Stephanie Apt Makes the Final Cut

By Brett McKenzie Posted on Jan 30, 2018

Industry veteran leads ADC 97th Annual Awards Motion & Film Craft jury

The ADC 97th Annual Awards — one of the oldest and most respected accolades in the design and advertising worlds — has always prided itself on its spectacular juries. For the fifth straight year, we have put forth a gender-balanced collection of extremely talented men and women who will ultimately decide who will take home an elusive ADC Cube at Creative Week this May.

Each of our ten juries is chaired by a particularly outstanding industry star — and in the case of our Motion & Film Craft Jury, the star of note is none other than Stephanie Apt, President and Founder of Final Cut USA.

Ahead of the entry deadline, we sat down with Stephanie to discuss the evolution of the industry throughout her career, what campaign moved her the most over the past year, and the strides women have made to be acknowledged in a male-dominated field.


Jobs in this industry aren't usually the type that kindergarteners talk about when they say what want to be when they grow up. What was your inspiration for getting into the crazy world of advertising and film?

I think I was reading novels before I could walk. I loved the world of literature at a very young age. I would discover an author and just go with it. I remember re-reading F.Scott Fitzgerald in my twenties and thinking “Oh, that's what that was about!” Perspective changes in life!

Then I found theater, and film. Performances and interpretations mattered. Advertising and making commercials was where art met commerce. I could see a film or a play, admire the direction, cinematography, an actor’s performance, whatever... and then see how that could be applied to a commercial. It was a “pinch myself” kind of discovery! You actually got paid to work with some of the greatest talents in the universe.

What inspired you to break out of the agency world and start the US offices of Final Cut? What were some of your early challenges, and how did you overcome them to thrive and grow? ?

It was the desire to do something entrepreneurial. I was ready for a new challenge in which I could take years of observations about the kind of culture I wanted to work in and build and finally do something about it. I worked on many productions and spent time in many edit rooms, and I was fortunate enough to meet editor Rick Russell, and the whole team at Final Cut London.

I oversaw production of so many global advertising campaigns, and we were sending our creative teams from New York to London to sit with some of the best editors in the field. I saw an opportunity and a business model of bringing these remarkable editing talents to the states instead. Final Cut was interested in entering the US market. It was from there that Rick and I began to discuss the possibility of opening Final Cut in the US. It was the perfect example of meeting the right person at the right time.

After more than a decade on the agency side, it was a wonderful opportunity to partner with a very creative group of editors and build something from the ground up. It has been humbling too. It’s a world where the buck stops with you. No one else is going to send a memo telling you what is going to happen next. In a business which is about people, the culture and team’s commitment is of paramount importance. You are a conduit to creating an environment that is both secure and challenging at the same time. This equilibrium is always in flux as are the human beings within it. What you say is less important than what you take the time to hear.

Technology has certainly changed since you opened Final Cut on American shores in 2001. Social media wasn't around back then. No YouTube, Vimeo or other easy online access to video content. Films can be shot on a smartphone, and powerful editing software can fit on a laptop. But what hasn't changed in all of those years?

Quite simply, the beauty of craft and a story well told.

There’s something that is so magical about hearing “you made me laugh,” “you made me cry,” or “how did they do that?” but perhaps most special to me is “I know how that feels, but you just made me see that differently.”

In some ways, that seems even more important now than ever.

"There’s something that is so magical about hearing “you made me laugh,” “you made me cry,” or “how did they do that?” but perhaps most special to me is “I know how that feels, but you just made me see that differently.”"

The ADC 97th Annual Awards represents the very best work of the past year. Can you give any examples of work you've seen in 2017 that made you drop your jaw and say "wow, I wish I had done that!"?

I’m really looking forward to judging the Motion & Film Craft category alongside my fellow jury members this year, not least of all, because I am looking forward to being inspired and reinvigorated creatively. It’s been a very strange year in the industry, as well as in the country and the world at large, to say the least. In many ways, it's been a year of tremendous positive change - in the industry, we’re beginning to see the impact of initiatives like Free The Bid (which we’re thrilled is being broadened to include our female editors!), as well as movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up in the broader society (both of which I think have been incredibly well-branded, by the way). On the other hand, however, we’re forced to confront, especially in our industry, the darker undercurrents of populism and nationalism which have sadly taken root in parts of the country and world. I’m sad to say, I haven’t seen nearly enough work take a stand against these forces as I would have hoped this year. The one piece of work which stands out as having really done so for me though is Droga5’s “Truth” campaign for the New York Times, part of which was directed by Darren Aronofsky. I’m optimistic that I’ll be surprised during judging by some more work that shines a light in the dark, something that shakes us up and inspires us to be more daring this year!

As the chair of the Motion & Film Craft Jury, you'll be leading a pretty eclectic group of directors, producers and animators. What sorts of things would you want them to keep in mind while going through this year's submissions?

I would challenge them to select work, of course, that is surprising and original. But I would also challenge the jury to consider work that is beautifully executed, but that does not necessarily mean costly production value. To me, it’s really more about a consistency in the execution that remains true to the voice and message of the piece.

Does the message move you to think differently, learn anything, or most importantly, to take action? 

This is the fifth consecutive year that the ADC Annual Awards has had gender-balanced juries (and I believe that in the case of the Motion & Film Craft Jury, the women just edge out the men!) As a veteran in a traditionally male-dominated field, how have you viewed the progress for women in this discipline?

When I started out, I think there were really good intentions to give women opportunity and responsibility, but the culture of advertising of working 24/7 (and then going out for drinks!) has made this a continually difficult career path for women over the years, who do want a healthy life outside of work, let alone to raise a family. And I feel that I was one of the lucky ones; I had a boss that believed in me and gave me tremendous opportunities early on in my career, and I also have a phenomenally supportive life partner. However, there is still something there, something in the culture of this business that still really needs to change.

But even beyond that basic reality, the progress in this discipline has been slow-going for women. Men have a support system of peers that is well established and entrenched. They give each other opportunities because they are at the table together, part of the dialogue.

I think the change that is significant is that the conversation, the expression of frustration that used to take place between women after hours on the phone, in coffee shops, bars, and behind closed doors, is finally out in the open. It’s happening in offices, boardrooms, and on the streets of cities around the world. It is a conversation that is being acknowledged by everyone, not just women. It’s unfortunate that it’s taken until 2018, but women are finally finding strength in one another, standing up together, and saying, “Hey, we’re here, we’ve been here, and we are talented too!”

"I think the change that is significant is that the conversation, the expression of frustration that used to take place between women after hours on the phone, in coffee shops, bars, and behind closed doors, is finally out in the open."

The theme for the ADC 97th Annual Awards is "where craft will take us". Which direction do you feel the industry is headed in the next few years, in regards to the craftsmanship and artistry of the business?

I do feel like in the world of film and TV, there has been a renaissance of creativity and quality storytelling. Advertising really is a mirror held up to society, that reflects the cultural zeitgeist. Given everything going in the world, politically, socially, economically, we’re under pressure from a lot of external forces to be better; to tell the story well, and to enhance our craft. We are competing against a quality and quantity of storytelling across so many platforms, and if we do not rise to the occasion, we’re going to be swept under. The quality and craft of our storytelling is more important than ever.


The ADC 97th Annual Awards entry deadline has been extended to February 9, 2018



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