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Ian Pons Jewell has had quite a year. In fact, let’s make that three years.

Talking to him in London late last year, Pons Jewell informs shots that he is about to shoot his fourteenth commercial of 2019 - and there is possibly time for a fifteenth. 

“At one point this year I had four jobs in pre-production and three in post,” he says. “Nine ads came one after another, without a break. I was at the limit, for sure. But I’ve been approaching it like an extreme sport.”

It was a similar story in 2017 and 2018. 

 I’ve been approaching it like an extreme sport.

Pons Jewell has become one of advertising’s most in-demand, and hardest-working directors. He has helmed some of the industry’s best-loved ads of recent times, putting his stamp on the aesthetic of the modern commercial with work for the likes of Apple, Nike, Audi, Ford, Three, Finish, Google and Dollar Shave Club. 

These include the highly acclaimed I Love Doing Dishes for Finish, and Three’s Phones Are Good.

Three – Phones Are Good

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Remarkably, he only directed his first proper commercial just over three years ago, in 2016.

Pons Jewell’s rise within the profession has been genuinely meteoric, and as he tucks into a bacon sandwich in an Italian café in the West End, he says he is no expert on the intricacies of advertising. “I'm not good at knowing what works for selling a product,” he says. “I’m just focussed on making a great bit of film, that I feel people would love to watch.”

Four years ago, Pons Jewell was an outsider to this world, but he was no beginner. He had built a reputation as a highly distinctive music video director over the previous six years. 

I’m just focussed on making a great bit of film, that I feel people would love to watch.

Born in Minorca, Spain, then growing up in various parts of England, he studied at UCA Farnham. It took a few more years for his directing career to properly ignite – fired by a chance meeting with the Italian editor Gaia Borretti, who offered him Avid editing lessons in exchange for English lessons. Borretti has been a trusted collaborator ever since.

Having gained a foothold in music videos in London – he won a UKMVA Best Budget Video award in 2011 - Pons Jewell’s urge to travel took him to South America. Intending to stay and work in Buenos Aires, he ended up moving to La Paz in Bolivia, and made several music videos for UK artists while he was there – including for Naughty Boy’s La La La, featuring Sam Smith. This was a retelling of the Wizard of Oz story with an indigenous Bolivian cast, and became a global hit.

Naughty Boy – La La La

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When he moved back to London, his videos pushed more boundaries, and the VFX became more polished: his video for Nao’s Bad Blood, where a naked woman walks through an abandoned factory meeting people where tree branches sprout from their eyes and mouths; in Valentine Kahn’s Deep Down Low, the drug-induced paranoia of a young man in a Japanese noodle bar causes rhythmic facial distortions in everyone around him. 

Some directors would do three good videos, and then ‘bam’, they'd get a commercial, but I was really struggling to get a look in.

“I was writing very purely, from what unravelled in my mind when I listened to the music,” he says of his music video output at the time. But his more outré ideas (like his Rejjie Snow video, where a girl urinates gold liquid into the rapper’s mouth) appeared to be too extreme for adland. “Some directors would do three good videos, and then ‘bam’, they'd get a commercial, but I was really struggling to get a look in.”

He wondered if his break would ever happen, but it finally did, in Germany, when he landed the job to direct the German phone network Otelo ad Choices in 2016. 

A series of artfully-composed, cinematic vignettes – shot by Mauro Chiarello, who has become his regular DoP in commercials – this was quickly followed by another very different German ad: Hornbach’s Your Project Only Belongs To You is a visceral comic imagining of the pain and madness of a major home improvement project, in which the DIY enthusiast-hero sweats, cries, and eventually runs through a brick wall. 

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Otelo – Choices

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Hornbach – Your Project Only Belongs To You

“Otelo showed me how much trust and respect there is in the director's vision, if you're hired for your vision,” he reflects. “And Hornbach taught me how creative some of them could be. I was able to really be myself and not hold back.”

I haven't had much of a life outside shooting but I love it, that is my life.

Suddenly there was a steady stream of boards coming his way, and Pons Jewell says he saw this as his opportunity to plan for the next stage of his directing career. “I felt I needed to go really hard for a few years,” he explains. “Then I’d hopefully get to a stage where I could stop for six months or a year, just to be writing my first feature – and come back to commercials when I needed it.” 

He has been ‘going hard’ ever since. “I haven't had much of a life outside shooting but I love it, that is my life,” he says. “And in terms of the turnover, I’ve built a system, which works for me.”

Above: Pons Jewell on the set of 6am (Ready To Write), his Beardyman music video from 2019.


His breakthrough in the English-speaking industry then came in early 2017 with I Love Doing Dishes for Finish, out of Wieden & Kennedy, in which he established his reputation for whipsmart-sharp, VFX-fired visual humour. 

“The agency loved my video for Deep Down Low,” he says of this cartoonish musical satire about the misery of washing up. “There’s a sense of a really bad comedown in both films – just a bit subtler in Dishes.”

His start in the US came with an innuendo-laden spot for Dollar Shave Club (featuring a pair of coconuts being shaved), followed by his big breakthrough - the launch ad for Google’s Pixel 2, Ask More

Crammed with product information, the level of visual wit and immediacy of the numerous characters in the ad put him on the map in the States. 

Google – Ask More Of Your Phone

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Signed to Reset in the US, and now with Academy in the UK – he arrived from Friend in 2018 – the work has flowed on both sides of the Atlantic ever since, and also the Far East. He reveals one of his objectives has been to show his versatility beyond the comedy vignette formula.

His first North American ad was for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Stand Witness, with an emotional story about the history of the ice hockey club. He says that informed the ad he made for Ford, released earlier this year, featuring Breaking Bad actor Bryan Cranston.

And his recent Michelob ad Call from Nature is also an intriguing diversion into different territory from his best-known comedic style. In this beautifully-mounted ad, the population of a city begin to emulate animals and birds, which leads to a mass migration to the countryside, where they raise their bottles of Michelob Ultra in unison. 

I think if we had slipped a tiny bit off the edge, it would have been an embarrassing failure.

“I actually thought the idea was terrible when I first read it,” he admits, explaining how Dave Morrison, owner of Reset, helped him to re-evaluate the script.

“Dave said: ‘Start thinking of it like its coming from Frank Budgen world.’ And then it really clicked.” 

Pons Jewell then approached it with a kind of epic seriousness, and the result is an unusually uplifting beer commercial. “I think if we had slipped a tiny bit off the edge, it would have been an embarrassing failure. So that one is special.”

Anheuser Busch – Call from Nature

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In his acclaimed 2018 ad for Three, Pons Jewell also treated his subject seriously – but the result was very different. With Phones Are Good, where phones are added to historical and Biblical moments – from the Titanic sinking to Early Man at the dawn of time, to Moses parting the waves - Pons Jewell mounts each scene like a movie drama, which just serves to makes it funnier.

“I was treating each of the historical scenes as seriously as possible. The Moses scene needed to be really beautiful and epic and I didn't want the Neanderthals to look funny. 

"With the Henry VIII scene, Mauro's lighting is stunning - but then Henry's on Tinder. It’s absurd.” 

If you strip it back, it's a big product commercial telling you every feature of the device.

Pons Jewell’s ability to retain a human touch on work that also achieves a grand scale is clearly one of his consistent attributes – and also binding a diverse range of entertaining scenes with a great use of transitions. 

His recent ad for Apple Watch Series 5, This Watch Tells Time, is another excellent example of this.

“Sometimes you end up writing in these transitions because visually it's interesting, but with Apple it needed it,” he explains. “If you strip it back, it's a big product commercial telling you every feature of the device. But they wrote it really intelligently. The transitions actually helped the advertising concepts because it acts like a sugar-coated pill to eat the information.”

Apple – This Watch Tells Time

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The Apple ad was his biggest production the year, in a run of big-budget work. But somehow Pons Jewell has also managed to maintain a presence in music videos.

He directed four videos between late 2018 to mid 2019, only to see two of them canned - including an eye-popping spectacle for Kanye West, featuring Nicki Minaj, that the hiphop star then shelved when he became a born-again Christian. In the remaining pair that were released, creativity and production value has far exceeded the budget. 

Like a lot of my videos, I could see the whole video from listening to the music.

His video for Beardyman’s 6am (Ready To Write) is no less edgy than his Kanye project: a young man’s cocaine-binge is interrupted by his mum texting him to find out where he is, his texted excuse leads his nose to extend, Pinocchio-like, in search of more drugs. 

Pons Jewell says filming this in Kiev, where the actor stayed in his coke-fiend character throughout, and ends up wrapped in sausages, was “one of the most horrible I’ve ever done.” But it has already won an award, at this year’s UKMVAs. 

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Beardyman ft. Joe Rogan – 6am (Ready To Write)

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James Massiah – Natural Born Killers (Ride for me)

That was quickly followed by a Best Video award at Camerimage 2019, for his other video this year for James Massiah, shot in Buenos Aires earlier this year. The video for Natural Born Killers is Pons Jewell’s imagining a sexy version of the end of the world. 

“Like a lot of my videos, I could see the whole video from listening to the music,” he says. “It was just like this hot, final day where people are dying from this heat but, it’s also as if they'd all dropped MDMA at the same time.”

If it's only the director cut that ends up being good, you've really lost half the battle.

The music videos give him the chance to develop his own ideas, but Pons Jewell says his favourite work this year is his ad The Diamond Journey for the Diamond Producer’s Association. 

It is a four-minute epic that follows the history of a diamond, from its creation in the core of the Earth at the beginning of time, through pre-history and moments in human history, up to the present day. With movie-like scale, and a compelling story with a huge cast of characters, this is played entirely straight.

The Diamond Producers Association – The Diamond Journey

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“I was looking for that special piece that would feel like a big feat in terms of non-comedy,” he says, revealing that his ambitions for his Ford ad with Bryan Cranston were dashed by what ended up on-air. “If it's only the director cut that ends up being good, you've really lost half the battle.”

Even though comedy is so powerful, I think comedy in commercials can only go so far.

Unusually, he was able to write as well as direct the ad, as the client specifically asked for the creative to work this way, via their agency BBH in London. Shot in Georgia, out of Radioaktive Films in Kiev – collaborators with Pons Jewell on numerous ads and music videos in the past few years - The Diamond’s Journey enabled him to address what he admits is an ambivalence about comedy, even though that has been a route to success and “life-changing” financial security.

“Even though comedy is so powerful, I think comedy in commercials can only go so far,” he declares. “I do think I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about that.”

Above: Another shot of IPJ on the 6am set: "One of the most horrible I’ve ever done."


He also reveals that it is also nearly time for a stepping back from a relentless working life, where the pressure of work and the overlapping of jobs can be “very unhealthy”. 

More importantly he says it is time to start writing that film script, as he planned three years ago.

I’m stopping for six months and you can definitely write that!

“I’m stopping for six months and you can definitely write that!” he tells shots, and then adds: “That's the plan. I’ve never written something longer than ten minutes, so I might go crazy after four months and come back and make a video and a commercial and then go back writing again.” 

In the meantime, there are still more work to do – and more commercials to be released. 

His new Three ad, for example, is due for release imminently. Is it another Pons Jewell classic? 

“That one is mental…” he smiles.

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