How to shoot Japan on two rolls of film
Anonymous Content new signing Jovan Todorovic took to the streets of Nippon to create a mesmerising, dance-filled lockdown awakening. We chatted with him about how he caught it on camera.
For many, the emergence back into the world from the strictest lockdown restrictions was a slightly surreal opportunity to grab a breath of fresh air and see pals from a distance.
For Jovan Todorovic, it was an opportunity to capture the expressive movements of Yurina, a dancer he had discovered on Instagram, and her pals on camera.
The Serbian-born director, freshly signed to Anonymous Content, took to the quiet streets of Tokyo with troop in tow to create an enthralling journey of discovery on two rolls of film, creating a promo for Japanese indie sensation Vaundy's new track 不可幸力 (Fukakouryoku) through Nakama Films.
We were taken by the ethereal quality of the promo, so grabbed Todorovic for a chat about choreography, catching a moment and choosing film over digital.
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How did the video come about?
I was in Japan during the majority of Spring. The country had been under a state of emergency for two months and the number of new infections had dropped to a minimum. People slowly started to come outside, go to work, and interact. I saw this moment in sync with the reawakening of nature in early spring. It felt like the dawn of a new time, especially in Japan. There was a positive excitement about simple things of everyday life.
While I was in Tokyo I saw Yurina, the dancer, post a video dancing to Vaundy's track that had just come out. The melody and lyrics resonated with that feeling of a new dawn, and of life blooming in Spring. I could imagine Yurina dancing to it within a simple story line of a character coming out into the empty city streets right after lockdown. Like when you're the seeker in hide-and-seek and have finished counting. You go outside and are looking to see where everyone is hiding. The track inspired me to come up with the idea for a music video based on this premise.
People slowly started to come outside, go to work, and interact. I saw this moment in sync with the reawakening of nature in early spring. It felt like the dawn of a new time, especially in Japan.
In Tokyo I met Kenji Lepretre Sato, an awesome producer, and as we shared the way we think about production we decided to do something together, along with his production company Nakama Films. I told him about this dancer that I had been following for a while now and that I wanted to work with, and how I wanted to make a video that related to this specific moment in time. Kenji contacted the label and they were pleasantly surprised and loved the treatment I had put together. It was a coincidence that Vaundy's album was about to come out and that he was heading the campaign for the newly opened Japan Spotify. This put our video on the forefront of their advertising strategy.
My girlfriend Marija had made some beautiful drawings to help me illustrate the treatment. The artist and label loved them and wanted to produce merchandise to go with the album and track promotion, and so we decided to add an animated part to the video. This animation was to help us further substantiate this idea of what goes in one's mind when a person is out of touch from society. The fears, insecurities and weirdness that makes us all unique individuals. The attributes that we all share each in our own way.
Shooting under lockdown obviously presented some challenges - what were the initial things you had to consider?
The lockdown that had actually ended in Japan by the time we were ready to shoot. Kerli Teo of W+K Tokyo was the mom on our set, always ready and prepared with extra masks and disinfectant, reminding us to keep our distance and follow protocols. What did help us is that people were still very careful and were limiting their time out in the streets and we thus had vast open and empty spaces to work with as a unique film studio.
The song itself is about isolation, but it was never intended to serve as an allegory for the current moment in the world.
People in Japan are extremely considerate to one another, on a level we are not even now when there is danger of being infected. In that respect there was nothing to consider outside of what is already customary there. I have to applaud the culture of the Japanese people. We have a long way to go in Western society to reach that level of etiquette and consideration for oneself and other people.
Did the concept for the film come from the restrictions or was it an idea that had to then fit in with what was possible?
The song itself is about isolation. But it was never intended to serve as an allegory for the current moment in the world, but rather a more general relationship between individuals and the collective. It just happened that when I saw Yurina dance to this specific song pictures began to emerge in my mind and things almost subconsciously began to fall in place.
As an artist and film director I enjoy creating work that I sense the world needs to see and feel. There is a sense of discord in the world this year. It feels like nothing is working, and that we can't rely on certain structures and authorities the way we used to. For many it's a dark and scary time. We are debating, arguing, fighting. As much as these are important things to do, I am about harmony, love, and uniting and bringing people together. I wanted to make something that reminds us of everything positive about us.
The performers in the vid are fantastic - where did you find them?
A year ago I found Yurina via Instagram. Her eclectic style of dancing fuses many different styles into a unique blend of contemporary street dance. Her videos were irresistible and I kept coming back to them. I haven't seen her featured anywhere and I realized a big part of that is that she is located int the south of Japan in Fukuoka, and no one really ventured there to work with her. She has two kids and travel would be difficult for her even if there was no travel restrictions.
I believe every project needs to have some sort of peak for us to climb. Something for us to conquer as a production. Something that can help everyone on my team relate to emotionally and that will be felt in the final film. It's a way for me to merge my intimate goals with that of the collective nature of filmmaking. Our mountain was to somehow get to Fukuoka with all our crew and a miniature budget and make something with Yurina for the first time.
You chose to shoot on film. What that over digital?
I wanted the video to be naive, simple and reminiscent of 90's music videos. We shot the whole video on two rolls of film. Every scene and every shot has its specific place in the edit. I didn't have a full take of the track, only bits and pieces of a puzzle. I wanted the video to feel crafted and considered.
I didn't have a full take of the track, only bits and pieces of a puzzle. I wanted the video to feel crafted and considered.
A big part of this is the medium of film, both in how it makes you think and work as well as what it brings to the final film. 16mm film was perfect to help us bring about this considered feeling. In the 90's music videos were thought out not only as general concepts but as structures where every shot and scene had a function, and a place. We lost a bit of that shooting with digital cameras and endless gigabytes of storage.
The structures of today have become products of great editors and nicely shot footage but the craft of premeditated structures have become rare. I wanted to make something that had actual value, not just an apparent one. I think and hope we are awakening to a new time in which true value will be appreciated even more.
What was your favourite moment on the shoot?
The whole video is a kind of preparation for the final group dance. I wanted this segment to be uninterrupted and very similar to the dance video the group and Yurina post online.
The whole video is a kind of preparation for the final group dance.
All the nice shots and scenes we captured were nothing compared to the energy and beauty of the whole group dancing together in perfect sync. We have about 15 minutes for the whole scene as the Sun was going down, but thanks to them being so well in tune with each other we got it all in time. Seeing them dance together made my day and the whole effort worth it.
What's your favourite moment in the finished video?
It's always hard to say. Personally I love the simple circular panning shot of the four dancers surrounding the camera in the middle chorus.
I really didn't have any other shots planned for this scene, so it kind of had to work well within the structure. I love the naive simplicity of this shot and them dancing in a circle.
Was there a lot that had to be done in post?
Yes! I wanted to create a feeling of an empty city. The story is about the first person to come out into the streets after the lockdowns. We erased many cars, traffic and passers-by.
But the biggest challenge was the hand drawn animation. The story is about a character who after starting to enjoy being alone in the city streets stumbles into other people. At first their encounter is semi chaotic and turbulent and they all fall down a rabbit hole of insecurities before waking up to a world in which collective harmony has been restored. The animation was key in illustrating this mind trip of our hero.
The story is about the first person to come out into the streets after the lockdowns. We erased many cars, traffic and passers-by.
Inspired by Alice in Wonderland falling down into a dream Mihailo Prostran and Marija Knezevic ventured to create a beautiful and imaginative trip through the insecurities of a human soul on its way back to reality.
You've just signed to Anonymous Content globally - what made you choose them as production partners? What sort of work would you like to do in the future?
When I was dreaming of being a director and was taking my first steps in the commercial world I would often go to the Anonymous website and look at the work of various directors. I was always inspired by the work, be it commercials, music videos or films they made. Anonymous Content for me was a symbol of quality filmmaking. Tor Fitzwilliams jumped on to head AC in the UK, and as we clicked well from before I couldn't wait and join her so we could conquer new territories in working together.
I would like to continue doing work in all formats and genres, commercial and non commercial, continuing to make visual work that I feel the world needs to experience.