The Czar director on hanging with Haneke, watching the Wachowskis and a shoot-out with the German football team
Johannes Schroeder got his break as an intern on a feature film and honed his craft assisting the likes of the Wachowskis and Michael Haneke – but Johannes is a director who realises that there’s more to life than film sets. He studied Political Science, sings boy band classics with a pub choir and is a founder of theatre and art collective Zweite Reihe. All of that experience feeds back into his work, shooting commercials and music videos with Czar.
LBB’s Jason Caines caught up with the Berlin-based director to learn more…
LBB> What were you like as a kid growing up in Erfurt, Germany?
JS> It was a pretty nice childhood surrounded by nature and a lot of historic change I didn’t realize was happening at that time. Growing up in the early 90s, just after the Wall came down made me discover new things at the same time as my parents. Tropical fruits, fake leather couches, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or the advantage of a Volkswagen over a Trabant.
LBB> How did you get your start in directing?
JS> I wanted to be a DOP for a long time. Then I got the chance to be a camera intern on a feature film. But there was one condition: I had to drive the director as well. In a city like Berlin that meant a lot of time in a car. We had endless chats where I just listened and learned. How he develops scenes, how he directs actors, how he handles the crew.
After a certain time, I realised these chats and his work was much more interesting than talking about lights, filters and changing lenses. So, I gave directing a try and I loved it.
LBB> What’s the day to day like for you at Czar?
JS> CZAR has been my German production home from the beginning. So, the first thing in the morning is a big hello to everyone, a coffee and a smoke with a colleague/friend. If there are other CZAR directors around we discuss and give feedback on the projects we are working on and share inspiring things. Like Romanian house music videos.
If I have to prep a project I’ll start with whatever is on the schedule for the day or go into the editing, until our fantastic VFX artist, Lucas personally informs everyone that lunch has arrived. After that I meet some fellow freelancer for a coffee around the corner, wander around the art galleries in Berlin Mitte and end up refreshing my Instagram every five minutes, before I actually start writing the things I wanted to write in the morning.
Okay, that was a mix of ten days. To be honest there is no such thing as a regular day. Except the coffee and cigarettes part…
SIND - ALPINA WEISS from Johannes Schröder on Vimeo.
LBB> You previously worked as a feature film AD with directors such as Michael Haneke and the Wachowskis. What were those work experiences like?
JS> Both experiences were super influential. They helped me to find out what I want and influenced the way I direct. Wandering around with Haneke through every cornfield in Brandenburg just to find the perfect location for a three second shot and rebuilding a whole village still inspires me.
The relentless way he works and his intimate approach with his actors and core crew were fascinating and have become a part of my own style of directing. On the other hand, being part of a Hollywood studio movie was breath-taking and a good lesson, but a little frustrating as well. If you are one of 600 people working on set, you really understand the difference between Hollywood studio films and European Arthouse. Still - this time in feature films played a big role in my formation as a director and doing a feature is definitely a long-term goal. But name one commercial director who wouldn’t write this…
LBB> You studied Political Science at Freie Universität Berlin in political science. Has that helped you in any way in your directing career or for generating ideas for projects?
JS> I originally chose to study Political Science to learn something aside from being on set and to fill the time in between two film school applications. But when I look back I can see how it built the way I read and analyse any form of text. Even if it sounds strange, studying Political Science helped me on the conceptual side of directing more than just shooting films.
In general, I think that any experience outside film sets and schools helps being a director.
LBB> We’ve seen that you founded theatre and art collective Zweite Reihe. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
JS> ‘Zweite Reihe’ means "second row“. That describes our idea pretty well. We were a bunch of assistants from theatre, film and arts. We had a lot of energy and ideas and needed a common platform and the group pressure to do these, even if nobody was interested in us. We did some short films, theatre plays and performances. It basically helped us a lot to have a group of friends supporting each other. The idea of stepping into a responsibility, to not just assist or rant about other people’s work, but to do your own stuff and get naked.
Nowadays it’s focused on theatre direction only. I do the video and projection stuff for them, which is a great variation from my main projects. I love theatre for its intimacy and the way directors and actors can develop something over time.
LBB> What has been your favourite project to work on so far into your career?
JS> That’s a hard question and the most boring answer is the most honest one: every project had its highlights and lessons.
Shooting with the German national soccer team for adidas with my director friend Philipp Ramhofer was as great as getting these hilarious Maxdome scripts into my hands.
Maxdome | the gift | en from Johannes Schröder on Vimeo.
But my last highlight was the SIND promo for sure. Working without any budget and constraints, doing basically everything on my own and developing the story over time was a nice contrast to the commercial jobs I do.
LBB> What are you into outside of advertising?
JS> For me it’s really important to do stuff that is not related to shooting angles, colour palettes and filmmaking. That’s why I love the pub choir I am part of (Berliner Kneipenchor). We are definitely not the best choir in town, but it’s pure joy singing boy band classics with 30 other slightly drunken ladies and gentlemen. If I find the time, I go surfing. But even though I’ve been doing it for years, I still suck. But still: I love it.
ADIDAS | FIRST NEVER FOLLOWS | EURO 2016 from Johannes Schröder on Vimeo.
LBB> Do you have any advice for younger directors who'd like to work in advertising?
JS> Stop comparing yourself to all the great Vimeo/Instagram directors out there and find your own thing. Even if an idea is small, stupid and not cool - do it. Depressively comparing yourself with the rest of the world won’t help you and your ideas.
Doing stuff, developing yourself instead, will. And once you are into advertising, use time and the money you earn to continue doing small, stupid and uncool projects. It will pay off.
(I probably wrote that for myself...)
LBB> Do you have any upcoming projects that you'd like the people out there to know about?
JS> I’d love to work more internationally, but it’s not easy for a German comedy/dialogue director. That’s why I am prepping a short film without any dialogue. To force myself into unknown areas. And there is a feature film script I’m developing. But it’s in an early stage and I happily use any form of distraction to avoid putting too much on paper.