While audiences on both sides of the Atlantic have for many years and counting been drawn to the work of the directorial duo of Dom&Nic—repped by Station Film in the U.S. and Outsider in Europe—perhaps what’s most remarkable is the varied nature of their storytelling, with content ranging from serious to sentimental, poignant to comic.
Assorted bookends bear this out. For example, consider Dom&Nic’s lauded piece from yesteryear for housing and homelessness charity organization Shelter out of Leo Burnett London. Titled “House of Cards,” the PSA puts us in the perspective of a passenger in a window seat on a high-speed train. At first the view appears to be a typical urban landscape. But as we move past the various houses and blocks, the camera reveals that some are constructed from giant playing cards. Furthermore, several of these houses of cards are falling apart, the cards tumbling off and away in slow motion—accompanied by a melancholy, repetitive piano, synth and percussion score. The effect is powerful and moving, an eloquent visual metaphor for the fragility of the housing situation for many in society. “House of Cards” was rated the second most awarded commercial of 2009 by The Gunn Report.
Fast forward to this past Christmas, by sharp contrast, and Dom&Nic—aka Dom Hawley and Nic Goffey—teamed with Havas London on a sentimental, tug-at-the-heartstrings spot for U.K.’s Heathrow airport. Titled “It’s A Wonderful Flight,” the film chronicles the 50-year-long love story of Doris and Edward Bair, the airport’s much loved teddy bears who were shown in Heathrow’s first Xmas TV ad the prior year (also helmed by Dom&Nic). Set to Petula Clark’s “Couldn’t Live Without Your Love,” the commercial shows a series of tender and charming moments over the decades—from the first day the Bairs met, to family reunions showing us children and grandkids—but always at the same location: Heathrow’s arrival hall.
On the stateside front, sprinkle in comedy, including Dom&Nic’s very first commercial—Nike’s “What Are You Getting Ready For?” out of Wieden+Kennedy, Portland, Ore.—and a Bronze Cannes Lion-winning spot, “Shopping Cart,” for the pro golfers PGA Tour out of GSD&M in Austin, Texas. The latter is part of a campaign which shows golfers in unlikely situations using their golf skills to solve a problem. In “Shopping Cart,” a golfer reads the supermarket parking lot like a putting green, accounts for the wind flow and lets a cart loose, making its way through a pair of cars, avoiding the figurative sand trap, before landing a hole in one, directly into the cart collection area.
Dom&Nic’s American ad work has also extended into the automotive arena with the “Honda Knows” campaign for RPA, Santa Monica, Calif., and Mercedes-Benz’s “Powerslide” from Merkley & Partners, New York.
As for how they’ve managed to become wide-ranging generalists in a directorial world marked by specialists who are often subject to being pigeonholed, Hawley simply explained, “We enjoy not repeating ourselves.”
Goffey noted that even when they get a run of scripts calling for heavy VFX work, it’s their take on the story that helps to differentiate each job. “We try to go into a meeting with agency creatives, giving them something extra. It all comes down to us getting an interesting script and offering something that can make it unique.”
Hawley conjectured that the duo’s roots in music videos may have contributed to being able to attract a healthy range of work. “We had the opportunity to kind of write our own scripts and a pattern emerged before we got into commercials,” he said. “We’d do a Chemical Brothers video that was quite dark. So we’d look for something humorous for the next video. We would do new stuff each time so early on people saw a collection of dramatically different work in style and tone.”
Dom&Nic have had an enduring collaboration with the Brit electronic duo Chemical Brothers over the years, thus far yielding eight videos, including the acclaimed “Wide Open” which garnered a Film Craft Gold Lion at Cannes, Bronze Lions for Excellence in Music Video and for Film Branded Content and Entertainment, and a D&AD Yellow Pencil for Music Video Special Effects.
That relationship took on an ad dimension as Dom&Nic enlisted the Chemical Brothers to do a special version of a track for a new music video-styled ad, “Follow the Rabbit,” for 02 out of agency VCCP London. The piece features a mesmerizing blue rabbit that interrupts people in their everyday pursuits. Folks then intuitively follow the rabbit, facilitating a social campaign in which viewers stay on the bunny trail leading to 02 Priority Tickets to live music at venues across the U.K.
Hawley and Goffey identified another dynamic that has enabled them to take on a wide expanse of creative work—the practical sensibilities brought to the mix by their colleague of the past 20-plus years, executive producer John Madsen.
“It’s not just the two of us. It’s three people,” affirmed Hawley. “John is part of our creative process on every job. Nothing is held back as we explore creative possibilities and the budget we have to realize them. It’s a collaboration among the three of us, with discussions, occasional arguments. John helps us see what makes sense financially, the practical side of filmmaking. He will let us know that we might not be able to achieve our vision a certain way because of budget limitations.”
Dom & Nic first met Madsen, then a young production manager, during their career-opening tenure at production house Oil Factory in London where they made their initial mark in music videos. Hawley and Goffey struck up a trust and rapport with Madsen which continues to this day.
Goffey and Hawley liken their collaborative orientation to that of writer and art director teams at highly creative ad agencies. “You have an art director who writes something, a writer who art directs. By the end of the job, you don’t remember which is which or who did what. They were just creatives making the creative the best it can be. That’s how Nic and I work with each other and with John,” said Hawley. “We are constantly brainstorming, feeding off each other.”