The gig: Johnny Green directs TV commercials. A recent project is “Lightning in a Bottle,” a 60-second advertisement for Honda’s Acura ILX sedan that first aired during the NFL playoffs. Green is represented by Reset Content, a company that acts as his producer.
The commercial: The spot depicts an automotive engineer walking through an electrical storm with a large bottle. He sets it down on a ridge. Lightning flashes and is captured in the bottle. He takes the bottle back to the Acura studio and metaphorically uses the captured energy to design the car.
Concept to screen: “The Mullen ad agency was behind the idea,” Green said. “As the director, my job was to see what I could do with it.” After taking a project, Green sifts through books and other materials for visual references that would work on screen. “I will make thumbnail sketches for all of my ideas. And then the team makes a shooting board where we nail down each shot.” Green travels with location scouts reviewing places for filming. For “Lightning,” he spent four hours hiking around the Mojave Desert.
Not point and shoot: “You have to find a location where you can get the crew, the wind machines and the rain towers into film,” he said. “We are doing something that would be created for a feature film in a very short period of time. It requires a lot of logistical planning.”
Other projects: Green is known for directing an Under Armour ad featuring ballerina Misty Copeland. The commercial went viral and has been seen by millions online, more than when it aired on TV, Green said. He mainly works in Europe, especially for French ad agencies. He has done many fashion, perfume and automotive advertisements. Green’s work included a Nike World Cup commercial, and he just finished a spot for Cisco Systems.
Next step: “I am just starting to get into films,” Green said. “I am in development on a feature film right now but I can’t talk about it yet. Feature films are the holy grail for a commercial director.” TV commercial directors learn key film skills working on different projects, experience that lends itself to feature filmmaking. “You will have shot storms, car scenes, athletic events, fashion close-ups. You just never know what it is going to be.”
Roots: Green, 45, was born in Manchester, England, and supported the Manchester City soccer club “from the day I could walk.” He attended the Oundle boarding school in Northamptonshire before college at Saint Martin’s School of Art in London. He earned a master’s degree in theater design and fine art from the Slade School of Art, also in London.
First jobs: Green was a stage manager for a London theater and then designed sets. Later, he jumped into TV commercial production “at the bottom as an art department assistant,” which was more of an apprenticeship, Green said. “I did the sweeping of floors and making tea.” Eventually he was asked to design small sets. “It grew from there and I became a production designer,” Green said. “That is the person who creates the world or environment for the actor to inhabit, whether it is a theater, TV show or a film. It has to be a set that the camera operator and director can work with. It is the most important job on any film and teaches you to do anything.”
Cut to directing: In 2005, Green read a story in a British newspaper about two Mongolian brothers who built their own motorbikes from spare parts and raced on ice tracks. “I went off and made a little documentary about these two brothers called ‘Nyemka’s Dream.’ An advertising agency saw the documentary and gave me an Audi car commercial. That was my first break,” Green said.
At home: Green splits his time between London and Silver Lake. “I live in Silver Lake because it is a community where you can really walk,” Green said. He keeps two cars in London, both 1980s German coupes, a 1989 BMW 635 CSI and a 1983 Mercedes S500. But Green doesn’t drive in Los Angeles, using his feet and Uber to get around. “I am about to take my California driving test,” he said.
Spare time: Green likes to box, a sport he took up when he was 12. “I am happiest when I am in the boxing ring,” Green said. Green said his “obsessions” include cooking and eating. “I love Los Angeles. It is a great food town with all its cultural diversity.”
Work philosophy: In a world where people increasingly use technology to skip commercials and have a multitude of entertainment choices, “our work has to be good enough now so that people will want to watch it.” Green said his Misty Copeland ad and similar spots by other directors hold a lesson because they can be viewed by more people online than on TV. “We have to make our work good enough to excite people because everybody wants to skip it,” he said. “We have to evolve. This is about entertainment.”