The Directors: Daniel Warwick
British born, Daniel moved from England to Hamburg - via Minnesota - at the age of 5, so while his gene pool craves humour with a British slant, his German upbringing has brought out the engineer in him; efficiently funny. Daniel has worked in production since 1999, making the move from frustrated producer to director in 2005.
Since then, work for Mercedes and Smart has brought him a Yellow Pencil from D&AD, 2 Gold Lions at Cannes, a few British Arrows, Clios and many more. His confused background has also somehow made art direction another of his primary skills as can be seen in work for Playboy, Nivea and a raunchy film for sex toy site, eis.de.
Name: Daniel Warwick
Location: Berlin / Lisbon
Repped by/in: Zauberberg in German speaking area, Biscuit in UK/US, Henry in France, Scoundrel in OZ/NZ, Camp David in Scandi
Awards: couple of everything (never a Black Pencil though)
What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?
It’s funny with scripts… there’s no rule to it for me. I often want to hate them all. Then some jump to the eye and are perfect on paper and I fail at bringing sth unique to the table… and I REALLY want to win it - so of course I Iose the pitch. Then there are those that are an immediate 'no' due to terrible creative or a brand that feels unacceptable. But then there are some mediocre ones that don’t really stand out but just click due to day form or state of mind in that moment. Often they are the best for me because I force myself to do sth mind blowing with a semi boring basis. And that is often the most fun. It has to be fun. Even if it’s sad. It HAS to be fun.
How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?
Honestly - I loathe pitching…did I say it has to be fun? I must’ve forgotten: I LOATHE PITCHING. I sit at my desk in my crappy little office and repeatedly say… I don’t want to write, I don’t want to write, I don’t want to write… Maybe I should pull out. Then… Ok - I HAVE to write, because I can’t let everyone down… then I lay on the couch of my shitty office (worth mentioning that twice) and think - oh just a little nap before I write. Perfect. Try to nap. Doesn’t work cause I’m thinking too much. Then I jump up and create a playlist for about an hour or two. A playlist that fits the script and gets me in the mode for writing in the tone of what I have to write about. That helps. Then after a strong coffee I write it in about three hours. That’s my attention span window. That’s it. So sometimes I need two days - or three… I never spellcheck, I just send it. Then everyone then complains about the shit spelling.
Sometimes I have a writer help me out when there’s too much on. It’s very inspiring and very helpful if you have a jam packed agenda. But I’ve realised over the years that if you have time and energy - writing yourself is more fun. Someone to polish is always helpful though.
If the script is for a brand that you're not familiar with/ don’t have a big affinity with or a market you're new to, how important is it for you to do research and understand that strategic and contextual side of the ad? If it’s important to you, how do you do it?
I am already in a dilemma of serving consumerism in a way that I never intended to so I definitely try to only choose the brands or campaigns that seem ok. So if the script is interesting I start researching…if I haven’t heard of the brand or agency.
I check the brand background, the creatives working on it, the projects they’ve done before, who have they worked with before, do I know anyone that has etc etc.
It’s hard to figure out the real morale and positioning of a company with just a little research… and it’s feels impossible to figure out if we’ll all be like minded in approach, spirit and humour, but when it clicks it’s really fucking fun!
(I’d love to have a kind of people matching app for pitches. A platonic Business Tinder app - that would be perfect for everyone these days. haha)
To get back to the point though - when the research results in a clear no-go and it’s obvious I would always turn it down.
And of course there are a few brands that are an immediate no. And that definitely IS important to me.
For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?
I hope I understand this question correctly… but I think we are all very privileged to be allowed to do this kind of work. Work that allows us to be artistic and silly in a bubble that is created by marketing. So I really think that I would love everyone to be artistic and silly on the level that is suited for the script. And actually have fun in doing so. So I really want all people involved to enjoy their work - that also leads to the best results.
I would say the most important relationship is with my producer. If we both love the job and want to make it special we can discuss and find ways and means to make it happen all along the way.
Then Cinematography and production design are creatively the important positions on the shoot. If producer, dop and pd all click then we can move mountains. Or at least I make myself believe we can…
And finally and actually the most important place where everything comes together in the editing room. My editor is probably the most important of them all in the end. He/She are the ones that can repair the mess I’ve made during the shoot.
What type of work are you most passionate about - is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to?
I really don’t think there is… I’m actually really interested in trying out new stuff all the time. Makes it hard to position me I presume… but I just like new challenges all the time. I do like it to be ‚big and bonkers‘ though if that’s a genre.
What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong?
It happens so quickly in this industry and it is pathetic… After shooting a flippin’ dog & cat food ad I immediately realised that everyone though "Oh, he’s the dog food guy!" so I got at least 4-5 scripts with dogs or cats right away… It’s THAT stupid… yes. At some point. in my career I was also ‚the car guy‘, 'the chicken guy', 'the sex-toys guy'… you know… it’s very easy to dive into a niche if you want to.
Have you ever worked with a cost consultant and if so how have your experiences been?
Is that a cost controller?… If so they are the ones that are obsessed with taking away all the fun…
What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?
I think the most memorable one was on the Mercedes chicken commercial … I was obsessed to train the chicken to perfectly choreograph their moves and shoot it all on motion control to duplicate them endlessly. After hours of rehearsals and being ready to shoot the chickens were just worn out and didn’t want to perform anymore… so we had to wrap. We then did a few weeks of research to figure out what time of day what temperature, what type of handling made them alert ad good to perform. So we did all that and did a reshoot and it worked perfectly.
How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?
It’s ironic actually… the weirdest thing I often hear is that ‘…they will be ok for you to do a take for the director’s version…’ but they don’t realise I am not doing my own piece of art here… there won’t be anything engraved on my tombstone saying "He did an amazing car commercial…" What I do is - I deliver the needs and I’m booked to shoot a good commercial. So what annoys me if people don’t trust me to do so. It’s an ongoing annoyance and I hope that changes. I’m collaborative on a good creative exchange on how to make it better, but if it lacks trust I get quite itchy.
What are your thoughts on opening up the production world to a more diverse pool of talent? Are you open to mentoring and apprenticeships on set?
I’m 150% up for that… i’ve always been wanting to take up and coming talent with me on shoots but then it often feels too complicated in the end… dunno why. I guess I should just initiate it and do it. It would be great!
How do you feel the pandemic is going to influence the way you work into the longer term? Have you picked up new habits that you feel will stick around for a long time?
Efficiency in meetings and production processes has really increased. I like that and I can’t see why we all have to talk about the same thing 10 times when it can be decided in one meeting if everyone concentrates and the executive decision makers are in the room (or the digital room)
Your work is now presented in so many different formats - to what extent do you keep each in mind while you're working?
That’s a tough one.. because it feels quite tricky to create a 60 sec TV ad at 16:9 that also has to work in 6 secs at 9:16… these are two very different pairs of shoes and are often forced to somehow work as a hybrid. But to be honest and to make them both really work well they should deserve the same amount of attention, shooting time and budget to be bang on. I know nobody wants to hear that…
What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work?
I like new technology if I can understand it. Generally tech is geared to optimise all processes, so it would be silly to work against it. It’s fantastic.
I just did a Ford commercial in which the protagonist dives into a VR world to experience a recreational effect rather than just car racing gaming. That was a cool mindset to jump into and was more in the context of ‘the comfort room’ in Ad Astra. Recharge and breathe rather than experience adrenalin.
Anyway, that is far future obviously.
However when it comes to remote directing I can’t think of anything worse. It almost feels like an insult to the craft. Technically in terms of camerawork, lighting and choreographies it all works obviously. But it is completely impossible to build up energy on set and connect with the actors. I know a lot of people are doing it and offering it, but to me It’s a proper nightmare.
Which pieces of work do you feel really show off what you do best – and why?
1. Ford Kuga (Zauberberg) - this felt like the job where all departments went to their limits to make something they loved. It was a large production with a lot of post and I enjoyed every minute of it.
2. Deka Boxing and Kiss (Zauberberg) - the series of these ads was so fun to shoot. Diving into a different film genre each day and taking it to perfection was just a mind blowing experience. Alone the research was such a fantastic lesson in all film nerdisms.
3. Eis .de ad - (Bigfish) the crazy metaphorical ride through each ecstatic phase of lovemaking was so ridiculous - especially when the scale of the scenes just got out of control. I’ve never before and never since shot a chopper to chopper shot chasing a powerboat…
4. Smart Offroad (Bigfish)- prob because it was my breakthrough ad, but I loved giving this small car a character that was way out of his league. It’s like a small dog barking way louder than is appropriate. And then seeing it fail and we actually destroyed the product. That was a genius script with a fantastic message.