Why is commercials filming so popular among film-makers?
The world of TV commercials can mean different things to people at different stages of experience. In brief an established film director may use a TV commercial script to experiment with an idea he has for a film. To a young, first time director commercials are the first stepping stones to becoming a film director. I think commercials are so popular because they are a good vehicle for learning the trade, to experiment and develop new techniques, it can be career furthering and financially rewarding at the same time.
How much creative control does the director have in commercial manufacture, and who, if not the director, has primary control?
Well when all is said and done the product client has the last say. Ideally the ad agency will approach a suitable director for their project. The agency creatives will put forward their idea in the form of a written script and then discuss the script with the director at an early stage. There may be some things in the script that are not possible to do from a director's point of view. This being the case these creative problems will be negotiated between agency and director until a satisfactory answer is found. Now the strength of the working relationship will decide how smoothly the project goes. For example, some directors are renowned for flying off the handle when their creative achievements are put into question by agency creatives. Others may take a more diplomatic view and bow to the clients or agencys wishes because, after all, they are the people paying for the film.
What are the differences between filming conventional narrative productions (ie feature films) and filming commercials?
The two employ a similar systematic structure throughout except that feature films are obviously made on a far greater scale compared to commercials. Taking this scale into account will affect timings, costs and distribution as well as a mountain of legal and contractual concerns.
Speaking about aesthetics: Are there any links between current popular cinematic mise-en-scene and commercials?
Of course. The most recent and well executed I would say as a good example was the Ford Puma commercial which used the original footage of Steve McQueen in Bullet. The thing about this area is that if you want to associate a commercials look or theme with a certain film it can be extremely expensive and there are serious copy write laws to consider. This being the case the bigger ad agencies will sometimes opt for this route as a strong product selling point. i.e. The bigger the better!