I got into film by absolute luck. I had no idea what I was going to study – I liked illustration, photography, drawing, acting. I was going to do German as a degree or advertising because it looked creative. Then my friend Tim came along and said he was doing film production. I’m quite dyslexic and terrible at essays, so I went for that. I applied with this fake Pot Noodle commercial and somehow I got in. Then I found that this is the thing that means everything to me.
Six months after I finished studying, the fear set in because I hadn’t made anything. I met [musician] Otto von Schirach in France, sent him a short film from university and asked if I could do a music video for him. He said yes, so I joined three tracks together and made the Aliens Visiting Me video. I shot it in this dilapidated bank where I lived [on the Live-in Guardians scheme] and did it all for 50 quid, half of which went on the dress the lady in the video wore.
I got my first ad in summer 2016. By that point I had been in videos for seven years, which is quite a long time. I worked at an internet start-up, in a cinema, did wedding videos – the worst job I ever had – and was a pot washer at my mate’s restaurant in Vauxhall, which I loved. I had random videography jobs, from filming at a dentist conference to this weird, cult-y accountant who gave a class about how not to pay your mortgage – I still don’t know what that was.
Once I started to get into commercials, I was actually happy that I hadn’t got them earlier because as a director, your body of work is your flag in the ground and it’s also your armour. Whereas when you’re younger with only a few videos and you get into commercials early, you’re way more malleable.
It’s like winning the lottery when you get the first commercial. My first one was a black-and-white German ad, given to me by Robert Krause [of Scholz & Friends]. He didn’t care that I had no ads on my reel, just all these weird videos. It would be good if advertising was a bit more like that, taking more risks.
The films with quirky humour are the ones I fall into easily. Sometimes I’ve got a bit of a chip on my shoulder because I don’t want to become the "kooky comedy guy". But comedy is also so powerful; you can get away with so much because it’s like a Trojan horse.
With Three ("Phones are good", 2018), I had the idea to take this amazing comedy script and shoot it like a feature film. Comedy often gets filmed in a lacking way, with the craft and effort seeming to drop off. I wanted to film everything really seriously, so it had that weird balance.
Virgin Media ("You can do anything", 2019) was quite dark. We had this line where a woman turns to the man at his own funeral and says: "I heard they never found the body." And he says: "I heard he had a great body." But that didn’t make the official version – always check the director’s cut.
A brief came in for the Diamond Producers Association, which was to tell the story of the diamond. The client wanted a director to write it as well, to get something cinematic and have the same vision from start to end. The research about how diamonds are made genuinely blew my mind. Originally it was going to be quite scientific, a beautifully told story based on the diamond process. But what I loved was that it’s not just the story of the diamond, but also of the human perception of the diamond and its folkloric history – its magical presence for people back then. Rather than showing that people perceived it as magical, it was actually showing that in a magical way.
I’m now changing gear to long-form film. The thing I’m tapping away at has got very dark humour in places. I don’t separate comedy from drama so much, but I think whatever I make is always going to have humour in it.
Ian Pons Jewell is a director at Academy. He made his name in music videos, with highlights including La La La by Naughty Boy featuring Sam Smith and Beardyman’s 6am (Ready to Write) featuring Joe Rogan. He has also directed ads for brands such as Three, Virgin Media, Nike, Audi and Apple.