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‘Cities get a momentum to their creative culture.’

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Feature by Michael Canning

Having grown up in Tamarama Beach, Sydney, John McKelvey is now an Emmy award-winning writer and Chief Creative Officer of the Los Angeles-based Mirimar Creative Group, founded to create cultural impact for brands at the intersection of advertising, entertainment and technology.

John's creative work consistently makes headlines around the globe, from the Tribeca Film Festival to The New York Times, or being named in the World's Top 10 Most Innovative companies by Fast Company. His accolades are all the more inspiring for his humility as a creative leader. We spoke to John about creative life in Los Angeles, the intersection of travel and creativity, and some favorite places to explore in LA.

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On where you grew up

Tamarama, Sydney, Australia.

On what motivated you to set up a base in the USA

Growing up, my Mum worked for United Airlines, so we have been coming to the States since I was really young, mainly to go skiing; proper Griswold’s family vacation style, with my brothers. I love the US. It’s a vast, beautiful and complex country. I have lived in New York, I spent time in Colorado, and recently moved to Los Angeles. I was always drawn to the bigger opportunities offered in the States for work, so when I was asked to be a Creative Director on Nike in New York seven years ago, I took it.

On your relationship with Los Angeles

We have just started seriously dating and are getting along well. I recently moved here from New York for both love and work, and although I’ve spent plenty of time here, Los Angeles is a city that improves the more time you spend with her. I love it. A real mix of being by the ocean, and also a large, interesting, world city.

Above: Feature film 'Corazón - Give Your Heart', McKelvey's work with Montefiore hospital starring Ana De Armas and Demian Bichir. Production partner: John Hillcoat Serial Pictures.Below: John McKelvey accepts Emmy award with L to R Kristine Ling, Brian Carmody, Allison Kunzman. Photo Credit: Invision/AP. John McKelvey Headshot at top of page by Nick Laham.

On something unique to LA's creative culture

LA charms you a little slower than other cities. Also, cities get a momentum to their creative culture — they are either improving and drawing people in, or on a decline. LA is definitely improving with more potential. One unmistakably unique LA feature is the world’s largest entertainment industry here, shaping culture.

On what is playing when you travel

I am in way too deep on podcasts, audio books and interview-type recordings. However, Madonna always reminds me of first driving around LA.

‘Travel creates empathy. And creativity, connecting with people and great storytelling is all about empathy.’

On a challenge you experienced arriving in the USA

That being debt-free was bad for your credit. Mind-blowing.

On connecting with local culture in LA

My wife Lucy’s family are all here and are very fun people, despite being British. So we have had a great run here from day one. Beyond that, having friends into surfing and surf photography meant it was easy to surf and travel with locals. Also my friend Skiny is a top host, so I have been fortunate to meet lots of interesting people quickly.

Above: Expensify Th!$ with 2 Chainz. Production partner: Andreas Nillson Biscuit Film works. Below: McKelvey's work with Squarespace and John Malkovich. Production Partner: Miles Jay Smuggler. Images courtesy John McKelvey.

On your company Mirimar and recent projects

Mirimar​ is our new creative endeavour: an independent creative company that creates cultural impact for brands at the intersection of advertising, entertainment and technology. We strive to create transformational moments in both advertising and entertainment, believing that — when done well — branded entertainment can show a brand’s true values through the power of a great story. 

Mirimar itself feels like a transformational moment for us. I have the pleasure of being reunited to work with my brother Luke, who is amazing, and Mirimar is an exciting evolution, with all the momentum from our recent previous company’s success: Top 10 World’s Most Innovative Companies by Fast Company in 2019; awarded number-three Worldwide Independent Agency at Cannes Lions; and US Small Agency of the Year. Some recent collaborations I loved making include ‘​Expensify Th!$​’ with Grammy-winning rapper 2 Chainz; creating our first film, Corazón​, with John Hillcoat, Ana de Armas and Academy Award nominee Demián Bichir, to inspire more New Yorkers to become organ donors; and working with ​John Malkovich​ is a highlight. Love him.

‘Anything entrepreneurial has a heightened opportunity to give you more from life, but will also take more. Just get after it. Don’t think everyone else has it all figured out. Fuck the fear.’

On advice for creative people starting their own ventures

Any new creative endeavor requires energy and optimism. Mirimar is the third creative company I’ve founded. Anything entrepreneurial has a heightened opportunity to give you more from life, but will also take more. Just get after it. Don’t think everyone else has it all figured out. Fuck the fear. Someone wise once told me if you choose to do whatever you want with your life, sometimes you’re going to get kicked. Also working really hard and being kind to people seems like solid advice. Then, as your creative work gets traction, be selective about what you take on, then truly devoted to what you do.​ ​We also need more talented creative people, so please get in touch – ​hello@mirimarus.com

Above L to R: John Malkovich, 2 Chainz, and Kitty all photographedby long-time collaborator Zach Gold. Images courtesy John McKelvey. ProducerMichael 'Skiny' Power.

On how travel influences you as a creative person

Travel creates empathy. And creativity, connecting with people and great storytelling is all about empathy. Another realization is your own unique view of the world is precious. No one else can be you. Be yourself and strive for originality, simplicity and truth in your work, and it will always resonate. I also feel you learn more life lessons, quicker, when you travel and experience new places and people.

On where you find creative inspiration in LA

The Getty Center is the best museum in town, worth the punishing drive. The Last Bookstore. Surfing anywhere rugged.

‘We strive to create transformational moments in both advertising and entertainment, believing that — when done well — branded entertainment can show a brand’s true values through the power of a great story.’

On something you recently discovered in LA

​Huntington Gardens. Hollywood Bowl. Minibar Hollywood.

On exceptional design to check out

Architecture-wise: John Storer House. The Broad. The Magic Castle.

On friends passing through LA

I have a classic, retro-feeling California day I like to host when friends pass through. A surf at Malibu Point — the one time I will use a longboard — or further north, if we have time. It’s a beautiful drive, and afterwards enjoy lunch at the Reel Inn seafood diner with a few cold beers. Ideally, then catch a sunset; always makes me happy I live here.

On window seat or aisle

I prefer the idea of a window seat — I love the view and perspective above the clouds. BUT...I have the bladder of an old lady or man, so I’m aisle guy.

On LA in one word

​Versatile.

Above: Surfing south of the border. Photo Credit Filippo Maffei. Below: "Our favorite place to escape in Southern Mexico" by John McKelvey.

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