Interview with Jonny Zeller From Estudio Mol, United States

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Jonny Zeller

Jonny Zeller is a Film Director at Estudio Mol, immersing himself in imagination and fantasy. Yet, he remains grounded enough to turn his daydreams into reality! His accolades are here to prove it.

Interview with the 2021 MUSE Creative Awards Winner - Jonny Zeller

1Please give us a brief bio of yourself and your creative background.

Hi, I'm Jonny. I am a Director and I direct large-scale projects for clients as diverse as Toyota, Google, Anheuser Busch, Panasonic, and a foray into feature filmmaking. My aim is to cross genres and focus on the common thread of powerful cinematic storytelling.

Growing up outside of Minneapolis, MN and now based in Los Angeles, I’ve been fortunate to direct branded and commercial content with some of the world’s biggest talent in and out of the studio on five continents, touching down in countries like Nicaragua, Laos, Israel, and Zambia.

Recently, I was second-unit director for the Global #1 Netflix feature Deadly Illusions starring Kristin Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Greer Grammar, and Shanola Hampton, which was released Spring 2021. I also have an award-winning short film SCARS based on a viral writing prompt has been touring film festivals and winning awards all over the world.

2What made you become/why did you choose to become a creative?

I wasn’t born into entertainment, but rather came from a small midwestern town where parents say, “You can be whatever you want as long as it’s a doctor or a lawyer”. However, I have always been the sort of person who instead of getting paralyzed by a roadblock, says optimistically: “Ok, well what can we do to get around it?” Originally, my pursuit was the dream of becoming a professional snowboarder. That dream was shattered by countless injuries, but it led me to fall in love with being behind the camera. I still think about what could have been different by becoming a professional athlete, but I absolutely love what I do and am thankful for the journey.

3Tell us more about your business/company, job profile, and what you do.

I am a Director & Producer working in branded content, television commercials, and recently have been moving toward features and television. I work with a wide range of companies, studios, and brands to create powerful content for any sized screen.

Having spent time working both in creative development at an independent feature film company and extensive work on the physical production of hundreds of commercials allows me to effectively talk both “languages.” I think this has helped me become a much stronger director because I understand the implications of my decisions beyond just the face value creative.

My MUSE Award winning project was produced by the amazing team at São Paulo Brazil based Creative Studio, Mol. Executive Produced by Galileo Giglio & Joaquim Carriço.

4What does “creativity” mean to you?

As we all know, there are many ways to be creative. For me, it’s creating something that doesn’t exist yet or a version of something else that doesn’t exist yet. I’m not sure how others feel, but I also personally qualify “being creative” with having a final product to look at. Sure, I’m creative throughout the process (and I love that), but I don’t feel like I’ve actually become creatively fulfilled until I have the finished product staring back at me.

5To you, what makes a “creative” idea and/or design?

The short answer: Something that stops me and makes me think. A piece of work with intent, vision, and tells a story regardless of the medium.

Digging deeper, I think it depends on the context of the word. Creativity comes in all shapes and sizes and should not necessarily be synonymous with “good.” Whether someone thinks something is “good” or not is subjective and actually tells more about the person giving the review rather than the creator themselves.

6Tell us about your creative and/or design process.

Sometimes I lie down on my couch, close my eyes, and let my mind run wild. No budget restraints, no client notes, and nothing but the vastness of my imagination. Then I come back to reality and write down everything to share it with my trusted inner circle of creatives. My producing partner Tim Frazier is my primary barometer for what is good and just plain crazy. Whether it’s him, another producer, or a writer, we take that initial idea and shape into something that could actually work on screen within the parameters I was given for the project.

7What's your favorite part of the creative process and why?

The very beginning when the possibilities are seemingly endless.

8Describe your creative style and its main characteristics.

After my action-fueled beginnings, I studied avant-garde filmmaking at CU Boulder in Colorado, which has acted as an inspiration for my style. My mise en scène applies a form of surrealist-like aesthetic to otherwise traditional worlds, which takes a grounded story and adds a slight twist on the character’s reality. My aim is to create stories that stick with the audience using visceral visuals, complex emotional portrayals, articulate VFX, or all of the above. Likewise, discussing a social commentary within my narrative work is always a driving force behind my story and style.

9Do you think your country and its cultural heritage has an impact on your creativity process?

As we travel and experience new things, we’re able to creatively blend styles/cultures to create something unique. Most art is an interpretation or derivative of something that the artist was inspired by. I have been fortunate to travel the world extensively and love that I can draw on those experiences to shape my own work and creative vision. My perspective has been shaped and continues to evolve by the countries I’ve visited, and I am forever indebted to those cultures for how they have helped me.

10Congratulations! As the winner of the 2021 MUSE Creative Awards, what does it mean to you and your company and team to receive this award distinction?

We’re honored to be selected as a Platinum Winner in this year’s MUSE Awards. I have followed MUSE over the years and really appreciate what the organization does to promote creatives of all kinds. It’s events like this that help our work be shown to a broader audience.

11Can you explain a bit about the winning work you entered into the 2021 MUSE Creative Awards, and why you chose to enter this project?

Most events and popular tourist destinations were closed in 2020 due to Covid-19. The team at Red Bull decided to take advantage of this rare opportunity. In the 3-minute piece, Red Bull Wakeboarder Pedro Caldas takes over the largest waterpark in South America and rides up and down the waterslides including an 82-foot-high tornado-like slide.

12What was the biggest challenge with this project?

We were like kids in a candy store. We had an entire waterpark closed down just for us. Because of that, we were so ambitious with our shot list and shooting schedule. Even with a world class production team and a Red Bull pro wakeboarder, it was hard to get it all done on schedule.

13How has winning an Award developed your practice/career?

I think winning awards and gaining recognition for my work has been paramount to my professional growth. It’s a stamp of approval that legitimizes me as a Director and helps remove doubts from future clients because I’ve already had some globally recognized success. That translates to more work.

It also provides some valuable validation that the work I spent my blood, sweat, and tears to produce is actually good. Our work is personal and is a part of us so it’s important for the emotional side of this job to get that kind of feedback.

14What are your top three (3) favorite things about our industry?

1. I get to work with amazing people both behind and in front of the camera.

2. I get to travel the world and explore cultures I never would have been able to any other way.

3. It’s possible for something that starts as an idea in my head to come to life on screen and be shared with people all around the world.

15What makes your country specifically, unique in the creative industry?

Living in LA, I am in the epicenter of entertainment. I love it here and the city has an undeniable energy that has helped propel me further than I ever could have gone if I would have stayed in my hometown. Projects can come together so quickly here, and there are world-class resources in terms of crew, talent, equipment, etc. Emerging trends and styles can be seen first-hand on the street before they ever go mainstream.

It means you can spot the visionaries and stand out companies because they’re the ones putting time into branding and marketing. It means that we as a branding and marketing agency have to be creative in how we market ourselves. It’s about constantly finding ways to add value.

16Where do you see the evolution of creative industry going over the next 5-10 years?

360/immersive storytelling. As a part of this, I believe we will see an even heavier push into Augmented Reality and Metaverses. It’s going to be pretty amazing.

17If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring MUSE Creative Awards submitter, what advice would you give them?

I am sure everyone will say “Go create stuff” so I won’t go into that.

1. Be a good person with good intentions.

2. Focus on honing your personal creative vision.

*This can be exponentially valuable if you do #1 and #2 correctly

3. Build your network. Make sure you are not the smartest in the room. Surround yourself with the best people you can find as a part of your team. Work your job (whatever that is) all day and then spend your evenings meeting people, collaborating, attending events, and finding those that you can call on when you need.

No one can do it all themselves. You are only as good as your network. The more people you know, the better your work can become.

18What resources would you recommend to someone who wants to improve their skills in the creative industry?

*In the USA – They are a part of the Small Business Association and offer free business mentorship. Sign up, get a mentor, and learn how to build/grow a business. The better you become at the elements of running a business, the more opportunities you will get to get paid for your work.

19Tell us something you have never told anyone else.

I may have to come back to this question after a few cocktails and am more open to sharing.

20Who has inspired you in your life and why?

I have been inspired by many, many people whether it was for their public achievements, or even the way they talk to their subordinates. There is a lot we can learn from others.

As a kid, my father set up a special type of allowance system. He assigned a monetary value to various books based on their length and difficulty. If I read the book and could give a comprehensive book report, then I would get the money. It had two benefits; I was reading business books meant for working professionals when I was 14 and second, it provided for some quality father-son time while discussing the themes during my “book reports”. This practice and the knowledge I learned over years of reading has helped me approach my career in a completely different style and I am eternally thankful to my father for constantly pushing me to be smarter and better every day.

21What is your key to success? Any parting words of wisdom?

I still believe that I have a long way to go in my personal and professional life. If I had to narrow it down, I would say that I have the intense belief that I will get to where I want to be no matter what obstacles are thrown at me. That fuels an unrelenting drive to be better every day.

22Do you have anything else you would like to add to the interview?

I have a few feature and TV projects in development that I’m really excited about, one of which is based on a proof-of-concept short film we produced in 2019 titled SCARS. It’s a grounded sci-fi that takes place in a world where when you lie, you get a scar on your body. On the surface it’s about a group of cadets arriving at basic training, but the commentary of the story goes deep in discussing the value of truth, honesty, and how people judge one another based on their physical appearance. SCARS forces the viewer to put themselves into this unfamiliar world and wonder where they would fit. Next, we will develop the SCARS cinematic universe into a series of books and then move on to a feature film.

Winning Entries

Waterslides & Wakeboarding | 2021

Interview with Jonny Zeller From Estudio Mol, United States

In the 3-minute feature Wake at Beach Park, professional Red Bull wakeboarder Pedro Caldas takes on an 82-foot-high tornado-like water slide in one...
(read more at MUSE Creative Awards)

Jonny Zeller

Jonny Zeller is a Film Director at Estudio Mol, immersing himself in imagination and fantasy. Yet, he remains grounded enough to turn his daydreams into reality! His accolades are here to prove it.