For our next Director 101 interview we learn more about Matt McDermott. We explore how he brings animation to real life to create fun and immersive films.
What do you enjoy most about shooting for brands?
Film making is a hugely collaborative art form and probably even more so in commercials. I get the biggest kick from developing and building on ideas working closely with the agency creatives and crew to build on and exceed expectations.
Often by the time the director is brought in the agency have been living with the idea for a
long time and their enthusiasm may of wained for whatever reason - so it’s the director’s job
to inject new life and passion into the project and get everyone excited about it again and
realise why they loved the idea in the first place.
I love working with agency creatives and crew who are all geniuses in their individual art
forms. They’re a doing a similar role as a director in terms of taking a brief and over delivering on it by offering their own creative take on it which often improves and builds on the original
It’s brilliant talking to a team member such as; a client, an agency creative, producer, D.O.P,
1st AD, art director, stylist, hair make up, props, VFX artist, editor, composer or a runner! and
they may throw in an idea and you get that instant buzz of excitement as you know it’s going
to add something extra special or magical to the film.
I think that’s a key role of a director to allow a creative space and ask questions of your team
to encourage them to bring something of themselves to the project. Of course not all of the suggested ideas are used but it’s important to have that creative environment to work in the first place.
Which project has been your most informative to date?
One of the reasons I love directing is you learn something on every project whether it’s
creative problem solving or mastering a new technique there’s always something to take
away from even project which you can use and improve on the next one.
My recent Channel 4 partnership with Nationwide Building Society, Co-op and Network Rail -
‘Together Against Hate’ was a great learning process. We took over an entire ad break during Channel 4’s Gogglebox, the thought-provoking work features real audio recordings and CCTV footage of the verbal and physical abuse experienced by each company’s employees and delivers the important message that violence and threatening behaviour is never ok.
It was a great opportunity and an honour to part of such an important campaign. Working with real people (the employees from the brands) and combining this with a stylised graphic treatment in the set design and how the different forms of abuse were visualised was something I’d never done before.
It was a fun and interesting challenge to apply my visual story telling skills in art direction
and in post/visual effects and to work with real people to tell these shocking real-life stories
of abuse inflicted on public facing staff and to deliver it with maximum graphic impact.
The casting process was key to find the right contributors who we felt the audience would
have empathy and quickly warm and relate to them - this was so important as it made it all
the more shocking when their stories were violently interrupted with the graphic and
shocking forms of abuse.
I enjoyed the challenge of piecing together the edit to make sure it delivered on the overall
message but was also a coherent story thread in the short durations - real people tend not to
deliver TV ad friendly pithy lines so we needed to gently guide them on the shoot to keep
their responses brief and steer them towards the right messages whilst keeping it natural
and authentic. The sections of dialogue we used were the ones that came from the heart, those genuine and natural moments which you just can’t rehearse.
Do you enjoy collaborating with other directors?
I don’t tend to collaborate with other directors when shooting as in co-directing although I’m
always open to new ways of working if I found working with another director made sense i.e.
we’d both bring different skills and creatively which was needed for a particular project.
There is a great community of friends and other directors that I keep in touch with and that
can be a really useful and helpful resource at times. There’s a brilliant WhatsApp group for directors set up by Bugsy Steel where everyone is super helpful and supportive of each other even though a lot of us on there are in competition with each other. It’s good to know that we’re all in the same boat and we can share useful knowledge and contacts etc with each other.
How do you push a script to exceed client expectations?
It’s so important to read the situation on a pitch and after you’ve won a job correctly to gauge
how open the agency are to new ideas and suggestions. 9 times out of 10 they love you bringing new ideas to the table as that’s why they get a director on board in the first place.
Suggesting different techniques and ideas that the creatives may not have thought of is a
really fun part of the process but you have to always keep an open mind and not be too rigid
in your ideas as the process does tend to unfold as you get the crew and other team
members on board.
Film making is a hugely creative and collaborative art form and until you are actually there
on set with the whole team the final decisions are sometimes made there and then which is
often the best to be instinctive.
A huge amount of detailed planning and prep go into my projects such as a Treatment, 3D
Previs, art boards, 3D set design etc but all of that allows you to actually have more freedom
on set to change some things last minute if it’s for the better. It’s important to clearly communicate with the agency and whole team throughout the process and if a new idea or direction presents itself which I feel is an improvement I’ll always look to sell that in with a rationale and always be open to discussion.
Which clients have been a dream to work with?
I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of great clients over the years and the saying, ‘you’re
only as good as your clients’ is so true. The client is a very important team member and of course a key decision maker so it’s so important that you listen carefully to them and make sure your vision is aligned with what they envisioned for the project. Keeping clear communication and keeping them on board throughout the process is always the best way to get the best result for everyone.
I’ve got very fond memories of the BBC work i did through Red Bee Media for the Proms and
BBC Four working with brilliant creative directors and BBC clients who were very supportive
and I’d learned a huge amount from.
Random Acts at Channel 4 were a dream client as they believed in me and my vision for my short film; Gravity’s Law and gave me a great platform to make a film of my dreams!
My recent job with The Gate and McCann Central has been one of the most talented,
knowledgeable and lovely teams from an agency and client POV that I’ve worked with.
What can film do that other other media forms can’t?
Film is the most seductive and immersive of all art forms in my opinion. I for one have been seduced by it from a very early age. When it’s done right you can forget the world around you and your problems and be fully engaged and immersed in the story or images you’re watching.
That’s why commercial film making is such a unique skill to capture people’s attention in a
crowded media space and immerse them in a such short screen times.
It’s the best media to communicate emotion, humour, empathy or mind expanding visuals as
we are reflecting real life albeit a heightened or twisted one which is fully absorbing.
This is a truly powerful tool for a brand to captivate an audience in such an escapist and
Who is the most important and or influential person for you in the world of film right
Jonathan Glazer had the biggest impact on me going back to my uni days. His music video
for Radiohead ‘Street Spirit’ inspired me huge amount and got me to change from Graphic
Design and into Moving Image. Under the Skin just blew me away in terms of a creating a
very artistic and unnerving atmosphere that reminded my quite a bit of Kubrick (another of
my film heroes).
Wes Anderson is a big influence on me as every frame of his work is so beautifully art
directed in animation or film and he adds such a distinctive sense of humour and wit to his
work which is so uniquely him.
I love the collective Megaforce they always blow me away with their inventive and fresh
ideas which are extraordinary and so on point yet down to earth and relevant to
What recent technological innovation has had the biggest impact on your work?
As an escapist treat I’ve been loving The Mandalorian which used pioneering virtual
production techniques using game engine and real time render video walls to create the
backdrops of the amazing worlds of Star Wars. Virtual production - The Mandalorian
Meaning you can shoot a planet surface in doors in a 3D environment at sunset all day and
capture it all in camera (no green screen). This is without a doubt an exciting development for film makers and opens up a lot of new exciting opportunities.
How do immersive forms of filmmaking set to influence your work?
I recently worked on an interesting project breaking out of the traditional TV screen format. It was a collaboration with Territory Studio and McCann Health for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to celebrate their campaign: ‘50 years of innovation living every breath’. The film was specifically designed for ERS International Congress 2019 (European Respiratory Society) in Madrid, using a large Wave Screen, for a fully immersive, sensory audience experience. It showcased the world-leading pharmaceutical company's involvement in developing groundbreaking discoveries in medicine and drugs over the past 50 years.
We wanted to tell the story of these healthcare milestones, whilst taking the audience on a
visceral and emotional ride, celebrating life, human achievements and nature across the
decades. The film later won 'Best Film & Animation' at the Pharma Marketing Society
Awards, which 'celebrates Creativity, Impact and Innovation'.
Do you think filmmakers have a responsibility to make challenging, socially
I believe we do. I love to work on socially conscious work as it’s good for the soul and it’s
important to make work with real depth. I’m very proud of all of the commercial work I’ve made as filmmakers we all know the hard work and creative effort from the whole team that goes into making them.
The two campaigns I’ve made with The Outfit for Channel 4 - Together Against Hate I’m super proud to be a part of. I think it’s very admirable of Channel 4 to give up entire ad breaks space to shine a light on these important issues of online abuse and public facing staff abuse. I believe advertising space should be used more for these kind of subjects and be used to spark helpful conversations around social issues.
My short film Gravity’s Law has a universal spiritual message about our connection to (or
lack of) with nature and life which I believe is helpful for everyone especially with how the
world is at the moment. I made a short film called 'Stone Cold Catwalk’ for The Ministry of Stories 'Monster Monologues' project where they invited disadvantaged students in Hackney (aged 13-18) to write comic monologues for monsters, telling their side of the story.
When inspiration is waning, when creativity is sapped, how do you stay inspired?
I generally go for a walk, a swim, listen to music, go to the cinema (non-covid times), go out
and take some street photography. I love go to a good exhibition - i’ve just seen Unearthed: Photography's Roots at Dulwich Picture Gallery. It has inspired me to take my own still life photographs.
I find sometimes its good to absorb culture that is not directly film related or contemporary,
i.e. listen to a podcast on architecture, buy a book on the Dutch masters or see some art in
different subject matters to what I work in so it gives me a fresh or unusual references.
How do you balance meeting commercial objectives without sacrificing your art?
I think your art comes through naturally in whatever you do creatively, it’s impossible to make
something that doesn’t represent some of your style or taste even if you’re working on a
script which is quite prescriptive.
In advertising it’s super important to pay attention to the overall messaging - usually the
tagline is a good guide to this. It’s the pure idea that counts the most. You need to continually remind yourself what is the meaning of this film and how does a particular performance, technique or other element serve the idea and overall purpose. If it doesn’t ditch it or change it.
What’s your advice for emerging filmmakers wanting to make their stamp in the
Attitude is the most important thing - have a good one! I’ve found with junior creatives, filmmakers, runners and crew working up through the ranks the ones that have a bright, friendly and sparky attitude are the ones you want to help the
You need to have passion for the art, be interested in what’s happening, get involved, ask
questions (but not too many to be annoying) and most importantly make your own work and
get it seen - that’s the only way to learn.
It can take a while to get established (unless you're extraordinarily talented or very lucky) so
you need to be very persistent and determined to take knock backs (probably a lot) on the
chin and not give up.
What are you most looking forward to with your adventure with The Gate?
I’ve been with The Gate for around 6 years now and we’ve already been on a fab journey
together... but as the industry is constantly evolving and changing so do directors and production companies so I’m super excited about the next exciting chapter working with The Gate.
If you have a script that you think Matt would be perfect for then Contact us