In the second part of our interview with Kenny’s World director Clayton Jacobson, he tells Simon de Bruyn how the demands of television audiences influenced the way he shot and cut his new show.
Now we’ve talked a lot about the scripting process and how you wanted to progress the character. How did this feed into shooting?
The thing that gave me some confidence in [the TV show] was that the film is about a crew discovering a personality in Kenny. The difference with the TV series is that Kenny is now the host; he’s actually part of the crew, so he’s holding our hand through the scenario. But because he is a ‘real person’ and not just a host he falls victim to reacting to what’s around him like a human being and not like someone with all these agendas. Kenny gets swept away by being in the moment.
How did that work, in terms of Kenny being ‘real’ in a sense, especially given the show is shot in a factual way? In the film Shane was always interacting with other actors, but with the TV show I presume he was amongst local people.
The most remarkable and encouraging thing, was that Kenny’s openness and also Shane’s performance [encouraged] people – no matter where we went and no matter how wide the communication gap was – to fall in love with him, and open their world to him.
In a weird sort of way, it’s what I was most interested in showing because I think often, when I travel, the biggest curiosity isn’t the main destination listed on information maps. It’s the lane-ways and the little tangential tracks you go on by accident sometimes, where you see an old lady pouring water into the street, and you watch her go back into her home and you just get a glimpse as she opens the door and you realise it’s unlike anything you’re seeing on the hotel crawl that is your overseas trip. So what I wanted to do with Kenny was get that feeling of Kenny being the perfect person to be invited into the homes of these people.
We went places in India, dealing with the ‘untouchable’ women, and these women are traditionally the lowest part of the pecking order. But what was fascinating was that Kenny was invited back to their homes for a drink, some tea and to meet the family, and these women had the most amazing sort of dignity and their homes were spotless.
So that’s what I like about the character of Kenny, it allowed you to get the kinds of invited you would otherwise not get. It was a chance also to see the world. It was less about trying to do more with the character, but more about putting Kenny in an environment we’re not used to seeing him in, and just seeing how he fares.
And you weren’t always stepping into environments that were immediately filmable either, right? I mean, dealing with toilets for one thing…
Exactly, and this was actually the difficulty of the show. We were a bit like a documentary crew in that we had a an idea of what we were heading to see, we had an idea of who we were likely to meet, but often we would get there and the person we were told we would meet wasn’t there and we’d be handed someone else instead.
Coming back to this idea of spontaneity, the idea was always to try and have a clear idea of what the segment was really about, what, at it’s core, are we trying to say, and then to leave ourselves open to the little joyous moments of spontaneity that might arrive. It was very exciting as a director because you were just constantly thinking on your feet. It was heavily scripted, so there was often lines and dialogue that we really wanted to get in there, but often situations would come about where we were totally unplanned for and we just went with the flow.
You were talking earlier about the balance between humour, pathos, and being informative. Did you ever think you’d bitten off more than you could chew?
The editing process has been very hard and lengthy because of that balance, and also because of the demands television has on its audience; the perpetual fear of channel surfing means television has to be very pacey. I don’t watch a lot of television but what I do watch shows they can spend an entire show on the expectation of seeing someone weigh themselves, and I wanted to provide a TV show that was almost so far on its front foot that you really had to sit forward and pay attention.
So with the TV show we were very conscious of the fact we had to move quickly and to keep the energy up and running. It’s actually quite difficult to get that balance to work. The hardest part has been allowing us to breeze through these countries, say what we want about the place but keep it entertaining, so Kenny very much is an editing process.
My background is as an editor. I spent 10 years working as an editor of features, short films and music videos. To be honest I think more like a cutter than I do as a director – potentially I’m always thinking of the edit. I’m hoping we’ve created something that is surprising on some level and certainly unpredictable.
You said your past as an editor helped you shoot this – were you confident about other aspects of jumping into such a big TV shoot?
It didn’t feel like a big step up or a big step sideways or anything, we just had to be conscious of the fact that we wouldn’t have a captive audience. In almost everything I’ve done in the past I’ve had a captive audience, except for ads. What was required of us to make the TV show was not that dissimilar of what was required of me to do the feature; it was really just about consolidating those things down into a tighter form.
You’ve also built up this reputation as a formidable TVC director of car ads.
It’s funny, isn’t it? It’s amazing how quickly you get pigeonholed. There’s nothing more uninspiring then yelling action through a piece of sheet metal. I did a lot of car commercials for the Japanese and in fact the Japanese character who was in the first two episodes of the Kenny TV series, he was discovered purely by doing those car commercials, because in fact he is the writer of those commercials. He’s actually the head creative of one of the biggest advertising companies in Japan and we became great friends, and I discovered he could act.
So in a way, the greatest benefit I got from working in commercials, apart from getting to play with all the toys, was I got to meet extraordinary people and put them in the film and the TV series. But actually I haven’t made a commercial in five years, I put all that aside to do Kenny.
You spoke about putting the character to rest after the TV series. Has it been hard to keep the energy for the character when you’ve spent so long with him?
Like any filmmaker I don’t want to sit around a campfire telling one story all the time, I’m looking forward to trying different genres and telling different stories. Kenny does feel like a member of the family and I’m always going to be grateful for the opportunities Kenny created, but I’m very keen to do something else.
Kenny’s World airs on Network Ten on Wednesdays at 8pm.