Creative Lives — Filmmaker, photographer, and Havas creative John Ogunmuyiwa on the power of individuality
Balancing his day job as a creative at Havas with independent filmmaking and photography projects, John Ogunmuyiwa’s work relies on a constant stream of good ideas. Having recently won an award for his film Wilson for Channel 4’s Random Acts, he explains how his personal work nourishes his role as a creative. We also get insight on John’s journey to the position at Havas, as he highlights the importance of collaboration in both advertising and filmmaking; explaining that “we chat, clash, argue and collaborate for the greater good.”
Creative, Havas London (2016–present)
Creative, Work Club (2015–2016)
Creative Advertising, Buckinghamshire New University (2011–2014)
Day to Day
How would you describe your job?
I’m a creative at an advertising agency, which is essentially a test in general knowledge. Day to day we’re given different briefs and tasked with the challenge of creative problem solving.
Independently I’m a director and photographer. I recently won an award from the BFI for my last short Wilson, which aired on Channel 4’s Random Acts. At times my skills as a director and photographer have been really handy in my day job and even given way to good opportunities. A few years back, I worked on the creative for a Heathrow Christmas Campaign and got to direct the content piece.
What does a typical working day look like?
If we’re in production and shooting an ad, a typical day could be waking up in Seoul and going to set – unfortunately that’s not everyday. Some days I’m writing scripts, most days watching Youtube and every day coming up with different thoughts and perspectives on how to talk to who we need to.
What do you like about working in London?
I think London’s one of the best places in the world. There’s loads of different pockets of creative communities. Scenes are real, sometimes they overlap and sometimes they don’t but it’s cool to know things are really happening. In terms of drawbacks, if only everything was open til 6am.
How did you land your current job?
Originally I was hired as a single creative at a digital agency called Work Club (shout out Andy Sandoz and Ben Mooge). That was cool, until I had to tell them that I’d already booked a three month trip to South America. They told me to hit them up after I was back, which I did – in that time Work Club had merged with Havas.
Fast-forward three and a half years and here I am. Not sure what gave me the edge, but I remember one of my ECDs saying that they liked the way I actually thought about the answers I gave, as well as the honesty that came with them.
The best edge you can give yourself is to try and channel as much of you as you can, people will buy into talent, but they’ll also buy into you even more if you give them a reason to. Another piece of advice that Mooge and Sandoz shared was that when hiring, you’re always looking at what people bring to the team. You don’t need clones, you need individuals who add something in their own way.
“You don’t need clones, you need individuals who add something in their own way.”
How collaborative is your role?
As a creative, you’re working with producers, directors, photographers and clients. If I have an idea, it won’t go anywhere without the producers and account people. Sometimes it can feel as if we’re making ideas by committee, which is not always good. But when it does come together you can really bring out things you couldn’t have thought of on your own.
In my film work, as the director, I have a version of the film that I want to create in my head, but so does every other person working on it. Through the production process we have come together to pool our thoughts and disagreements, so we chat, clash, argue and collaborate for the greater good.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
The most enjoyable part is working with and meeting different people. As someone who’s interested in film, it’s almost invaluable meeting, chatting and learning from experienced directors and editors. You can learn so much from being on set, and it’s what I get up in the morning for.
On the other hand, advertising can be a really long process which can feel mad lame. You could end up working on the same thing for up to a year, which is especially challenging when you always want to create. And time after time ideas get thrown out the window not necessarily because they’re bad, which is annoying.
I feel as a director and writer, creating a script is carving the structure outline. The most enjoyable part is working with the actors when we finesse and sculpt it to chisel out all the details to make it as good as it can be. The stressful part for me is the edit. I’m in the process of moving away from doing things myself and trying to work with people, which is necessary but tough.
Work for D&AD
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
My upcoming short film has been one of the most exciting projects I’ve worked on this year. I’ve been collaborating with the National Film and Television School on a piece written and directed by me as part of their diverse directors program. It was humbling to have people really buy into the idea, especially as it was very ambitious. I worked with two fantastic leads: Stevie Basula and Bradley Banton who fully killed it.
The other project I’ve worked on in the last twelve months acted as a real nice step forward in my confidence as a photographer. I shot my first commissioned advertising still campaign for Durex on their Unforgettable Night Campaign [see below], which aims to help reduce STIs in Spain and Europe. I took the photos that made up the out-of-home posters and social media content.
“My skills as a director and photographer have been really handy in my day job.”
What skills are essential to your job?
Being open, staying relevant and trying to keep in tune with what’s going on in the world. Which means watching good TV, bad TV, films, listening to music, and staying on top of culture past and present. Being a good researcher and observer are key. Ask questions, wonder and imagine.
Resilience; keep coming up with ideas even when you get knocked back. Lateral thinking and a passion for good or clever ideas, and keeping references.
Is there a resource that has particularly helped you?
I recently read Dave Trott’s Predatory Thinking, which features really good advice. I’m a big fan of YouTube video essays on film and cultural breakdowns; I like channels such as: Every Frame A Painting, Kaptain Kristian, Nerdwriter, Wise Crack, Royal Oceans Film Society, Will Verbeck, Negative Feedback (and the list could go on!)
How I Got Here
What influence do you feel your upbringing has had on your work?
I think, in weird way, having grown up in a Nigerian household and being constantly surrounded by other cultures has made me question why the things I see on posters and on screen don’t reflect the world that I know. As an adult, I feel I only know it exists because I’ve lived it. This is all the more reason to create work that tells the stories of those who aren’t always given a voice.
After graduating (or first starting out), what were your initial steps?
One of the best pieces of advice I got at uni, was that your degree is for your mum, but your portfolio is what will get you a job. Although I did get a first class (shout out mum), a lot of time was spent on crafting a portfolio that would help get us placements that could turn into jobs.
At the time I had a creative partner called Harriet Ronn. In our final year we entered competitions, which we did quite well with, so we could line-up placements to start once we’d finished uni. We did nearly a year of paid placements (I’m fully against free labour – jobs shouldn’t be for those who can afford to not get paid to work), mutually split up, I got a job at Work Club and she went to Saatchi.
Personal photography work
Personal photography work
Personal photography work
What would you like to do next?
I’m trying to be a director – film and commercial. I’m working towards putting out a couple more short films, trying to do more music videos to stretch the creative muscle and shoot more portraits and documentary stuff.
What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
You come in thinking I’ll be a junior, then a mid-weight, then a senior. You might stop at CD, but if you’re really ambitious it’ll be ECD.
The good thing about the job is that you’re exposed to so many things that new paths are always presenting themselves. You never know what someone might do next. I’ve heard of creatives starting their own bakeries, start-ups, cycling around the world, becoming directors, writers, and so on. Maybe the natural career progression for someone in my position is to go do something else!
“Think about what makes you different to your counterparts and relish it.”
Personal photography work
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to an emerging creative wanting to get into the same kind of work?
Think about what makes you different to your counterparts, and relish it. There’s power in recognising what you bring to the table. Also, do things – be into things. If you like radiators, be all about radiators. But mainly just create and absorb the world, because your ideas are just the sum of your thoughts and experiences.