Most of the kids coming into advertising have never had a film class.

They come from Watford, or other purely advertising courses.

They learn to come up with ideas.

But they don’t have time to learn much of the craft of what we do.

The thinking is, the portfolio will get them a job.

The rest they can learn as they go.

But, as soon as they write a good script, they’re expected to oversee the shooting of a commercial.

How does that work?

The director, the producer, the editor, the sound engineer, are all professionals.

How can a junior be overseeing them?

So, at our agency, we used to run film classes once a week.

For the juniors, or anyone else who was interested.

Just to learn the very basic grammar of how a film’s put together.

Starting with the structure: the master shots.

Then the cutaways and reaction shots (to cover non-continuity cuts).

Then lighting: practicals, chiaroscuro, moulding, etc.

The relationship between 35mm SLR lenses and film camera lenses.

Picture editing, using non lip-sync shots so we can re-edit dialogue.

Sound editing to cover multiple shots, different days, different locations.

Once you understand the basics you can also write scripts that are way beyond what you have in the budget.

Because you can suggest ways of shooting that will get around set builds, locations, weather days, overtime, etc.

The mechanics of putting a film together adds another dimension to your creative possibilities.

So, with all that in mind, we’d have a film class one night a week for 6 weeks.

You’d had to watch the film before the class.

Because we needed to get the story out of the way.

So we could concentrate on the purely technical aspects, and stop and start the film for discussion.

Without any grumbling.

So we’d start with the most basic: High Noon with Gary Cooper.

Filmed in real time.

So a minute on film is a minute in the story.

The camera keeps cutting back to the clock to build tension.

Mournful cowboy soundtrack linking close-ups and landscape shots.

Contrast the shadows on the set with the shadows the light sources should be making.

A great movie to learn the basics.

Next would be a Hitchcock, personally I think Psycho is great, you  learn so much about editing.

But Suspicion is great for learning how to use the camera to let the audience mislead themselves.

Then probably Triumph of the Will, Leni Riefenstahl.

A piece of propaganda, and a boring film, but a great place to learn film rhetoric and its use in advertising.

Then Onibaba, a Japanese film that uses the soundtrack as one of the most important elements in the film.

Probably no one but Kubrick uses sound as well.

Then Battleship Potemkin to show non-narrative editing.

The mood you can create by arranging shots in a montage, instead of a simple continuity of action.

Then usually ending with Touch of Evil by Orson Welles.

Showing how to break the rules once you’ve learned them.

A murder that takes place as just shadows on the bedroom wall.

Another murder that takes place just as sound, over a walkie-talkie.

Orson Welles is one of my heroes.

But what you like and what you respect isn’t always the same thing.

And, so none of those great films are in my personal top ten.

They are just my subjective choices.

They might be films that remind me of different times in my life.

But they’re films that I’ll always stop whatever else I’m doing to watch.

Films which, if they’re on TV, I can’t switch off in the middle of.

So, sorry if they’re a bit obvious but, in no particular order:


Midnight Cowboy


Lock, Stock.


Big Lebowski


Full Metal jacket


The Unforgiven


Richard III (Ian McKellen version)


Oh What a Lovely War


Lawrence of Arabia


The Rebel (Tony Hancock)


And anything the Marx Bros ever did