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As the Managing Director of Independent Films London, Jani Guest has been involved in some of the most iconic commercials to hit our screens, including Nike's Write the FutureDorito's Dip Desperados and PlayStation 4's It's Time to Play.

As we continue our series in which we ask some of the industry's most recognisable figures to interview - and be interviewed by - an up-and-coming member of the industry, Guest elects to chat to Independent's Head of Business Development, Natalie Blass. 

Blass left Independent to travel, returning this year in the midst of the pandemic, and the two talk about their approach not just to advertising but to life in general. Guest discusses how growing up in an ashram in India has influenced her, why director reps are one of the most important people in a director's life, and why she gets up at 4.30am every day. 

Blass, meanwhile, shares the artwork which got her through lockdown and admits to being an inveterate chocaholic.

Nike – Write The Future

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Above: Nike Write the Future.


NB: In the spirit of silver linings, what’s the best thing that 2020 has given you?

JG: Such a tough one to answer given that 2020 has been such a tapestry of lows, highs, and everything in between; but in the spirit of silver linings… [the best thing has been] a moment of pause. It was a great opportunity to reflect, reconnect, and readjust. I was reminded of all those in my life that I so easily take for granted; my family, my dearest friends, and other loved ones.

I re-calibrated to focus on what is most important and dear. Many suffered severe losses - from family members to jobs – yet, through all those obstacles and life challenges, I don’t know a single person who didn’t pause for a period of time and reflect on where they were, the choices they had made, and the life experiences they wanted to create for themselves moving forward.

You started your ‘agent-ing’ career at Independent in 2016 and then left us to spread your wings and travel the world. When you left, you had no intention of returning to Independent, and yet you have! But I know that you have evolved in the year away. Do you feel your travels inspired you in this new chapter in your life?

Above: Jani Guest, right, with Natalie Blass at the Independent office in London.


NB: Going away for a year to see the world was a fine tonic. It was edifying and inspiring, so I hope that I can harness what I learnt into this next chapter. I wanted to take myself out of my London bubble (not ‘bubble’ in Covid-terminology… sigh) and restore myself to factory settings. 

I went by myself, which I think helped me grow in confidence in decision-making. I visited Asia and Argentina and I’d been living in Buenos Aires for seven months when the government declared the strictest level of quarantine, which continued for months. Spending that stretch of time in a confined setting strangely opened up an artistic journey because I started looking at the corners of my house with new eyes. I wanted to transform the banal into something heightened and full of personality and spirit. So, I started drawing the nooks and crannies of the house that we were in 24/7 and brought it to life with kaleidoscopic colours.

I wanted to take myself out of my London bubble and restore myself to factory settings. 

Since returning I’ve carried on these late-night art sessions at home and it’s so fun. I loved living in another country, gaining fluency in Spanish, and I very much miss Argentina, but I’m at peace with being back and happy to be near my family and friends in London. Coming back to Independent Films has been like walking into a warm hug because I get to be around the brilliant people whom I’d missed and I can work with a renewed perspective and appreciation for all of it. I want to channel the experiences from this adventure into how I work. I hope that my working life, my voiceovers and my midnight art sessions allow me to strike a healthy and fulfilling life-balance.


Jani, do you have a mantra or philosophy that governs how you operate in life?

Click image to enlarge
Above: Blass's artwork, depicting the corners of the rooms she was confined to during lockdown are a way to "transform the banal into something heightened and full of personality".


JG: I have so many! And anyone who knows me well can vouch for that, as there’s probably a very boring stream of the same mantras exiting my mouth. The amount of times I use the word ‘karma’ in a day… countless. But if there was only one that I believe captures my philosophy it would be a quote from Gandhi;

Your beliefs become your thoughts,

Your thoughts become your words,

Your words become your actions,

Your actions become your habits,

Your habits become your values,

Your values become your destiny. 

Another quote that always stays with me is that Listen and Silent are spelled with the same letters


What’s yours?

There have been periods in my life where I neglected my spiritual practices, and although I didn’t realise it at that time, it greatly impacted the choices that I was making 

NB: I don’t know if I have a mantra, but I think a lot about Anaïs Nin’s reflection; “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” The frame we hang around the life we perceive is intrinsically wrapped up in all our own experiences. I try to read, watch and absorb information critically, but I know that I’m always guilty of projecting my thoughts and experiences onto what I’m engaging with.

I keep this idea in mind as a philosophy of sorts, as a reminder to stop seeing my own reflection in the content that I’m interacting with. I want to change so that I can listen better and hear what people are actually saying without my own filter layered over it. 

They also say that the early bird catches the worm, so I’m also trying to crack that nut. Jani, you open your eyes at 4:30am every morning. What drives you out of bed and all the way through your day?

Click image to enlarge
Above: Blass during her travels around Asia and South America, before returning to work at Independent.


JG: Reading that question makes me think I must be borderline crazy… or at least that’s how I might come across. I grew up in an ashram (Hindu monastery). The temple bells would echo throughout the ashram to wake everyone up for morning prayers and meditation at 4.30. So, it’s habit. There have been periods in my life where I neglected my spiritual practices and didn’t wake for prayers and meditation, and although I didn’t realise it at that time, it greatly impacted the choices that I was making (mostly very ill-judged ones). 

To do my best to maintain some sense of inner balance, I have to wake early to create that time for peace. 

We all know that our daily work experience can span from incredible joy, happiness, and creative fulfilment to states of frustration, despair, and sometimes anger. To do my best to maintain some sense of inner balance, no matter what may come rushing towards me on a given day, I have to wake early to create that time for peace. 

Nat, as you mentioned, I know that you don’t wake as early as me… but you are always a bundle of joy and it’s contagious.  Where does it come from?

Click image to enlarge
Above: A young Guest grew up in an ashram in India which has informed her approach to life.


NB:  Thank you. To be honest, I kind of worry that my inveterate chocolate consumption has something to do with my high spirits. I wonder if giving up cocoa would trigger my personality to turn beige, make the sparkle drain out through my feet to leave a tired and pale shell of lethargy.  

My housemate used to call me The Alien because of my bizarre sustained energy levels from the moment I woke till I forced myself to bed. I’m definitely a night owl. I’m most productive late at night into the early hours so, normally, I pry my eyes open with toothpicks at 08:00 in the morning… ok, 08:30. 

I wonder if giving up cocoa would trigger my personality to turn beige, make the sparkle drain out through my feet to leave a tired and pale shell of lethargy.  

Once I tried to ‘do a Jani' and set my alarm for 4:30am, but, when it went off against the backdrop of a night sky, I laughed into my duvet, turned it off and went back to sleep. I can’t wake up as early as you, Jani, but I know that your daily practices, meditation and morning routines shape your day and preserve your equanimity. Your spiritual life, since the ashram days, is central to how you conduct your professional life and has been key throughout your career.

At this point, what would you say is the most important thing you’ve learnt in your career and - since you came from a background of sales - what would be your advice to younger reps who want to become MDs?

Most importantly, care. Care about the work. Full stop. 

JG: I often tell other reps that production knowledge is not a prerequisite to becoming an executive producer. Although it’s not a common career path in the UK, certainly most MDs in the US have come from a sales background. All the things that we are taught when we are younger… be kind to others, be honest, tell the truth ALWAYS, be inclusive, don’t be afraid to say when you don’t know the answer to something, be prepared to make mistakes, have the courage and strength to brush yourself off and keep moving forward. All those are integral to a successful career path. And most importantly, care. Care about the work. Full stop. 

I always tell reps that they are the engine of the company. Without reps championing the directors they work with, neither the directors nor the production companies function. The relationship between a director and their rep, with the person who is responsible for helping shape their career, is probably one of the most important that a director will have. And it’s one of the hardest jobs in our business. It takes commitment and hard work, and there are more knock backs than wins, but the wins can be incredible. It’s been an honour to work with directors over the years and watch their skills and careers blossom and to have been part of that journey.

Nat, finally, I love the piece of art that you drew for us can you tell me what it means?

The relationship between a director and their rep, with the person who is responsible for helping shape their career, is probably one of the most important that a director will have.

Above: Blass's specially created artwork for this feature, highlighting some of the topics and themes of their conversation.


NB: Thanks Jani! I’m deLIGHTed you’ve asked because I’m actually bursting to explain my moronic musings and how they’ve manifested in this MAD drawing.

A few weeks ago, during our work meeting at the kitchen table, we were both snapping off squares of 70% cacao from the secret chocolate box, which is the worst kept secret in the office, and you asked me what I’d draw if I were to merge the two of us in a piece of art.

I wanted to integrate all the details that reflect us respectively, mixed with our interests that overlap (e.g. cookies). I wanted to make a kind of sprawling Venn diagram existing between the serene presences of our respective muses, Buddha and Frida Kahlo. I envisaged a merge of East and West: with your background and continued connection to India and my experience of Latin culture and South America, along with other bits, like our zodiac signs, my penchant for bright colours and palm trees, yours for incense, crystals and candles. 

I wanted the environment that you’ve built in the office to pervade this artwork and then to plonk my tropical colourful chaos in the midst of it. 

Anyone who has visited the offices in Soho will know that the way you’ve designed the building reflects who you are; the walls are painted in serene Eau de Nil, hypnotic classical Indian hold-music hums to callers waiting on the phone line, distressed wood lines the floors, bamboo and salt treatments sit in office-corners, while Chinese lucky cats, Buddhas, and burning incense welcome people as they walk in. (Simón The Sausage Dog used to bark loudly at people when they entered but he moved to Spain so there are no more frights). I wanted the environment that you’ve built in the office to pervade this artwork and then to plonk my tropical colourful chaos in the midst of it. 

The result is a sight for sore eyes but I feel like I can see both of us harmoniously inside it.

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