My first encounter with Traktor occurred a couple of years ago
aboard an Air Lot flight to Warsaw, where the collective was giving a
Languishing in economy, I was approached by a tall blonde man who
introduced himself as Richard from Traktor while simultaneously grabbing
a hapless air hostess and insisting I be moved to first class. These
boys should be in PR.
And, not surprisingly, Traktor’s talk was the highlight of the Lodz Film
Festival. Bright, quirky and funny, they had the audience in
My favourite story is when they were invited to Lowe Howard-Spink’s
annual ’Stella Artois lunch’. Naively believing they would have to
actually play tennis, they enrolled in intensive tennis training before
realising it was a corporate knees-up.
In a few short years, this Swedish directing collective has established
itself as one of the leading global directing talents, although its
unconventional way of working still requires some explaining.
Traktor consists of five directors - Mats Lindberg, Ulf Johansson, Sam
Larsson, Pontus Lowenhielm, Patrik von Krusen-stjerna - and two
producers: Richard Ulfvengren and Ole Sanders. When a script comes in,
it is considered by the whole group and is subsequently taken on by two
of the five directors.
The one who feels strongest about the concept develops the best solution
and takes overall responsibility, while the other director deputises,
taking care of the details and aiming to avoid compromise. This, Traktor
believes, aids the progression of their careers. The fee is split
between the two directors working on the production.
The group, bar Sanders, met in 1990, while attending film school in
After graduating they established their own production company. The name
was chosen because it’s easy to remember and ’it reinforces our team
ethic’. To save money, they all moved into Larsson’s flat and set up
office there. Larsson’s sex life suffered, but, career wise, it was a
great move. They began by making animatronics for Swedish agencies and
then hooked up with Paradiset DDB, which had recently won the Diesel
They directed the brand’s first commercials in 1991 - the ’successful
living’ campaign that tore 60s American kitsch apart.
’Traktor formed just after the advent of commercial television in
Sweden,’ Sanders explains. ’We had a tradition of entertaining cinema
advertising and that was what inspired directors and agencies at the
time. It was fun and even clients wanted to go for it.’
Georges Bermann, the founder of Partizan Midi Minuit, signed Traktor for
France and the US in 1995. Ole Sanders, a former producer at the Moving
Picture Company, joined Traktor in the same year and, as the team wanted
to establish a UK Traktor office, he took the reel around London
agencies. But as anyone who has tried to break a new talent in London
knows - no matter how much everyone loves the reel, nobody wants to book
the first job. So they joined Partizan’s London office. In 1996, they
were included in Saatchi & Saatchi’s New Directors Showcase at Cannes
and Campaign named them as one of the hottest talents in Europe - thanks
to original work for Diesel and the epic Odyssey for SAS (winner of a
Gold Lion). After that, the international scripts came pouring in.
Diesel’s ’Little Rock 1873’ won the Grand Prix at Cannes in 1997;
Volvo’s ’the teacher’ won a Gold Lion in 1998, as did ’arm control’ for
Miller Lite through Fallon McElligott Minneapolis. In 1999, half of
Traktor directed its first feature, as yet unnamed, starring Jeff
Goldblum and Claudia Schiffer. Meanwhile, the rest of the team directed
spots for Nike, Taco Bell, Nordstrom, Rudd & Rye, and created the
hysterical ’Jukka Brothers’ for MTV.
’It would have been impossible to sell Traktor’s reel as a group of
individuals,’ Sanders explains. ’And our way of working, as a group of
friends who are all equal, allowed the rest of us to carry on when the
others went off to do their feature.’
In the UK, Traktor is probably best-known for its work with Lowe
Howard-Spink’s creative director, Charles Inge, on Labatt Ice’s
’contagious’ and last summer’s ’contender’ for Malibu. Traktor has just
finished the follow-up to Mother’s 1999 launch ads for Source’s
’fugitive’ and ’chase’, and directed the agency’s ’live-sexy’ for Kiss
FM. Robert Saville, a founding partner of Mother, says that Traktor’s
reel is a ’smorgasbord of delights’.
’Their work is free of cliches and has a bright, fresh humour that works
in ads. Stylistically, the work is brilliant but it’s also rich with
comedy,’ he adds.
The Mother creative, Mark Waites, says: ’They work very collaboratively
and put a lot into the job. They’re good at everything and use a great
Traktor’s work has occasionally been criticised for overusing retro and
pastiche. Take a 50s US classic car, 60s and 70s interiors, contemporary
clothing, a David Lynch-esque odd character and an obscure old track -
and you have the unique, timeless Traktor environment.
’We were pigeon-holed,’ Sanders admits, ’but our reel has moved on a
lot. It was useful to have a label in the beginning, but we were very
conscious of having to move our repertoire on. People have come up to us
and said: ’We saw your ad for so-so.’ Then we say we didn’t do it and
their reaction is: ’Oh good, because it was shit.’’
Traktor moved to Los Angeles last year, claiming: ’We spent so much time
travelling and we wanted to direct a feature.’
Now it is the turn of the other Traktors to make a feature, leaving the
other half to focus on ads. They would never do a tobacco ad but ’love
’Because of the repressed Swedish alcohol laws, we like a drink at a
wrap party,’ Sanders explains. Robert Saville, however, believes it has
more to do with the climate. ’Well, it’s very dark in Scandinavia.’