Brown Director, Jonathan Desbiens, talks about inspiration, taking the leap into commercial film, and the beauty of carte-blanche creative direction

"It’s not a passion; more of an obsession, really," says Jonathan. He began “playing” with Photoshop, After Effects and a VHS camera at age 11, but didn’t put down the Lego until age 14. His work has become a continuation of that play, and he is dead serious when he says his 24/7 job is to keep that childlike creativity alive. After establishing himself in the music video scene, Jonathan made the jump to commercials in the Montreal market. He has enjoyed a busy year shooting spots for Bell, the Government of Quebec and a gorgeous music video for Deftones.

What was the first ad you shot?

The Bell commercials for the Montreal Canadiens’ games.

How has a music video background helped you with your commercial work?

To simplify complex ideas that can't be expressed with words. It's obvious and cliché, but commercials are short and need to send a clear message, but most importantly to me, this message has to be charged with clear and perfectly aimed emotions to make sure the product connects with the viewer. I think that music videos are a good way for me to resume these really abstract emotions and it allows me to develop an efficient cinematographic language based on that.

I love the CREA spot. Tell me about how the project developed

and did you contribute or shape the creative direction?

First off, this project was a co-direction with a Montreal director I respect a lot, Yan Giroux (we have complete opposite directing styles and I like that). The client, Infopresse, gave us a blank card. We simply brainstormed crazy ideas and were kind of studying the concept of portraits, and came with this idea concerning identity, and about what's real and not, since advertising is all about playing with the perceptions. So that's why we decided to play all the characters by ourselves and digitally paste the faces of the juries over our green masks and outfits.

Where did you go to school?

I studied french literature, arts and communication at the college Laflèche in Trois-Rivières (for a DEC diploma), and have a degree in fine arts from the UQTR (University of Trois-Rivièr

es). I tried to study cinema in Montreal but got turned down by all the universities there, I was frustrated for 24 hours then I realized I didn't want to study cinema, but make my own cinema. So, I went to a bank and ask for a mortgage and bought a camera the next week. I told myself that one day I will gladly turn their teaching proposal down. This experience taught me that if I am to "purely" create, make a living out of it and offer valuable content to the viewer, I have to free my mind of all pre-built concepts. I can explore the technical aspects by myself without problems.

Do you have a particular approach when you are planning out and shooting a project? Take me through that process.

The last answer explains it partially. First off, when possible, I always go out and drive my car in the countryside to think about the project, it's a way of making my mind feel in continuous motion! Then images, colours, rhythm and actions are automatically taking place in my mind according to the brief. Then I come back home and write everything down. Then for the shoot, I have only one rule: to make sure it's fun and intense. I don't mean it has to be a party, but it has to be an intense experience to make sure every single person feels involved and important, because they are! The most simple shots have to be intense and valuable, cause otherwise they'll end up being used as fillers in the edit.

Live action, or graphics/animation - what comes first when you are planning a project?

Technically live action, but from a creativity point of view, it's all the same to me. Paintings, drawings, 3D, traditional animations, live footage, are all ways to express something through images. I'm interested by images in motions. But live action is more important to me, first of all because it's a lot more fun and intense. It's the moment in a project where you can create a momentum and take of advantage of it!

Who in your life has directly inspired or motivated you?

My girlfriend is the person who allows me to be myself everyday, but from a creative and professional point of view, nobody in particular. I'm a lot more interested by what's going on around me, by the simplicity and beauty of life. I think mountains and trees inspired more emotions, stories and images than anybody could.

I think I'm motivated by the simple fact that I have a vision and opinions about life that I haven't really seen elsewhere. But don't get me wrong, I don't pretend to invent new ideas, concepts or techniques cause we are all influenced by movies and art that is all around us, but I deeply pretend that I can bring people into worlds of my own that will make them feel emotions they have never felt before. Maybe this is something that I haven't been able to do so far in my work, but that will happen soon.

Finally, it also means for me that the technique will never become a concept, simply because that's not how my brain work: technique will always serve a purpose and not the opposite. To put it simply, impressions are timeless and last; techniques will always get old.

Any new projects you'd like to talk about?

I'm working on a music video for Underoath, a Grammy-nominated band I've been listening to for years. It's like a teenager dream that became true, and I also had a great time discussing, hanging out and shooting with them in the freezing cold of Montreal (they're from Florida). They gave me a blank card so it's gonna be very personal.

For more information on Jonathan Desbiens or Brown Entertainment, visit http://www.brown25.com/