Interview by Libby Gandhi.
International comedy Director, Dave Wood, has been celebrated at AWARD, AXIS, LIA, New York Festivals and British Arrows, having produced witty and confident work in both British and Australian ad land. He has a voracious appetite for comedic storytelling, and like a true craftsmen, has a deep understanding of the advertising industry and creative process. Whether it’s dialogue driven, physical comedy, parody, or just bringing that something extra to a character, performance, or style of storytelling, he maintains he is still serious about making ads, even if the end result is laughter.
This week, Crossing The Line sat down for a chat with him.
What originally led you to pursue work as a Director? Was there a defining moment or a memory?
I did work experience in high school at an advertising agency where I spent most of my time dubbing Cannes reels to take home. So I guess production was a natural attraction and really all I’ve ever done. I actually supported myself through film school by working on film sets and had a job lined up at a pretty big Production house the day I finished, so I’m kind of one of the lucky ones where someone gave me a chance really early. My third spot was a finalist for Direction in the New York festival so that momentum kept going thankfully.
As a Director how do you select which campaigns to pitch on?
It all comes down to the writing for me. I’m naturally attracted to what the idea is or what the truth behind the idea is, which leads to the moment or the interesting performance that might resonate and amuse. So I’m really open to any script. It all comes down really to how the writing is because that’s how we can make something that entertains and resonates.
Is writing something that you’ve tried yourself?
I enjoy the writing process. I have written a couple of projects just with friends but I mainly have focused on directing. I went to AWARD School while I was a Director because I wanted to learn more about the writing process that creatives went through. To be able to try to distil what their processes are and what their intentions are, and see how I can apply that to when I come into the workflow.
Do you have a favorite campaign that you’ve worked on in the past?
I think Battersea Dogs Home. My Battersea Dogs Home spot was probably my absolute favorite. The creatives on that wrote such a wonderfully smart script and it was such a fresh idea that to me was both at once fantastic and really familiar. And it was an almost perfect process in that we were able to workshop the script quite extensively with the creatives and get it to a point, and the actor who I’d found had never acted before and so I took him out onto the location and we just spend a day locking the action, improvising scenes and coming up with options all prior to the shoot day so the shoot went wonderfully smooth. It was such a lovely process in that we were able to afford so much time and consideration in pre-production. And it’s possibly also my most mature work to date with a grown man urinating in the garden.
Do you feel it pays to have a strong creative-comedic lead such as the director when creating comedy, or is collaboration more fruitful?
I think it’s always collaborative. You have to drive it and be comfortable driving it but I think it goes back to the writing. The writing and the truth are where the comedy is and what actually informs most of the decisions downstream. It informs who you’re casting, what your casting brief is, then you find the cast and their performances inform exactly what the nuances of that creation will be. So I do think it is quite collaborative but it’s also about being really open to wherever the good ideas are coming from at any point in that process. You have to have a goal and you have to unify everyone and go for it but being open to little moments or unexpected pockets or things that you don’t necessarily foresee can make it better. Being able to pounce on them when they’re around is the trick.
Do you find you have the freedom to pounce on such moments now that you have firmly established yourself as a comedy director? Or are they constrained by client expectations?
For me, the trick is to always set ambitious but realistic expectations then go out there and achieve them … but then the job is to exceed those. I think that 9 times out of 10 the client will come with you and they will select the best edit when you’re in the edit suite, so as long as you’re fulfilling your obligation by setting expectations and you’re achieving your goal in making the advert set, then your job is to then get something better on top and you should always aim for that. Most of the time I find that the clients will come along with that, they’ll see the best edit and they’ll follow you on that journey.
A lot of your career so far has focused on advertising. What it is about advertising that appeals to you?
Look I actually like the discipline of the shorter time frame and I like the freedom of ideas. You only have to look at a shots reel or the latest round of Superbowl ads or who won at Cannes to see there’s such an amazing diversity of ideas, concepts and approaches and it’s actually really really rich terrain. I’m almost completely inspired and fulfilled by it I don’t look too far further afield to be honest.
So no designs on long-form or short-form filmmaking?
No not yet. All I’ve ever done is direct commercials. I want to do Cannes and I’m completely fulfilled and inspired by that. I mean one day maybe down the track I’d love to combine my two great loves of comedy and making films but for the moment the hunger is completely satisfied in the world of television commercials.
After cutting your teeth as a director in Perth you spent time in London, before returning to Australia a few years ago. Has your international experience affected your approach to ad making?
Definitely. You’re always informed by what you’re around I think. I went to London because I was attracted by the British sensibilities of comedy and the slightly subtler and refined approach to the storytelling form. Having said that, I think the wonderful thing about Australia is that we’re cross-pollinated. We do have a lovely British influence in some of our comedy, yet we’re also completely immersed in what’s coming out of the States. And while it’s perhaps more of a slightly brash, slightly different approach some of the time to comedy I think there’s a lovely cross-pollination that you see when we can combine those two things and put an Aussie flavor onto it. I think we can come up with our own unique voice, which is a lovely place to be.
People talk a lot about the differences between British, American and Australian humor. Do you think there’s much truth in that? And is it something you’re conscious of in your work?
Not any more. I think a lot of those boundaries are gone. If you scratch the surface maybe on a second layer there is a little bit, but I think it’s such a lovely melting pot down here now that I don’t think there are so many differences any more. The world has got a lot bigger and more global and those things that were maybe more apparent are no longer as apparent, and things have all come together as one
You recently joined Goodoil’s roster. What is it about Goodoil that appeals to you?
The talent. I just love being surrounded by the amount of talent that exists there. I’m constantly blown away by it to be honest. I think Hamish is a master of creating really interesting and original worlds for people to take part in. They’ve got Daniel Kleinman who is probably the greatest commercial director of all time; every time I see his work it feels like that work was made for that time frame. I never feel like there was an extended cut or a cut down it just feels so perfect, and I think Ringan Ledwidge is able to make incredibly complex worlds so wonderfully familiar. I love Adam Stevens’ work and his ability to compress a narrative into tiny little pockets of action to tell a much bigger story. So it’s inspiring for me to be around all those guys. Plus I think the management in Goodoil are super smart; they’re really ambitious and I feel they’re a perfect fit at the moment.
It sounds like a great place to work…
It’s an amazing place. I’m loving it, I’m the happiest guy in the world
Do you have any advice for young filmmakers starting out?
Surround yourself with the captains of industry. Learn from all the older guys and just go out and do it. It’s the best job in the worl.
Is there anything else that you’d like to talk about?
Look I’m a bit of an ad geek. It’s my entire world and it’s what I love. Apart from that and making stain glass windows with dick jokes in them that’s kind of everything I do.
Absolutely. I make stain glass windows with dick jokes because it makes me laugh. But I also think it’s interesting with Directors that we’re sometimes pigeonholed as these guys who go home and like to watch Gone With The Wind every night and are aspiring filmmakers, when the truth is that a lot of us have a very deep knowledge and understanding of advertising and campaigns. I spend most of my time on wrap lunches talking to creatives about the great Japanese ads of the 90s or when Cliff Freeman & Partners were killing it in New York. It’s just so refreshing when Directors and creatives can come together and talk about ads and we’re not all classified as these funny people who sit in darkened rooms watching Hitchcock films every night.
One last thing. When I was talking about other directors I also think that the most interesting work from directing is sometimes, for me anyway, coming from outside of advertising. When I watch shows like Veep or W1A or Charlie Brooker’s ‘How TV Ruined Your Life’ those guys are like masterclasses in comedy and they don’t force the style onto the work they totally serve the writing and just create the right tone and pace. When it comes down to the best directors in the world, I think a lot of them are in ads but a lot of them are just are able to follow the writing and serve it because it’s a harder thing to do than it sounds.
Dave is represented by Goodoil Films.