Johan graduated from Stockholm’s prestigious RMI Berghs School and began as an assistant director to advertising legends Jhoan Camitz and Fredrik Bond. In 2006 and 2007, he directed “Poliser” and “Labyrint,” respectively, two of Sweden’s biggest drama productions to date. Johan returned to commercial work in 2008, directing Benjamin Bratt, Criss Angel, Corey Feldman and Corey Haim in a powerful and cinematic promotional spot for A&E Network, which earned him two Silver Awards for Best Directing at PromaxBDA. He co-founded Folke Film in that year and has directed campaigns for the likes of Volvo, Electrolux, Kelloggs, Heinz, Opel, Nokia, Holiday Inn, Renault, BMW and Ikea. He has earned advertising’s highest honor—a Cannes Lion.
I was born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden.
It was quite a long way to get there. I started out by studying communication science and film science. I was hoping to work in film in some way, maybe by becoming a film critic or starting up a magazine about movies or something like that, but I didn’t have any connections into the business, so I didn’t really know how to get there. After four or five years at university, I went to a script writing school called RMI Berghs in Stockholm and studied script writing for television commercials. This was sort of the only school for learning how to direct commercials in Sweden at the time. I studied there for twelve months. My first job out of school was at a production company called Mod Film. I started there as a directing assistant, and I assisted a lot of top directors in Sweden. That was sort of my practical film school. I had studied a lot of theory, and I knew a lot about films but just from just watching them. This was a great six months of learning how to do films in real life.
I’m a big fan of film. I’ve watched almost everything. There’s a Swedish director named Roy Andersson who directed a lot of commercials. He started doing commercials probably 30 years ago, but I think some of his best work was done about 15 years ago. I also love his feature film A Swedish Love Story. I think he’s the reason why I started to like commercials. His commercials are works of art. You can return to them and watch them over and over again and still really enjoy them. He was sort of my biggest inspiration. Of course, I also like filmmakers like Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson, but my first big inspiration came from Roy Andersson.
I got my first opportunity to do my first commercial after three months working as a director’s assistant. Back then you used to get scripts on paper. I was working late one night. I was the only one left at the office, and I got this script, and I immediately thought this was a script I would love to do myself. It was for an amusement park. So, I wrote my treatment overnight, and I gave it to a producer the next morning. I told him I really want to do this commercial, and I want to direct it. He was like ‘You haven’t done anything, so it’s impossible. I can’t sell you.’ But I insisted, and we got a meeting with the agency. I had no experience really. I had been on shoots and I had been a director’s assistant for a while, but I hadn’t really directed anything myself. So, I was really inspired by the directors I had been working for. I was casting all the way through the whole process even up to the last night before the shoot. I went to the movies, and I saw this guy while I was there, and I just kept thinking he was perfect for the role. So, I asked him, and he was up for it. So, we changed the cast and went with this guy instead. I think that was a brilliant decision, because that made the commercial very funny, interesting, great and authentic in all senses. That has been a sort of inspiration for me. You should never give up in terms of casting. Finding the right cast has been crucial for me since then. You should never just go with your first choice. You should keep trying as much as you can. That spot turned out really nice, and a couple of weeks after I got a lot of scripts in from some of the leading agencies in the world. I think part of the reason why that spot turned out so well was because I had never done anything before. I did it with my own intuition. I did it my own way. It was a long way to get there, but with a lot of luck and timing it turned out well. It’s so important, in fact crucial, that the first thing you do as a director is extremely good in order to get the opportunity to keep on working. You only get one or maybe two chances to prove that you are a good director.
I think it was more about how exhausting it can be. There was only one character, and we were working with him for two days, 12 to 14 hours a day, and he became extremely tired. He was an amateur, not a trained actor, so he wasn’t used to this kind of tempo. After shooting only two hours on the second day, he had to rest for a few hours. He came back three or four hours later and was up for it again. That’s something you can’t really prepare for. Working with amateurs has a price, but if it becomes really authentic and good, then it’s worth it. That was something I wasn’t expecting. Also, a lot of decisions have to be made almost every minute during a shoot. I think I wasn’t really prepared for that either. You have so many people around you who are waiting for your decisions all the time, so you don’t have the luxury of time. You have to go with your intuition. Even if it’s not the right decision, you have to make one.
I think you should never give up if you feel like this is what you should do and what you believe in. It could be a long way there. Filmmaking is so much about that. If you do short films or music videos with no budget at all, it’s all about the people who don’t give up. It’s about the people who have the stamina to keep on going, and then try it all over again, because there are going to be so many people who don’t believe in you on your way to becoming a director and even when you already are a director. You have to convince both yourself and the people around you all the time that you’re good at what you’re doing. Don’t give up. Keep on doing what you believe in, and try to listen to your intuition. It’s very easy to listen to other people who are more experienced or seem to be better than you are, but if you lose your voice you’ll just become any director. Try to be special.
Well, of course, it’s a mix of everything. Be open for luck, and when it happens, you need to grab it. You need to see the opportunity when it happens, grab it and make the most out of it. Get the momentum going, and don’t think to yourself ‘Maybe next time.’ When it happens, do everything you can to grab the moment. In my case, it was luck that I had to work late at the office that night. It was also the connections that the producer had at the agency, and then the timing was right for me, because it was a low-budget commercial. I got the opportunity, because no one else wanted to do it, because there was so little money. So, I think it’s a combination of all three of these elements.
That commercial was for a lottery company in the Netherlands. We were shooting in Lisbon, Portugal, and I got a call that my first child was born five weeks premature. So, I became a father during that shoot. We were shooting in a restaurant on a beach. The whole crew was extremely happy when we got the news. I was happy, but a bit shocked at the same time. We had a great party celebrating the whole night almost until we started shooting the next day. Everyone was extremely hungover and very, very tired the next day, but we were also very happy. I, of course, wanted to go home, but we had to finish the shoot. This is the shoot that won the Cannes Lion, even though everyone was really tired and sort of hungover on the second shoot day. I did some of my best work ever.
I’m doing various commercials with Hey Baby. I also just finished a short film called The Escape that will be in competition in a couple of festivals. I’m also working on some commercials in Sweden.
I saw an amazing movie a couple of years ago called Laurence Anyways directed by Xavier Dolan. More recently, I really liked a movie called Two Days, One Night.
That’s an extremely tough question, but I think I have to go back to Roy Andersson’s A Swedish Love Story, which really influenced me. It’s from the 70s. I have so many favorites, but if I had to choose one, it’s that one.
Director - Hey Baby