Mami Ikeda and Jing Tao, Concrete Jungle Fever
Were you brought up in a particularly creative environment? Please describe your childhood.
I grew up on an old farm property in rural Victoria, Australia with no neighbours for 1km, and no other people of colour for another 30km haha. We had lot of freedom to run around and do wild shit. And mum was a massive hippy. I don’t know, is that a creative environment? I played lots of computer games, watched anime and every Jackie Chan film ever, was a mad wrestling fan, read fantasy books, had a VHS of Cool Runnings that ran on repeat.
When did you first become aware that you wanted to make films?
I just loved films and what they can do. They impact they can have and how they can affect you. I don’t know if I can pinpoint an exact moment that made me want to make films but seeing ‘City Of God’ as a 14 year-old was a pretty huge moment for me. I saw that and was like “woah, you can make a film about poor black and brown kids outside of Hollywood that has attitude and style and is fucking cool?!” That was a revelation to me.
Do The Right Thing is another one. That blew my mind when I first saw it.
Jerome Farah as Mum and Dad
Your work, whether it’s music videos or commercials, reflects the diverse Australian community in an upbeat, kick ass way. Is this reflective of your own background?
It’s always been important to me. I’m making what I wanted to see on Australian screens as a kid. We didn’t have that here. Everything was white. Still is. I live in a beautifully diverse city but our screens are still white, the main kid in your ad has be to white cos he looks more “Australian”. I prefer portraying an authentic, vibrant reflection of what our communities are actually like here.
Did you find your music video style transitioned easily into making commercials – such as Google and Flybys – or did you find directing ads a completely different ball game?
My first ad (Flybuys) was essentially a music video, I don’t think I could have asked for an easier transition. I have been lucky that agencies/clients are asking me to do things in my style rather than trying to make me be something I’m not. And I’m making ads… what’s the point of making them if they aren’t fun?
Sampa The Great, Final Form
Your film style has evolved over the last couple of years with three music videos for Sampa The Great. Your visuals have got us hooked on her music. Tell us about the creative relationship you have with the singer and how the process works between you.
That’s my homey ❤️ Working with Sampa is a dream. It helps when you trust each other’s creative flows as much as we do. We’re both very in tune and single minded on a project, we just want to make it the best it can possibly be. Usually, she will send me a demo, it’ll be amazing, and I’ll turn everything off, listen to it on repeat like 20 times then just write down whatever comes into my head. We jump on a call and start bouncing ideas around. From there I just run with it, do a pass on some kind of rough outline based on references, tone, visuals, energy we spoke about. We continue to collaborate pretty closely throughout the whole process.
Sampa The Great, Final Form
Do you work closely with an art director or do you have a clear vision of the sharp palettes, look and feel of the film from the start?
Both. I have a really clear vision of the tone, style, look and palette I want, I’ll put all those thoughts together with references then send them to my art director (usually the very talented Imogen Walsh). Then we work really closely to start fleshing out the world together.
All your films have led to this latest insane and magnificent clip for Jerome Farah’s track Jungle Fever. What were the initial conversations between you two like?
He sent me a demo of Concrete Jungle Fever and I was like, well this is fucking wild… what the hell do we do to this? We chatted about the song and what it meant to him, the lyrics etc. It was all about him playing this different persona so, I really wanted to explore the idea of other people’s perceptions of him versus his own, and what they are trying to make him become. From very early on we wanted him to play multiple characters and for there to be a convenience store/supermarket and that was about it. After that he was happy for me to just do my thing.
Bloody funny, Jerome Farah in Concrete Jungle Fever
Tell us about the process of writing the narrative. Did the final result differ wildly from your first treatment?
I listen to the song on repeat for hours and write. Then I chat to Jerome and I go away and I do that again. I had a really clear idea of the tone of this story, how I wanted it to progress and that it needed to get progressively more wild. The track was wild so the idea had to match its intensity. I had the dream sequence and breakfast scene in the first rough notes. From there it was just about writing ideas/scenes that kept pushing the concept further.
The treatment is pretty much the same to the final result. I had a very clear vision for this clip by that point. I got Max Walter (DP) on straight away and started sending him references. I’d send him something from Fisher King or 12 Monkeys, he’d send me something from City of Lost Children. We were hyped to do something weird and different. And to really push something conceptually. I had done a couple of ads back-to- back so this was my little holiday to just do something creative with complete freedom.
Djok Mai in Concrete Jungle Fever
The cast is crazy good. How did you go about finding them and what was your criteria?
Well, Jerome plays almost everyone, so that part was easy. For the intro dream sequence I wanted someone really laughing manically at him and I had worked with Mami Ikeda before. There was no one else for that role in my mind. Then we reached out to Amy Mete (casting director) to help us find a special little kid who could laugh as manically as Mami. The checkout girl is one of Jerome’s best friends, Djok Mai.
What part of the process did you enjoy the most?
Being on set. Working closely with people I love to collab with. There is nothing more fun.
One of the many faces of Jerome Farah
There’s a great fusion between the cuts and lyrics. Did you nail everything down in pre-production or did a lot of the film evolve in the edit?
I pre-vis everything. My EP Gen very affectionally calls them my “shitty movies” haha. Max (DP) and I will play every character and just shoot the film on a phone in his lounge room to work out the pacing and timing for it all. Then of course when we get to edit, things always change a bit and become much better when Leila Gaabi (editor) brings some freshness to it.
Any definite plans for the rest of 2021?
Working on some fun ads as we speak 🤫