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The Directors: Sabertooth


Boldly directing duo on toiling over ideas, creative discourse and the power of satire

The Directors: Sabertooth

Ian is a commercial film director whose style blends the absurdities of the human condition with a cinematic eye. He leverages truthful reactions in performances and believes that realism drives the best engagement. His honest humour is usually saying what we’re all thinking - and he cuts straight to the chase. Ian tells all-around relatable stories with a ruggedness that audiences appreciate. Ultimately, his passion is leaving viewers with a laugh, a thought, or an idea to ponder over.

Dustin is not your normal multi-hyphenate. Because he's just not normal. Far from generic, his narrative-focused and unique style of storytelling delivers with just the right amount of delightful oddity. Having grown up as an only child with thoughts and ideas that led to many parent-teacher meetings, he found it difficult to make friends with anyone who wasn't imaginary. He has since helmed and produced a variety of commercials, features and short, earning several awards and critical praise in the process. His style has become known and defined by his genre-blurring brain children, proudly building a body of work dripping in their amniotic fluid.

Sabertooth is a writer/director duo from California, USA. Their absurd style infuses dark comedy, a distinctive voice, and pokes fun at our everyday assumptions. It's advertising that is often self-referential, super-action-packed, and seriously silly.

Accolades include Vimeo Staff Picks, a Cynopsis Digital Award for the UFC’s sports documentary series 'Embedded' and picked up a selection at Santa Cruz Film Festival for Kong's in 2018. Ian's work has been featured by Matthew Toffolo, Bike Radar, Power Sports Business, and Gear Junkie.

Name: Sabertooth

Location: LA

Repped by/in: Boldly

Awards: Bronze Clio, Vimeo Staff Pick, Gold Kinsale Shark


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

Sabertooth> A lot of scripts seem to assume a viewer is lazy or doesn’t pay attention, and in fairness, is probably pretty often accurate but when a script challenges the reader or audience to figure something out or go along for a ride and is rich in subtext it’s more satisfying.


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

Sabertooth> Research the customer. Toil over the creative. Toil a bit more. Throw out the terrible ideas. Toil again. Research again. Consider a different profession. Toil. Get some ideas on the page. Realise your own genius. Realise it’s crap. Write. Write more. Finally you’ve got something. Refine. Re-rewrite, repeat. Curse the failings of Google Slides.  Try not to throw up during the pitch. Enjoy the quiet awkwardness after the pitch, as your madness presentation is digested over Zoom.

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?

Sabertooth> I think this happens a lot and the truth is, sometimes you can only be so pumped up about a simple product of function. So, research is absolutely essential, find the fanatics and find the haters. We spend a lot of time in forums, reading comments and discourse about products… In some cases we’ve found people in the forums that know as much about the product, if not more, than the people selling it. There are some interesting ‘rules’ on the internet and you can usually find people with passion for just about anything… and passion is contagious… and occasionally creepy. 


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

Sabertooth> Positive and open creative discourse. Great ideas and stories come from all places and all types of people. You never know where a good idea may come from. 

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?

Sabertooth> Passion for us is a by-product of the story. Who doesn’t want to be able to tell a great story? One that is challenging, contemplative and visually demanding. The Satire genre seems to be a bit of a lost artform…or perhaps an ironically misunderstood artform at the moment…. But satire is extremely powerful and useful in storytelling. Dustin & Ian are huge fans of Johnathan Swift and Southpark, although they find them both offensive and crude, not to mention factually hyperbolic. 

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

Sabertooth> Most of our concepts at their core are very simple straight forward metaphors or analogies we believe the customer has or will experience with the product. In our opinion the viewer/customers connect better with the product through subtext and narrative experience, rather than having it explained to them or dropped on their face. 

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

Sabertooth> Not a cost consultant, but every project we take on is pushed to the absolute limit creatively… and usually budgetarily. So we are constantly challenged to find innovative solutions to achieve our creative ambitions. Eg. How do we achieve an authentic 90s talk show look, with minimal post budget… go digging in the basement at VER for a camera and find the DP who shot Sally Jesse Rapheal.

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

Sabertooth> We had a situation where we couldn’t have two actors in the same room during the pandemic but the client wanted the ability to improv. So we improvised with the first actor, then memorised their timing and performance to recreate with the second actor. It was nuts, but it worked out pretty well.

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

Sabertooth> We have a saying ‘don’t be precious.’ You have to be open, listen and evaluate. Ask, is this better? Or is this just different? At the end of the day, as a director, you’re hired to be certain, so conviction is important. Conversation, dialog and creative discourse seems to usually do the trick. 

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?

Sabertooth> It’s very exciting, we’re seeing new voices and perspectives. Always open to work with anyone who is committed to learning. 

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? 

Sabertooth> It’s certainly given us a new perspective on production and being willing to find ‘creative alternatives.’ It’s taken away a bit of worry about everything going ‘right’ because for nearly two years we’ve lived in the, “let's assume nothing goes right world.” When shit has gone ‘wrong’, we’ve adapted and ended up making some of our best work. Not sure about new habits, but definitely broken a few bad ones…most to do with keeping dirty things away from and out of our mouths. 

LBB> 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)? 

Sabertooth> We focus and commit to the story first and always. And it’s extremely important to understand how your audience will experience the story and how that presentation may affect the understanding of the story,  thus we are always mindful of it while working. It all comes to planning, sometimes we shoot 16:9 and 9:16, Anamorphic, 4:3… What will the auditory experience be like, will most viewers even listen to the audio for VR, is this 360, will they get dizzy, is there 6DOF… will this shot read on a phone screen? It has to be possible because it’s necessary and important. 


LBB> What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work?

Sabertooth> We absolutely embrace technology and are currently in the midst of our first Virtual Production and AR experience. However, we never let technology dictate the creative, unless unavoidable, which is sometimes the case. We approach available tech by matching when complimentary or embettermentary. Sometimes we also make up words. 

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

Sabertooth> ‘Perfect Lap’

The Perfect Lap tells the story of the golden age of mountain biking. The story follows renowned mountain biker Matty Miles self imposed isolation and his eventual reconciliation with an old friend, his long lost Stumpjumper Evo. 

Filmed in Canada during the height of the Pandemic, Sabertooth worked remotely with Boldly to realise the film. Sabertooth wrote and co-directed the film. Recognition includes being selected as a Vimeo Staff pick, Vimeo best of the month and  a nomination best of the year in the branded content category for Vimeo and a bronze Clio in the sports category.

Thoughts from Sabertooth

We wrote the Perfect Lap deep into the first wave of the Pandemic. A time when things weren’t looking so good. There were multiple ideas in our heads at the time relative to the moment we were in as well as what was required by the client Specialized.

First it seemed somewhat contrary to come with the message that we are in the golden age for mountain biking during a pandemic, but this message is true as well as giving the audience a glimpse of brightness at the time. 

Secondly the idea of looking back to now felt right. The Jordan doc, 'The Last Dance' had done well and we took inspiration from a few old men past their prime looking back to a moment in time they shared. We happened to exaggerate this but the intent was the same.

Third, it felt right to remind what is often a fickle intended audience; it's never been better to be a mountain biker. Enjoy it, live it, because you’ll look back when you’re old and remember the small moments you lived with friends as precious times.

Overall when we write these concepts we try to leave the audience with something. They are giving their time, we want to hopefully make them laugh, feel something, think about a moment in the film and for Specialized, wrap the product we’re advertising for in some mythology. 

‘Oh Delilah’

A five part epic in which low born Delilah pursues her mission to shred a mountain bike in the year 1774, pastoral England. If only Lord Thomas could understand Delilah he may win her hand. 

Thoughts from Sabertooth

This 90’s import drama was part of the Specialized Public Access channel created to house high concept ideas with low brow production. We shot this with vintage Beta Cameras, going with a soap opera aesthetic. Shoot fast, minimal takes, little fuss for lighting, micro crew but all drama. 

Creatively we rode a fine line between the drama, humour, ridiculous anachronisms in the story. We drove the visual and audio quality down as if the tape had been played too many times in a VHS deck. The idea is to (fairly obvious here) place the story in a different time affording us some leeway in the story itself. We all know this isn’t possible, so we can take the story several places over the five episode arch. 

There isn’t much to say other than this shoot was a real joy to shoot and spun a sequel Oh Delilah in Space. I (Ian) felt even though the idea is completely ridiculous the character’s motivations are real, the story no matter where it went held up. 

‘Yelp Mover’ and ‘Yelp Florist’.

Sabertooth and Yelp collaborated on two comedic spots highlighting the difficult customer experience. Written and produced under a tight timeline, the two spots, ‘Mover’ and ‘Florist’,  aired nationally.

Thoughts from Sabertooth

Yelp had a rough idea regarding the opposite of an ideal customer experience. One where the business proprietor’s time was wasted with uniformed customers. The solve, sign your business up with Yelp for a more informed customer base. We furthered the story by providing context and a backstory to the characters. The overzealous bride to be. The Cat Lady. The indifferent Social Media Influencer. As well as adding the dialogue. 

This was our first true to the form :30 ad where the humour is front and centre. Our usual approach is to bring in humour through subtext or these ridiculous yet grounded situations. This in our experience requires a longer run time.

Casting was key. Production was fairly straightforward. Use the locations to their full extent. The spots tested well and Yelp increased the ad buy and turned them into nationally broadcast spots.

Salesforce ‘Tony Hawk’

Beyond the Quota is a series highlighting people and their insight and perspective into sales and branding. The stories are as unique as the people featured. Tony Hawk, Daymond John, to the COO of Forbes Jessica Sibley. 

Thoughts from Sabertooth

The opportunity to interview a legend like Tony Hawk came with one primary obstacle; to not completely fan boy the entire thing. 

Growing up playing the video games and seeing him on TV it’s easy to assume it all just came easy for Tony Hawk. The episode aims to dive deeper into the origin of his enormous success and the lessons he learned along the way that can help current and future entrepreneurs. 

We were tasked to tell the story of Anthony Hawk the businessman, not Tony Hawk the world famous skateboarder. 

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Boldly, Mon, 04 Apr 2022 10:45:56 GMT