Curious by Nature: Johan Stahl, REVERSE

Balancing humanity and technique to tell emotionally poignant stories.

 

Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.

I’m Johan Stahl. Doing what I love.


How has the role of a director changed since you first began working in advertising?

I just celebrated my 10-year anniversary having directed my first commercial in 2009. It was a film for clothing brand JACK & JONES that we shot on 35mm in Los Angeles. And coming back full circle, I recently finished a job for JACK & JONES with actor Mads Mikkelsen and Chinese celebrity Deng Lun, which involved a gigantic studio build that we shot in Beijing.
 
To be honest, I haven’t really felt any change in my role as a director since I started. For me, it all comes down to this: balancing humanity and technique to tell emotionally poignant stories. These past 10 years have taken me around the globe, working with some of the most amazing and talented people.


 
Where do you seek inspiration that helps you in your craft?

I find inspiration almost everywhere: in the human beings around me -- people that I pass on the street or in my car. From music, films, TV shows, commercials, art, graphic design, and occasionally, good old paperback books. I’m very curious by nature.


What would you say is the most challenging aspect of your job? What keeps the work interesting for you?

I think it’s finding that balance between what you instinctively feel is right for a script and then figuring out how to make it all work with the decision-makers and parties involved. There’s an art to taking in everyone’s input and collectively making the final product as best as it can possibly be.
 
The diversity of creative ideas and smart, talented people that I have the fortune of working with is what keeps the jobs interesting for me.

 

As brands continue leaning into long form content, what do you think it takes for the work to really connect with their audience?

Most importantly, it takes bold and trusting brands who are willing to take a stand or take risks. It’s not enough to just slap a logo on content anymore. It has to be interesting, useful, and relatable. It starts with brands understanding who they really are, who their existing and prospective customers are, and then coming up with great creative and stories that resonate at an emotional level.


Also, with advertisers continuing to embrace branded content, how do you see it evolving over the next few years?

I think it’s very interesting that brands are becoming their own networks. I see some very cool, artsy, and edgy long-format content coming out, which are funded by big brands. It’s such a win-win situation. Brands get to take subtle ownership of high-quality work and consumers gain another level of respect and emotional connection to the brands – sometimes through the gift of a piece of art. My advice to brands would be to instill more trust in their creative partners. They’re truly on the frontlines.


Outside of your work as a director, you also founded sunglasses brand Dear Leader. What inspired this? And why sunglasses?

I started DEAR LEADER after my two trips to the Hermit Kingdom, North Korea, back in 2006. I was there working on the documentary project “The Red Chapel.” We got to interact with the North Koreans quite intimately, who were so nice, but whenever we talked about their “Dear Leader,” they changed characters and spoke in loving terms -- almost in a way that felt completely programmed.
 

That gave me the idea to fund a charity-based brand with a purpose. To give a new meaning to the term DEAR LEADER – and to help the struggle to enlighten the North Korean people.
 
We picked sunglasses because everyone needs sunglasses -- even dictators and world leaders. You can see more here: www.dearleader.com.

Is there any advice would you offer a young Director just getting their start?
 
Trust your gut instinct. Pick your battles, treat people nicely, and never take NO for an answer. NEVER.


Finally tell us something that most people don’t know about being a Director?

It can often be a feast or famine game.