our book into John Hegarty - he said there’s a spare desk, here’s a brief. We got our first press ad out there. We dropped our book into Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow and Johnson, and did a stint there where we created our first poster campaign. We got to know Mark Denton really well. I was still hungry to make TVC’s though, wrote a Twix campaign, which Denton directed.
3. You left London for a while, but was soon back in London. What led you back to agency land?
Got asked to work on Umbro in LA, only came back to London pick up my guitar. First night back in Soho I watched a boxing match in a pub, which gave me an idea for an Anti-Boxing film - brains bashing against each other like conkers. I made it with James Studholm at Blink. It won a handful of awards and got shown on the ITN NEWS AT TEN. I then got a gig a with Dave Waters & Paul Grubb at DFGW. I teamed up with Simon Riley, in our first year we made 36 TVC’s which Denton directed. I learned so much from Mark and Steve Gandolfi (who cut ‘em).
4. So you then had a taste for directing. What happened to take you onto a new track to directing fill time?
Dave Waters was very supportive - the agency was the first to start making straight 8 short films with Ed Sayer. I wrote/directed The Moors which won the agency straight shootout. Then we won the BBC account - BRING ON THE SUPERHUMANS, and launched Freeview. We had a budget of a million pounds. I hired Hugh Hudson to direct it. However, he wanted to shoot it in black and white, this didn’t go down well with Andrew Duncan and Alan Yentob, after all this was to launch 8 new BBC channels in HD. So we had to fire him 2 days before the shoot. I’d done all the casting and found the locations, so I felt I could direct them, John Golly pulled in Tim Pope - I explained how I wanted to shoot it and he supported me. The BBC wanted more and more, so I wrote more and more scripts. We ended up with three studios with sets being built, there was so much to do - they gave in to me nagging to direct a spot, so they let me shoot a couple of scripts. I got the bug and wanted to direct more and more. I’d love it when the turn around was so tight, there’s wasn’t time to shoot it, then I could do it. The expectation to deliver was so low that when you did pull the job out of the bag you looked good. I guess that’s still my approach to this day. There never seems to be enough money or time, but I love that challenge.
After leaving DFGW I joined VCCP working on O2, FedEx, Hyundai with Rooney Carruthers. There I wrote and directed Reservoir Teddy for the BBFC. I showed it to Mark Denton and he offered me the opportunity to join the roster at THERAPY FILMS. It took me 6 months to pluck up the courage to commit financial suicide and leave the safe haven of an ad agency. Rooney said I was mad leaving to direct, he said try it and when it fails come back in 12 months to get my old job back. I did go back to VCCP and show him what I’d directed - he gave me an O2 script to shoot. Thank you, Rooney.
He was right though it was so much tougher than I expected. It’s brutal being a director. How many creatives have tried and gone back? 100’s. It almost broke me, I guess I was just too stubborn. Then I managed to get my hands on a Sprite goblin script. Tom Kuntz did the first one, Acne did the second, luckily I got to make the third. Winning that job was a game changer.
Landing a job as a Creative is tough, selling a script is tougher. I know the pain creatives go through, writing 50 scripts to get one even presented. The process of getting a script sold is tougher now than ever, so when a script lands in my lap I’m gonna give it everything I've got. I'll work every waking hour - 1 8 hours a day writing a treatment, picture researching, distilling the idea to get the best treatment for the script.
5. What’s next?
I’ve just finished shooting an epic Weetabix/Oatibix TVC for BBH. We built a 70ft galleon in a giant blue screen studio, I’m gonna be in UNIT for the next month doing all the post - the biggest challenge? Avoiding eating all their delicious biscuits...
Contact Tim James Brown