Jonas Morganstein is the Emmy Award-winning executive creative director of Buster, the graphic design and animation division of Los Angeles-based Stun Creative. He received his BA from Vassar College and a double MFA in art and film from California Institute of the Arts. In 1994, Morganstein joined production company Bomb Factory as a director. He later paired with Kate Flather to form the commercial directing team Heavy International, which was first represented by Tool and then by Celsius Films. In 2004, Morganstein co-founded Buster with Stun principals Brad Roth and Mark Feldstein, and ever since has been cranking out commercials, brand identities and promos for high-profile brands, TV networks and movie studios. Under Morganstein’s leadership, Buster has stockpiled awards, including two Emmy Awards and seven Emmy nominations, and was named Agency of the Year at Promax/BDA 2013.
Love the Underdog
A lot of Buster’s work is comedic. How did you develop a knack for comedy, and how do you integrate it with design? The way I do comedy comes from a survival instinct. If you can make kids laugh they usually forget to beat you up. Comedy is about surprise; the clever twist and the unexpected reveal. Good design needs those elements, too. So I’d like to thank the kids trying to beat me up for turning me into a kick-ass designer.
Where do your best ideas come from? Many start as anti-ideas. We’ll be sitting in a brainstorm session and someone will joke “wouldn’t it be funny if we did THIS!” And it will be something that doesn’t seem possible or appropriate. But then we realize, “Wait, that could work!” So we never just automatically dismiss an idea, but we’re not afraid to point out why some seem “bad.” We can’t be worried about hurting people’s feelings all the time. People who have a lot of ideas tend to have some bad ones. It’s important to discuss why they don’t work because there is often a kernel in there that can be developed. At Buster we love the underdog—even underdog ideas.
What are some of the challenges you face as executive creative director, and how do you handle them? There’s a great story about a kindergarten teacher whose walls were always filled with amazing artwork—notably better than the other classrooms. When asked why her students were such artistic geniuses, she replied, “I just know when to take the paper away.” Many times, I find that to be true. Sometimes we look at something so long or it goes through so many levels of revision that we begin to complicate it, and we lose the essence of what makes it good. It’s difficult to decide whether developing something further is going to help you break through to a new creative level or ruin the work entirely.
What is your approach to branded content and entertainment for television? Ultimately it’s all about story. Each advertiser has their brand story and every TV network and show has a story too. Our job is to find where those stories intersect in the most entertaining way.
What tools do you find indispensible for your work? Bourbon and Energy Drinks. Not at the same time.