Haagen-Dazs' "When You Know, You Know"

Bennett Johnson

1) How did you get into directing?
During my time at University, I came across a lifestyle brand that was running a video competition for their summer internship. I had a look at the other entries and thought I’d have a crack. I ended up winning, but more importantly the floodgates were open. I didn’t leave my room for days on end; I learnt everything from editing to storyboarding, and all the other tools of the trade. A few of my friends were running club nights at the time and I told them I’d shoot and edit promos for £100 a pop. It really was the ultimate education. I learnt the whole workflow from the ground up and used the money I was making to invest in books and equipment.

2) What is your most recent project?
At the moment I’m working on a personal project that I think has some valuable potential. It’s a commercial for a cause that I’m passionate about.

3) What is the best part of being a director?
The best part of being a director was exemplified when I had the chance to make a short documentary on the sculptor Nic-Fiddian Green. It was clear that he had battled his way to becoming a successful artist and that his passion for the craft had sustained him through the tough times. When the film was finished, it was sent to his wife and apparently she burst into tears upon seeing the final cut. That was when I knew I had to do this. It really is an incredible privilege to be able to reflect the truisms of life and give some small insights to our uniquely human condition through film.

4) What is the worst part of being a director?
The “struggle” is the worst and best part. At times reality does not want to fit inside your lens. It feels like everything on earth is trying to fight the story that you are trying to tell. However, the struggle is what makes it fun. Solving problems, planning, and finally figuring it out gives me such a feeling of accomplishment. When a great team works together to create an impactful narrative that didn’t previously exist, you realize just how satisfying of a profession filmmaking truly is.

5) What is your current career focus: commercials & branded content, TV, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre—comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?
My current career focus is to really delve into commercials and music videos in the drama genre. I really think working in short form is one of the best ways to understand the core pillars of filmmaking and story.

You have to refine and stick to the absolute essentials, whilst also leaving your audience with something completely memorable. Also, as a director, you get to work with a range of amazing people, whilst also exploring different topics that get you jazzed. You get to find out what you like, what you don’t and who you are within the medium.

6) Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you?
Larry Bridges, the founder of Red Car editing house has been mentoring me. He really has been a great friend and wise counsel through the journey. We can just relax over a glass of wine and talk about film for hours. The Internet has also been so useful for me as I have learnt the majority of what I know from the directors I admire, by listening to their commentaries and taking their advice as “virtual mentors.” These kinds of resources weren’t even available five years ago and now I can hear the best filmmakers in the world lecturing in my living room. If you consider yourself older and wiser and want a young padawan don’t hesitate from sending me an email!

7) Who is your favorite director and why?
My favorite film directors are probably Darren Aronofsky, Danny Boyle and David Fincher. Their films just make me feel so intensely. I really like Fincher’s style of working; he seems so calm and controlled at the same time. He also invests in preparation and consequently really uses each frame to his advantage when telling the story. In terms of commercial directors I love Dougal Wilson, Elliot Rausch, Daniel Wolfe and Nabil Elderkin. Again, these guys just make me feel so much in such a short period of time—it’s like wizardry. Their visual flare is also really impressive. The images they’re choosing deliver maximum impact and are very well thought through.

8) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
The John Lewis Christmas spots from 2011 onwards have been incredible. They’re funny, heart wrenching, and epic. I thought Daniel Wolfe’s work on the most recent Dulux ad was amazing. The way he built such a huge world and narrative in 60 seconds was mind-blowing. The music video “Turn Down for What” is really impressive. You can’t ignore it and it’s extremely entertaining. My favorite movies are probably The Green Mile, Trainspotting, and I also thought Whiplash was phenomenal. Again these films are just so intense and enthralling. They’re the kind of movies that make me think that cinema really is the best teacher of human empathy. We can never really understand the lives of others’ lives until we live through it in the theatre.

9) Tell us about your background (i.e. where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I grew up in the leafy suburbs of North West London suburbs. My interest in film really stemmed from my first love, painting, that I started while at school. I absolutely loved the artistic process but found it pretty lonely. It was also very introspective and concerned with how I felt, as opposed to taking others on a journey with me. I also founded a tech company after University that curated the best videos on the Internet. I eventually sold it to my business partner but learnt a lot of valuable lessons on Internet marketing and how to capture people’s attention online.