CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER - ULF JOHANSSON. The Traktor director making a bid for a solo career

Can Ulf Johansson handle life outside of the directing collective, Glen Mutel asks.

Traktor takes its summer holidays very seriously. Each year, at the start of July, the Scandinavian directing collective puts down its cameras, picks up its buckets and spades and spends the entire month proving that there's life outside the business.

However, this summer things aren't that simple. Last week, the founder member Ulf Johansson announced his departure. Clearly not one for painful goodbyes, Johansson informed his colleagues with a short e-mail, giving them something to occupy their minds during their month off.

True to the Traktor tradition, Johansson is also currently on holiday, in his native Sweden, and is keen to keep the specifics of his new venture, Smith and Jones Films, under wraps for the time being. What is known is that it will be a joint venture with the former Partizan producer Philippa Smith and that it will have offices in both London and Los Angeles.

While the advertising and production community may be shocked at the suddenness of Johansson's departure, Traktor wasn't.

"We were not surprised that he was up to something," Traktor explains. "But the actual announcement, and the manner of the delivery, certainly put a special spin on the fjordside afternoon gin and tonics so early in the holiday."

Of course, Traktor isn't the first company to lose a founding member. The situation would be straightforward were it not for Trakor's famous collective ethic.

When Traktor receives a script, all five of its directors consider it collectively. The two who feel strongest about it then take on the job, with one developing the solution while the other deputises. The work is credited to Traktor rather than to the individual directors. And when the press calls up, Traktor even quotes collectively.

So what will the loss of Johansson mean for Traktor's spirit of togetherness?

Well, apparently, the seven partners had not been functioning as a septet for quite some time.

Johansson was absent during the making of Traktor's recent Levi's ad with Bartle Bogle Hegarty as well as its collaborations with Mother including the Siemens Xelibri work and COI Communications' "ask Frank" campaign.

"Ulf was increasingly working on his own, and people who were used to working with Traktor, as such, did not necessarily get the whole package that they had grown to enjoy," Traktor says.

"As for the strength of collective, it is simply a loss of a quantitative element. The rest of us will be a tighter unit dedicated to creating great work and having fun in the process. We can only do so many jobs. Now we can do slightly fewer and choose them more carefully."

Traktor will not replace Johansson. It describes such a move as "not necessary and not desirable" and clearly feels confident that it can function efficiently enough as a sextet.

"We will be a tasty restaurant with one less table," Traktor explains. "The special today is battered splendour on a bed of delight. Chuckles on the side."

If you are familiar with Traktor's history of highly entertaining but slightly eccentric quotations, you may be surprised by Johansson's shyness and diffidence. The self-effacing Swede is an unlikely boat-rocker and it will be interesting to see how he will fair as both a self-publicist and a solo artist.

Traktor itself has every confidence in its co-founder. "He will do well," it says. "He is a disciplined and practical director. The reel he built as part of Traktor will obviously have its moments, and he will work hard to prove his worth as an individual."

Clemmow Hornby Inge's creative partner, Charles Inge, shares this confidence.

"Ulf's such a talented guy and such a good director," he comments.

While the creative director at Lowe Howard-Spink, Inge collaborated with Traktor on many of its best-known projects for clients such as Labbatt Ice and Malibu. More recently, he and Traktor worked on CHI's Tango campaign.

Although Inge has been impressed with the qualities Traktor possesses as a collective, he's also convinced by each of its five director's individual credentials. "Any of them could do it on their own. They're all different, they're all bright. They're some of the best directors I've worked with."

Traktor began life in 1990, when its seven founder members (the directors Johansson, Mats Lindberg, Sam Larsson, Pontus Lowenhielm and Patrik von Krusen-Stjerna and the producers Richard Ulfvengren and Ole Sanders) met at film school in Stockholm.

Over the past 13 years it has directed ads for Diesel, Nike, Coca-Cola and MTV, as well as music videos for Madonna and Basement Jaxx.

In 1996, Traktor signed up to Partizan's London office having previously signed with the company in France and the US. Traktor has played a significant part in Partizan's success, helping it win the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Advertising Festival as the production company responsible for the most award-winning films.

Although Partizan's managing director, Madeleine Sanderson, describes Johansson as a "talented guy", when asked if Partizan will be working with him, she says only: "We have a fantastic relationship with Traktor."

This highlights the challenge Johansson will face. Having previously operated as one of seven, he will now have to put himself about and convince the industry not to just offer him the scripts that Traktor has turned down.

Yet many creatives who have worked with Traktor more than once have been impressed that each director appears to have his own area of specialisation.

And if Johansson can leverage his own unique point of difference, then Smith and Jones Films may prosper. And with just his own judgment to rely on, he may well enjoy a greater freedom of choice regarding scripts.

But all this will pan out in the future. There's the small matter of the summer holidays to get through first.


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