RADAR: Interview with Dunlop Goodrich's Dan Merry
Dan Merry’s career started in post-production, before he joined BDA Creative in 2004. He moved up the ranks to assistant creative director by 2011, winning several awards, most notably for Chris Eubank Is Back, written, directed and edited by Dan, which won a Promax Gold and the Channel 5 Boxing title sequence, shot, directed and edited by Dan, which won a Gold Medal award at the New York Film & Television awards in 2013.
Cavendish chatted with Dan about being a Creative Director & choosing the right music for creative work.
What does a producer do, and what’s a typical day in your job like?
I think it’s mainly watching TV and playing table football.
How did you get to your role today?
The usual route I guess. I have a degree in film & television studies. Got a job though a mate as a runner at a post house called Oasis TV where I eventually became a tape op (back in the days when BetaSP tapes and 1” was commonplace!). Then I got a job at BDA… through a mate. I worked myself up the ladder there until I was lucky enough to be promoted to Assistant Creative Director. I left BDA to start up a new agency with my old boss Bruce Dunlop, and Daryl Goodrich, along with a producer, Kim. When you set up your own company, you can pretty much call yourself whatever you like…so I’m now a ‘Creative Director’. I’m 37 years old and I have never had a job interview in my life.
How does it differ from working with short form then it does long form?
I have only just recently dipped my toe into longform. Over a year ago, we went to China to shoot a short documentary for a Chinese broadcaster, about ordinary Chinese people’s relationship with sport, and how it can change lives. It was a 15-minute film and we shot over the course of about 9 days. It was brutal. The whether was freezing and we were outdoors for much of the shoot. The first day we filmed in a little fishing village outside Beijing. The smog was particularly bad, visibility was poor, and the temperature was close to freezing. The smog had actually given Kim (our producer) and I a nosebleed. I remember thinking “sod this, give me a nice warm edit suit and a 30 second trailer any day of the week!” But of course, it was all part of the adventure and we ended up with a nice little film and a great experience to look back on. A few days later we were shooting on the Great Wall in glorious sunshine and all was forgiven.
That said, if I’m being totally honest, I don’t think I have the patience or attention span to just work in long form. I’m easily distracted and prefer the instant gratification of making shorter, more concise spots. I tend to work in intense bursts rather than pacing myself for the long haul. Anything over 2 minutes and I start to feel like I’m making the next Lord Of The Rings.
How do you source/choose music for your work?
That depends. Promo music I will try and write a short brief and hand it over to you guys to come back with a playlist. I don’t have time to do much of a search myself and you know your library better than me. The more I work with certain people, the more they get to know my taste and my requirements, which helps. Usually I’m searching for multiple promos so it’s all about playlists.
For anything that requires bespoke music, I’ll gather lots of references before talking to a composer. But, even though I’m a huge music lover, it’s always good to let a composer come back with his or her own ideas. So you can’t be too prescriptive with the brief.
Do you follow any trends when you choose your music?
I think I do subconsciously. I don’t like to admit it, but I think we all do. It’s like when we sit through an ad break and everything seems to have the same twee, folk music with wistful, female vocals and it suddenly dawns on you that you’ve fallen into the same trap, and that you’re not as cutting edge as you thought you were. I think it’s important to keep an open mind when it comes to music and allow all kinds of music influence your work, not just what’s on your Spotify playlist.
What was the most enjoyable project you worked on so far?
We made a spot last year for The Premier League. I got to meet my heroes and we ended up making – in my opinion – a really nice spot. We’re really lucky, and have a great relationship with The Premier League now, and we’re often given great access to players and grounds.
But I think my favourite project was for Tottenham Hotspur. We film one scene in which the players had to perform a sort of FullMonty/Dole Office dance scene. They were really embarrassed and didn’t enjoy the experience one little bit. I loved it. But that’s because I’m a West Ham fan.
What is the most exciting part of your role?
Being a Creative Director at a small agency means I’m involved in virtually all the creative output. I write most of the creative and in some cases, I’m involved heavily right the way through production and postproduction. It’s an exciting job but there’s nowhere to hide. If you produce substandard work, you can’t pass the buck, you just have to suck it up and do better next time.
What’s the worst part of being a producer?
I don’t think there is really a worst part. It’s as good as you make it. If you love the creative industry, and are lucky enough to make a living in it, there isn’t much to grumble about.
How much has production changed since you started?
When I first started working in TV, the edit workflow was much more cumbersome. Everything had to be played out to BetaSP or Digi. Viewing copies had to be played out to UMATIC or VHS and couriered to clients. We didn’t have tapeless technology. We couldn’t ‘upload’ anything to share because the Internet basically hadn’t been invented.
I wasn’t an editor back then, but I’m bloody glad we now have lovely Avid Media Composer and wonderful MacBook pros, and amazing wetransfer. And everything has become so much more affordable, from Canon 5D cameras to editing software, its meant we can all spend less time worrying about costs and more time worrying about being creative. Oh, and production music has improved A LOT.
If you could go back in time, would you have done anything differently?
If I were totally honest, I’d sack off university and go straight into the work place. I don’t think anyone has ever asked me whether I have a degree or not. I’m not saying that that’s always the best option for everybody. If you’re not sure of the direction you’d like to go in, then Uni is definitely a good idea. But I knew from 6th form that I wanted to work in TV. I shouldn’t have let my parents talk me into going to Uni. But when you’re 18, life is just full of people telling you that you’d be mental not to go to University and that you’d never land a decent job without a degree. I think that’s bollocks really. If you’ve got the right attitude, you’ll get the right job eventually. And three years in the industry will teach you way more than even the best degree courses.
What advice would you give someone who wants to become a producer?
Try and bring something to the table that is unique to you. Make people look at your work and know straight away that it was you who made it, because it’s got your personality all over it. I used to DJ and play various instruments before I started cutting promos, so when I started, I made sure that pacing, musicality and edgy sound design were really important in my edits. If you’re a good writer, make sure your promos contain better scripts than anyone else. If you’re funny, add humour and irony into your work. Do whatever it takes to get your stuff noticed. Don’t make ‘safe’ stuff just because you are worried about inviting criticism and don’t keep your head below the parapet.
Have you got any particular plans for the future?
Most of my plans for the future involve scratch cards.