Johan Kramer is, by his own admission an autodidact. (Yes, we had to look that word up too.)
‘By simply doing things, you discover a lot,’ he says, with forehead-smacking understatement.
Curious, inventive, restless — like all good creatives. He blends what he knows with, more importantly, what he needs to know, and so continually discovers, mines, unearths and builds.
And then he ships. By god does he ship.
A busy, awards-garlanded man with a roster of to-die-for paying clients, his appetite for passion projects is hearty. He’s been doing his own thing his whole career.
A combination of a brilliant creative, mentor and motivator, he can also pull off the trick of being a vigorously hands-off manager. (Johan has a talent and reputation for pulling together just the right, and often diverse, blend of collaborators on his projects. And letting them do their thing = result.)
He also encourages other directors and photographers to do side projects too.
As he puts it, ‘Why sit and wait for someone to give you a job?’
Warming to this theme, Johan identifies a worrying trend in advertising and the wider world of commercial creative work: ‘The stupid thing is that people always give you jobs based on what you have done before, instead of what you can do.’
Which, of course, is where a side project comes in. It gives you the chance and opportunity to show the other side of who you are, and the work or area that you love.
Johan sees no difference in his approach to a commissioned commercial job and a project that he starts himself. Both are done with the same passion, and he always seems to have the desire and drive to try out something new.
Football has also played a big part in Johan’s life — he was signed by AFC Ajax as a young man. And at an even younger age, he was writing weekly articles for his local football club.
And telling stories, often football ones, has developed into something of personal obsession.
He loves to find and tell the stories of outsiders, of people that have
a slightly different perspective.
One of his most well-known projects is The Other Final, a documentary about the match between the 2 lowest-ranked football teams in the world that took place on the same day as the 2002 FIFA World Cup Final.
‘Until that time,’ he says, ‘I only shot commercials and short films. I was desperately looking to shoot a longer format, so I invented a project.’
Consequently, he got loads of interest from advertising agencies to do more sports-related commissions, and carved out something of a niche for himself with his well-observed, often quirky style.
As he states somewhat trenchantly:
Another much-loved project of Johan’s is a short film called La Veu del Barça that highlights the long career of Manel Vich — a wonderful old chap who’d been the PA announcer at FC Barcelona for almost 60 years.
No one asked Johan to make this charming film. It was just a story he wanted to tell.The same goes for that slightly dotty one about a Barça fan who, for good luck, drove his car around the stadium 50 times every single day. Fittingly, Halal, the agency that represents him in Amsterdam, has always done side projects.
So it’s a perfect combination. As was his latest film Horacio & Johan, a mesmerisingly beautiful documentary on Johan Cruyff’s years at FC Barcelona and the special bond he had with photographer Horacio Seguí.
Kramer has been a star creative striker for almost 30 years — be that for global brands or intimate, for-the-love-of-the-game passion projects.
And, perhaps not surprisingly for this intellectually rigorous man, he threw in a bit of a ‘Cruyff Turn’ on the final whistle of our interview:
‘Somehow I don’t like the term “side projects”.
‘I see everything as a main project; there’s no difference with other projects.
‘They get the same attention, love and devotion.
‘The only difference is that quite often the so-called side project is more personal.
‘And of course, you don’t get paid for it (at least most of the time).’