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The Directors: Rohan Blair-Mangat


Eleanor director on spotting the right script, being drawn to narrative work and why the ad industry is more open than ever with opportunities for younger directors

The Directors: Rohan Blair-Mangat

Rohan Blair-Mangat is a versatile director known for the rich atmosphere and visuals he creates in his work. Raised in London by a Jamaican mother and an Indian father, Rohan graduated from Central Saint Martins with a degree in Fine Art, and has since directed numerous music videos and commercial projects.

The winner of several awards including six Cannes Lions, Rohan’s films are defined by their grounded human emotion combined with imaginative, beautifully realized magical realism. Rohan places his characters in heightened realities as a way of externalising their inner selves and to make broader points about our own lives. His projects are noted for their inventive concepts, inspired production design, and reflective tone. He’s worked with talents such as JAY-Z, Naomi Osaka, Lionel Messi, Maya Rudolph, Nas, Daisy Ridley, Lewis Hamilton and Don Cheadle.

His credits include the short film ’Bam’ from JAY-Z’s album ‘4:44’, a Clio award-winning music video with Black Thought to accompany the documentary series ‘Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story’, the visual album ‘Nasir - The Film’ for Nas’ self-titled release, and the series ‘Centerpiece with Maurice Harris’, executive produced by Rashida Jones.

In July 2020 Rohan co-founded Change The Lens, alongside Savanah Leaf, Alli Maxwell and Jason Harper. The organization was created to increase representation and opportunities for Black filmmakers in the commercial and music video industry. He resides in LA and is developing a slate of narrative projects, including the feature film ‘One Night In Compton’ with Paramount Players.

Name: Rohan Blair-Mangat

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Repped by/in: Eleanor/US and UK, Diplomats/FR, Rekorder/Germany, Ransom Film/India


Apple ’Start Up’: 

Cannes Bronze Lion 2022 (Use Of Original Music, Film Craft)

Cannes Bronze Lion 2022 (Sound Design, Film Craft)

AMP Awards 2022 (Best Artist & Brand Collaboration)

Campaign Brand Awards 2022 (Brand Film of the Year)

Clio Music Award 2022 - Gold (Use of Music in Film/Video)

P&G ’These Hands’: 

Gold at the Anthem Awards (Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Campaign - Brand Awareness Categories [For-Profit])

SHORT(Y) List Impact Awards - Winner (Racial Justice)

‘Centerpiece’: Realscreen Awards 2021 - Winner (Digital Content, Reality and Lifestyle)

Black Thought 'Rest In Power': 2 x Clio Silver Awards 2018 (Television/Streaming), Clio Bronze Award 2018 (Television/Streaming)

Geox ’Amphibiox’ - Interactive Campaign: 

Cannes Gold Lion 2013 (Interactive)

Cannes Silver Lion 2013 (Photography)

Cannes Bronze Lion 2013 (Branded Content)

Cannes Bronze Lion 2013 (User Experience)

One Show Gold Pencil 2012 (Interactive)

FWA Site of the Day 2012

Adidas ‘Lionel Messi at Hackney Marshes': Cannes Bronze Lion 2011 (PR)


LBB> What are some upcoming projects that you're excited about? Tell us a bit about them?

Rohan> I have just shot a couple spots with Eleanor, both of which are secret, they should be out in the next month or two. I'm really excited about them.

I’m also developing a feature with Kenya Barris (Creator of Black-ish) called 'One Night in Compton' for Paramount Players. It’s a sci-fi movie set in Compton, inspired by my experience volunteering with Youth Mentoring Connection where I mentor young men from Compton and the surrounding areas. I want to make a story that speaks to those kids and their lives but is also reminiscent of the science fiction movies I grew up with.


LBB> What excites you in the advertising industry right now, as a director? Any trends or changes that opens new opportunities?  

Rohan> I think the ad industry feels more open than ever with more opportunities for younger directors and diverse voices to make work. I’m also excited by the new mediums of communication the industry has started to explore. In my 11 years as a signed director, there’s never been more opportunities to explore different forms of content. I also think there’s now more of collaborative spirit between agency, talent, and director — and I love working this way.


LBB> What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?

Rohan> I just know the right script when I see it. It’s rare that I get a script and I don’t find something about it that excites me. I think there’s a lot of great work being made right now. I like projects that offer visual storytelling opportunities and projects that are emotional. I get excited when I can feel a really strong intention behind the concept. That’s what I like about the marriage between brand identity and storytelling. Getting to show what the audience connects with in the subject. The classic Nike Frozen Moment commercial with Michael Jordan really inspired me when I was a kid. I taped it off live TV and used to watch it back over and over. I liked that it presented something very universal, everyone knew that what Michael Jordan did was special and he could make you stop what you were doing to watch him. They captured this in such a visually moving way in the film. 

LBB> How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?

Rohan> The most important part of my treatment process is my first call with the agency. I want to know where the idea came from and what aspects of it are really important to them. What’s the intention of the spot? The agency spends a lot of time creating and selling in the concept and I want to make sure that I’m building on all of their work. I’ll come to that first call with questions and a rough take on the project and present it to the agency to collaborate and see what they respond to. Then when I’m writing the treatment I like to start with the narrative. I put all my thinking into action with the script and focus on developing it, to make sure I’m really injecting my own unique perspective into it. Then when I feel satisfied with the script, I move on to the approach and the technical details. The visuals of the treatment are really important to me because there’s only so much you can communicate through text. 

LBB> If the script is for a brand that you're not familiar with/ don’t have a big affinity with or a market you're new to, how important is it for you to do research and understand that strategic and contextual side of the ad? If it’s important to you, how do you do it?

Rohan> It’s important to for me to know what the brand identity is, the market they’re speaking to and often if there is a need they’re trying to serve or an issue they want to solve. I try to get some of this info on my call with the agency, but I also research recent work from the brand. I want to build on the brand’s image but also push it a little further. I want to find out the story and message and provide the best way to convey it in the piece.


LBB> For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?

Rohan> One thing I love about filmmaking is that you make something as a team with a bunch of really talented people. As a director, it’s your job to have a vision and lead everyone. If you’re doing your job right, you build a team that works well together. When I was first starting out, I would have said an editor is the most important working relationship to me but now I see every single part of the process as very important. I really like working with agency creatives because the script originates with them. I see a lot of similarities between football (soccer) and filmmaking. A coach and a director are similar. You have the strategy, and you build the team, and then you help them play their best game. 


LBB> What type of work are you most passionate about - is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to?

Rohan> I’m most drawn to narrative work. I started my career as a self-shooter doing documentary work. I liked the freedom it provided but over time I really got into the craft of making very intentional choices. I’m really drawn to a story and it was spots I saw as a young boy like Stella Artois 'Red Shoes' that got me interested in commercials because they were like little stories. Commercials are at their best when they get to the heart of what people connect with about that brand. 

LBB> What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong?

Rohan> Since I moved to America, my work has a lot of Black talent in them. Telling those stories is important to me being a Black and South Asian director. However, I think every artist can tell a variety of stories and I don’t want to just be thought of for projects speaking to the Black community. I’ve shot all around the world and I love experiencing different cultures and places, and getting to work closely with many different people. 


LBB> Have you ever worked with a cost consultant and if so how have your experiences been?

Rohan> I have not directly myself but my producers and EPs do.


LBB> What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?

Rohan> My first professional spot as a director was shooting the famous footballer Leo Messi for an Adidas ad. The concept was that Lionel would land in a helicopter on Hackney Marshes (a grassroots football field in London) and hand out new pairs of shoes to the kids playing there. No one knew we were coming, but somehow it leaked. When the helicopter landed, Messi was mobbed by hundreds of fans, who came out of the trees and over fences. I was worried about the safety of everyone (especially Messi), but the security handled it expertly and Leo signed autographs with a bunch of local people — it was magical. Suddenly I was capturing a different story and the spot became about that explosion of excitement. 


LBB> How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?

Rohan> I enjoy the process of collaboration. Growing up, I admired directors who have a strong voice in their work and I’m always pulling inspiration from different mediums. You’re being brought on a project to collaborate but the agency also wants your input as a director. I’m not trying to be the loudest of voice, but I want to do my job as a director as effectively as I can. I try to inject my voice and style into every project. 


LBB> What are your thoughts on opening up the production world to a more diverse pool of talent? Are you open to mentoring and apprenticeships on set? 

Rohan> I really believe in opening the production world to more diversity and it’s why I’m a co-founder of Change the Lens. The more perspectives you can bring to the industry the better and richer it will be. When I was coming up, I would’ve appreciated having a consistent mentor, which is why I do a lot of mentoring for younger filmmakers. I think mentoring and apprenticeship are really important and it’s amazing to see organisations like Free the Bid and a lot of individuals in the industry working towards more equity and inclusion. 


LBB> Your work is now presented in so many different formats - to what extent do you keep each in mind while you're working (and, equally, to what degree is it possible to do so)? 

Rohan> It’s true, there are so many different platforms and formats now and it gives me more opportunities to do interesting things. I grew up with YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram, etc. and I saw massive opportunity in them. I see the importance of different narrative styles, aspect ratios and edits because people consume content in different ways on different platforms, and I think about this from the beginning of the process.

LBB> What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work?

Rohan> I’ve always been very into the tech side of things. Before I was a director, I made interactive media for Channel 4 in the UK. They would give me an existing linear broadcast show and ask how they could make interactive online content for it. In 2013, I directed an interactive experience for Geox and it ended up winning 4 Cannes Lions.  I thinks VR is really interesting because it opens up exciting possibilities for the filmmaking process, and I’m exploring VR for film/tv projects. I’d also love to do a VR commercial.

LBB> Which pieces of your work do you feel show what you do best – and why?

Rohan> Apple 'Start Up': I used to be a DJ and a musician, so music and specifically music in film is very important to me. What I liked about Start Up is that music plays a really important part in it and the film explores the amazing sounds that have come to define Apple’s software and hardware over so many years. It’s such an amazing way to celebrate that rich history. I really enjoyed the challenge of showing AG Cook’s creative process in the film as he built a song using these sounds.

Jay-Z 'Bam': I loved that this project let me go somewhere deeply important to me and my family, as I’m Jamaican. It’s a film about legacy, as we explore the links between Reggae and Hip Hop, how music and culture comes full circle, and how it inspires and connects people. Jamaica has such a disproportionate influence on global culture for an island so small. I like to find deeper layers within the subjects I explore and I was able to do that with this piece. Working closely with Jay-Z to develop the themes and the story was amazing as he is a true artist and someone I’ve always admired. It was extremely special to shoot in Trenchtown with Jay-Z, Damian Marley and Sister Nancy.

BMW x Alexander Wang: I’ve done several car projects and I really enjoyed them. I like the story within a car, capturing the inspiration and meaning behind its design. It’s interesting to take an object like a car and show why it’s made a certain way and how it feels to drive it. I also liked the connection between Alexander Wang and tying the quality of what he does with the craftsmanship of the BMW. 

Centerpiece (Episodic series on Roku): I loved this project because I got to collaborate with the host, the artist Maurice Harris, to design the look of the show and make it relate to who he is. It allowed me to show another side of my directing. I was always really into fantasy and art direction, and I loved the opportunity to explore different styles of filmmaking. It reminded me of being back in Central Saint Martins. I also got to work with great talent in Maurice and his guests. What a privilege!

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Eleanor, Wed, 18 Jan 2023 10:04:03 GMT