IAN PONS JEWELL TALKS NIMMO - TEXT LUKE TIERNEY
Word Is Cheap doesn't do favourites, except that we obviously do. And Ian AKA IPJ AKA Ian Pons De Replay is the original. Some directors have just got it, on tap, they bring their all every time and Ian is one of them. His latest video is brave new territory as he doesn't go with the usual shocking the unshockable direction, instead 'My Only Friend' takes us through an incredible house, past character filled space after space. It's unchartered territory, the kind of thing any professional should be doing, challenging themselves. On this occasion, it's a yes from us. That's three yes' so Ian's going through to the finals. And going out to Iceland ;).
We sat down with Ian to find out more. More about why Ian keeps coming back to Bulgaria to shoot, the importance of the right location and what it's like directing so many people in one shot. Word Is Cheap: What is it you enjoy most about working in Bulgaria? Ian Pons Jewell: The locations, the actors, the crew, the feeling of more being possible. It's an inspiring place. I can't find a huge dilapidated factory in London, I struggle to even find a house where the paint is peeling a little to give it more character. This issue is getting worse also as areas of London are constantly being built on, "improved" and renovated. Often you get the same locations pop up again and again when looking for something "disheveled". The sense of freedom is directly attached to the cheaper costs, that's for sure, but it's so much more than price. It frees up your mind. I hate sitting down to write, with the budget right there in the back of my mind, stopping the pen before it even touches the paper. This isn't ideal. But the budgets we have to work with and the costs of production in London are such that it's inevitable. I'm not talking about having to lose a helicopter shot, but just things like location costs can be debilitating to a lot of ideas being possible. I love the company we work with there who have a stellar crew, B2Y Productions, who are part of Nu Buyana Studios. But perhaps the best thing, for me, is the acting talent. Just on an aesthetic level, the faces I see in casting there are incredible. Of course this is also down to the casting director I love to work with, Nina Boyanova. It feels she just gets what I like, which is what she likes also. She thinks narratively, rather than searching for a 40 year old brown haired man, I can just talk about a mood or a situation and she proposes amazing and very fitting faces. But the only reason I ever got to shoot there is due to Dobi Manolova (Producer & Co-Writer). She's from Sofia, and opened up this wonderful country to our productions. This being said, I love my London crew! And bring them out more often than not when shooting abroad, especially now I'm doing commercials. But to summarise, the narrative possibilities feel much greater out there.
It’s a “slow video, I usually make stuff that punches early on. This one rises slowly. I wasn’t in comfortable territory stylistically
WIC: Do you feel like you went safer than your norm conceptually with this video? IPJ: It's definitely new territory for me, but for this reason it felt very dangerous. It's a "slow" video, I usually make stuff that punches early on. This one rises slowly. I wasn't in comfortable territory stylistically, but every project should feel scary I think, to a certain extent. It also has a more usual performance element, but this is something I really struggled with also. So in general, it didn't feel safe at all! But working together with Dobi changes that, it really grew whilst out there as with our last shoots. I often had doubts and worries, but they were always batted away after we would discuss things. WIC: Was it hard to direct so many people in most shots? IPJ: In short, yes. Basically, you can't direct 60 actors in the traditional sense. I talked to them all in a group in the morning and explained the whole concept, the mood, and what kind of interactions can happen. This was really important. I also told them that they will be able to then work from this and improvise, as it's the only way we would manage in the limited shooting time. After this, it's more about placement of the actors, allowing my AD to also suggest and create some movement, watching it, then refining. I feel very lucky though to have had such a cast. They certainly aren't "extras". Some had no previous experience, some just starting to act, some experienced and really solid acting talents. But they all worked together in such a beautiful way and with such patience The children were also actual children of the actors. It gave an authenticity not otherwise possible in the time we had. I can't thank them enough. Our casting director Nina is a treasure hunter. WIC: Is this all shot in one ridiculous location?? IPJ: Yes, one house. The pool was a surprise, so we changed the whole ending. I was very unhappy with the ending as it was, which had the artist singing the last lines outside in the storm, the house watching her from inside. But once I got there, and refined the timings and the script, I saw this pool and it all clicked. The location in our last video for Nao, also shot in Bulgaria, was the same. I saw the factory and we changed it all. Both times the location elevated it even further. Locations are priceless. This is a reason why the turnaround on music videos is so fucking suffocating. We were lucking that we could push it back, in fact this was due to the location falling though. In the 4 days we gained, the script took big strides. The more prep time, means you can really hunt on locations and not settle.
Ben Newman gave me a piece of advise some years back I never forgot, “don’t listen to the noise”
WIC: At what point did you decide to do the lightning in camera as well as vfx? IPJ: That was always planned. But what we did change was the way we would cut between people. The flashes of light gave us this opportunity to explore the cast for the first time in close up. We start by seeing them as a mass, but then the intention is you slowly get to know them, you get under the skin of some of them, finally ending on being up close and feeling them with the flashes of lightning. The lightning was a way to do this in an integrated way with the story. WIC: Having started to move into bigger commercials, has that affected your thinking of music video? IPJ: I owe everything to music videos. But commercials, which have only just started for me, have allowed me not to worry so much about making sure I'm keeping "busy". So it's definitely shifted my thinking, but in a positive way. Music videos are often the path to get to commercials, however conscious or not a director is about this. So once you are doing commercials, they don't become a necessity in the eventual financial sense. You can be more picky and turn stuff down if you don't feel it's right for whatever reason, be it a brief that says "nothing political", or "Budget: 10K, All inclusive, Artist Must Appear". They've also helped me form more confidence in expecting the respect I and my crew deserve for the blood and sweat we put in to a music video unpaid or low paid. It still shocks me at times with stuff I hear about, and have experienced on occasion myself. I guess I feel like getting to this point doing commercials has given me a sense of freedom from the "game". I'm never gonna leave it, but I'm not going to bend over backwards just so I can get some reel. They need to feel right and be an experience. Only ever making something if I feel it will be truly special. Before I think I did worry about making sure I didn't go too long without a new piece of work, staying relevant, but then you view music videos through the lens of quantity, aware of the power of "hype". I hate that. Ben Newman gave me a piece of advise some years back I never forgot, "don't listen to the noise". That's all it is. It's a shame talent isn't at the forefront always, but like any fashion things come and go, but it shouldn't be something we are self aware of as directors. Certain publications and websites can feed into this in a very negative way. Cinema should in my opinion be the overriding pulse of a music video, not fashions or trends. Even subconsciously these media organisations feed in to what scripts are chosen by labels. Perhaps a label, a commissioner, a manager, reads a script that feels like it'll definitely get picked up by a certain website, it'll effect their judgement. Suddenly the most trend or fashion connected script is being given priority over what might be a more suitable or musically connected script. In short, I will love music videos, in sickness, and in health.