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The Directors: Dan Gifford


Director at Johnny Foreigner on his love of quirky characterful stories and how to film a million dollar hyper-car traveling at speeds over 200mph on the most dangerous track in the world

The Directors: Dan Gifford

Dan Gifford is a multi-award winning director with over twenty years of experience in film making.

He has directed over 100 commercials for a range of blue chip clients across the world, which has garnered him a stellar reputation as a leading narrative and car commercials Director. His work has picked up awards all over the world including Gold Promax Awards, Cannes Lions, the London Independent Gold Award for best global campaign, Golds at the One Show USA and the Grand Prix for Best Film at the Eurobest Awards. In 2020 he directed ‘Final Curtain’, a twenty minute short that has currently won over thirty recognized awards and continues to compete on the international festival circuit.

He was born in Norfolk, England, and studied languages and literature at Oxford University, graduating with a Master’s Degree in German and Italian. After periods living in Siena and São Paulo, he now travels between London and Los Angeles.

Name: Dan Gifford

Location: Los Angeles/London

Repped by/in: Minted in LA/Johnny Foreigner in UK

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

Dan> It can be several things. I get excited by scripts with ambition, be it visual, thematic or intellectual. I love scripts where the writing has its own voice, with real characters talking idiosyncratic but truthful lines. I love scripts which offer original insights into the business of life.

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

Dan> Before I write anything, I spend time thinking. My aim is always to reduce the script to two core elements – intention and tone. Then I think about the most cinematic manner to deliver those two elements in their purest form. 

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?

Dan> It’s very important indeed. In fact, I don’t think it’s possible to successfully encapsulate the spirit of a brand if you don’t understand its core values. Also I enjoy learning about new brands and understanding their journey and their intentions for the future. My research involves learning about the history of the brand, tracing the evolution of its advertising and becoming highly familiar with its products or services. 

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

Dan> It’s with the creatives. A director comes onto a project relatively late. The people that wrote or envisioned it have been there from the start. They know what the clients need and expect. They also have highly developed ideas about how to best balance that with the creative thrust of the project, which is their baby. I always like to listen to creatives because it saves time and makes the spot infinitely better. 

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?

Dan> I love – in no particular order – quirky characterful stories, visually epic stories and stories the shock or surprise. Also I love cars!

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

Dan> That I don’t do comedy. In fact I spent the first ten years of my career doing mostly that. 

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

Dan> How to film a million dollar hyper-car traveling at speeds over 200mph on the most dangerous track in the world (The Nurburgring Nordschleife: 13 miles long) while it attempted a world speed record. The answer was fifteen trackside cameras, about a hundred gopros and a jet helicopter with a camera mounted on the nose. 

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

Dan> That’s all comes from creating a healthy rapport with agency and client from the outset. Friendly disagreements over creative should always be expected and honored. No-one wants a director who’s a pushover. You’re there to protect the idea and create the best spot possible. Never forget that. I find the best way to achieve this is to fight your corner with intelligence and good humour. You won’t always win but you should always speak your mind. Ideally these discussions are not only respectful but even fun as the team finds the right path for everyone. 

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?

Dan> I fully support it and yes, I’d love to be involved in that. 

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? 

Dan> I feel like shooting has become leaner and more efficient. Having clients and agency give feedback remotely feels like it becomes more focussed. I like having fewer people on set. I do miss the massively indulgent set catering and lunchtime chatting though. 

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)?

Dan> I am open to any new technology that improves the process and most importantly, the outcome. 

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Johnny Foreigner, Wed, 08 Dec 2021 09:42:00 GMT