The holiday season is fast approaching, and with it, the rollout of holiday ad campaigns.

For this year’s “Reinvent Giving,” campaign, HP and their agency BBDO, early adopters of Free The Bid, were intent on breaking the cycle of hiring from the typical list of male directors who would normally be on-call to bid on such a high profile campaign. After using the Free The Bid database, not only was a woman director awarded the job (Rattling Stick‘s Sara Dunlop), but other women directors were taken under consideration based solely on the strength of their work!

A young girl in need of some holiday magic gets treated to an impromptu puppet show, courtesy of a crew of thoughtful (and tech-savvy!) neighbors. Dunlop’s directorial sensibilities take the scene from being simply sweet and whimsical to a rich cinematic atmosphere. It’s a testament to the importance of a masterful director’s vision.

After graduating in Film from the University of Westminster, Sara was soon named one of the Top 25 Directors to Watch by Creativity Magazine. Through her work, she demonstrates a particular affinity with cinematic realism, full of authenticity and beauty. She has a gift for narrative storytelling, with inspired casting and performances across her work. Sara has chalked up an impressive array of brands and productions on her reel. From Levis, Virgin Trains, Vodafone, Sky and TFL, Sara brings an effortless quality to her films and shows a real flair for big ideas.

We had the opportunity to speak to both Sara and the creative directors at BBDO SF who worked on the campaign, Jakub Szymanski and Alex Stainton – read on for the full interview!



How do you approach the initial stages of working on a shoot like HP’s “Reinvent Giving”? Can you describe your process of creating a treatment and getting started?

The treatment is very important to me. It is like the blueprint for the whole job. From the general tone to casting, narrative structure and locations, I try to paint a picture of the world I would like to create. On “Reinvent Giving,” the creatives had written a really sweet emotional story already, so I felt my job was to help make the timeline a little more coherent and add some subtle nuances to how the story would play out. Once I got the job, the first part of the process was to start designing the puppets immediately, as we knew this would take 3 weeks… and the clock was ticking.

What qualities spoke to you about this creative brief? What were you hoping to convey on this shoot?

I have sometimes shied away from festive advertising but there was a heart to this story, that I believed I could do in a non-schmaltzy way. I was immediately interested in creating connections to the characters… the challenge being these characters never actually appear in the same space together, but I thought I could do it in a delicate, sweet way.

What was the importance of casting for this shoot?

Casting is everything in a story like this. I mean, you know, the 6 year old girl had never acted before. I wanted to find a kid who had a playful innocence and spontaneity, and I found this in Florence. With the other characters, I felt that there was something in the main HP girl, because she sees herself in the little girl and I was hoping this would resonate in the story. With the puppeteer, it is easy to have an image of what that person should look like, but I think we managed to stay away from the cliches.

What were some of the unique challenges of working on this particular campaign?

There was a very specific location brief, a ‘Rear Window’ style logic was needed. But all the apartments were in different places, so we had to work hard to cheat perspectives and to make clear the relationship between the different apartments. The puppets were shot on a green screen in a studio, and part of the interior of the little girls living room. Matching the location with the studio set was another challenge.

Does the finished product differ from your original conception?

There are always things that change through the process especially the edit but I think the film is pretty much in the same spirit as the initial vision in my treatment.

It’s great that you were able to develop a 2 minute version of this spot, which is much longer than advertising conventions typically allow for. How often are you able to develop longer form content for ad campaigns you’ve worked on?

It is becoming more popular for agencies to ask for longer online edits. I think that it works when there is a story that benefits from having more room to breathe and develop. But sometimes, the story doesn’t want or feel right to expand to a longer time length… in this case it felt right.

Let’s discuss your other work! What are some career highlights for you?

Barnardos had a message of strength and hope that felt fresh and original. Real kids and a great charity to boot made it special. Also making my short film, “Dreamlands,” the way I wanted to make it, and from a script I wrote, was an amazing experience. I thought it was a prank call when a man with a French accent called to say “Dreamlands” had been selected as one of 10 short films for the Cannes Film Festival.

What originally led you to pursue work as a director? How did you begin to work in advertising?

Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to direct. I’ve always relished the escapism of the movies. After school, I used to go to the cinema with my brother almost daily, so that my mum could sleep after working night shifts. I finished studying film at Westminster University, and started shooting a few pop promos for my mates. I blagged some equipment and favors, and started making my own spec ads. I got my hands on a script from Eugene Ruane, a copywriter at Saatchi – and that led to a budget Fuji ad that got used. Then Dave Trott was looking for a director for a film on Third World debt, so I cold-called and pitched myself – and landed the job. The production company Annex then got in touch, and the work became more regular.

Are there any kinds of advertising jobs that you’d like to be hired for in future?

I’d like to get more work that is traditionally thought of as “guy” ads. I feel like not many women have made forays into cars, beers, sport, or even men’s deodorant… send me more of those!!

What are some next exciting projects for you? Anything that our readers should look out for?

I’m currently working with W&K Amsterdam and two inspiring young female creatives, who have great energy and enthusiasm. I think they are going to be really great spots. I am also developing my first feature film off the back of “Dreamlands,” and – fingers crossed – that might happen sometime soon.

Free The Bid is committed to advocating for diverse perspectives and points of view. What do you think are some of the benefits to diverse representation on both sides of the camera lens?

Sings : “what the world needs now…” is more voices to help the collective understanding of people’s’ experiences. I think if we can do that (I know this sounds a bit cheesy), we can bring people together. I really think that, in art and film, the more voices we have out there, the greater the understanding will be for everyone.

Anything else you want to share with the Free The Bid audience?

I’m obviously preaching to the converted, but we need to keep working towards creating more diversity in the arts and educating people to understand that positive discrimination is not a leg up. It is about finding talent we wouldn’t normally see, and letting that talent come to the surface.



Can you tell us a bit about how you came up with the idea for HP’s Holiday 2017 campaign, “Keep Reinventing?”


The script came from a couple of our colleagues, Adam Balogh and Jason Moussalli. Our challenge to them was to find an original way to communicate this brand sentiment that we can all create wonder in the world around us. Adam and Jason came back with this lovely, whimsical story. From there, we all worked together to take it from script to finished product. As usual, it was a big team effort.


We loved this idea of showing how technology can have a positive impact in your world. It doesn’t always have to be on a grand scale. It can be through simple little acts of kindness. Especially at a time when some of the tech in our lives, which was designed to better connect us, has actually made some of us feel a bit disconnected. This story of a mini-community coming together and doing something nice for their little neighbor, really struck a chord.

We love the cinematic quality of this spot – what were some of your filmic reference points?


Thank you. It was important to us that it should feel cinematic, so we could be sure to deliver on our client brief to create a story that warms your heart during the Holidays. That’s why we were excited about the opportunity to work with Sara – she does a brilliant job of delivering that blend of real world and cinema.


That “cinematic reality” is a quality we really loved on Sara’s reel. She and Antonio (Paladino, the DP) have worked together on a number of projects, and have really perfected the look. There’s just something about it that feels magical, but manages to steer well clear of any fakeness or cheesiness.

Tell us about Sara Dunlop – what about her reel made you think she was the best for the job? Were you aware of her short film “Dreamlands”?


Sara has a knack for telling powerful, emotional stories in a compact format. And they look stunning. We couldn’t ask for much more than that. On our first call with Sara, we could tell that she totally got it. (Cut to: our team, all silently nodding our heads around a speakerphone). And we were blown away by her treatment. We hadn’t all seen her film, “Dreamlands,” but we’d seen enough to know we were in good hands.

What qualities did Sara bring to the set?


Working with Sara was a lot of fun. She brings this lovely, no-nonsense, unflappable, funny, relaxed-but-somehow-hyper-focused vibe to the process. This whole shoot was a complex puzzle from the beginning, and we were incredibly impressed at the way Sara and her team went about breaking it down and bringing it all to life.


Sara manages the near-impossible task of having a very strong, focused vision, while at the same time being incredibly collaborative with both the agency and the clients, throughout the whole process.

We were blown away by how detail-oriented she was, from the specific art department pieces and designs, all the way to timing every shot with a stopwatch, to make sure the camera moves and actors’ performances were going to work well in the final edit.

What were some highlights of the shoot? How many days did the shoot last? Where did it take place?


We shot in Budapest over 5 days in early September, mainly because of all the incredible, character-filled architecture. It seems every single street is filled with buildings that look like they’re out of a classic movie. Even an average little suburban apartment block…

The highlight was working with our great cast members, especially the little girl, who was a complete pro on set, and charmed everybody. Also, seeing the amazing puppeteering team in action, who had just finished working on the latest Wes Anderson feature.

Since BBDO and HP are both pledged to Free The Bid, what are some ways that you find to amplify the voices of women and diverse populations within your work?


The beauty of the Free the Bid initiative is that it gives all directors an equal shot at pitching a film treatment to agencies and clients. Nothing more, nothing less. If we can apply that level of simplicity to other parts of the industry, we will be well placed to keep making progress. 

We’re fortunate enough to work for an agency and client taking action to put more diverse teams around the table in all areas of the business, and to work within a diverse creative department. On a personal level, it’s about reminding ourselves that we now have a leadership role, and that comes with a responsibility to do our part

What are some additional ways that you think the ad industry could increase inclusivity?


It’s great to see the industry start to take steps towards inclusivity, and being more representative of the real world around us, but we certainly still have a long, long way to go. As we start to see the positive impact of these first steps though, I think that brands and agencies will realize it’s not just the right thing to do, but also good business.


As you would have seen, there are some interesting initiatives cropping up in the wider job market, focused on removing unconscious bias from the process. While we have a long way to go, just acknowledging that it exists is a step in the right direction, because it makes each of us consider our own role in creating a level playing field as we search for that best person for the job.


PHOTOS by Simon Winnall



Client: HP
Title: Reinvent Giving

Agency: BBDO San Francisco
David Lubars, Chief Creative Officer, BBDO Worldwide
Matt Miller, Chief Creative Officer, BBDO San Francisco
Jakub Szymanski, Creative Director
Alex Stainton, Creative Director
Jason Moussalli, Art Director Associate Creative Director
Adam Balogh, Copywriter Associate Creative Director
Amanda Moody, Senior Producer
Louise Doherty, Head of Integrated Production
Rodney Hameroff, Business Affairs Manager
Audrey Melofchik, Worldwide Senior Director
Elana Shea, Group Account Director
Diana Wolff, Management Supervisor
Nivie Roberts, Account Executive
Tim Millar, Chief Strategy Officer
David Murray, Senior Planning Partner
Heidi Keel, Communications Planning Director
Production Company: Rattling Stick/LA & UK
Sara Dunlop, Director
Polly Ruskin, Producer