TREVOR Clarence: 14% Funnier or Bust
26 July 2023
Are great directors born or made? In the case of Trevor Clarence you would have to say it is both.
Trevor Clarence's directorial qualities were evident as far back as kindergarten where an end-of-year report noted he would ‘get other kids to act out scenes from his favourite TV shows’.
Not to mention the short film he made at sixteen, for which he built an entire set on its side in his bedroom.
Flash-forward a few decades and the Trevor we find today is a seasoned and admired commercial director boasting a reel packed with lateral comedy gold that sells. He loves making ads and people love making ads with him.
Which is almost how he imagined it would be.
‘I always dreamed of making movies and my ‘realistic’ career path was to become a copywriter. Along the way I did stand-up comedy, became a yoga instructor for a brief moment and I guess I’ve landed somewhere in the middle of it all.’
So, what is his secret? What makes the current incarnation of Trevor Clarence such a success?
‘I think my thing is just being a good director and crafting crafting every aspect as well as I can.’
Beyond that, Trevor says he can make an idea 14% funnier by finding the joke and figuring out how to tell it really well. He also has a sharp eye for truth in a performance and a notable physical reaction when it’s not there.
‘When someone is not believable, my butthole clenches up. So I work hard to keep a relaxed butthole on set.’
It’s an intuition Trevor has honed through experience, which - as with so many of the best in any creative field - has been his greatest teacher.
‘The only job I’ve ever had on a set is directing, which is great because I got to start early and learn fast. But I am jealous of directors who came up through an agency or crew and got to see other directors at work - I always wonder - Is this how other people do it?’
Whether they do or not becomes irrelevant the moment you start watching his commercials. The humour is absolutely top-shelf, and he can do it in any shade you like. He casts with the eye of a master and extracts supremely funny performances, seemingly at will. Just try to watch his Stimorol ‘Face-Off' and KFC ‘Honest’ spots without laughing.
“Those were two times I really got to make the films I wanted to make. The budget and script were there, and the agency trusted me to run with it."
Something else you soon notice in Trevor’s work is that his ‘14% funnier’ claim is no lie. He really can make a joke better. Like in his hugely popular KitKat Katapult spot where he takes a simple truth-of-life and sends it into the humour stratosphere.
“People love that ad,” says Trevor. “Me too”.
Among the many strings to Trevor’s bow is the general vibe he brings to a project. He describes it as ‘joyful intensity’, which is quite different and certainly more productive than other, less positive kinds of intensity.
“In my early days, whenever I got too worked-up my producer would say: Calm down, we’re not saving lives, it’s just an ad.” I’ve learned that it’s always good to keep good vibes. Let’s just chill out about what pants the extra is wearing and make something fun.”
Speaking of pants, Trevor has some sage advice for clients too.
“Nobody takes your brand as seriously as you do, so have some fun. Just because you wouldn’t paint a living room wall green, doesn’t mean the character in our commercial can’t. They’re not ‘the embodiment of your core customer’. They are characters, they need to be interesting. Let us choose what pants they wear. Getting a board room of people to agree on their pants is not going to make a better ad, I promise.”
Sentiments that any director worth their salt would wholeheartedly endorse. Not that Trevor is complaining. Just the opposite, actually.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have many of my advertising dreams fulfilled. I’ve won awards, and I’ve made lots of work I love. I’ve flown all over the world and worked with amazing people while being treated like a little prince and earning enough money to take a few months off now and then to work on long-form projects. There’s no better job in the world for me and I’m super grateful for all of it.”
So, where to from here? Which unscaled filmic peaks await the all-conquering talents and marvellous wit of one Trevor Clarence?
“I just want to make some really funny stuff,” he says. “Like actually funny. Laughs, not smiles.”
A virtuous aim, indeed. And you would have to wager that Trevor is 14% more likely than anyone else to achieve it.