Melbourne doco makers explore what it takes to be ‘Big in Japan’

David Elliot-Jones in ‘Big in Japan’.

In the era of reality television and social media, it seems easier than ever before for everyone and anyone to have 15 minutes of fame.

It was a curiosity about this idea of accessible celebrity that inspired three Melbourne-based filmmakers David Elliot-Jones, Lachlan Mcleod and Louis Dai to head to Japan, where foreigners often score stardom.

Now in post, the trio’s documentary Big In Japan explores what fame is like for an ordinary person, and the motivations behind those who want to become famous.

The three co-directors, who operate under the umbrella Walking Fish Productions, made their first film back in 2012: an interactive doco for SBS, Convenient Education. Armed with enough money for new equipment, they then moved to Japan for two years to begin their next project.

The idea behind Big in Japan was a “fame experiment” with a simple goal: to try to make Elliot-Jones famous.

Elliot-Jones told IF he was the guinea pig in part because McLeod and Dai had already been filming him for years.

“They found me an interesting subject, especially when I’d had too many drinks. They called Dave-cam for a while. It was really embarrassing for me. But I have always been a yes person, and I like the idea of a gonzo type of storytelling,” he said.

“I was aware that it was going to be hard, it was going to be humiliating, but I was curious about what [fame] would involve and what the repercussions of that would be.”

The three wanted to explore fame as it operated through “traditional” mediums, like television, and the new culture of fame that was emerging online.

Once in Japan, Elliot-Jones was signed up to a talent agency and began appearing as an extra in TV shows, ads and music videos.

He also immersed himself in the Japanese vlogging community, and established a YouTube persona, Mr Jonesu. Under the banner, the three made videos in which he would perform stunts dressed as different characters including Onigiri Man (a semi naked Japanese onigiri or rice ball).

Elliot-Jones describes his experiences with fame as “a hoot” but strange. He was surprised at how successful he was on Japanese TV.

 “At one point I was landing these ads as a scientist in a major brand commercial, and I’m getting paid like a few thousand dollars for a two day shoot.  I can’t act – I’ve never done anything like this before. It was just so surreal.”

Big in Japan also follows three other foreigners at varying stages of their fame journey in Japan.

These include American wrestler Bob ‘The Beast’ Sapp, Rick ‘Ladybeard’ Magarey, a crossdressing heavy-metal singer from Adelaide, and Kesley Parnigoni, a young Canadian woman trying to crack into the J-pop idol market.

“It was interesting because Bob Sapp was an established celebrity,” said Elliot-Jones. “We were exploring his fame, having been at the top of the game for 20 years. Ladybeard was, on the other hand, this self-made star in the making and he had been working really, really hard to craft his fame.”

“And [with] Kelsey, we were looking for someone at the start of their fame journey… At the time we met her, she was working part time in a rabbit cafe, and she’d just joined an emerging idol group.”

The filmmakers were trying to explore the full picture of what fame truly involves, particularly in a digital age, says Elliot-Jones.

“When the architecture of social media beckons us to become celebrities somewhat, I think it’s important to have a nuanced version of what that involves; to see the reality of the experience,” Elliot-Jones said.

“If fame is what you really want, then go for it by all means, but those traditional notions of fame as being something that is glamourous or [that] brings you great joy – I don’t know if they’re still valid anymore.”

Making the film was not without challenges. A self-funded project, all three were working as English teachers to help finance their filmmaking efforts (as well as their Japanese lessons).

Now the trio are trying to raise funds to help with grading and licensing rights to music and television footage. Their crowdfunding campaign on Pozible ends 10pm AEST tomorrow (Thursday).

Once they hit their target, the plan is to release the film around October through VOD platforms. If they hit their stretch target of $35,000, the plan is a for a cinema run, with airline partner Flyscoot to fly Ladybeard to Australia to play at the launch.