Interview sponsored by Warpaint Films

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Morgan Spurlock is renowned for having his finger on the pulse of the documentary world. When Spurlock created Warpaint with commercial EP Shannon Lords, he sought to break new ground in branded filmmaking. Empowering a select cadre of notable directors, the company has worked for major national brands to create advertising and entertainment experiences across every platform.

What inspired you to enter the advertising industry?

Sweden’s TV1 and TV2 didn’t have commercials until 1987, if you can believe that. So, we would rush to the theater to see the commercials before the movies, and I remember seeing these great Levi’s commercials. I think it was like when my parents heard The Beatles for the first time. I was struck by it. I was like, this is for me. This is talking to me. I want to be in it, behind it, around it. It was pop culture hitting me. I saw it, and that’s it. Ever since then, I’ve been doing it and nothing else. I found out later that the Levi’s commercials were made by BBH, so I feel I have come full circle.

What was your first job in the ad business?

I was 19 when I attended Berghs School of Communication, which is an amazing school. My first job was as an assistant for this old-school art director who wanted me to search for images for him.

What happened next?

I was lucky to be part of a company that was just starting up. I was an entry-level assistant, and ten years later I was CEO at the same company, which was an amazing ride. The first few jobs we shot were with Traktor, I believe. The Traktor guys were in school a few years ahead of me, so I grew up with them and knew them well.

What do you consider your best work from when you first started out?

The spots that received the most international success were for Rocky Jeans. The campaign was called Bad Idea Jeans. We did the spots with Traktor. We also came up with a concept that is still running in Sweden. It’s a weekly soap opera, and it has won numerous awards such as the Golden Egg. When I left, I think we had done 300 episodes. So, I’m very proud of that work.

Were you also working in the U.S.?

No. I was part of an agency in Sweden, which is now called King. It’s the company I worked at for ten years. Meanwhile, my brother had an interactive agency for ten years in Sweden, and we almost didn’t know that we were in the same business, because interactive hadn’t started to become a part of our industry yet. So, I was coming from more of a traditional place, and he was the computer guy. I was the ad guy, and then all of a sudden we were in the same business. We realized we needed to learn from each other. So, we left our companies and sort of took on the ad world. We were inspired by the Traktor guys and Frederick Bond. It was like going from little league to the NHL. We were hired in Minneapolis and worked there, which was an amazing training ground. After a year, we were recruited to BBH New York to run Axe North America and then Google. That was 2007. Then I went and started the Los Angeles office of BBH. I felt that entertainment and advertising would soon join up, and I wanted to be in LA when it happened.

How has your role changed from when you first started?

I have to say that my role and ambition have not changed much. I think there is more focus on job titles here in the U.S. You see, you can’t really get fired in Sweden. I don’t know if you knew that. Here in the states, people are very concerned about losing their jobs, but in Sweden the focus is more about what you can do with your job and the decisions you make on the job. I am responsible for more people now, and I have more responsibility overall. I think my title has been changing over time, but it has also sort of remained the same. It’s about coming up with a great idea and delivering it in great ways that make people love it.

How is BBH LA different from other agencies?

BBH LA is a projects only agency working in the intersection of technology, entertainment and advertising. The epicenter for these three is in Los Angeles. With the backing of BBH, I was able to start the BBH LA office based on what I’ve learned from my whole ride, so to speak. I try to keep a very flexible organization here by hiring people with multiple talents and not creating separate departments. We are all creative, and I try not to divide us into departments. I think that’s something that obviously comes from Sweden. It’s more about the group of people trying to make something great together while their different backgrounds and training come into play. I think that’s the future of leadership, to be honest. So, that has certainly changed. It used to be that the only way to get an idea through was to be a bit of an asshole creative director, you know? But those days are gone, because you need to have people follow you as opposed to forcing them to do things, because no one can do anything without collaboration nowadays. That leadership role has completely changed. Now it’s about nurturing. This might be very Swedish, but a leader is not above the team. A leader is next to the team or a part of the team.

Where do you find fresh, new directing talent?

It’s so dependent on the project and what the actual idea is. It’s a dumb process in many ways, but it’s also very important to make the right decision for these kinds of things. Sometimes it’s about people I’ve worked with who I know can pull off the things that we’re trying to do. Sometimes it’s about finding people who have done things that we haven’t done before, because we are going into a new place with an idea. Sometimes it’s about giving young, new talent a chance to show off, because we need a fresh take on something. Sometimes it’s about taking less of a risk on a massive budget, so we choose someone who has been doing similar things very well for long time. There isn’t one way. It’s a lot of ways depending on the job, or where you want to go with the agency, or what skills you don’t have yourself, or what skills you want to learn more of. Lately, it’s much more about having young talent show us the way, but at the same time, it’s also interesting to go to the classic directors like the feature film directors, you know? It’s the mix of things that make it interesting.

How much influence on director selection is coming from your agency producer?

I think the idea is guiding us more than a producer and more than we are. It’s a really tough process to say how it works, but usually when we start creating the idea, we’re already starting to talk about directors. It usually makes a lot of sense, but it doesn’t have a certain process. It can be all sorts of things. You see something online that blows your mind, and you’re like, that’s really interesting. Everyone is seeing the same stuff because of the web. Everyone is looking for the same directors. You are affected by that, and at the same time, you want to kind of break away from that and create new, unexpected things.

Is there a director who has stood out for you this year?

There are so many. It’s tough to say. I mean, I could say it’s all of them, because they are all great directors. They all stand out in different ways. Frederick Bond is always doing some big, fantastic project. Traktor is still doing fun things. I just worked with Johnny Green, and he’s absolutely amazing.

Is there a director with whom you hope to collaborate on some upcoming projects?

We want to work with Nabil and Rupert Sanders. There are so many great directors we want to work with. It’s almost an insult to mention just a few of them since there are so many great people shooting amazing work right now.

Do you have a favorite commercial at the moment?

It was Red Bull’s The Art of Flight, but now it’s The Lego Movie. That’s the best one and a half hour ad I’ve ever seen!

Name

Pelle Sjoenell

Place of Birth

Gällivare, Sweden

Occupation

Executive Creative Director / Bartle Bogle Hegarty