Trends and Insight in association withSynapse Virtual Production

Outsider Director Jim Gilchrist on the Power of Comedy in Advertising

Production Company
London, UK
His recent campaign for Scope used comedy to #endtheawkward when encountering disabled people in everyday life

Outsider director Jim Gilchrist recently finished the latest work for Scope's #endtheawkward campaign, created by agency George & Dragon. In the spot, we see various people in the workplace hiding from the perceived 'awkwardness' of encountering someone with a disability. 

Jim opens up about how he used comedy to deliver a powerful message for the charity. 

Q> What were your first thoughts when you received the Scope script?

JG> Well I got as far as “Should you encounter a disabled person, Scope says HIDE” and I thought, “er…is this for real…?”

Obviously as I read on it became clear H.I.D.E is an acronym and it was actually taking a funny perspective on the awkwardness some people feel when they encounter disabled people.

Q> Were you surprised to see a charity ad using humour?

JG> I was yes, but I have to say, using comedy to deliver a message is always a smart solution for the simple fact it makes the message more memorable. To be funny when dealing with such a sensitive subject was a little tough, I was scared of doing the wrong thing or offending someone. I guess that’s where there is a fine line between funny yet sensitive. For me it was all about conveying that awkward feeling in an exaggerated manner. Of course, good casting was key to it working.

Q> You are well known for your humorous direction, is that something that comes naturally to you? 

JG> I like to think I’m funny! In general, I like to make people laugh and I’ve always been a bit of a piss taker… I don’t know if I set out to direct comedy really, I guess my career has just veered in that direction. I think my work has a fairly British, dry sense of humour and an understated tone. I’d actually consider myself a performance director because all of my humour comes from very human insights.

Q? Your casting sessions must be fun?

JG> Well, yes and no. Apparently, I’m quite brutal! If I’m not feeling the right chemistry with someone, I don’t do loads of takes for the sake of it. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and so I put most of my time and effort into the casting because I truly believe if you get this bit right the rest clicks into place. I also have a photographic memory so when I’m writing a casting brief I’ll probably have at least 5-10 names of actors I’ve seen that I’d like to call in. Thankfully, I usually get the cast I want.

Q> What inspired you to become a director?

JG> I thought I could do it better, everyone does right? I thought that it’s easy to come up with a good idea for a performance, once all the decisions had been made, but when faced with a blank piece of paper and asked to do a storyboard for the first time I realised what it’s all about. 

Q> What advice would you give to young directors trying to get a break?

JG> Shoot stuff. It annoys me when youngsters say they want to be a director but aren’t out there shooting stuff. I shot so much whilst I was at Fallon. Luckily in the end I had three things to make a reel with and it got me working and I was off and running. If it’s ads you want to do, don’t bother with a 10-minute short film, call a creative team up you love and ask/beg for some scripts from their bottom drawer and shoot those. Do three good ones and you sir/madame are a director!

Q> What ad do you wish you’d made?

JG> Dougal’s ‘Meet the Superhumans’ is the ad of the year - it will clean up at the awards next year and rightly so. I don’t wish I’d made it because I actually think it's so him. By that I mean it’s the epitome of all of the things he does best in one film, I don’t think anyone could do it better.