JODEB TALKS POINT POINT - TEXT LUKE BATHER
Jonathan Desbiens has been thinking a lot about perfection lately. Not as something to obtain for himself, but as an abstract concept. His latest video for Point Point’s Life In Grey takes that thought process and runs it through a gorgeous narrative of dance, friendship and violence. We wanted to know what made Jodeb (as he’s known to the wider world) tick so we chatted to him about the concept coolness, the logistics of shooting a dancer with blades attached to her arms and how it feels to be part of the very generation he’s satirising.
Word Is Cheap: You’ve stated that this video is inspired by ‘Generation Y’ - a generation very much rooted in the ‘now’ whereas the video itself has an aesthetic that makes it feel as if it belongs in an earlier era (from the aspect ratio to the presence of old camera equipment and even the title design). What was the thought process behind the look of the video?
JODEB: Pretty much all the aesthetic decisions happened naturally, without much discussions. Kristof and I are very instinctive and we picked locations and lighting ambiances that we felt were right, without much overthinking. This video was made very fluently as far as creative goes, everything fell into place. I also wanted all the characters to have very simple outfits, while making sure they would work with the characters. I’m surprised by people qualifying the video « cool » (especially since the whole idea is a satire about « coolness » and that graphic violence is involved) because I actually made my very best to be very neutral as far as the look and the style goes, I wanted the whole thing to mostly convey the idea and concept through the actions, I didn’t want to make it overly stylized. While I agree the aspect ratio could arguably be a stylistic choice, it actually was a storytelling suggestion from Kristof, our director of photography. We talked the idea through and he brought up that there would be many close ups, a lot of vertical action (dancing) and very few landscapes, so we agreed that shooting 4:3 would definitely bring the viewer closer to the action. It felt right to us, and although it gives the video a little stylized touch, it still came from a storytelling perspective.
WIC: What was the greatest challenge for you on this project?
J: To make it work within the budget, make the action scenes solid and believable, make the blades believable (and it worked thanks to Greg Nowak and his team), etc... We were also very lucky with the casting, the girls I had were perfect even though I didn’t have the time or financial luxury to be picky about it, it just all fell into place. Also, it’s very important to bring up that Max Walker (production manager) and Vlad Cojocaru (Producer) did an awesome job at making everything work together with barely any money - and the shoot went smoothly on top of that.
WIC: Do you consider yourself part of the generation you’re depicting in this video? And do you feel that there’s a pressure of perfection in the work that you do?
J: I absolutely am part of the satire I tried to create. I find all the illusions and obsessions about perfection and coolness very pathetic, but it’s hard to not fall into that trap and I fell into it many times. And I will continue to do so, cause I love taking risks. For some people, perfection is making stellar work every time, to me it’s about pushing myself to the limits every time, whatever I work on. It probably is more about being authentic as an artist rather than making authentic work, if it makes any sense. I don’t really try to please the audience, whether it’s a mainstream or more niche one, I only want to explore human's reactions. I only realize after the fact if the work is good or lame. Not sure if I make sense here, but this whole thought process is very paradoxical, very ambiguous and always leads one to madness if it can’t be stopped. I’m stopping here.
All my favourite movies, books and video games leave me with the impression that I haven’t really understood them at first
WIC: Were there any happy accidents on set?
J: Well, I would say the whole project was a house of cards, due to the small budget we had, but on the other hand I had a very clear idea of what I needed to shoot. So I don’t feel like anything you see on screen is the result of happy accidents, this time it was pretty much all as planned. That being said, on many of my previous shoots I’ve experienced many crazy, unbelievable happy accidents, so maybe the fact that everything was under control and precise on this one made it different as far as tone goes.
WIC: There are a lot of elements of foreshadowing in the video that only make sense upon its conclusion. Do you feel as though you are intentionally rewarding viewers who watch the video repeatedly with the more nuanced parts of the narrative?
J: Yes absolutely. All my favourite movies, books and video games leave me with the impression that I haven’t really understood them at first, but « felt » something about them (easy examples that come to my mind are movies like Apocalypse Now or all Miyazaki’s work). I think that a strong piece of work has the ability to make you feel something at first, and then give you the motivations to go further and then understand by yourself how you happened to feel these specific emotions. By wanting to re-experience these emotions, you fortunately or unfortunately start looking at the more rational details and begin to appreciate the piece from a very different perspective. So yes, I tried my best to create this effect using a suspenseful foreshadowing narrative trick. Although human beings are uncomfortable with ambiguity by default, I think it’s essential to embrace it and accept it if you want to grow as a person.
WIC: Were there some elements of improvisation to the dancing and action, or was everything choreographed?
J: It was all choreographed and performed with precision by Amy Gardner, but it was extremely challenging for her to dance with the blades, and you can tell she had a lot of accumulated physical fatigue in some shots, but I was happy with it as it also felt right for the idea and realism. She really worked hard on it and I couldn’t be more thankful for her efforts.