The actor is using commercial projects to hone his directorial skills.
For 18 seconds, the new Bacardi spot looks like a pretty standard booze ad.
Then “The Myth of the Sun Angels” sets itself apart when the director credits flash onscreen, revealing, “A film by Michael B. Jordan & Paul Hunter.”
Paul Hunter is a renowned music video director and cofounder of the commercial production company Prettybird. The other guy you might know from small flicks like Black Panther and Creed.
The campaign launches Bacardi’s new premium rum collection, and Jordan, in an exclusive conversation with Fast Company, says the project came about through a relationship with Bacardi that started last year when he attended No Commission, the brand’s art platform created with Swizz Beatz and The Dean Collection in Miami.
“Many people don’t know this, but [Jordan is] actually a self-professed ‘Rum Guy,’” says Roberto Ramirez Laverde, VP of Bacardi North America. “In fact, he helped open the new Lower East Side rum bar, Las’ Lap. When it came time to produce the first ad campaign for our premium collection, we knew he was the perfect person to get behind the camera to tell our story.”
As a recent Vanity Fair cover story pointed out, Jordan has multimillion-dollar endorsement deals, his own production company, and a new marketing and consulting startup in the works. So he considers this Bacardi ad another form of on-the-job training. Shorter projects like this, with tighter production time, allow directors to try things without the weight of all the bureaucratic machinery surrounding a feature film.
“It allows you to try new shots, take some creative and technical risks, that can teach you things that you can then apply to longer-form content,” says Jordan, whose feature debut, The Stars Beneath Our Feet, is in development. “For me, we used a lot of crane shots, which was something I learned a lot about in this process, just controlling a crane and a jib. It’s a lot more going on than just being the actor in front of the camera. Positioning, movement, blocking, timing, and continuity that was crucial to some shots. So I had a chance to get some at-bats with all of this, to take a few swings at, so it was fun.”
Another big lesson was honing his ability to make adjustments in real time. “Being able to get in there, move stuff around, give notes, in the moment was something I found really useful and paid a lot of attention to this time around,” says Jordan.
While he doesn’t appear in front of the camera in your standard, hold-the-bottle-and-smile spokesperson role, make no mistake, this is a celebrity ad. It’s just that Bacardi is getting creative in how it enlists its creative spokespeople. For Jordan, the quid pro quo is the opportunity to flex some creative muscle behind the camera to create something he hopes transcends being just another ad.
“Brands are getting more creative because they are working with a more diverse set of directors, artists, and creative collaborators,” says Jordan. “I think that’s really smart. You don’t want people to feel like they’re being sold to. If you can be creative, and make it feel natural, that’s an advantage. You don’t want to insult the people you’re trying to market to. You need to be smart with it.”
In October, Jonah Hill was on the Bill Simmons podcast (a pod Jordan has appeared on multiple times), and they were talking about the idea of directors and actors doing commercials becoming more common. Hill said he’d rather see an artist use commercials to fuel their art, than not do commercials, and then take on mediocre projects for the money. Hill said, “I’d rather see Damien Chazelle make a Samsung commercial and then be able to make his art than see him direct Fast & Furious 11.” Jordan agrees. “It’s getting harder and harder to make films, and it seems like there are opportunities to take more creative risks in other places, rather than trying to put it all in a feature [film],” he says. “I do agree with that, as a director, to be able to do some commercials, rather than take on mediocre projects that don’t hit as hard.”