The Directors in association withPeople on LBB
The Directors: Jim Hayton
London, UK
Johnny Foreigner director on his years as a creative at 4Creative and the power of creative envy

After graduating from Oxford, Jim moved to London to work for 4Creative, and was part of the team that launched both E4 and More4. Whilst working on Channel 4’s entertainment and comedy output he has worked with talent such as Ben Miller, Leigh Francis, the Made in Chelsea cast and The Last Leg guys, winning potloads of awards along the way. Jim specialises in polished comedy performance work that can be deftly smart or downright daft. Outside of 4Creative, Jim’s brand work includes films for eBay, the FA, Hackett, Bell’s Whisky, Coca Cola, EA Games and Mazda.

Name: Jim Hayton

Location: London

Repped by: Johnny Foreigner

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

Jim> It all boils down to the idea, and my immediate reaction to it. If I have an emotional reaction to it, if it puts a smile on my face, that will get me enthusiastic. I spent many years as a creative at 4Creative, generating ideas, and if I read a script and think ”I wish I’d written that”, then I’m immediately excited about it. Never underestimate the power of creative envy.

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

Jim> Initially, a lot of thinking. I’ll go for a walk in the park and just have a bit of a think. I’ll explore what it was about the idea that got me interested in the first place and how I plan to bring that out in the final film. Then, once I have a good, clear idea of my approach, I’ll start writing. The tone of my treatments is pretty informal, as if I’m pitching over a coffee, and is focussed on how I’d like the audience to feel and how I’ll achieve that. There will be references, but they need to be spot on - I’d rather a few visuals that nail it than a load that confuse matters. At the start of my career I ran on a Daniel Kleinman music video where his mood board consisted of just 6 images. I reckon the more efficient and precise you are with references, the better, and the less likely you’ll give the wrong idea of your intentions. 

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?

Jim> It’s pretty rare to be sent a script for something that I have no knowledge of at all, but it has happened a couple of times recently - once for a very new tech brand, and once for something that is aimed squarely at seniors. In both cases I did a quick dip into the brand - watching previous campaigns, getting a bit of background on how they see themselves. It’s probably not as important as it feels - the agency has seen something in my reel that tells them that I’ll be good for the job, but better for my own peace of mind that I’m not operating in the dark.

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

Jim> There are a bunch of important relationships - the DoP, your producer - but the main one is with the creatives. They’ve been with the script the whole way through the process, and establishing a rapport with them is very important. I might be directing the shoot, but if anyone has ownership of the finished spot, then it’s them.

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?

Jim> When I first started I had one of those Soho pub conversations where a creative I knew was telling me that I had to choose between being a “funny” or “shiny” director. Luckily, I didn’t really have to choose, working for broadcast clients means there’s a very broad range of subject matters, but if I did, it’d be “funny”. I take the task of acting daft pretty seriously. Creating what looks like an ordinary world, but with one surreal difference, and letting it run. I love stuff like that. Though it has to be said that sometimes my “funny” can be quite “shiny”. If you know what I mean.

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

Jim> I was making something for 4Creative that featured a room full of monkeys, hammering away on typewriters. I wanted the room to feel like a school classroom, so well behaved monkeys down the front, and naughtier monkeys as you move back through the rows. We only had one man in a monkey suit - the budget wasn’t huge - so we were never going to see all nine monkeys together till it was put together in post. Between myself and the man in the suit, we worked out 5 different levels of “naughty monkey” that would make it feel like there were different monkey personalities present. 

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?

Jim> Yes, of course. The more differing points of view that are heard, the more effective and relatable the work will be. 

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? 

Jim> At the start of the pandemic I, along with millions of others, was told that I was on the “clinically extremely vulnerable” list and that “home is the best place for you” in a government text message. So I worked from home, as far as was possible. At some point I’ve done every element of my job, apart from the actual shoot day, from my living room.

I found that a lot of the process didn’t suffer too much from this, apart from maybe the casting. I like to be very involved on a casting day, so I hated remote casting. Post production felt like it may have actually improved. Feedback (including from myself) was more focussed and consolidated, so I’d happily continue like this.

The pandemic also had the effect of thinning out the number of people present on the shoot day, which felt like a positive thing. Smaller crew, more relaxed atmosphere, better performances. It’d be nice to keep that up.

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

Jim> “Power Monkeys” for 4Creative.

I really love to approach something ridiculous with the mindset that it’s absolutely normal and I always think about that Eric Morecambe quote - “We must never know that what we are doing is funny”. That was my approach here.

“Made In Chelsea” for 4Creative.

Loved the scale, the flat out fun, and hedonism of this. I was very happy with  achieving the shininess of a fashion ad and the irreverence of music promo.

“Vox Pops” for Kelly’s of Cornwall.

This was all about getting quirky, more intimate out of single actors. Small realistic performances. The spot is pretty understated, but really effective.

“Re-United Kingdom” for 4Creative.

I’ve peppered my career with parodies and pastiches. This one’s a blokey, DIY affair. Again with one surreal detail that we approach as if it’s pretty mundane and everyday.

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