Icons+Innovators

Francois Chilot

President,
Young Director Award

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For 27 years the Young Director Award has been a staple part of the Cannes experience, and for 27 years Francois Chilot has been at the YDA’s helm, steering it through changing times, evolving platforms and fluctuating attention spans.

Chilot began his career on the agency side, working as Director of Productions at TBWA in Paris. In 1984 he opened his own production company, Les Producers, and, by 2000, the company was listed by the Cannes Lions as one of the 10 best production companies in the world.

Since the YDA came into existence in 1998 it has been at the heart of the fringe element of the Cannes Lions festival, showcasing and championing the next generation of advertising filmmakers. For many years, in fact, Chilot and his small but dedicated YDA team, has looked beyond advertising, understanding that the industry, and those who work within it, exist beyond its own previously narrow confines. The YDA has increasingly embraced film, television and branded content making it an even more diverse showcase of global work and talent.

Under Chilot’s stewardship, the YDA has seen innumerable talented directors’ work showcased to audiences in Cannes and beyond and, as a true champion of new directorial talent, Chilot is undoubtedly one of the industry’s icons.

What’s your favourite piece of work from the last 12 months?

The film that immediately comes to mind is Apple’s 1984, by Ridley Scott. However, I am very aware that this isn’t answering the question and this isn’t even within the last 12 years! Nevertheless, I find myself thinking about this iconic film, even 40 years later. George Orwell was a visionary, with a real discernment for society. This film marked the beginning of a new - technologically speaking - era: the digital era. I think this film parallels the current situation we find ourselves in as an industry and society now, with the rise of AI. This iconic film showcases cinema as an art form, demonstrating that directors are more than craftsmen—they are true artists. Similarly, the films submitted to the Young Director Award are not only beautifully crafted but also stand out as beautiful works of art.

How long have you been coming to Cannes, and what’s your fondest memory of the festival?

I’ve been coming to Cannes for more than 40 years. My fondest memory is after years of discussions with Cannes Lions regarding the Film category, where there wasn't a single producer or director around the judging table—only agencies. They finally introduced a new category called Film Craft which was supposed to only include producers and directors as members of the jury. I said to Terry Savage [former Cannes Lion Chairman and CEO] at the time that it was better than nothing, especially because I do not think that the title of this category (Film Craft) fully conveys this notion of artistic vision. A film should not simply be described as being ‘well executed’ or ‘well crafted’. Films should be spoken about in a way which reflects the following truth: cinema is the seventh art. However, I was honoured to be one of the first producers invited as a juror to judge this category. Moreover, both personally and professionally, I cannot forget the millennium in Cannes when, thanks to the talent and hard work of my partner Rikke Katborg, Les Producers was honoured to be included among the top 10 best production companies in the world.

Are awards important?

Yes I do think awards are important! They are the primary way to mark and recognise filmmakers’ work and success. It is a significant achievement which allows you to progress, if not towards fame, at least towards a very successful professional life. This is exactly why, with the CFPE [Commercial Film Producers of Europe], we created the Young Director Award in 1998, to provide young filmmakers with a platform on which to launch their careers and go from success to success.

If there was one thing you could change about the advertising industry, what would it be?

I would do whatever is possible to stop the very unfair competition between agencies and producers that arises due to in-house production companies. As producers, one of our primary roles is to discover, promote and nurture directors. As production companies, we constantly invest in the development of talent. This is in our DNA. If we don’t do this, we don’t evolve, and we die. Agencies and production companies, however, do not have this same DNA. It is very well known that agencies do not invest in developing new directors. They use the talent which production companies have developed. Agencies are, at the same time, “juges et parties” as we say in French. They threaten the potential for young talent to flourish. This is unfair not just to young talent, but to brands and to production companies. This imbalance of power and imbalance of responsibility has to change.

Who or what has most influenced your career?

My first - and only - two bosses most influenced my career. Jacques Lowe, an American journalist in Paris, and the personal photographer of John F. Kennedy, gave me a broader view of how one image can convey a message, concept, and idea, impacting the artistic mind. This was my first step into the business of art. Bill Tragos, the founder of TBWA, also played a crucial role. I joined TBWA six months after its creation in Paris and stayed for 13 years, growing with the agency, whose influence had already extended throughout the world by this time. TBWA taught me everything I know about advertising. Its global outlook and outreach reflected my own multicultural mindset, which I adopted in the creation of the YDA. Bill personally inspired me through his courage in his convictions and his determination. Both men gave me an entrepreneurial spirit, and for that reason I founded my own production company in 1984.

What piece of work makes you think, ‘I wish I’d made that’?

Apple 1984, of course, to return to my response to the first question. Obviously, after 40 years in this business, there are countless more! By creating YDA in 1998, every year I have had the privilege of watching multiple films by new directors. Each year, I watch several films where I find myself thinking, ‘I wish I had produced these!’. I do hope that we will succeed in developing YDA even further than we already have, embracing the richness of different cultures from around the world, offering an indispensable artistic perspective, and discovering unknown talent, providing worldwide exposure.

Tell us one thing about yourself that most people won’t know.

My father was a doctor who used to say he was lazy, but I could never understand this since he was always working around the clock. I have embodied this attitude of always being ‘on the go’: mentally, physically and professionally. In that sense, I am torn between wanting to be lazy and having to face the responsibilities of daily life. I would love to dedicate more time to my family and to myself. However, it is extremely difficult to find those moments of peace in adult life. Yet the passion for what I do is what keeps me going. Additionally, in that sense, I’m much more emotionally minded than business minded, which has allowed me to embrace my artistic and creative side throughout my career, but has not allowed me to become a millionaire!

Icons+Innovators

Over the course of this week we will be celebrating some of the people who are at the heart of advertising's creative landscape, those who - whether creatives, directors, producers or other craftspeople - have made a lasting impact on the business.

Alongside specially commissioned portraits, taken by photographer Julian Hanford, we will be asking our subjects about the work they most admire, both new and old, what Cannes means to them, and what they might change about the industry if they could.

This interview series was created with

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