Rahul Jauhari
Guest Article

Director's Cut - Creator's Dilemma

As creators and co-creators in this under scrutiny and shared world of social media, we are barely beginning to discover subjects that need discussion. Here is one such subject that has got me thinking...

Let me hark back to just a few years ago when the world was blissfully free of Social Media. When content meant a state of peaceful happiness and sharing was still the act of giving one part of your favourite chocolate bar to someone else.

Advertising, more specifically - filmmaking, was already struggling with rising media costs and the pressure of packing a great story into 30 seconds.

Director's Cut - Creator's Dilemma

Rahul Jauhari

It was quite usual for agency creatives to sell a superb story to a client, then sell the same dream to the director and go forth and shoot a bunch of lovely moments. Which, once you hit the edit table, got sacrificed on the altar of the 30-second (or 20) limit.

The film that finally went on air, while it may have been excellent, didn't carry all that the agency creatives or those the director would have wanted to pack in. Or even the relaxed storytelling they would have desired, given the chance.

The 60/90/120 second cut remained a dream.

The consolation prize was the Director's Cut - a longer, wishful edit with moments that never made it to the released edit that was created and kept mostly by the director on his showreel and the agency creatives in their portfolio. It existed on CDs and few ever saw it aside from agencies, when they reviewed a director's reel or other clients when they reviewed the same at the time of choosing a director to shoot their own film. It was just that - harmless stuff that no one had a problem with.

Cut back to present day; a lot has changed, while some things haven't.

Television spots are now even more expensive. Content means something else. Sharing is no more about chocolate bars. However, in spite of long-format films making their presence felt on the internet, agency creatives and directors continue to pack their relaxed wishful storytelling into 30/20/15-second edits for TV.

The Director's Cut is now, more often than not, shared by directors and production houses on social media platforms to attract the attention of agency creatives, clients and their own fraternity. Or they're uploaded by them and by agency creatives on portfolio websites and agency websites.

A larger world sees it now. And therein lies the problem.

Recently, an ex-client asked me to remove a Director's Cut that we had shared on our agency YouTube page. The reason was that this was published content and shared without their prior permission. Over and above that, it was not the officially released version. This particular uploaded creative piece clearly said 'Director's Cut' in the title, along with the brand name. Like the usual Director's Cut, this was a longer version, with the voiceover chopped and with shots that didn't make it to the shorter edit that was aired on television. The director had shared it on Social Media and subsequently, so did we.

While I took the piece of work off our YouTube page (there was no war here, everything was amicable), it did provoke a lot of questions for me.

To clarify my own doubts, I posted the case on Facebook (no names taken) and sought the opinion of client friends and colleagues. A few of the questions I asked were as follows:

1: Given that content gets shared, does a Director's Cut need client approval before sharing in this age of Social Media?

2: We all understand released work when it comes to TV and Print. How about the internet? If I share work on my or my agency's page, is it released? What differentiates released vs unreleased on the internet?

3: What rights of sharing/ownership does a creator or co-creator have over a piece of work - do note I mean non-commercial rights?

4: Is this being too sensitive over too minor an issue or does this have ramifications of a more serious nature?

I will first thank all the good folk who took the trouble of responding to my post. They have made this article richer with their contributions.

I shall also attempt to sum up the rich spectrum of responses the post received. I have taken the liberty of re-expressing them/summing them up here.

Firstly, what has changed?

Well, for once, the internet has changed everything. Everything uploaded or shared is technically published content. And if one had to go by 'rules,' the client owns the content. The question of course remains, how strict does a client wish to be about this? At one extreme end, when consumers take content published by a client, change it, remix it, create memes out of it and further share/popularise it, is that good or bad for the client? A liberal/progressive client would say it's great.

Do the same rules apply to agencies and production houses (who will invariably preserve the sanctity and essence of the brand message, never mind the edit length) who share a Director's Cut?

All client responses were clear - the brand owns the content. Prior permission needs to be sought. One interesting response was that the longer cut may end up being more popular than the one aired on TV. Why is that a bad thing, I asked (assuming the integrity, sanctity of brand and idea are kept intact). Well, better to be safe than sorry, was the answer.

Interestingly, most of the views expressed by agency folk were on the side of caution as well. If it's going to be shared on the web, better to seek permission. Usually, just the courtesy of asking should be good enough.

Consumers, however, are not paid to create/recreate/share content, so similar rules do not apply to them. Assuming the consumer-created and shared content is not derogatory, any good brand owner/custodian would be myopic not to encourage it - pointed out one of my industry colleagues. However, when it comes to an agency or production house, proud as they may be of the work, they have been paid for the job and hence, cannot enjoy the same freedom a consumer does.

One industry peer termed the issue a minefield that needs to be negotiated carefully. The problem being that unlike the days of the showreel CD, the internet exposes the work to a potentially limitless audience. Chances of the longer cut becoming more popular than the edited one is a reality and it's better to co-opt the client into the same.

Yet another response was that it mostly boiled down to minor ego issues. A longer version, assuming integrity of thought and idea, should be welcomed. The music industry has examples of numerous versions of a song being created and shared by fans and other musicians - the original musicians/bands rarely have problems with that. It only adds to the richness and popularity of the original piece.

While I do not have immediate concrete answers to this slightly grey area, if I pull back, the Director's Cut is merely an example. In a world where everything is content and everyone is posting something or the other, the understanding of who owns the content and how much liberalism is good or bad for a brand custodian, needs to go up. Especially since clients spend more and more money on the medium.

One industry mate, on a humorous note, pointed out that anyway, many clients are running a longer cut on the web, even as the consumer, sitting in front of the TV, desperately tries to figure what flashed by in the last 30/20 seconds. Interesting point - given the debate between media cost and storytelling is one that continues. But that's another long discussion that I shall save for another day and another post. Right now, I have this set of 20 second TV commercials that I must attend to. The deadline is approaching...

(The author is joint president and chief creative officer, Rediffusion)