Mark Gill achieved success as a guitarist before selling everything he owned to pursue filmmaking. Along with co-founder Alexander Roberts, he runs Manchester-based production company The Chase Films and is responsible for many of their nationally and internationally successful campaigns.
Most recently, Mark has released The Airborne Toxic Event, a photography book inspired by the chapter of the same name in Don Delillo’s novel White Noise, that documents what is happening globally with COVID-19 through the lens of Mark’s local environment.
Name: Mark Gill
Repped by: Simon Blakey at The Agency London for Film & TV Joe Elliot at Burning Reel - Commercial
Awards: Oscar nomination - live action short film, BAFTA Nomination - Live action short film, Edinburgh Film Festival Nominee, The Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature Film, Best Short Film Awards at: St Louis, Shanghai, Corona Fastnet, Festival Alto Vicentino, Kinsale Sharks
What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?
I think scripts that have a very simple idea are the ones that are best and also leave some room for the director’s input. I am instinctively drawn towards ideas that contain a strong narrative potential, that can be through performance or the brand’s story. Also anything that is going to allow a strong visual and preferably cinematic look is going to tick my boxes.
How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?
It helps to be good at pre-visualising the scripts when they come in. I think that generally the first one or two ideas you have in response to anything tend to be the right ones in my experience.
The first things I consider are the look, pacing and performance, if required. I am a voracious consumer of cinema from all over the world, there’s always something to learn and things you can pull from and remix into treatments.
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?
I think, like a lot of directors, that your previous work somewhat dictates who approaches from brands or creatives. That said I’d never have thought JD Sports would consider a director whose background has been cinema but it turns out that’s what they wanted and what I’m seeing more of in terms of being able to deliver performance as well as the visual look. This is just my opinion but among all the skills needed as a director, two always seem to be the ones called on the most. The first is your ‘taste’ - I think clients choose a particular director for his style, his choices in past work, and his expression of ideas. The second is ‘listening ability’. That starts with the client and creative and extends to my team. It’s amazing how often a throwaway comment from someone contains the seed of a good idea.
For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?
The producer mostly. They’re the lynchpin between production and the agency really. Obviously all HODs are important too and I like to give them as big a canvas to express the ideas as possible.
What type of work are you most passionate about - is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to?
My background is narrative cinema and theatre so that’s where my heart lies. I found my way to advertising slowly. Only picking the jobs where I thought my particular skills would bring a new dimension. But I’ve now done a number of good size commercials and brand films which taught me new ways of working. If I’m drawn to anything it’s something that has rich visual potential and an element of performance.
What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong?
I think a lot of directors get frustrated by being ruled out of jobs because they don’t have a certain reel. There are people who are out there who want and like to specialise and that’s great. But I’d like to see more openness to working with directors who might bring a fresh approach to a certain genre.
What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?
Making a Christmas campaign during a pandemic where there were too many things to navigate to name just one. Every production will have issues. I think you just have to be pragmatic and creatively awake at all times to be able to solve them.
How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?
I think having no ego helps. You want both the client and agency to be happy with the finished product. My job is to raise the bar creatively and navigate our way through any problems. I’ve had no complaints so far!
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?
There’s always room for new talent, every industry needs it no matter the background of the person. I’m all for apprenticeships as long as the apprentice is getting real training and is not just being used as cheap labour. Mentoring is great. I’ve been on the receiving end and given it in the past. Just not sure ‘on set’ is the place. I wouldn’t find the time to give it the time it deserves.
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?
I think people will become more conscious of health and working habits. It’s been an eye opener for everyone I’m sure.
Your work is now presented in so many different formats - to what extent do you keep each in mind while you're working (and, equally, to what degree is it possible to do so)?
I tend to always think ‘cinema’ no matter what the size screen it ends up being viewed on. That’s my background and passion. But we are more and more having to consider how to maximise and adapt things for social in commercials. It’s part of life now and It presents great opportunities for different kinds of storytelling. So we better get used to it and have fun with it.
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)?
I’ve not come across too many briefs where it’s been necessary to be honest. I’ve seen some really fantastic pieces of work in those areas and I’ll always keep an open mind. The story is king in my book - crack that and whatever the delivery method, it’ll translate.
Which pieces of work do you feel really show off what you do best?