How branded film became “woke”

Posted 27/01/2024

Introducing Curate Films – a new production company with collaboration and curation at its heart, focusing on a new style of branded content.

What unites the Somali female boxer, Ramla Ali, Techno and Michel Gondry? The answer is Curate Films.

Set up by Madeleine Sanderson, Curate has generated significant attention after it was announced that it would be making a film about the Muslim female boxer Ramla Ali and her bid to be the boxing world champion. Ali fled war-ridden Somalia and fell in love with boxing when she arrived in the UK as an asylum seeker.

London-raised Ali , with her gentle demeaner and steely determination is sponsored by Nike and was on the cover of Vogue after Meghan Markle identified her as a “Force of change” in that guest edited issue.

Ali’s story is a typical Sanderson spot – an ability to find a human story which is unusual, compelling and driven by a new style of protagonist. Backed by Film4, it will be co-produced with the Oscar-nominated The Favourite producer Lee Magiday and directed by Emmy Award winning documentary maker Anthony Wonke (Syria: Children on the Frontline).

It was the Ali film which first alerted me to Curate films and an upcoming project on techno and the fall of the Berlin wall which really piqued my interest.

Other Theatrical releases they have been involved in include: a feature doc. Being AP, about the jockey AP McCoy, and their latest film: Fighting for a City tells the story of Josh Warrington, the Leeds boxer. The latter directed by the rising duo Greg & Jacob on roster. These are stories which really identify passion, inspiration and powerful protagonists.

But now Sanderson has been reunited with Dan Dickenson, from their days working at Partizan, where Partizan won a great deal of awards. They signed and nurtured some of the biggest global talent in the industry and are excited to repeat the same, but in a slightly more evolved capacity.

Curate already boasts an impressive roster of longer form directors, for branded work including Iain Morris (The Inbetweeners) and Christine Gernon (Gavin and Stacey). Coupled more traditional shorter form directing stars such as Elizabeth Orne, Steffen Haars, Emily Macdonald and Kes Glozier.

For Sanderson, Curate Films, is a return to her roots and her passions for nurturing talent. At Partizan where she worked as MD for 19 years and represented and developed directors such as Michel Gondry and Michael Gracey, Traktor and Antoine Bardou- Jaquet. During her tenure, Mr Oizo’s Flat Eric was born for Levi’s, the Honda cog ad became the most famous car ad of all time and Partizan won production company of the year 2000 and 2003 and a Palme d’Or in 2003.

Dickenson decided to leave Merman in June, is also renowned for discovering new talent, such as directors Joe Kosinki – who was then an architect, Nima Nourizadeh and Ruben Fliescher – several of the music video directors he signed went on to direct major movies such as Zombieland, Tron and Project X. Dickenson is reunited with Sanderson after their four-year spell together at Partizan, where he headed the music video department ,that won over 50 awards including 22 MTV awards, 2 Black Pencils, 8 Yellow Pencils and several other industry accolades.

“We want to work alongside agencies and brands in developing interesting long and short form branding, whether attaching brands to our own content, or developing formats to work alongside their existing advertising,” he explained.

The two are at clearly in tune as they dart from subject to subject with enthusiasm. I wanted to find out more about Curate Films and met them in Soho’s Blacks club, the club founded in 1764 by Dr Samuel Johnson for wayward bohemians. They pondered corruption, celebrities, stories they are trying to firm up and possible formats. It is clear they have a genuine flair for storytelling, vibe off each other and understand how brands can capitalise on their assets by tapping into mainstream formats.

Founders of Curate

Madeleine Sanderson and Dan Dickenson

So far, Sanderson and Dickenson have already worked in collaboration with VCCP to make two pilots for Cadbury with the team from First Dates to make “Families Reunited.” One episode follows a father trying to become a mountain biking pro to impress his son. Rob Clifford the series producer has come on board to lead creative development on this project and others.

The move into long form branded content is a natural move and the popularity of streaming platforms (Netflix has exceeded 148 million paid subscribers globally) promises to bring in a golden age of branded film. Brands are no longer constrained by creating ads only for social platforms but are now looking at long form video content such as documentaries series or films. A survey of 17,000 people by Time Inc found that 90% of consumers liked custom content from brands; especially Gen Z enjoyed branded stories as a way for brands to engage with them.

Curate Films has capitalised on this shift, by presenting itself as production company with collaboration and curation at its heart.

“We’re an open and collaborative production company with an eye for talent, a knowledge of what is required and how to achieve it,” said Sanderson and if past records are anything to be judged by, these curators will no doubt create a winning formula.


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