From Anonymous Cocaine Dealers to a Globetrotting Doc Series: Director Jamie Jessett Checks In
What is a city without its own music scene? Well personally speaking, it’s a place I want to escape from in favour of somewhere less lacking in the essential pulse that provides a locale with its underlying vibrancy. In his ongoing documentary series New Music Cities, created in collaboration with Dazed and AllSaints, director Jamie Jessett takes a counter-cultural look at some of the world’s global music centres. No Film School caught up with Jamie to find out how he’s been tapping into and capturing the diverse musical underground and how he managed to create an engaging documentary about an anonymous drug dealer for UK TV screens.
But first, dim the lights and crank up the volume as Jessett guides us through the subterranean beating heart of Tokyo’s music scene in the brand new third installment of New Music Cities:
NFS: We first became aware of your work after seeing your day in the life of an anonymous cocaine dealer documentary A Man Who Delivers. How did you get Channel 4/Shooting Gallery to go for a film with a main protagonist we never see?
Jamie Jessett: The first issue I had was convincing them that Mr actually existed and that I wasn’t just making him up. They soon realised this wasn’t the case when I kept missing various deadlines due to that fact it took a while to get him comfortable with the idea of being open about his profession.
So the film took a lot longer than some of the others in the series, if I’d been making him up things would have gone a lot smoother. Most of the other directors were showing near completed films and I showed up at a meeting with Channel 4 and the production company ACME (Exit Through the Gift Shop) with only the opening scene to show them. They were a bit like, “Is that it?” as there was only 30 seconds or so, but it was enough for them to see how Mr never appearing on camera could work, ACME believed in the project and were great at pushing it through.
NFS: In a similar vein I can’t imagine working drug dealers lining up to be immortalised on national TV. How did you find ‘Mr’ and get to a place where he was comfortable enough to let you film his activities?
JJ: We spoke about it being an opportunity for him to talk about all the things he never has a chance too, be they funny stories or his perspective on things. Just a chance to tell his story. It took a long time to get him comfortable and to open up to me, there were lots of meet-ups that would last 5-6 minutes before he’d break off saying he wasn’t sure, lots of phone calls saying he was pulling out.
Obviously there’s potentially a lot for him to lose, also he’d engrained it so deeply in himself that he couldn’t talk about dealing or clients which is obviously a survival thing in his line of work. We just built up trust — a mutual respect over time. I kept him informed about what was going on with the film every step of the way, showing each sequence as and when it was ready, I think it was the night-time driving one which really tipped the balance.
NFS: With typical “subject” shots unavailable to you how did you build the film’s visuals?
JJ: I used the interviews and his text messages as the spine to the piece. They were also great jump off points for me visually.
NFS: Once the film was cut did you have to screen it for ‘Mr’ first?
JJ: Yep, in his car, on my iPad down a side street. He just nodded and shook my hand when it finished.
NFS: On your end or Channel 4’s, was there ever a concern that the authorities might approach you and demand you reveal his identity?
JJ: You always have these kind of theoretical conversations. Going through a major UK broadcaster we made sure all the paperwork was up to date and from my end I had to be sure Mr’s anonymity was protected.
NFS: Your latest project is the New Music Cities series of films for AllSaints and Dazed. How did you get involved with the project?
JJ: Ravi Amaratunga, who commissioned A Man Who Deliver for C4, now heads up Dazed Vision so he asked me to come up with some ideas about how we might approach a music project in a different way.
NFS: As a whole, what would you say are the stylistic considerations which link the episodes as a series versus those elements which remain specific to each particular city?
JJ: I really wanted there to be a flow to the films that carries the viewer through. Part of that is the use of the actual live performance as the music beds that link each section so things just bleed into each other. The use of interviews as narration rather than on camera (apart from NYC) to hopefully keep the viewers immersed. Also, from the outset I was adamant that the live performance elements should be in interesting locations whenever possible as this would help link the music to each city’s environment and hopefully keep things a bit more interesting for the viewers rather than just some standard music content.
NFS: Each episode features a real variety of locations, ranging from street corners to clubs. What gear did you settle on to capture such a diverse range of locations?
JJ: Ha, whatever we could get our hands on! We shot a lot of super slow mo on the FS700. We had GoPro’s, C300s, DSLRs — there wasn’t a lot in terms of rigging aside from the occasional jib. As this was a blend of documentary and live performance, one of the most important things was that we travelled light and that we were mobile. We also needed to able to turn things around quickly and move onto the next location as our time on the ground was so short. I guess that was another factor in choosing interesting locations as you don’t need a lot of kit if you can let a killer location do a lot of the job for you.
NFS: The very nature of the project suggests the need to dig deep into the music scene of the featured city. How do you go about “discovering” the scene and the focus for each film?
JJ: From the beginning, AllSaints were very passionate about searching beyond the most documented artists. Their video partnership with Dazed meant we were able to work alongside Dazed’s music editorial team who were amazing at unearthing acts for each city.
NFS: Can you reveal what the remaining city scene will be?
JJ: Gothenburg. Also there’s talk of heading to film in South East Asia for another NMC in the next couple of months.
Our thanks to Jamie for taking us through his work.
Are there as yet undocumented, vibrant music scenes that you think would make good additions to the New Music Cities series, and what do you think about Jamie’s episodes so far? Be sure to let us know in the comments.