David Reviews

 It's the work, stupid.

DED CERTS.
13 September 2018

The first question to answer when considering DED is this: what does it stand for? Not in the mission statement sense, but in the literal sense: what do the D, the E and the other D stand for? The answer tells you a lot about the approach you can expect from co-founders Mark O'Sullivan and Harvey Ascott because it stands for Dog Eat Dog. Gulp!

Crowded around a small table in a Soho bistro with Mark and Harvey, as well as Alex Tate, head of film, and Imogen Allen, who is looking after the start-up's sales and PR, an inquiry about the name draws a straight-forward response from Mark O'Sullivan: "it's definitely dog eat dog out there at the moment, and people better get used to it" he says with a satisfied smile on his face. He doesn't need to say that he's ready for the scrap, it's self-evident.

It's a description that fits the current UK production scene because of the way companies are adjusting to an ever-changing landscape with their elbows out, but it's true in a broader sense as well... politics, business and public discourse are all going through a singularly combative phase. While 'Dog Eat Dog' is a tongue-in-cheek comment on that, O'Sullivan feels that because the abbreviation DED is "less of a mouthful", it's more likely to be their preferred moniker as they push awareness of their brand. So DED it is.


Even though - technically - they only launched in early September, DED have hit the ground running and their first job has already made its way on to David Reviews. It's an ad directed by Kevin Castanheira for Marshall Speakers' alternative to the Amazon Echo and it's a great film to get DED off the mark.

The day we met was the last of Harvey Ascott's twenties, and he looks even younger than that. He has the slightly distracted air of someone who might have left the gas burning on his hob and is wondering whether to nip home and check. The difference in age and experience between the two is very clear but it would be a mistake to think of Ascott as the junior partner in any other sense. He is every bit as driven as his combative partner.


If it's got a camera and a story, we're getting involved in it.

 ”

Ascott's love of film began at the age of 12 when he began making shorts. He took his first commission to Cannes when he was 18... and that's the Film Festival in May, not the advertising industry wankfest in June. Since then he has worked on a wide range of productions, including three feature films and a short film called Shok, which was nominated for an Oscar in 2016.

Ascott seems happy to let O'Sullivan speak for the both of them, an arrangement that certainly suits his Donegal-born partner who has a lot to say... much of it very interesting.


1. Jeffrey Darling



DED must be thrilled to have Australian director Jeffrey Darling on their launch roster. He is rightly regarded to be one of Australia's best commercial directors and must be just about the only one who has films in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.





Mark O'Sullivan cut his teeth as a producer during the industry's halcyon days of the 1990s. He was at Partizan for a while but most recently he was Global Executive Producer of Believe Media in the US.

It was from this vantage point that he observed the changes washing over the industry and began figuring out the best strategy for operating in the new climate.

He feels that the industry is reverting to the producer-led model of the 1980s: "In the 1990s, this was very much director-led business, but I think the business is changing. Clients require a safe pair of hands. And it's producers are who are trusted in this business... people come to us with projects and say: 'who have you got or who can you find me?' or 'We only have this amount of money. Can you solve my problems?'"


2. Anders Jedenfors



Director Anders Jedenfors is one of two Swedes on DED's roster. Like Harvey Ascott, he developed a passion for movies while still at school, and began making documentaries from a young age. He studied art in Edinburgh before embarking on a career as a commercials director.





According to O'Sullivan, agencies are already shifting their priorities: "a lot of the time, agencies are not after a specific director and this is going to create a new breed of production company."


In the 1990s, this was very much director-led business, but I think the business is changing.

 ”

Clearly, as far as its founders are concerned, DED are an early example of this. And adaptability is central to the new model: "We are working in areas other than commercials, we obviously do content. Both those now bleed into one another, whether it's online or whatever. But we have to look beyond that."


3. Kevin Castanheira



US director Kevin Castanheira is an established commercial director with a diverse range of filmmaking talents - making a name for himself in both the sports film world and the arenas of fashion and music promos.


'Beyond that', says O'Sullivan, means feature films and television: "We are currently negotiating rights on about four different projects. In fact, we had a very good conversation yesterday for our first TV show. I can't talk about it yet, but it's with a large studio and it will be more than likely shot here in the UK."


We had some minor success with branded entertainment nearly a decade ago, but we were a bit too early and we didn't have the right resources.

 ”

"Myself and Alex have produced numerous feature films over the years, so that's something that we will also do," continues O'Sullivan, "to survive in this marketplace - in this dog eat dog world - one has to have more of an offering. And when times are bad, one needs to be able to pull on other resources, which is whether it's TV or film, or whatever."


4. Daniel Skoglund



Daniel Skoglund's work has such a distinctive look that it can truly be claimed that he's created his own unique visual universe. Mixing live action and in-camera FX, Daniel moves effortlessly between genres ranging from luxury to fashion and cars... and always to great effect and with maximum impact.





Alex Tate points out that he and O'Sullivan have had their eye on future developments for some time: "We had some minor success with branded entertainment nearly a decade ago, but we were a bit too early and we didn't have the right resources. And I don't think we were the right people to do it."

"People weren't ready for it," adds O'Sullivan.

But Tate is convinced he has a clearer notion of the proposition now than he did then: "ultimately, the commercial does stop the entertainment. If we can find a way to seamlessly integrate - which is the dream - the message into the entertainment, then everybody's a winner."


5. Paul Dektor



South African-born Paul Dektor learned the art of filmmaking from a young age, growing up around camera equipment and on film sets with his director father. This sparked a lifelong passion for storytelling, which Dektor has honed into a successful commercial career.





The existential threat to broadcasting comes from the possibility that the traditional means of distributing content will unravel in the same way that the music business's did in the era of Napster. A change which fundamentally altered the financial equation.

One way of dealing with this danger is for brands to move closer to the creative process and Mark O'Sullivan cites a clear example of this already happening: "Smart and aggressive brands have done this... look at Red Bull, they own the extreme sports market. No one can touch them. And no one would even try, because it's going to fail."


We're not out to fuck anybody or do any damage to anyone at all, but at the end of the day, we all have to make a living and we'll do what we need to do.

 ”

What O'Sullivan and his fellow travellers are signalling is that production companies have to ready to adapt to whatever change comes their way or - better still - anticipate it.

In one way or another, this is a conversation that's happening across the business. No amount of longing for the past to return is going to shore up the traditional model but for companies like DED and for their forward-thinking founders, this spells opportunity... which brings us back to where we started: "We're very fair people, we are really." there's no wry grin this time, O'Sullivan means it, "and we're not out to fuck anybody or do any damage to anyone at all, but at the end of the day, we all have to make a living and we'll do what we need to do."

For more on DED, contact Mark O'Sullivan and see if you can get a word in edgeways. He's available on 07710 049028 or via email at mark@dedpro.co or you can get Imogen Allen on 07544 383755 or imogen@dedpro.co.

Alternatively, you can take a look at their David Reviews profile which has links to work by all of the directors on their roster, or visit their own website.

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David Reviews - Lovely Lenzie Ltd, Woodbourne House, Seven Sisters, Lenzie, G66 3AW. Telephone: +44 141 776 7766. Editor: Jason Stone.