Interview with Jonny Zeller From United States

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Jonny Zeller

Jonny Zeller combines his natural ability to bring crazy ideas to life and his extensive experience in spearheading projects for the world’s largest brands to produce mind-boggling content for the amusement and enjoyment of many.

Interview with the 2022 MUSE Creative Awards Winner -
Jonny Zeller

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

A lot of people can come up with great ideas. I can do that with the best of them but I also have the resources to actually bring just about any crazy idea to life. Toss in my curated network of best-in-class actors/musicians/influencers, and it’s hard not to want to jump on board.

My track record of running and selling a media company, combined with my extensive experience spearheading projects for the world’s largest brands, offers a unique perspective on the intersection of culture and content. My work has gone on to secure various prestigious awards.

My narrative work on a short film, SCARS (based on a viral writing prompt), has landed high praise at top film festivals worldwide. My work as 2nd Unit Director on the feature film DEADLY ILLUSIONS starring Kristin Davis, Dermot Mulroney, and Shanola Hampton helped grab the coveted title of #1 film Globally on Netflix.

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

I don’t know if being ‘creative’ is an inherent choice. I think some are born with the ability; then, the choice comes when we decide whether or not to pursue it as a career. It can be a scary and abstract proposition, especially when you grow up in a part of the country/world where it's much safer to choose a “normal job.”

I’ve come a long way from a kid with a VHS video camera making snowboarding and skateboarding videos in the backyard of a small Midwestern town. The entertainment industry isn’t at the forefront of people’s minds in the Midwest so my parents were rightfully sceptical of my desire to take a leap of faith and move halfway across the country to pursue a career in directing.

I can’t imagine how many brilliant creatives are out there but just haven’t been given the opportunity to shine. Everyone deserves the ability to express themselves through their version of creativity.

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

As a Director, I get to tell stories of all shapes and sizes. Lately, I got to the conclusion that there must be a better term for what I actually do. I’ve grown to like “Storyverse Architect.” The backbone of my creative inspiration is rooted in multi-platform/transmedia storytelling as a way to create a new style of content that engages audiences in a more robust “story world.” This goes far beyond having extra deliverables for social platforms: It’s about creating a journey the viewer chooses to go on, a journey that helps the audience migrate across platforms. I’m very passionate about this type of storytelling because it can be applied to all forms of content from branded campaigns to narrative feature films.

My MUSE Platinum Award-winning project was created by Champagne & Gyoza for an NFT collection titled Cloud Niners. Champagne & Gyoza is a creative studio that works with brands, studios and talent of all types to produce multi-platform content for any sized screen. We understand that pre-set menus aren’t for everyone. After all, the last time we ordered directly off the menu, we may or may not have been at a late-night taco joint. “Can I get a number 7, please?”

That’s why we have created “à la carte” opportunities for both brands and agencies to create cinematic content at scale with a sense of agility that would make even a contortionist take note.

4What does “creativity” mean to you?

Anyone who has worked in the creative field knows that you can’t survive just being ‘one thing.’ First, you come up with an idea—great! But then you might also need the ability to promote, sell, pull together a team and find the funding. Sometimes you might even have to be the camera person, editor, producer, etc. I personally associate creativity with having a final product to share. This means that being creative goes far beyond the art and encompasses everything from ideation to execution to distribution—at least, to me. I’m creative throughout the whole process (and I love that), but I don’t feel like I’ve become creatively fulfilled until I have the finished product staring back at me.

I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunities I’ve had to express my creative abilities, but it hasn’t been an easy road, and I have a long way to go until I feel I’ve “made it.”

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

The bar for ‘creativity’ continues to rise and unfortunately, the by-product is that we’ve all become a bit jaded when seeing new work. Something that would’ve been mind-blowing five years ago might seem commonplace now. Therefore, I think it's essential to continually step back and appreciate others’ quality work on its own rather than always drawing comparisons to learn something new and come up with the next idea.

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

Creativity can strike at any moment, so I consciously try to keep my mind open for inspiration. Sometimes it can be a person I see in the street or even an ad on a billboard. If my headspace is open and has a particular project (or multiple) running through it, the chances of finding inspiration are much higher.

I complement this with much research for the specific project I’m working on and then lie silently on the couch, visualizing ideas. I run through them in my head like they’re on an auction block, searching for something that clicks. It’s a pretty fun process!

7What's your favorite part of the creative process and why?
Usually, my favorite part of the creative process is at the beginning, when I’m ‘throwing spaghetti’ at the wall to see what sticks. But I also enjoy the very end when the project finally goes live and I can share it with the world.
8Describe your creative style and its main characteristics.

I aim to create stories that resonate with the audience using visceral visuals, complex emotional portrayals, articulate VFX, or all of the above. These are usually applied with a sense of scale.

I love taking an otherwise ordinary world and twisting it to create a subtle surrealist-like aesthetic. Likewise, discussing social commentary within my narrative is always a driving force behind my style.

9Do you think your country and its cultural heritage has an impact on your creativity process?
A person’s surroundings fuel how they express themselves creatively. The saying goes, ‘write what you know,’ so the more you’ve seen and ‘know,’ the more depth you can add to your work. I’ve been fortunate to travel the world extensively and love that I can draw on those experiences to shape my work and creative vision. My perspective has been shaped and continues to evolve by the cultures I’ve encountered, and I am forever indebted to those cultures for how they have helped me.
10Congratulations! As the winner of the 2023 MUSE Creative Awards, what does it mean to you and your company and team to receive this award distinction?
We’re so excited to be selected as a Platinum Winner in this year’s MUSE Awards. Working on a project like “Experience Life On Cloud Nine” took immense commitment, and there is always a sense of vulnerability when releasing a new piece into the world. Awards like MUSE help fuel the creativity inside me and provide a sense of positive reinforcement that helps motivate me to push my career further.
11Can you explain a bit about the winning work you entered into the 2023 MUSE Creative Awards, and why you chose to enter this project?

"Experience Life On Cloud Nine" is one of the first live-action NFT teaser films ever produced. This narrative follows the journey of the 2nd Cousin of the inventor of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, as he invites unsuspecting participants to join his world through a series of riddles.

It was crucial for us to think three steps ahead while creating the storyline. Everything that was put into the film potentially would have positive or negative repercussions on the story down the line. Much like building a TV series, the scope of the ongoing narrative is ever-evolving, and the entirety of the Cloud Niners Cinematic Universe hasn’t been conceived yet. Unlike a traditional TV series, we needed to create a foundation allowing some room for the Web3 community to help shape the story in the future.

Executive Produced by Chris Garrison and Chris McKinley, Produced by Tim Frazier, Cinematography by Matt Staker, and cut by Dave Phelps. We also had an amazingly talented cast and hardworking crew (sorry for the early mornings) that came together to make this project possible.

12What was the biggest challenge with this project?
Most producers will tell you that to make life easier, “Don’t include kids, animals, or explosions into the creative.” Well, we’d like to add NASA airspace to that list. A large portion of the short film was produced at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. We had an incredible time working with the NASA and SPACE FLORIDA teams, but dealing with anything government-related adds many hoops to jump through and curveballs. I still can’t believe we pulled it off! It's a testament to our team's unrelenting hard work and the countless problem-solving sessions EP Chris Garrison led.
13How has winning an Award developed your practice/career?
There’s a lot of noise and an unbelievable amount of amazing work being produced every day. An award like MUSE gives a stamp of approval that legitimizes me as a Director and helps remove doubts from future clients. Gaining globally recognized success removes a reason for a studio or brand to say “no” when considering me for a future project. It also provides some valuable validation that the work I poured my blood, sweat, and tears into is actually good. As creatives, our work can be very personal and an extension of ourselves. These types of awards are essential for the emotional side of the job too!
14What are your top three (3) favorite things about our industry?
  1. Many of the people I’ve worked with over the years have become my best friends. As we get older, it's not so easy making new meaningful friendships. You become closer when you go through the trenches of a project together.
  2. I get to travel the world and explore cultures that I would never have been able to see any other way.
  3. It’s possible for something that starts as a kernel of an idea in my head to become sharable with people all around the world.
15What makes your country specifically, unique in the creative industry?
I moved from the Midwest to LA to live in the Entertainment Industry's epicenter. There is an undeniable energy in LA that has helped propel me further than I ever could have gone if I had stayed in my hometown. So much happens here, and we’re lucky to be at the forefront of emerging trends/ styles in real time before they ever go mainstream.
16Where do you see the evolution of creative industry going over the next 5-10 years?
I’d like to see AR evolve in a more approachable way, and I believe that Web3 (Metaverse, NFTs, etc.) will play a significant role in shaping how we create future content. It will not replace traditional media that we’re used to now but rather supplement it in a way that lets creatives tell stories, regardless of medium, in a more robust way. Every time a new social media platform comes out, there’s a shift in content, creativity, and strategy. Web3 will be the next iteration of that.
17If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring MUSE Creative Awards submitter, what advice would you give them?
  1. Work after you get home from work. Some of your most significant career progress happen outside of regular working hours. If you have a day job, get used to spending your off-time networking, writing, creating, and collaborating. There’s a lot of competition, so all that extra time you spend honing your craft and building your network will pay off.
  2. BE OK WITH MAKING SOMETHING BAD. It's easy to get bogged down trying to make a masterpiece and then never releasing the work because it didn’t meet your expectations. Make a thing, analyze it, learn from it, and return to creating the next thing.
  3. Go into every situation with a “how can I provide value to others” first. Then think about yourself second. This is tricky to comprehend, and it’s taken me much practice, but I promise you it works.
  4. Be a good person with good intentions. Hard to go wrong if this is how you live your life.
18What resources would you recommend to someone who wants to improve their skills in the creative industry?

Take every online business training course you can. You have to learn how to be your own brand. – (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.

I also like as an inexpensive platform for learning all types of software.

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?
Many people have inspired me, whether for their public achievements or even how they talk to their subordinates. From the man who transported us across Laos during a TV series production to the women tirelessly working to build a school while we filmed in Zambia, there is a lot we can learn from others. We need to let our egos move out of the way and realize that most people we meet have some brilliance in them.
21What is your key to success? Any parting words of wisdom?

Building a team of smarter people around you and utilizing the “Fail Fast” mentality is essential to succeed. For example, if you’re the most competent person at one part of the process or business, partner with someone better in an area where you are a bit weaker.

Additionally, know that “Everyone wants something.” Even the world's most powerful people have something they “want.” Returning to what I said earlier, focus on providing value to others first. If you can approach every situation to give them what they want, then you can become a pretty valuable person yourself.

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

I would love to share the bigger picture behind our NFT Collection Cloud Niners. There’s an immense storyline that will only evolve over time.

Cloud Niners is a Web3 brand that takes shape as an NFT (Non-Fungible Token) collection, a cinematic storyline that we plan to turn into a film, an access pass for some genuinely unforgettable real-life experiences like a flight in a fighter jet, and even a platform for brands to dip their toes into Web3. This all comes to life as a multi-platform media expedition released through NFTs, videos, photos, cryptic clues, and much more.

About Our Storyline:

Our narrative follows the evolutionary tale of Satoshi Nakamoto’s 2nd or 3rd Cousin, an eccentric billionaire whose life’s purpose is that of helping others find their own feeling of Cloud Nine (well-being, happiness, excitement). Satoshi Nakamoto is who created Bitcoin, but no one knows who it actually is. People have speculated on this mystery since Bitcoin was created in 2009. Our storyline follows Satoshi’s 2nd cousin on his journey. It’s sarcastic (think Ryan Reynolds) in tone and tongue in cheek since if no one knows who Satoshi is, then we obviously don’t know who his 2nd cousin is.

Winning Entry

Experience Life On Cloud Nine | 2022

Experience Life On Cloud Nine
"Experience Life On Cloud Nine" is one of the first live-action NFT teaser films ever produced. This narrative ...
(Read more at MUSE Creative Awards)

Jonny Zeller

Jonny Zeller combines his natural ability to bring crazy ideas to life and his extensive experience in spearheading projects for the world’s largest brands to produce mind-boggling content for the amusement and enjoyment of many.

Read more about Jonny Zeller's interview with for the 2021 MUSE Creative Awards.