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26th January 2016
Deep Down Low in Tokyo
Title of film: Valentino Khan, Deep Down Low
Director: Ian Pons Jewell
Production Company: NION, Tokyo
Ian Pons Jewell spends a month in Tokyo and this is the result - a fabulously trippy video out of new production company NION

We normally associate you with plot driven narratives and now you’ve just dropped this insanely good, VFX-driven video for Valentino Khan. How challenging was the transition?

I didn’t really think of it as a transition because in my mind it’s still a very narrative video. But that’s just because I have ideas about who each of the characters are, where they were before, where they’re going to end up. But yes, it’s far less plot driven than usual!

The VFX side of it was very challenging because it was only during post production that I realised it was going to take a lot more work than I had originally imagined. So the work ended up being done by various VFX artists who I cannot thank enough. I was never in any of the three different countries that the different VFX artists were in too! So it was all on emails and skype calls, including some rambling self filmed videos of me doing a charades kind of illustration of different parts of it. I should dig them out.

We had Morgan Beringer in London do a rough visualised timing of all the face movements, to ensure the music timings were followed. Ryan McNeely at Visual Creatures in LA then did an initial test shot for the facial morphing, helping us visualise how it would best look. Brandon Hirzel at Bemo (Also LA) then did all of those facial mophing shots, adding the crazy kaleidoscope effect on the eyes and working the morphing idea even further. Alejandro Villavicencio Vargas, based on Bolivia, then did that end shot of him coming out of the bar. Gloria VFX then worked from this end shot, to do the same effect over all of the other shots, plus the finger and fish photo lowering shots and clean ups.

Finally, Daniel Terrazas at Rebel VFX in Bolivia did the incredible tentacles and the intestinal journey shot. They are nothing short of heroes! So yes, it was very challenging, but I feel incredibly lucky to have worked with all these incredible VFX artists.

From Bolivia via Europe to Japan where you worked out of Nion Productions. How did the cultural differences inform Deep Down Low? And can we look forward to more work from you out of Tokyo?

As with with many of my videos, Deep Down Low is very much the product of cultural experiences, but also friendships.

Yukihiro Shoda, known as “Sho”, is an amazing director and great friend from Tokyo who invited me to co-direct a commercial with him, shooting in LA but then editing in Tokyo. This meant I got to go to Japan for the first time and meet his friends and film crew, without which the video would never have happened.

I was originally thinking to shoot it in LA but once the Japan trip came up it seemed crazy not to shoot it there. He also invited me to join their company, NION, which I’ll talk a bit more about later, so this video ended up as NION’s first ever music video.

Once in Tokyo I went out with Sho a fair bit and met so many incredible people, one of which was Chikashi Kasai, a superb and very well known photographer in Tokyo. I knew immediately that I had to film this guy, he had an incredible look, he ended up saying yes to playing the chef character. Another night out I met Yashi (Yasushi Masuda), one of Sho’s best friends, and he ended up as one of the shady guys (the one on the left). Then there is the wonderful actress who plays the waitress, Marika Matsumoto, who we met for the first time at a friend’s party. So when I watch it, rather than it feel like it’s culturally Japanese, it’s more like this video postcard from one of the best months of my life with all my friends I met there in it.

With the story, there’s certainly things in there that were informed, but some that were always in there but ended up working perfectly due to the setting. The main one being the water. To me, it was always about a guy’s post-clubbing come down, and he just desperately wants some water while his mind tries to settle down. The horror being that even this one simple thing is out of his reach, disappearing as the drop happens. Before knowing I’d shoot in Tokyo, I didn’t know how to get him this water! It would be weird if she just gave it to him at the start, maybe he’d need to mutter something to the waitress as he went in. But then when I got to Japan, I realised that every single place you go immediately gives you a glass of water when you sit down.

In terms of more work shot there, definitely. I’ve never been so sad leaving somewhere, I can’t wait to go back. We have lots of plans for NION, so definitely watch this space.

You say it was a long time in coming – why was that? What were the challenges?

Just all of the back and forths in post production really, so my hat goes off to the label, OWSLA, and our amazing commissioner Caroline Clayton. They were incredibly patient and supportive.

How difficult was it marrying up the visuals with the beat?

Not too hard, my editor Gaia Borretti is incredible, so the edit was perfect from very early on. As I mentioned, Morgan Beringer made a whole rough edit timing for me to send out so it wasn’t hard on that front with his great help. The main one is the facial morphing parts, but Brandon Hirzel at Bemo has perfect timing and absolutely nailed it.

Anything else you’d like to share about the project?

Yes, NION is the new company formed there in Tokyo, they’re a group of incredibly talented directors and producers all based in Japan (apart from myself, at the moment!).

It has various functions due to the very different set up that they have there. In Japan it’s far less common to be exclusively repped by one production company who you produce all your work through, even when you are “repped” and on the website of a company, you are free to work with others a lot of the time. This means there can be a sense of not having a home in film terms that you can grow in. So some years back they had the idea to set up a company, one that would represent them, sell them to commercial agencies, but then if they get a project they are free to have it produced at any production company in Japan.

It’s not in direct competition as a production company in this way. But when they have their own projects, including any music videos, these can then be produced through the company they have. They are also all very involved in art projects and work outside of film too. The members are Satoshi Takahashi (producer) , Ai Yamamoto (Producer) , Moriya Takayuki (President), Kosai Sekine (Director), Yukihiro Shoda (Director), Mackenzie Sheppard (Director) and myself.