Starting over: From creative director to filmmaker

After almost 20 years in adland, Sarah Clift left agency life behind to become a director. Here, she tells CR how she went about making her first film – and what she learned in the process

It was a birthday present from a friend that inspired Sarah Clift to make a career change after almost two decades in advertising. “It was a pack of pencils, and on the front it said ‘what would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?’ It sat in the drawer for a few months and I hadn’t really thought about it, but one day I saw it and thought, ‘if I could do one thing, I’d make a movie’.”

This was around five years ago. In 2017, Clift released La Madre Buena (The Good Mother) – a charming short about a mother’s quest to find a Donald Trump piñata. The film has been screened at over 80 festivals and won 38 awards, including a Young Directors Award at Cannes Lions. It’s an impressive achievement – and an inspiring story for anyone thinking of making a career change.

ift found her way into advertising after studying design at university. (She initially planned to study painting, but a tutor advised her she’d have a better chance of making a living from graphics or photography.) A trip to Leo Burnett’s offices in her first year sparked her interest in becoming a creative: “We did some workshops with the late Bob Stanners and it really inspired me: I loved the workplace, the building, the briefs … and I was good at coming up with ideas,” she explains. “I also saw advertising as a bit of a challenge. People told me that it wasn’t for women [at the time, there were only a handful of women in senior roles], so I thought ‘right – I’m going to prove you all wrong’.” After graduating, she got a place on Tony Cullingham’s prestigious ad diploma at West Herts College, and within 18 months, had landed her first job in the industry.

GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Central London

SENIOR CAD TECHNICIAN

Old Street, London