The Directors in association withLBB Pro

The Directors: Jan Gleie

Production Company
London, UK
Birth UK's director on letting go, his proudest work and a love of exploring

Award-winning director Jan Gleie’s films and still photography have such striking visual flair and visceral impact that he is considered one of Denmark’s greatest creative exports. He has a rare ability to capture reality through layers of emotion, making him one of the most sought-after talents in advertising and branding. 

Jan’s impressive body of work in Europe, the U.S. and Asia includes such notable clients as Hermès, Vivienne Westwood, LVMH, Laura Biagiotti, Mark Tan, Hugo Boss, Mercedes, VW, The Independent, Selfridges, Adidas, Converse, Target, Mods Hair, Boots, MasterCard, Kerne.milk, Canon, Zalando and more. 

Today his work is a true visual experience viewed across all formats with most of his branding commissions produced simultaneously for broadcast, print, social media and internet syndication. 

His extensive awards list includes Best Campaign wins at AWNY, Golden Aurora, Eurobest, London International, The True Awards, Creative Circle, Mobius, Cresta, Arnold, The Art Director’s Club and Cannes Lions. From fashion and film to music and sport, he’s worked with the  great and the good including Charlize Theron, Malcom McLaren, Helena Christensen, Tatjana Patitz, Eva Padberg, Goldie, Edward Heath, Ken Livingston, Desmond Morris, Stephen Hawkins, Jonathan Dimbleby, Sylvie van der Vaart, Anita Roddick, Victor Ubogu, Lindford Christie, Vernon Kay, Amanda Moore, Elise Combrez, Caprice Bourret among others. 

Jan’s honest approach to directing and his unique aesthetic fuse fashion and commercial work with real life, resulting in an unconventional expression that is both beguiling and effortlessly stylish




Awards: Numerous awards at EACA Euro Effies, Cresta, Clio, Epica Awards, Eurobest, Cannes Lions, London International, D&AD and more.

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

Jan> It might sound very obvious – but I need to be able to relate to it on a very personal level. The core IDEA needs to make sense to me. This is basically essential. 

And if this is the case it enables me to “feed” the process with endless initiatives, insights, passion and drive. I’m always drawn to the intimate, authentic and when the team of people involved are looking for the unusual take, the unexpected view, or creating a new brand platform. What can I bring to the table? Why does it speak to me? What good will it do for the brand? These are the recurring questions I ask myself before going into any job.

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

Jan> Again my starting point is very personal and the first thing I look for is the link between the product, the brand and where our common ground lies. Most often I have initial thoughts that hit me right away and if these resonate with those of the agency, I try my best not to overthink things and strive to hold on to these initial thoughts. This helps to keep the creative fresh and spontaneous.  With everything I add in a visual sense, I illustrate this in treatments by always coming back to the core message. I try to clear everything out, declutter and then build things back in. 

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?

Jan> Yes – this is key. And if I don’t know the brand then having a conversation with both the agency and client about who they are and where exactly they want to go - is the most important information before approaching any job. Surely you can research your way to a better understanding and knowledge, but never about where they are headed and why. 

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

Jan> The key relationship is my producer. 

Every good job I have ever been involved in has been built from the perfect producer/director work relationship. And most often it is in the hands of the producer to connect everybody on the best possible terms.

And then making sure that when it comes to connecting with the agency and client, everybody has a common vision. The very best work relationships I have had with agencies and clients have lasted close to whole decades but were put in place by my producer. In each of these cases, we have had a distinct mutual understanding with one another, the creatives, the agency as well as the client  - of the brand, context and goals.

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?

Jan> I love being part of the bigger picture. Whenever there is a possibility of building a brand or indeed shaping a new perspective for a client. I love whenever there is a chance to do something different and unexpected or simply to work with people with open minds in solid teamwork – then you can count me in. I love being part of a team when everyone lifts one another to a higher level.

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

Jan> I often talk about "letting go” which can sometimes be met with a degree of alarm! For some clients who are used to working differently perhaps slightly more traditionally, this can seem like a frightening experience. Especially when talking about it upfront. 

But “letting go” does not mean out of control. In fact, it’s the other way around. It creates the freedom to be able to adapt and achieve the best end result possible.

I put great emphasis on a pleasant and respectful work spirit. Not only because it makes the process more enjoyable but also because the most expressive and unreserved human moments tend to emerge when there is a lack of stressful expectations. And better workflow comes from happier minds and teamwork.

In the lead up to the shoot, I strive to have most expectations in place between the agency, myself and the client in order to create an enjoyable, relaxed atmosphere during the actual shooting days. And I talk a great deal about this to clients and agencies before the shoot.

I love exploring and welcoming new and unexpected things on the shoot days and seeking what happens spontaneously. 

I often see how things change once everybody is together. The subtle nuances that could not be put into a treatment become obvious during the shoot and being able to adapt to these nuances is evident in the end result.  

Magic happens when you “let go”.

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

Jan> I’m never the one talking face to face with the cost consultant, but I always prefer to be involved in the budgeting. It’s often in the details of the job that you find what has the bigger impact on the budget. Especially working with people I have not worked with before, I can be very specific about the budget – in order to specify what is really needed or not.  

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

Jan> Every job has its own proportions of things that need to be solved as you go along. Usually, the solution will be found in the “idea”. If the “concept” is in place there are so many ways to solve whatever crazy tasks are thrown at you. 

I once had to portray a classical youth orchestra and we flew to China to meet them during their world tour. Only to discover that no one from the orchestra wanted to participate on the main shoot day since it was also a long-awaited day off for them. Instead, they rather wanted to go on a bus trip to see the Chinese Wall. 

The solution came from the “idea”. My task was a personal portrayal of the “youngsters” playing their instruments and I filmed them playing music inside the bus, travelling on the freeway, on their day off, back and forth to the Chinese Wall.


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

Jan> It’s really a matter of being on the same page. Again it’s why it’s so important that there is this “common ground” and mutual understanding in the business we are in. When this is the case, there is nothing better and there is nothing to protect or lose.


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? 

Jan> The clear answer is a big “YES”. I mentor and collaborate as much as possible. And get just as much back as I give. Most of my skills flourish from working with younger people outside the established world of advertising. There is something very liberating about working with the untrained, unspoiled and open-minded.

LBB> How do you feel the pandemic is going to influence the way you work into the longer term? Have you picked up new habits that you feel will stick around for a long time?

Jan> It hasn’t changed too drastically for me. I have always worked from home a great deal although travelling is a little less now that most meetings take place online. 

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)? 

Jan> I have actually fallen in love with the impossible task of covering all formats in “one” and I absolutely love embracing the varied. I find it challenging and stimulating.


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

Jan> Generally speaking, I’m not really into technology. I only get involved when there is a need. And mostly to keep it simple, focusing only on shaping up the most basic camera setup possible. This is key for me in order to allow for the lightest and most fluent work style. 

I see the camera as an extension of my own eye and I’m not that keen on the “distance” between myself and the subject, which most often is caused by the use of heavy technology. My style of shooting, you may say, with a “deliberate lack of technology” allows me to follow my subject as an intimate and insightful companion rather than through a distant and observing eye. 

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

Jan> Canon

I absolutely loved working on this and saluting a very brave client. 

Everything started from scratch with only the tagline “Redefine ordinary” in place. 

After I had presented my initial idea to the client, they asked me to push it further and for something unusual. Once they bought into my approach they stuck to their word and were  extremely open-minded throughout the process. It was a process of discovering the “redefined” moments while trying not to force it and remaining open and spontaneous. They stayed in there until the very end when we shaped the film out of almost 20 hours of material.

Director’s commentary.

I like sharing this simply because it gives a pretty clear insight into how I work and what I’m fascinated by. 

Hermès H24.

A brand that is very dear to me. Working with Hermès first and foremost is amazing, as well the brilliant creative director Fabien Mouillard, Publicise Nous, who pushed to go where others hadn’t gone before. Fabien was storyboarding on the go, both between takes and until the very last minutes of the day. And I loved the challenge and embraced working with a fellow perfectionist. 

This year I had the pleasure of working with yet another “great mind” on a continuation of the Hermès H24 campaign. We adjusted and updated it while having another “one of a kind” creative director Alexandra Rehioua in the lead. 

Mothers of Morocco

When I was asked to do a similar brand positioning for Moroccan, Dalaa, as I had done earlier for Pampers, the bar was set high. 

In fact, the bar was too high for the ambitions.

But loving the possibility of portraying mothers of Morocco from all ends of the social spectra, I offered to shoot during prepping, while scouting and casting in addition to shooting during the actual shoot days. 

During the prep days, I was on call day and night in order to capture a real birth on camera. At the end of the 10 days prep, I had witnessed and filmed three beautiful births.

With tons of great footage, I could then help put together a longer format that took its foundation from a very poetic agency description of the entire project. 


Camaieu is an example of great teamwork, consisting of a brave client, notorious creatives and agency, George Mohammed-Cherif and trusting and intelligent Souen Le Van, Buzzman. We avoided the tabloid clichés often seen in commercials when portraying women working in traditional jobs and uniforms they wear. Instead, we agreed on authenticity by keeping it real and working on the talents’ terms.

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