FUNNY BUSI­NESS

Catas­tro­phe star Sharon Hor­gan acts, writes and di­rects – and now she is bring­ing her comedic touch to brands. By Brit­taney Kiefer

Campaign UK - - PROMOTION -

In an of­fice yards away from South­wark Tube sta­tion, Sharon Hor­gan is tak­ing a break from writ­ing the first se­ries of BBC com­edy Mother­land.

Along with that sit­com, the ac­tress, writer and di­rec­tor is jug­gling the type of projects she once hun­gered for: HBO’S Di­vorce, which she cre­ated for Sarah Jessica Parker, will de­but its sec­ond sea­son later this year; and her Chan­nel 4 se­ries Catas­tro­phe is due for a fourth run in 2018. On top of that, Mer­man, the pro­duc­tion com­pany she co-founded with Clelia Mount­ford in 2014, has re­cently ex­panded, adding a branded con­tent di­vi­sion.

Yet Hor­gan re­calls a time be­fore her plate was full when she and her friends tried to get at­ten­tion by film­ing sketches and send­ing them around the in­dus­try: “We didn’t have script com­mis­sions or any­thing, we just had our stupid, funny selves and a cam­era.” Her big break came with BBC Three se­ries Pulling, which she co-cre­ated with Dennis Kelly af­ter catch­ing a pro­ducer’s eye.

“It was an ex­pe­ri­enced pro­ducer who no­ticed we had some­thing to say and were say­ing it in a way that was slightly dif­fer­ent,” Hor­gan ex­plains. “When that kind of thing [be­ing given a chance] hap­pens to you, you re­alise that works, and you want to pass it along.”

With an ex­panded Mer­man, she is on the hunt for new voices – “de­vel­op­ing with peo­ple from the ground up” – and wants to cross-pol­li­nate what has made her suc­cess­ful in TV with the branded en­ter­tain­ment world.

Hor­gan and Mer­man’s search for tal­ent is par­tic­u­larly fo­cused on fe­male di­rec­tors. “We are re­ally push­ing to make a change there,” she says.

Mer­man is not alone in its ef­forts. In the ad in­dus­try, ini­tia­tives such as #Freethe­bid are try­ing to in­crease op­por­tu­ni­ties for fe­male di­rec­tors. But the gen­der gap is still no­table, with only 9% of ads and 14% of films glob- ally di­rected by women, ac­cord­ing to cin­ema ad­ver­tis­ing trade body SAWA.

“There are so many fe­male showrun­ners and fe­male writ­ers, and women who are the whole pack­age and have it all – it’s chang­ing the land­scape of TV so much. So the fact that the di­rec­tor hole hasn’t been filled yet in the same way doesn’t make sense,” Hor­gan says. “I’ve worked with enough male di­rec­tors to know there are great ones out there and there are some that just hap­pen to be do­ing it.”

Hor­gan partly at­tributes the gen­der gap in di­rect­ing to a lack of con­fi­dence – a feel­ing she re­lates to from ear­lier in her ca­reer. “Women feel like they need the en­tire skillset sewn up be­fore they’ll put them­selves out there,” she says. “Whereas men are like ‘I’ll give that a go’, be­cause it’s that in­nate sort of con­fi­dence that comes with hav­ing a dick.

“I’m def­i­nitely more con­fi­dent than I was – but if I had been a male in a po­si­tion I found my­self in a few times, I would have many more di­rect­ing cred­its un­der my belt.”

Hor­gan be­lieves it’s time for the cre­ative in­dus­tries to change per­cep­tions of fe­male di­rec­tors. “Peo­ple see women in more of a ca­pa­ble, moth­er­ing kind of role, whereas for the di­rec­tor thing you need to be hard and make de­ci­sions,” she points out. “It’s not like those aren’t fe­male skills – of course they are – it’s just try­ing to find a way to break through.”

But she is op­ti­mistic, not­ing that the tide has started to turn, with more women in film and TV. One way Mer­man aims to fur­ther this change is by de­vel­op­ing tal­ent from its brand di­vi­sion to pre­pare them for TV roles. And that cross­over will work both ways, with film and TV di­rec­tors at the com­pany tak­ing on branded cam­paigns.

“Any of the di­rec­tors we’ve worked with on nar­ra­tive stuff we hope we can en­tice to­wards branded as well be­cause, at the end of the day, peo­ple just want to make stuff,” Hor­gan says. “Cre­ative peo­ple want to be cre­ative.”

Mer­man aims to ap­proach both non-branded and com­mer­cial con­tent in the same way: “We’re con­cen­trat­ing on try­ing to bring all the sto­ry­telling skills that we’ve learned over the years mak­ing TV. We want to write it in the same way, cast it in the same way. It’s about mak­ing some­thing that we’re proud of, that is funny and watch­able.”

Mer­man is cur­rently work­ing on projects for ebay, Carls­berg and Toy­ota. It also re­cently cre­ated a short film for Sky, pro­duced by Mer­man and writ­ten by Hor­gan, that tells the story of a fam­ily se­cret that is re­vealed at a baby shower. It was di­rected by MJ De­laney, who first gained at­ten­tion in 2010 with a Youtube video spoof­ing the Jay-z and Ali­cia Keys song Em­pire

State of Mind. She has gone on to di­rect ads for Aldi, West­ern Union and Nando’s, among oth­ers. De­laney rep­re­sents the kind of fresh voice that can be ex­pected from Mer­man – a qual­ity that Hor­gan calls “un­quan­tifi­able”.

“It’s that slightly skewed, ‘off’ way of do­ing things,” Hor­gan ex­plains. “It’s about look­ing for peo­ple who have a very in­di­vid­ual way of think­ing or mak­ing some­thing that has a sort of ef­fort­less­ness to it. They’re not try­ing to be that thing, they just are that thing.”

“I’ve worked with enough male di­rec­tors to know there are great ones out there and there are some that just hap­pen to be do­ing it”

Catas­tro­phe: Hor­gan co-cre­ated and starred in the Chan­nel 4 se­ries

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