On Set with Jono Hall
Over the span of his career, Jono has done a lot of dancing to avoid any of those boxes that we are so eager to place directors in. His portfolio has included everything from beer ads, comedy spots and music videos to big insurance and car commercials. In fact the guy is so damn versatile, for the sake of word count, we only tracked his work over the past year. And sweet Lord of the Dance, what a year it was! Although incredibly diverse, there is one thing that ties it all together – the golden Jono Hall thread.
‘I never wanted to be in a position where I got backed into a corner, where I would only be able to tell one kind of story.’
The day we meet, the world is mourning the passing of Stephen Hawking, and for Jono, a man obsessed with physics, the mood is gloomy. In a quest to somehow honour Hawking, Jono reveals he is busy sketching a cartoon of the legend himself (did we mention Jono is also a badass cartoonist?), which he graciously shares with us.
Of course, Stephen Hawking has very little to do with this editorial, but we felt the shout-out was appropriate. Now back to Jono!
iDidTht: ‘As a filmmaker you’re creating incredibly broad and versatile work, especially in the last year. What keeps your wheels turning, what’s the obsession?’
Jono: ‘The thing I’m obsessed with is that I literally want an audience to feel like they’ve stumbled into a moment. And that can apply to whatever characters, scenarios, situations or images you’re creating. I never want it to feel contrived. I want it to feel like you’ve found it. It’s that cliché about editing – ‘you only notice it if it was done badly.’ I don’t like feeling the fingerprints of the film maker.’
Jono Hall – Comedy Guy
iDidTht: ‘What’s your approach to comedy spots?’
Jono: ‘Casting is so important. I am literally just looking for someone who I want to play with on set, someone who inherently makes me laugh. I can then get even more juice from them by using the timing of an edit or the angle of a camera.’
iDidTht: ‘Was Nando’s an absolute dream client to work with?’
Jono: ‘Yes, so brave, so smart. One of the best moments in a preproduction ever was when they said ‘we want to push this further, make it bolder’ to the extent where even I thought ‘wow, you really are pushing this far’, which is great because they will go there!
iDidTht: ‘In the Nando’s ad, where did you find that rock star woman with the eyebrows?’
Jono: ‘Ha, now that scene could have gone wrong in so many ways, but the second that that actress was in the room with us, I could feel, it’s her! If you get the humanity right, even if it’s in a comedy board or a short throwaway moment, the appeal is going to be universal. Human beings respond to the universal feelling of being alive, and if you get that right, it doesn’t matter who you are, you’re going to respond to that person on the screen.’
When Jono quit smoking he needed something for his hands to hold that wasn’t a cigarette. He’s always been an avid cricketer, so he started taking his high school cricket bat to set to keep his hands busy. It’s been ten years since and if you’ve ever been on set with Jono, you’ll know, the bat still joins him every day! And no lies, it’s right there when we open our Skype convo! Owzat for a fun fact?!
Jono Hall – Creative Problem-Solver & Storyteller Guy
‘Commercials are an incredible playground for creative problem solving – you’re given a story, an idea and your restrictions i.e. budget, and you get to figure out how to make that thing work and how to turn words into something that actually exists. It’s also the opportunity for storytelling. It all boils down to the story and the opportunity to deploy all of your skills in service of the story. And I never wanted to be in a position where I got backed into a corner where I would only be able to tell one kind of story.’
Although the ‘Add Hope’ campaign was done over 3 years ago, we just had to include it. It might not be quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity, but for Jono it was one of the most technically rewarding and challenging of his career. From sourcing the drawings from over 200 children in the Add Hope program to shooting shots with elements that weren’t even there and getting the characters to change mid shot. What’s even crazier is that none of the children’s drawings were ever changed, rather just bent and manipulated to ensure authenticity.
Jono: ‘1Life was also one of the most brilliant briefs and the most terrifying. House of Brave had written an incredible script with an astounding voice over. They essentially said that they wanted the ad to start with a man going into a hospital and end with him meeting his granddaughter, it was up to us to decide the middle.’
That’s basically any creative’s dream and worst nightmare all at once! The result saw Jono and his team travelling down to Port Elizabeth, a stone throw away from Jono’s hometown of Grahamstown. With the help of a self-made camera rig they filmed whatever came along their journey that would be relevant to the story.
Jono: ‘We wrapped 1Life on the side of the road in downtown-industria in Port Elizabeth… in peak traffic… on a Friday afternoon! The whole crew had to be in different parts of the country the next day. Yeah, that felt like conquering Everest.’
iDidTht: ‘So what’s harder, that kind of hustle or working with kids in the Wonga spot?’
Jono: ‘Working with kids is like riding a tiger by the tail. You have to have a sense of the kid and the energy you want in the casting, because when it comes to being on set, they’re pretty much gonna do what they wanna do. You just have to ride the tiger and hope you cast right.’
Jono – The Beer Guy
Jono: ‘There is a sort of human spirit quality to beer ads, where if you get them right, are incredibly gratifying to watch. What you’re essentially trying to film is not the beer, you’re trying to film the way that people come together around beer.’
iDidTht: ‘Not seeing the fingerprints of the film maker is so important in beer ads right, because they are such a slice of life?
Jono: ‘I think the challenge with beer advertising is that there is such a rich and long history of coming together around a beer, you can easily fall into a stereotype or cliché. The challenge is to try and avoid those stereotypes and make it feel authentic and real, so that when you look at it you go ‘yeah, that looks like the party I had two weeks ago.’
iDidTht: ‘Don’t think we didn’t notice the bookshelf behind you. The miracle of Skype video! So let’s take a shelfie, what are you reading at the moment?’
iDidTht: ‘Ooh nice! Okay, now show us 2 books that you hide away from guests.’
iDidTht: ‘*inaudable screams* Jono, listen very closely to us right now. Hide those away immediately or never get laid again!’
Jono Hall – The Guy with Humanity
Jono: ‘Dromme is a special piece of work for me. That was literally myself, my DOP and my girlfriend at the time. We went to Constitution Hill and spent a night shooting it on our own.’
Jono: ‘I have an obsession that people must be able to look at particularly a human in a commercial or any piece of filmmaking and must have a response, to feel either ‘i know that person or they are just like me’. There is always something you can do with your actors, whether it’s in the casting, how you dress them, how you lens them or how you work the performance. So the instant that anyone sees them on screen there has to be a moment where the viewer goes ‘I get that.’
iDidTht: ‘It’s been so awesome to catch up Jono, one last thing though…’
iDidTht: ‘You’ve got 30 seconds, ONLY 30 SECONDS, to draw a cartoon of yourself the moment you hear a client say ‘we trust you and we love it’. And go!’
And that was a brief history of our time with Jono Hall😉 The Comedy Guy, Beer Guy, Creative Problem-Solver and a Storyteller with Humanity – creating kickass work by weaving that golden Jono Hall thread of human spirit, all while holding a cricket bat! And just when we thought our achievements over the past year paled in comparison, well, Jono’s proof-of-concept short film, ‘FUTURETOWN’, is dropping this month #WhoHasTheTime The only conclusion, Jono Hall has finally discovered how to space-time travel, Hawking would be proud!
Produced by the iDidTht Content Studio
Credits: Anne Hirsch (Writer) / Julie Maunder
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