The Work That Made Me: Julian King

First Appeared in LBB on June 27, 2023

DOMO director on the influence of Jonathan Glazer's 'Guinness Surfer', passion projects and working with Under Armour


Julian King is a director at DOMO. A true multidisciplinary filmmaker and an avowed cinephile, Julian’s work incorporates his expansive technical skill set with a deep curiosity about filmmaking in all its forms. Crucial to Julian’s creative process is a foundational passion for building teams and systems of collaboration, approaching every project with a rare fluidity and openness that has long attracted lasting creative partnerships.

The ad/music video/game/web platform that made me want to get into the industry…

Guinness ‘Surfer’

When I first saw Jonathan Glazer’s much celebrated ‘Surfer’ for Guinness (Sometime in the mid-2000’s), I remember thinking I’d just seen a piece of work that fully captured the power and potential of the ad medium. I know many consider it to be the greatest ad of all time, and I’m on board with that. There’s so much at play… it’s poetic, visceral, chaotic, irreverent, wildly surreal, and yet, still delivering for a brand with its final, elegant nod to Guinness’ slow pour. It feels effortless in how it wrestles down so much and makes it all palatable.

The more I revisit it, I’m particularly taken by Sam Sneade’s edit. The cuts are brash, expressive and unrelenting, stacking clashing emotions - failure, triumph, fear, awe - right next to the other, frames apart. It exemplifies a certain form of editorial contrast that I love. I return to it often!

My first professional project…

Lincoln 'Fusebox: 60 in 60'

In 2013, I had just finished a passion project (short doc ‘The Real Thing’), which, after doing well online, had started opening up some first opportunities. After grinding for what felt like a year just pitching trying to get a foothold, Hudson Rouge and CD Jason Koxvold (now fine art photographer) were the first team to actually award me a project as a director. What a feeling!

There were a couple of films to make in the campaign, but one stood out: ‘60 in 60.’ We would tell the story of a unique event at the Fusebox Performing Arts Festival in Austin, TX. ‘60 in 60’ is a one hour live show featuring 60 performances, 60 seconds each, back to back to back. The goal: deconstruct ‘60 in 60’ from every angle, speak with key performers, stage rehearsals in cool locations all over Austin, break down the concept for the audience, then end the film with the actual event in a wild, bombastic conclusion! And our film would only be 60 seconds as well, just like their performances. It was a fun setup and I was all in.

In retrospect, the shoot was full of memorable moments, but there were also rookie mistakes. I staged a ballet dancer practicing at dawn in a nature preserve, without heaters, and her feet ended up getting so cold she couldn’t do her signature move. The night of the event was far too hectic, with assistants having to push through the crowd to get to our operators. I had also planned to do a whole series of punchy inserts of clocks and stopwatches, but couldn’t fit them in my schedule, instead having to execute them in Los Angeles with the help of a few friends… then race to get them into our edit. But, at the end of the day, the project came together, and I still have a lot of affinity for it. Watching it now, I can see in it all that pent up energy and youthful ambition I had at the time finally getting an outlet.

The work that I’m proudest of…

Cadillac ‘First Flight’ 

When these boards from creative director Kevin Keehn and Rokkan came across my desk, I was immediately dying to be a part of this project. It was an ambitious brief. Not only would the spot introduce the world to Cadillac’s Blackwing performance engine for the first time, but the engine itself was a tour de force of dynamic elements. Its precision construction versus its brute force on the road, the high tech factory where it's assembled versus the elemental natural world that inspired it, the massive bird murmurations that gave it its namesake versus its pulsing, furnace-like core. Everything needed to be put into concert and corralled into focus - a director’s dream! 

Early on, it was pretty clear that thematically, ‘First Flight’ was about the creative process. That swirling of ideas and inspiration getting carved down into something singular - in our case, an engine. I’m always hunting for visual motifs and metaphors to build around, and I couldn’t get this idea out of my head that creativity is like flying into a hurricane. For the great majority of the journey to the centre, everything grows more wild and turbulent and ferocious… becoming especially chaotic right at the edge of the eye of the storm. Then, at the epicentre - the finish - a sudden, eerie, quiet calm. This became our structural conceit. Our film would shake, spin and careen as the forces within the engine take form, and then culminate in silence and stillness as you enter ‘the eye.’ It’s here, if we did everything right, you’d not only face the completed Blackwing engine, you’d understand it.

We all took that conceptual DNA into the storyboarding and filming, and I’ve always been proud of how our team (props to long-time collaborators DP Eric Ulbrich + composer/sound designer Gavin Little/Echolab) tirelessly worked to bring this film into being. The execution - like so many films - was super fun and challenging. You fight for every shot, every cut, every moment. And sharing the finished spot with Kevin, Cadillac, and producer Bruce Andreini was a really fun day.

The recent project I was involved in that excited me the most…

Under Armour, ‘Real Tough’

At the root of this project was an aspiration to understand and explore resilience as a quality in elite athletes. That toughness mindset to get off the ground and keep going when everything in your body is telling you: ‘you’re done.’ When UA tasked us once again for strategic thinking and development of a new creative territory, we first spent a lot of time deconstructing the word ‘tough.’ Our internal creative team sifted through the tropes and cliches to find a more universal experience that left room for moments of deep vulnerability; key inflection points of the athlete’s journey that are, ultimately, a fundamental aspect of toughness. 

It’s not that moments of resilience in sports training hadn’t been explored before. The toughness to push past the insurmountable is a fully relatable experience. And it’s a perennial fixture in sports advertising. But this campaign wasn’t just using this 'pinch' moment as a mid-film pause where the hero takes a breath to recharge for the end. For Under Armour, the moment of resilience and toughness was a brand pillar. A defining fragment of time in the athlete experience. It was the focus of the entire campaign. I loved that opportunity to dissect this singular emotional experience. And work to not only understand it, but to bring it to life with intensity and honesty. 

One choice we made that excited me was choosing to ground the campaign language down into exchanges between each athlete and their trainer instead of relying on a disembodied narrator or disconnected 'brand voice.' I loved witnessing our voiceover transform as in-scene dialogue. What could have felt like a propositional manifesto became a charged back-and-forth between real people. It was exciting to break form with UA and I think we all felt like we were just scratching the surface.