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The Directors: David Hicks

The Directors 609 Add to collection

The Feels Like Home director and former editor kicks off our new series that’s dedicated to discussing the business of being a commercials director

The Directors: David Hicks
Every comedian will tell you that the secret to good comedy is timing. Which explains why David Hicks’ work is so funny. He’s got timing. Honed during his years as one of Canada’s most renowned commercial editors, he combines a strong sense of rhythm and pacing with a keen eye for casting, a subtle touch with performance, and an artist’s eye for composition, lighting, and set design. David rose to prominence working as an editor on feature films with legendary directors like Norman Jewison and Peter Bogdonavich. He went on to co-found leading editorial companies Panic & Bob Editing and School Editing – both award-winning post houses. David began directing in 2004 and has developed a body of much-lauded commercial work, earning Cannes Lions, Clios, One Show and other accolades. From building a working pickup truck out of solid ice (for Canadian Tire), to helming a branded buddy-comedy feature film (for Kokanee beer), David embraces and loves the challenges and opportunities that each new project brings to his doorstep.

  • Name: David Hicks
  • Location: Toronto 
  • Repped by / in: Feels Like Home (Canada) Spears and Arrows (US)
  • Awards: Cannes Lions / Bessie Awards / Clio Awards / One Show


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

David> Performance and timing. As a former editor, I find myself always gravitating to structure and timing to the story. Whether it’s a :60 (never happens anymore) or a :15, I get excited about the best way to tell the story while at the same time delivering a performance that is memorable, relatable and dry.

How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?

David> I always look for the nugget of the spot. What is the hook? What is the messaging and how can I best execute that idea, without reinventing the wheel? Once I have identified the nugget, I imagine the clearest and most interesting way to structure the story, combined with other influences that help reinforce the vision… music, cast and camera movement.

Also, because the ‘treatment’ has become so templated over the years, I have created a different approach for delivering my vision. Instead of the normal - overview, look, casting, etc. - I have formatted my treatments lately in more of a ‘checkbox’ style of communication. I figured that all projects have a laundry list of boxes that need to be checked, why not format the treatment that way? So I end up creating a super long list that I know the client needs, then I make a list of all the boxes I feel I need to best execute the project. Narrow it down, then just simply write a section for each box. Seems to work well.

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?

David> This goes back to understanding the nugget of the story. I feel once you clearly understand the strategy and demographics of the messaging, it becomes easier to make the decisions that will hit the target and deliver a great spot. For me, it’s not as much about the brand itself, as it is about the target audience that we need to hit. 

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

David> That’s a really good question because I could make the case for many different roles depending upon the script, but the DP is probably the most integral connection I would have during the entire process. It’s the relationship with the DP that will ultimately produce the closest version to my vision of the project.   

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

David> I love human emotion, whether it is delivered in a serious tone or with dry comedic insight. In the ad world I have mostly worked in the comedic genre and gravitate to the drier side of comedy. But I am keen to explore other genres. Storytelling is my passion... human emotion can be told in so many ways.  

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


David> I’m not just a comedy guy. With my editing background, I’ve always wanted to pursue more emotional connecting content. This is one area where I haven’t felt that I’ve had the opportunities, but that will change. Looking forward to playing more in that sandbox.  

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

David> Yes. Cost consultants are now part of the new normal - I hate that term. But yes, it’s part of every job, it seems, and we all need to accept it. I have never let it bother me too much in the process, and as someone once said, “it is what it is”.

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

David> Showing up on a shoot day on an island off the coast of Colombia that we had scouted the week before, only to discover that the beach was a Turtle sanctuary and filming was not allowed. We had no backup. A few boats of armed police showed up while we shot one take… it made the edit easier.  

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

David> As an editor, I was trained to work within a box. I remember someone telling me, “being an editor is like the chef. And the director is the shopper.” I never forgot that, and on every project I always try to give the editor the most and best ingredients that I can deliver. So, when dealing with agencies and clients I always make sure that I deliver their laundry list, but strike a balance by getting my pieces too.

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?

David> Yes. 100%. 

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? 

David> Yes, the virtual world is here to stay. But I will always prefer a face-to-face over a Zoom and I feel when this is all over they’ll be a strong movement for companies to connect again, human to human. I really miss the connection to people that this industry was built on. Yes, Zoom is here to stay and will most likely be the preferred form for pitchback and most meetings, but I will always push for face-to-face. 


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.)?

David> I’m excited about the new technology and ‘some’ aspects of virtual production, but again, nothing will replace the positive benefits of face-to-face communication when it comes to creativity. 

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

David> These following four projects best show performance comedy and storytelling. 

Hockey Hall of Fame

Ontario Pork - Office 

McDonald's - Whaat

Toyota RAV4 - Over The Dog

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Feels Like Home, Tue, 10 Nov 2020 15:52:43 GMT