It feels as though Jeremy has always been somewhere else, living in another world than mine but we stayed in contact throughout the years nonetheless. On the rare occasion he ended up in Montreal on a project he'd sometimes reach out to hire me as a stylist - even though I had an insignificant amount of experience in that department and only rarely expressed a desire to push myself in that direction. Jeremy is the kind of person that can see potential and take a risk, characteristics which I'm sure have served him well. He seems to be included in a new film festival every year that passes, and I'm certain he has no plans in mind to slow down.
He recently flew in from Haiti, where he was shooting a short documentary-style piece. While editing the footage he's also been preparing for his day long, Godberd sponsored free workshop, on filmmaking while one travels. We managed to make time to catch up the other day, his only request being that he could walk my partner's bull terrier Bisou.
I'm recording now...
Perfect. Is it good sound?
I think so [laughs]
[laughs] Ahh okay, no problem. Ask your question, let's go
Okay, what's the first thing you do when you get to Montreal?
When I get back to Montreal I smoke a joint because it's forbidden where I live in Japan... I don't smoke in Asia. Then I eat at Baton Rouge with my family and afterward I call my friends.
Is Montreal the place where you actually vacation since you're working when you travel?
Yeah it's my holiday place because I can't really stay still when I'm discovering new countries. Even if I go on holiday in Cuba, or in Columbia or something, it's not going to be a real holiday because I'm going to be busy exploring. I know Montreal quite well, I don't have to explore here, so it's where I can relax. In the countryside of Japan, too, because of the vibe, there are not too many tourists.
I remember hearing about your win here at Fantasia Film Festival in 2014 for Best Director, you were only what, 25?
I was 24 in 2014, no I was 25. I won again last year, for Most Creative Movie. No one remembers Most Creative Movie though, because it's a weird prize but it's still a prize and it's a great one. I haven't accomplished what I had wanted to do after that but it was a good start.
Category, no...I finished my last short movie. I say "last" because I don't want to do shorts anymore, I'll be 30 soon and think I should have made a feature by now. I was busy doing other things...the one I just shot in Thailand with the actor of Only God Forgives, it's going to be amazing. Maybe Fantasia will want the Canadian premiere but I'm aiming for a world premiere in Berlin or another bigger festival. Or maybe the world premiere will be at next year's Fantasia... I was really happy to win there since it's my favourite festival.
It's my impression that on your sets you fulfill many departments' responsibilities. Writing and directing, but also shooting, editing, and creating an original score for some pieces. Are there other roles that you take on?
That's almost everything, I do the editing and also the grading and titling. I've worked that way throughout my 20's, it was my obsession to control everything. Now it's the end of that time of my life which I want to finish with my upcoming workshop. Once I'm in my 30's I would like to get a proper team together so I can focus on directing and editing which are the two things I love to do the most. I don't want to hold the camera anymore, a lot of people are way better than me at that and even...
OH MY GOD!!!
He's peeing on you!?
[laughs] Yeah!!!! Bisou!
[Bisou pees on Jasmina's shoe under the picnic table]
Bisou, not good!
[laughs] I think he's marking me... Sorry to cut you off
No it's okay
[takes off shoe] My next question was going to be "do you prefer to work with a smaller crew", but from what you've said I gather you're more interested in a larger one now.
I'm the crew so of course it can only be bigger though I'd like it to stay small, which is possible when everyone can multitask. These days big scale productions hire someone to focus, other people do the lighting - average lighting...someone else makes the coffee...I think it's kind of bullshit and we're losing a lot of money. It's called the film industry because it's an entire industry. Now I think that, that I want to make human scale movies with 5-10 people in a crew, maybe 10 maximum. They'd be like a family, everyone would know each other, everyone is passionate and multitasks. My DP (Director of Photography) can also act as the focus puller, everyone should have various knowledge which makes them more efficient. It's more human like that, it's nicer. I'm trying to find people around the world who want to join my team.
Control vs. collaboration?
Of course, collaboration is ten times better but control works well for documentaries. When I shoot a documentary I'm alone, I've just got my camera and my mic, so the people who are with me are comfortable; they laugh, they have sex, they do so many things they wouldn't do with a big crew surrounding them. When it comes to documentaries I will always do everything myself but with fiction - when you want to tell a story and put it together from pieces, you need a bigger team.
National Geographic, Converse, Vice, and Porsche are household name brands - how did it feel to land those contracts? When I was a teenager Vice was the coolest thing around, everyone loves National Geographic, I'm wearing Cons right now - the ones Bisou just peed on...and who can forget Porsche?!
All these contracts have no real importance to me, I did it for the money. They didn't lead to anything serious either. Converse was fun, Porsche was pathetic - we shot in Mongolia, enjoyed the country but was against everything else. National Geographic was good but after the third shoot we crashed a car and they never wanted to work with me again. Vice pissed me off and I insulted them, they never want to work with me again also. It was the commercial Vice from China so it was heavily monitored, and they usually wanted to use me as a DP and editor instead of letting me pitch my own ideas. So I don't want to work with them either. They are too big now, they are not approachable. Now I work with other big brands that let me do what I want. I work for Dunhill the clothes company in London, they let me...
Yes Dunhill is known for making cigarettes but they also make super suuuper amazing suits, they are one of the largest suit companies in the world and I've got a contract with them, they let me pitch anything I want, Red Bull too. These are the kind of companies I'm happy working for because I'm not a tool, I'm a part of the project. That's what's most important to me, that's what I want to teach in my workshop - create your own style, your own aesthetic, so that people won't treat you like a tool but instead like a brain.
Do you find that the commercial film industry is set up for marketing companies rather than filmmakers?
Yeah big television channels use directors as tools, nothing else, they are the devil, especially companies like Dentsu in Japan
Bisou, why, what are you looking at?
Squirrel? Squirrel...maybe squirrel. So yeah I see advertising companies as the devil but they've paid my bills. Now I manage to avoid contacts with advertising companies and work directly with the client. I'm represented by a creative agency in London called Great Guns, they always have good jobs to pitch for. But for these jobs I'll be more than just a director sitting on the chair and waiting, basically just being kind of useless and getting paid so well to be useless - I think it's kind of fucked up how much they get paid, but it's okay.
What kind of projects inspire you to empty your own pockets?
My pockets are perfectly empty most of the time, I spend most of my money on traveling and on making new projects so I'm always basically broke. When I make money it's a fair amount so then I stop working commercially to make time for personal projects. When I went to Thailand in October to shoot my last short I spent around $5000 and of course didn't earn anything.
What is the short about?
It's named Ratri, who is the Goddess of the Night in Hinduism. She wants to see the sun rise in Bangkok, but it won't because she brings the night, she basically banishes the sun from around her. Her brother, the God of Fire Agni, tries to find Ratri, he's played by Vitaya Pansringarn. Then there is one human, played by Sean Carter, in the middle of it all...he's a black American from Atlanta living in Bankok, he's a tok-tok driver on a futuristic earth where the USA has failed and American immigrants are forced to go around the world in search of cheap paying jobs. He ends up taking on his tok-tok, the God of the Night. It's a fifteen minute spiritual short, one I would like to make a feature out of, there is big potential. I would like to make a feature in Japan first though, then move to Bangkok and make one there, then to Shanghai and once I finish a feature in Shanghai my Asian circle will be done and I'll be able to come back to Montreal.
Have you ever encountered a certain serendipity on set?
A serendipity, coincidences that happen but it's as if you know you're on the right track when they do.
Always, always. Recently in Haiti I was supposed to shoot the top of a building but I broke my drone. Out of nowhere, a Haitian guy shows up with a drone over our set and offers to meet us the next day at 6am to shoot for us the last shot of the film. That was amazing. It always happens, it always happens when you work for free with a motivated team, you always get lucky. There is no way it can get worse - you don't have money, you don't have time, so anything good that happens is amazing. If any aspiring filmmaker is scared they have to know that everyone helps broke filmmakers and luck comes always...always. If it's not lucky then it's fucking terrible and the project can't happen. Luck is actually the base of shorts without a budget. It's when you're too well prepared with too much money that bad shit happens.
How was the rest of your luck in Haiti?
Luck is what saved that project in the end. I was supposed to shoot artists at a music festival but it got cancelled because of the strike over fuel prices. Three people died in the streets... Five of us decided to go anyways, we'd already bought our plane tickets and were determined. It was only through luck that we met the right people and had no days of rain, that we got the footage of the amazing artists we did.
Has the experience changed your perception of Haiti at all?
Of course, it made me realize how lucky we are in Montreal. Haiti is struggling but how brave are the people and how much of a coward am I? I was scared there, I'm not used to feeling hostility in the atmosphere, to people not smiling at me... Towards the end I was more relaxed but it was intimidating at first, especially when I was with my camera. Journalists and cameras have a bad reputation in Haiti. I told them I wanted to capture beauty, they had thought I wanted to play with misery. There's no misery in the video I made, I want to promote Haiti all the way!
Were there any delicious dishes that you couldn't get enough of while you were there?
Yeah everything was delicious! Ranette was cooking for us, she is an amazing cook, she made the best food in the world. We ate so well the whole time, Haitian food is delicious, it's strangely quite heavy for a hot country, it's as heavy as it gets but god knows it was good and I didn't get sick one time. I did get sick when I started eating North American food again.
Any songs get stuck in your head that we should know about?
Haitian trap is amazing, Haitian reggae is amazing, all the Haitian music...it's incredible the diversity of the music there is in Haiti. I find most countries that have suffered a lot have so much soul in their music. The video we made is with a famous Haitian track trap, we met the artist and he gave us all the instrumentals and stuff, brilliant.
You said that next you want to do a feature in Japan, then a feature in Bangkok followed by one in Shanghai...are you going to bring a team with you or do you already have Padawans there?
I always invite people to join my set, Padawan or not. Some people are better than me, some people that are just learning while I'm learning from them too. I learn so much from my Padawans. I've got one official Padawan in Japan, I do all of my projects with him. His name is Akira, I MISS YOU AKIRA
What's the job description of Padawan?
Everything, everything. Assistant camera, being able to improvise on set in many roles behind the scenes, they need to want to get better and better...in general they help me. They just help me and when they are experienced enough I hire them as my DP or something. Patience is important, I usually use my Padawans as punching bags because I'm always mad,
so it can be hard mentally. I'm working on that because it's not so nice...but ya I give them a lot of shit and that's the price they have to pay. Everything is good though, I pay my Padawan, if I'm getting paid you're getting paid, and well. Way better than they would usually get paid because of their youth, but in exchange I give them shit. When I've got something on my mind I complain and way more to them than to other people...that's how I relate to them so they need to be patient.
Lastly, are you hoping to find new Padawans at your workshops here starting on the 25th of August?
Yes of course... They will be able to ask me advice anytime when they want help on their own projects, and when I'm ready to do a feature movie in Montreal I want to work with a team of young passionate filmmakers, maybe also in collaboration with cegep or university.
Can you think of anything you want to add Jeremy? [shouted]
[Jeremy is already running, racing Bisou]
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity. My favorite music video of Jeremy's, made for Montreal's Le Matos, is posted below.
To apply to Godberd's day long free workshop, taking place on the 25th, 26th, and 27th of August in Montreal, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Interview by Jasmina Lukanovic