Film experts consider The Man Who Would Be King to be one of John Huston’s finest films.
He’d been trying to make it for thirty years, waiting to get exactly the right actors to play the two main parts.
Eventually, he settled on Sean Connery and Michael Caine in the leading roles.
One day during filming, Connery said to Caine, “Have you noticed something unusual about the way John’s directing us?”
Caine said, “No, what?”
Connery said, “Well he isn’t, directing us I mean. He hasn’t said a word about how he wants our characters played.”
Caine said, “You’re right, I’m gonna pull him on it.”
So he went to John Huston and said, “We’ve been on this picture a month and you haven’t said a word to us about how you want our characters played, what’s going on?”
John Huston put his arm round Caine’s shoulder and said, “Michael, you only have to direct an actor when you’ve got the casting wrong.”
I always loved that quote because, for me, that’s how you run a creative department.
It’s all in the casting or, in our case, the hiring.
What Huston is saying is if you get someone who thinks the same as you, someone who wants to do it the way you do, then you don’t have to tell them what to do.
Their inclinations are always what yours would have been.
But if you get someone, however good, who doesn’t think like you, then you have to spend lots of time changing and correcting what they’re doing.
Not necessarily because it’s wrong, they certainly don’t think it’s wrong, but because it’s not the way you want it done.
But if you cast (hire) the people who see things the way you do, you won’t have to persuade, cajole, or manipulate them into working the way you want.
Put the effort in at the front and you won’t have to spend time correcting it later.
For me the casting (hiring) was different to what other ECDs wanted.
I didn’t want talented heavyweight creatives.
As Alf Ramsey said to Jack Charlton, “I’m not looking for the best players, I’m looking for players who can play the way I want.”
So what I was looking for was hungry young creatives who wanted to learn.
Not fresh out of college and looking for fun, but creatives who’d been rejected by other agencies and couldn’t get a job, or creatives who’d been working at a bad agency for a year or so and were desperate for a break.
Creatives for whom work was a lifeline not a chore, who wanted to do a lot of ads in a hurry, ads that would make people sit up and take notice.
Most of the youngsters we hired were northerners, they’d come to London for work not fun.
They didn’t want to go home having failed.
So they had attitude, they had energy, they had the same priorities as me and Gordon.
Did it work? You can judge for yourself by what happened after they left GGT.
Steve Henry and Axel Chaldecott opened their own agency and it was voted Agency of the Decade by Campaign. Paul Grubb and Dave Waters opened their own really successful agency. Damon Collins still has his own really successful agency. Mary Weir became a creative director at Abbott Mead Vickers. Dave Cook went to the US and became ECD and Partner at Mad Dogs and Englishmen. Nick Wray and Chris Bardsley both became award-winning ECDs, and there were lots more.
Of course, getting the hiring (casting) right isn’t always fool proof, nothing is.
But as Damon Runyon said (paraphrasing the Bible), “The race isn’t always to the swift nor the battle always to the strong. But that’s the way to bet.”