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The Directors: Geoff Bailey


Assembly's creative director on why a campaign is only as good as its weakest link, utilising visual effects and problem solving

The Directors: Geoff Bailey

Geoff Bailey is a creative director at Assembly, responsible for overseeing the studio’s creative output with a focus on commercial, episodic and film VFX.

With longstanding and notable creative relationships with brands such as ESPN, A&E, Showtime and Fox, Geoff has received numerous accolades for his work, from Gold Clios to PromaxBDA awards, and a Sports Emmy for his rebrands of ESPN’s College Football network.

Geoff's diverse creative style is rooted in his design background, he commented “I love to blend a detailed photographic and cinematic style with highly-stylised design and art direction, creating works that feel both unique and surprising, but rooted in the real world. Because I work as both a designer and director, I really enjoy working with other directors and creatives to experiment and explore in the early process of look and concept development.”

Name: Geoff Bailey

Location: Brooklyn, NYC

Repped by/in: Assembly

Awards: Multiple BDA Gold/Silver/Bronze, Cannes Bronze Lion, Clio Bronze, and others

LBB> What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?

Geoff> There are two things that really get me excited about a script. The first is having something to say. I’m brand/market/genre agnostic, but I love when a script cares about what it is advocating or selling; when it’s honest and idiosyncratic. The same way you can tell when a director loves a project or an actor really connects with a script, I can tell when a writer or writers have found a real way to connect with what they’re saying or selling. It could be a solution to climate change or the selling the newest widget, but there’s an honesty that is contagious. 

Second, I love a script that believes the old adage: show don’t tell. I love a script that knows and trusts its audience. This is especially true today, when audiences are so media savvy and react immediately when they are being talked down to or sold to.

LBB> How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?

Geoff> Go big or go home. The only way to do justice to a spot is to first really try to understand what the brand is trying to communicate and then give a very personal, unique approach to conveying that message. There are so many talented directors out there and viewers have become so media savvy, I think the only way to cut through and communicate is to create something truly personal and authentic.

I also try to balance and interweave the creative and the practical. An idea is only as good as its execution. I try to go through every detail of the shoot and post (since I do a lot of design and VFX-heavy work, the post process is very much part of my process). I’m known for long treatment.

LBB> 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?

Geoff> It’s hugely important for me to understand the brand. As a director you’re trying to communicate something and you can’t know the best way to do it unless you really understand what you are trying to say, to whom, and to what end. For that, you have to know the brand and market.

I’ll go back and watch any ad I can find (print, broadcast, social, etc). I’ll read up on the brand, its history, anything I can find to give me more information about who they are, where they are headed, and who they are talking to.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you need an immediate affinity for that brand or market. I’ve done quite a bit of sports work over my career; I know next to nothing about sports. When I went to pitches, I always insisted that someone come with me so that when the conversation inevitably turned to sports, they could explain things to me and I would have some idea of what everyone was talking about. But I think I was able to bring an outsider’s perspective about what sports means in our society (even to someone like myself who is very much a casual observer) and (hopefully) come up with some ideas that someone else, who lived and breathed the sports world, maybe wouldn’t have thought of. So you need an affinity, but you have to find your own connection to the work and it has to be real.

LBB> For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?

Geoff> A campaign is only as good as its weakest link. You need to have everyone working in tandem, from brand to agency through production and post. I love every aspect of production and I get as excited about sound and wardrobe and logistics as I do about lighting and camera and visual effects.

But ultimately for it all to work, I need to have a good working relationship with the client and/or agency creative. We can, and should, argue all the time, but we need to be headed in the same direction and trust one another. Otherwise it’s very hard to make a good spot.

I always remember one job I did: it was a very ambitious experiential project—just a massive undertaking. We had a tight budget and a very aggressive schedule. The agency and I had lots of discussions about what we were going for and what we wanted the finished project to feel like. But when we did our first review, it was a leap of faith. There was so much VFX work that wasn’t yet in place. It was a rough edit and temp graphics, but on a massive scale, which only emphasised everything that wasn’t yet finished. I knew where we were in the process and what the finished product would look like, but it was so early and so rough, it was hard to imagine for anyone else but me. We ran the show for our client… they took a moment after it finished and simply said: “Keep going. I’m looking forward to the next review.” It was a moment of trust that we were both headed in the same direction. By the next review, we were further along and were able to talk about what was working and what wasn’t and start refining the piece, but having that kind of collaborative, trusting relationship is what makes it possible to push the boundaries of what’s possible. Because on any truly good project there is always that moment: a leap of faith.

LBB> What type of work are you most passionate about - is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to?

Geoff> Because of my background as a designer and CG artist, I love projects that have a strong sense of design and utilise design and visual effects as part of the storytelling. Beyond that I’m agnostic. I love the industry partly because it has exposed me to so many things I would have never thought I would have been interested in. 

LBB> What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong?

Geoff> Because I’m a fairly technical director (working a lot with animation and visual effects), it’s sometimes assumed that I don’t like or are as proficient working with actors. But my favourite part of the job is working with performers (actors and dancers alike). I love the collaborative spontaneity that is so exciting compared with the countless iterations of CG and FX work. I’ve had the pleasure of working with truly gifted actors over my career. It’s been one of the great pleasures of my job.

LBB> Have you ever worked with a cost consultant and if so how have your experiences been?

Geoff> I haven’t. I work with amazingly talented producers and line producers who constantly keep us honest and creative at the same time.

LBB> What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?

Geoff> Where to start?! What to do with the dead cow in the middle of your set? Mud slides? Trained crows? Untrained cats? Snow storms on beaches? Production is nothing but problem-solving—every minute of every day.

But the moment I’ll always remember is a shoot with a major, multi-Grammy-winning pop star. We had four hours to shoot with him. He was amazingly punctual, but on arriving, his manager let me know that she had a problem with the script: they wanted a different one. They weren’t going to shoot anything until they were happy with the revisions and the clock was ticking. My client and I discussed a game-plan and they stepped aside with the manager to rewrite the script on the spot. I had to keep the star from leaving, which he was very ready to do. He asked about the old theatre in Charleston where we were shooting and I proceeded to give him a full tour of the theatre, recounting its storied history, the artists who had played there, and some of the more lurid episodes that had taken place there. By the time we got back to the stage, a script was ready and we rolled cameras. Not a single word I told him was true. It was made on the spot. Sometimes the most important talent for a director is “a gift for fiction.”

LBB> How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?

Geoff> I think it goes back to the pitch and treatment process. There has to be a deeper agreement about what we’re trying to say and how a particular approach I might have is serving that. There’s no point in being protective of an idea if, along the way, you discover it's not communicating what you thought it would. Then it’s time to pivot and come up with something new. On the other hand, having an agreement on what you are trying to say and how can help as the inevitable schedule and budget concerns begin creeping in and whittling away at your approach. There comes a point when you have to step back and say, “are these changes taking away from what we’re trying to say.” If the client or agency is on the same page and we have a good relationship, if we agree on what we’re trying to say, then either we can push back or find a creative solution.

LBB> 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?

Geoff> Diversity isn’t something that can only happen at one level in the industry. It can’t just be about more internships and not about getting every level of the industry to be more representative of our world. If we have more diverse interns, but the faces making the hiring decisions are all the same, nothing will change. I’m a huge advocate for more internship and mentoring programs on set, but there’s also plenty of diverse, amazing talent out there already. If we look around and everyone on our sets looks the same, it’s on us to go find those people (if we don’t already know them) and hire them.

LBB> 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? 

Geoff> I think it remains to be seen. We’ve all gotten used to doing really great work with a lot less travel and more remote conversations. But I, for one, am missing the in-person collaboration and brainstorming. I’m excited about more in-person sessions and planning. So, we’ll see. The pendulum swung hard one way and I think it is starting to swing back in the other.

LBB> Your work is now presented in so many different formats - to what extent do you keep each in mind while you're working (and, equally, to what degree is it possible to do so)? 

Geoff> I try to be very conscious. Social media isn’t just about different aspect ratios. It has a completely different viewing experience and very different narrative structures are successful on social media compared to broadcast (or experiential). That said, for most projects, budget and schedule still require that we create spots for multiple media from the same shoot and so you inevitably have to make compromises and try to think creatively.

LBB> What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work (e.g. virtual production, interactive storytelling, AI/data-driven visuals etc)?

Geoff> I’m a very tech-forward director. I love exploring new technology, but it’s just another tool. It has to be used well. Sometimes the hype gets the better of us. Virtual production is great, but it works much better for some types of material than others and you have to know the difference. Interactive story-telling is something I am following with a lot of interest, but I’m still not happy with the image resolution available for what I do. I use AI-driven image generation all the time as a compliment to reference imagery as I’m working in pre production. But as anyone who has tried to “art-direct” AI knows, it can be extremely frustrating to get it to refine images. Sometimes it’s like working with a drunk concept artist in a language neither of you understand. But next year, my answer will probably be different.

LBB> Which pieces of work do you feel really show off what you do best – and why?


  • Sea Shepherd
  • M. Butterfly (directed with Julie Taymor)
  • Greenwood Rising
  • Since 1913
  • Death and the Lady

All of these projects use visuals to tell a complex story. They have a mood and atmosphere that is hard to put into words, but I think is what grabs you. And for all of them, I can truly say they were a collaboration. I came with ideas, but the end result was something that no one person involved could have dreamed up. 

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Assembly, Tue, 14 Mar 2023 14:48:00 GMT