Charu Menon is executive producer at Heckler Singapore, the production, post and VFX house which is headquartered in Sydney. She is a multi-platform producer with more than twelve years of experience in film, TV, advertising and digital content across Australia, India and South East Asia. Here, Charu reflects on the judging process whilst the world is in lockdown.
It was in early February that I received an email inviting me to be a judge on the D&AD Direction Jury for 2020. I was excited. It would be my first time on the coveted D&AD panel.
D&AD celebrate and reward true creative excellence in our industry and it’s one of the few that takes craft very seriously. It’s the hardest award to win and the quality of work is inspiring and brilliant. I’d heard from mentors who have been jurors in the past, that their judging process is diligent and thorough. I’d also heard that the process of sitting with the rest of your jury debating, discussing and deconstructing creative work for hours is invigorating.
But when Covid-19 started to impact on countries around the world, I wondered if the event would be canceled altogether, like so many others had been forced to. Thankfully, the organisers decided to go ahead with it online.
This is the 58th year of the awards and it’s the first time that it has gone virtual with 260 judges across 34 categories scattered across the globe.
We were inducted into the virtual judging room with an address from the board. Chairman Tim Lindsay and Kate Stanners, the president of D&AD welcomed us all with a key message. At this moment, our industry has changed beyond recognition and will continue to in the coming months, but never before has there been a greater need for clear and engaging communication. D&AD has lost more than half of their annual revenue on account of the physical event being cancelled, but they decided to continue with it to celebrate the creative work of the past year.
Our job as jurors for Direction? To recognise an idea that was inspiring, fit for purpose, brilliantly executed and sent out the right message. ‘It’s really important to celebrate the right work so it inspires the work of the future and sets the right benchmark.’
Round 1: Online Judging
For this first round each jury member was instructed to view and vote for the work independently. The first thing that stuck me about the entries this year was how, for no fault of the entrants of course, most of the work seemed to reflect a different time. A pre-Covid era. This pandemic has forced such a rapid realignment of our priorities that the work, although some of it only a few months old, seemed strangely nostalgic and disconnected with reality. Needless to say this didn’t impede the way they were judged, but it was a powerful moment of reflection for me on the stories we tell in the world of commercial creativity and how much that prism shapes our perspective of the world.
Round 2: Virtual Judging
With judges scattered all over the world, from Jamaica and the UK to USA and Germany, the only zoom conference time that worked for everyone was 7pm -11pm my time in Singapore. (It could have been worse!
I virtually met my fellow jurors for the first time. Multiple award winning UK based Director Sara Dunlop from Rattling Stick, who was the jury president; US based Director from Stink Films Ricardo Jones; US based Group Creative Director from Droga5, Toby Treyer- Evans; Berlin based screenwriter and Director Adi Halfin; and CCO of Those Creative People, Kia Moses in Jamaica. A seriously talented bunch of people from across disciplines.
Taking us through the process were our D&AD jury hosts Nicola and Geralda who explained the voting process and reminded us of the calibre of work that we needed to be seeking out. There was no designated quota we needed to meet and it was really about if the work was truly worthy of a Pencil or a shortlist, regardless of how many or how few Pencils were awarded in a certain year.
The digital judging process was smooth and seamless. If a jury member needed to abstain from commenting or voting on a particular piece of work because of a potential conflict of interest, the organisers would send them to a virtual waiting room until the voting was complete on that piece of work. A virtual results room generated updated shortlists each time a round of voting was complete. I didn’t think that the process suffered at any point from not being a physical event.
There were a lot of really powerful entries that were beautifully executed and exquisitely crafted from all around the world. As we tried to cull through the best of the best, we had to constantly remind ourselves what direction actually entailed. It was not just about the ingenuity of the idea or the importance of the cause or the scale of the production. It was really about the Director’s vision and their ability to execute that vision, elevating craft and moving the viewer with genuine, original storytelling and there were some clear winners that stood out for all of us.
I really enjoyed the judging process. It was fulfilling, especially during these unsettling times, to just shut myself in a room and be consumed by powerful, pure, creative storytelling and it is an even greater honour to help celebrate it.
If you’re in the running for a D&AD Direction award, the Craft Pencils will be announced on 9th June.