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Daniel Azancot: “Creativity Is the Art of the Unexpected”



The In & Out director talks LBB through his multicultural upbringing, explains why a dash of the theatrical can never hurt, and reveals the secret to great creative storytelling

Daniel Azancot: “Creativity Is the Art of the Unexpected”

For some of us, creativity is more of an instinct than a profession. That philosophy feels like a good way to describe In & Out director Daniel Azancot, who has never limited his own creativity to one particular artform. With a background in photography and theatre, Daniel is able to draw on a repertoire of skills to ensure each campaign is unique. 

That multi-faceted approach shines through in his work. Whether it be robots discovering the joy of dance or a family road trip featuring an enormous freshly-caught fish, you can never know quite where Daniel’s work is going to go - only that it’s going to be one heck of a ride.

To catch up with Daniel and talk through his uniquely brilliant creative approach, LBB spoke to the In & Out director… 

Q> Hello, Daniel! You have quite an international background, having grown up between Milan, Toulouse, and Barcelona. Does that background and that experience feed into your creative work at all? 

Daniel Azancot> My early years were definitely more Italian than anything else, but my roots are spread between Spain, Italy, France, with some Argentinian flavor - because of my mom.

But yes, living in different countries has influenced my creativity in many ways. Learning five languages not only allows you to communicate with more people, but each language teaches you different ways to articulate your thoughts; in other words, you learn another way of thinking, a different way of seeing things. 

So my upbringing has been extremely helpful creatively. Understanding other ways of thinking has helped me work in countries where the visual culture is different. I got into the habit of searching for different ways to tell a story. I take a script’s idea, and I look at it upside-down, inside-out, from right to left, and left to right, searching for the most creative and effective form of delivering the message. It’s like looking for a hidden treasure, and when you find it, it’s super exciting. 

The obsession with finding gold in every project has helped me improve many scripts in my career. Even when the rock is not a diamond, I try to find a way to make it shine. I love that process! 

Q> How did you first develop your passion for storytelling? 

Daniel> Spontaneously. I started my career as a photographer, but I always looked to tell stories. Even when I was doing photo books with models, I was telling a story. I used to convince the models to improve their photo presentations by creating characters for each one and photographing them doing scenes from a story. I had great fun developing those photo sessions. 

Q> And how did you learn your craft as a director?

Daniel> After studying photography and then working as a photographer for a while, I landed a job in advertising at one of the biggest Spanish production companies. There, I did almost everything; locations, production, assistant director... I learned my craft with the best directors of that time - not only Spanish ones but also British, French, Americans, Australians, South Africans. The company used to work with the very best of the market. I was fortunate. I was not only in touch with great directors, but also amazing DOPs. Working with Group Films, for example, was a great company to work with and a great school.  

Anyway, I think a director is always learning. Especially if you don't like to repeat style, each project brings you new experiences, new challenges, and lessons to keep. Sometimes, it is about how to help an actor, coordinate actions with stunts, use new post production tools, special effects on-camera, or even how to deal with a client. If you look for challenges, like me, each project enriches you.

Q> Something that comes through in a few examples of your commercial work is a sense of ‘controlled chaos’ (I’m especially thinking of your work for VW and Deezer). Would you agree with that, and is that something you’re attracted to? 

Daniel> In my opinion, creativity is in many ways the art of the unexpected. If the agency’s script doesn't have a creative twist to deliver the message, I always try to find one. 

The creative twist can be found in many places - in the storytelling, adding irony to the end of the film, or a surprise to empower the product’s message. Also through the camera, creating unexpected transitions, visual effects, or amazing action scenes. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of great acting and the veracity of the scenes, other times it is a mix of all those elements.

Each project has its own perfect creative twist. If you find the right one, the campaign will definitely improve. Helping creatives to bring their scripts to life in the best way possible is the director’s job. And it is also my joyful obsession.

Above: Daniel's work with Deezer embraces the unexpected.

Q> Looking back at your career so far, is there a particular campaign or project you’ve worked on which stands out as especially significant to you? 

Daniel> Projects can stand out for many reasons. A great creative idea, a new agency to work with, the chance to try new tools, the awards... each project has its rewards. I am passionate every time I start a new project. Some are better than others, but there’s always something particular and interesting that distinguishes them from each other.

There are two examples of great experiences that come to mind; one from my early days directing and another one from more recent years.

One of my first big projects was an eight-day shoot in New York for an internet/phone company from Spain founded in the early 2000s. The campaign was very visual-driven - portraits of fantastic characters and celebrities repeating a line to the camera. We built more than 35 different sets in three connected film studios. While filming a set, a second unit was pre-lighting the next, and I was jumping from one studio to another, filming non-stop. My first day I had Spike Lee on set, and a bunch of other amazing actors one after the other. I enjoyed every second. 

Above: A series of images from the sets of one of Daniel's first big projects. 

After finishing the shoot, I took one day off and then flew back to Spain to check the edit and deliver it the next day. My editor was working while I was shooting to be able to deliver in record time. When I landed in Madrid, it was the icing on the cake when I found the city covered with images of my spot. Billboards with the images of the campaign I had just shot a few days before were in every corner. I don't know how they did it that fast, It was surreal.  The campaign happened a long time ago, but I cherish the memories of that project.

In regards to more recent projects, I will say that my first Toyota campaign with Burrell was a great and memorable project. Four spots for Toyota Avalon shot in LA with Corey Seaton and his fantastic crew. The connection with Burrell’s team was wonderful from the start. Later, I was invited to present my cut to Lewis Williams in Chicago. I had a terrific time, and the films came out great.

Above: Toyota's 'Catch Me If You Can' was directed by Daniel

Q> I understand that you’ve also worked in theatre. Would you say that experience has given you a theatrical skillset as a director? And is there anything else this experience brings to your work today?

Daniel> My experience directing theatre was fantastic. It’s a completely different directing approach. In theatre, actors are in control, you are there to help them create the characters, the story, help with the body language on stage or finding the tempo of the scene... but when the curtain rises, there’s nothing else you can do for them.  

Directing theatre, I learned to be more involved with the actor’s preparation and later let them fly solo. If you can create a safe space for the actors, the results are amazing. It is fantastic to see the cast improvise around the plot without losing the focus on the plot. 

Directing actors is probably one of my biggest passions.


Q> As well as directing commercials, you’ve also created experimental audiovisual films. Can you tell me a bit more about this, and what are your ambitions when it comes to longer-form filmmaking? 

Daniel> That was a long long time ago. While directing commercials, I used to do experimental videos to keep my inner creativity alive. Video images shot with no rules, searching for emotions or reactions only. One of those works was exhibited in art galleries. For me it was fun, a different experience.

I've tried to direct feature films, but it has not happened yet. Even if my advertising career keeps me busy, I'm always looking for the opportunity to direct long-form. Right now, I’m developing two scripts, and I keep searching for good stories to produce. I’m very confident that somehow, one day I will direct longer-form pieces.

Q> Where do you tend to find inspiration? 

Daniel> In advertising, I find inspiration looking inside the idea of each campaign. My goal is to empower the message creatively. The concept is the seed that you need to sow.

Each idea needs a different spark. Sometimes you need to focus on creating the characters; sometimes, it’s about visual transitions, special effects, finding the right music, or a surprising dance choreography... each project is different. That’s why I feed my inspiration from many different sources - art exhibits, films, music videos, books, and also observing everyday life. 

Inspiration has nothing to do with magic. Inspiration is entwined with hard work; with the obsession of looking for new ways to communicate an idea. As Pablo Picasso said, “inspiration exists, but it has to find you working”.

Q> How are you hoping to develop your work over the coming years, and what are you most passionate about achieving with your work? 

Daniel> After becoming a US citizen two years ago, I want to keep expanding my work in the US market. My passion and love for what I do has been well received in every agency I work with. I love sharing this passion with creatives and helping to improve each project. I’m a team player and easy to work with. I listen and I share my ideas, always looking for a creative twist. It’s a great feeling when the agencies that I've worked with keep coming back with new projects. 

I’m sure the coming years will bring new great projects, and new creative teams to work with. I would love to shoot a Super Bowl spot soon.

Q> In the world of commercials, are there any clients with whom you’d especially like to work with in the future? 

Daniel> I love Saatchi's creative ideas, like the Tide Ad, with David Harbour. Or Arnold and its hilarious Progressive campaign. I want to work with agencies that bring to life amazing creative ideas.

Q> Finally, the past year has been a challenging one for so many. What’s been keeping you creatively inspired and motivated throughout 2020? 

Daniel> I have to say that I’ve been fortunate. Florida was one of the first states to reopen, and I've been working non stop during this time. The big challenge was learning the new working process with the agency and clients remotely.  Sometimes it was difficult to get the usual shooting flow and creative vibe that you get when you are in person.

I learned how to manage it, but I wish we can go back to normal soon. Having a crew fully vaccinated will help a lot.

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In & Out Productions, Tue, 20 Jul 2021 13:49:52 GMT