Superlounge’s Jordan Brady on why breaking the cycle and supporting diversity behind the camera is a creative win for the industry
Let’s be honest, we directors aren’t exactly known for being the most open group of people. We’re a competitive bunch, and understandably – our job demands it. We keep our cards close to our chest, treasuring our hard-earned tricks of the trade. Sharing ideas is treated a bit like giving others the answers to the test – why do it?
It’s no coincidence that those who tend to come out at the top of this system are – you guessed it – white guys…like me.
Directors who happen to be women, people of colour, or LGBTQ+? They tend to face a steeper slope. As it is, they just aren’t being given the same opportunities that their more privileged counterparts are – opportunities that I know were so crucial to me when I was breaking into the industry and that I still benefit from.
When I was a bright-eyed young buck, I was lucky enough to receive help from experienced people. Established directors gave me the benefit of the doubt, tolerated my ignorance, and took me under their wing because I was a white guy like them. Sure, I had a few tricks up my sleeve, but thanks to my gender and race, people were predisposed to helping me.
I love my job; I get to work with incredible people, shape exciting projects, and create work I’m truly proud of. I’ve benefitted hugely from my privileged position. I think of how much better we can make our industry when we extend those opportunities to underrepresented and untapped talent, by sharing crucial exposure to tools, methods, and knowledge.
Initiatives like Free the Bid are doing a great job at tackling the unbalanced playing field – but I think change also has to happen from our side too. And that means sharing information.
I’ll be the first to admit, I wasn’t always so hot on the idea. In fact, it took losing a big job pitch to a ‘rival’ director to realise that I’d actually be doing far more for myself by congratulating rather than cursing him. So, I turned my “F*** him” attitude into a Facebook friend invite. We’ve remained friends ever since, and from that honest conversation grew my podcast: Respect the Process.
There’s no handbook you can consult in commercial filmmaking. To aspiring directors without access to filmmaking know-how, it can seem like an impossible ‘club’ to get into. So, my goal was simple: to demystify the production process and make that information available to anyone interested.
In the four years since it began, I’ve recorded over 230 episodes of Respect the Process and hosted industry legends like Judd Apatow, Bill Wright, Chief Global Creative Officer of McCann, as well as brilliant female directors like Jeannette Godoy and Carolyn Chen, covering all aspects of the production process – from cinematography, to make up and casting.
And boy, were people interested. Emails started flooding in with questions about the process. So, I thought, why not take it a step further?
I set up my Commercial Directing Bootcamp in 2015, a one-day intensive seminar on making commercials for any platform. It’s not film school – there are plenty of great places for that already. Although we cover film craft, this is an opportunity to get an insight into how to approach commercial filmmaking as a career, and how you can succeed as a filmmaker in advertising.
After the first couple of Bootcamps, I looked at the crowd of white, male faces around me, and realised that I could be doing so much more to help aspiring filmmakers. An aspiring director, Bonnie McFarlane, hit the nail on the head with a smart reply to my tweet about what it takes to be a director. She added, “Yeah – and to be a man”.
So, in response to the lack of female, minority, and LGBTQ+ directors at the helm of filmed advertising, myself and Superlounge launched a scholarship to help expose these filmmakers to the insights offered by the quarterly seminar.
We judge filmmakers’ reels on the following criteria:
• Quality of storytelling
• Need for exposure to industry, tools, and information
• Passion for making ads.
We’ve chosen four recipients so far – the most recent being Bonnie. Often, we see a smart storyteller who has great potential to become a successful commercial filmmaker, but might not otherwise have the opportunity or means to get there. Hopefully, the Bootcamp acts as a valuable crash course to learn the ropes, through insider tips, mentorship, and exposure to those in production and agency alike.
In terms of levelling the playing field, the good news is, thanks to the internet and the proliferation of social media, access to information is better than ever – and sharing it seems to be the zeitgeist. The groundwork is already in place, so let’s support and build on it.
Sure, there’s been resistance; a couple of my friends have asked, “Why are you creating your own competition, and giving everyone the answers to the test?” I philosophically disagree because I think that while you do compete for jobs, the real competition is within. I can share my hard-earned insights, but that just pushes me to come up with new ideas and become a better director. Win-win.
I truly believe that the path to a healthy industry is openness, mentoring and an embrace of community. Guarding knowledge only slows down our creative growth – so let’s start giving back.
Jordan Brady is Co-Founder of Superlounge. He has directed over 1000 commercials for clients including Toyota, Chrysler, and Nat Geo WILD. He recently released the documentary, “I AM BATTLE COMIC”, about performing comedy for U.S. Troops in the Middle East. It is the third feature-length documentary in his ‘I AM COMIC’ trilogy. To listen to Respect the Process, visit here. For more on the Commercial Directing Bootcamp visit here.