Legendary grime MC Meridian Dan, returns with his first full independent release 'Vegan Chat’ today. Following teaser track ‘Fatality’ featuring grime royalty God’s Gift at the end of 2018, ‘Vegan Chat’ serves as a forewarning that the MC who pioneered the resurgence of grime is back.
The promo was treated and executed by filmmaking duo Blok, Paul Casey (director) and Richard Jobson (DOP), with assistance from international award winning visual effects studio The Mill (Sean Francis post-producer, VFX supervisor Gaz Brannan and colourist Alex Gregory).
Shot in numerous locations across East London, including the iconic Repton Boxing Club and featuring British boxer Dillian Whyte, the video delivers spectacular and provocative visuals which serve to highlight Dan’s personal development in both life and as a vegetarian moving towards veganism.
Commenting on the visual, Blok note: “We knew this song would lend itself to a strong visual and we were over the moon to have The Mill on board! The new possibilities posed by having one of the country’s leading VFX supervisors on the team allowed us to make infinitely more impactful images. We wanted to slap the viewer around a bit, make them work for it and leave them exhausted: from multiple characters, to hyper-real worlds like the abattoir where Dan is hanging up like a piece meat, the severed head, Dillian Whyte dressed in a bull costume to the suspiciously familiar looking clown getting water boarded with carrot juice. This is without doubt one of the most collaborative and fulfilling experiences we’ve had in filmmaking ”
We caught up with Blok Pictures’ Paul Casey (director) and Richard Jobson (DOP), Gareth Brannan, VFX Supervisor and Alex Gregory, Colourist at The Mill to find out more about the project.
Q> How did you find yourselves working with Meridian Dan on this project?
Paul and Richard> Rich is from Tottenham and after meeting Dan through mutual friends on a night out, he invited us down to the studio to listen to ‘Vegan Chat’. We were super-excited and had a tonne of ideas for the promo.
Q> How was it directing the talent?
Paul> When it came to Dan’s acting and performance ability – I honestly didn’t know what to expect. He bloody nailed it. He took direction like a pro and jumped into every single character with both feet. I’ve never seen someone play a severed head like him before! Not to mention a hanging piece of meat, a crazed interrogator, a butcher, an edamame bean, an underground vegetable dealer and three meat-hunting detectives. It’s safe to say I was more than happy with his performances.
Q> Tell us about the initial concept stages, did you have a clear vision from the offset or did this develop as the project went on?
Paul> We kicked off with a big brainstorm in Dan’s studio with him and his team. It was clear from the off that we wanted to have Dan falling between different parallel universes, playing multiple characters. After the meeting we went away and broke down the scenes and transitions between the worlds. Once Dan and the team approved, the scenes were broken down shot-for-shot, making sure they helped shape the narrative or had a direct link to the lyrics.
Rich> I think Paul has listened to the song more than anyone has or ever will do! I mean it’s a great track, but fu*k me… – he’s a tad obsessive when it comes to things like this. He genuinely didn’t need the lyrics to hand on set… Even after 17 hours on his feet. He knows those lyrics backwards!
Q> How did the post process have an impact on the shoot?
Paul> We were over the moon to have the Mill on board! Sean Francis (VFX Producer, The Mill London) managed to get the storyboard in front of Gareth Brannan, and after meeting him and seeing his enthusiasm for the project… I mean… the sky was the limit! It was great to open our minds to the new possibilities posed by having one of the country’s leading VFX supervisors on your team. The guy is a genius!!!! Not only that but what a please to work with – having Gaz on set supervising the VFX elements was worth its weight in gold. He filled us with confidence and made sure that he had everything he needed for post. Having him on set signing those elements off massively reduced the amount of time we needed to spend on these shots. We love him dearly, what a guy!
Q> How did the post impact on the final film?
Paul> The Mill’s involvement allowed us to make not only infinitely more impactful images – like the abattoir… ta very much Gaz – but we were able to tell a much better story, too. From VFX to colour, many thanks as ever Mr. Alex Gregory (Colourist at The Mill London) you absolute colour king, The Mill helped this promo reach its full potential and then some. We were able to do so much more with a limited time frame and a far from ideal location, because of the VFX and colour wizardry available to us.
Q> What’s your favourite moment in the promo?
Paul> Ooooooooooooo. There’s a few. . . like the abattoir where Dan is hanging up like a piece meat, the severed head, and a suspiciously familiar looking clown getting watered boarded with carrot juice. But our favourite has to be the transition from the veg lab to the boxing scene. We shot this thinking that it would be an in camera thing, whereby we matched frame size, angle and movement in both shots and made a more traditional/simple hard-cut in the edit… but Gaz isolated elements from both scenes moving them in/out as Dan falls back. It was one of the first things we got to see him work his magic on and we were blown away!
Q> Tell us about your involvement with Vegan Chat?
Gareth> I was keen to see how they was going to achieve what was a very ambitious film with a less than ideal amount of resource and wanted be on hand to help wherever I could. Across three very long productive shoot days the guys pulled off a film which will better many bigger budget films this year. From start to finish the film is packed with strong images and clever techniques, sprinkled with humour and a little broccoli it's a great ride of a film.
Q> How did you find collaborating with Blok on the project?
Gareth> From the start I knew this was going to be a fun project, the Blok guys had so much energy and ideas it was infectious. This film came with the usual challenges you would expect from a music video these days the main challenge been the budget, but they never let that get in the way of the film.
Q> What role did VFX play in the promo?
Gareth> We designed interesting transitions to help the fast flow of the fim and to keep the audience guessing what's coming next. we shot lots of plates so we could tile up the scenes so they would feel much bigger most notably the abattoir scene. The film is packed with little bits of post magic from the severed head to the pea face. It was so much fun to work on.
Q> How did you decide on the look for this promo?
Alex> The aim for everyone involved was to create a series of strong and varied looks for each of the scenes in the video. This was discussed at the storyboarding phase and both the lighting and art direction was executed with this in mind. When it came to the grade, we experimented with a variety of looks and approaches, with the intention of combining the hyper-real, and almost cartoon-like feeling of the video (vibrant, saturated and bold) with the dark, gritty and heavily dramatised looks of their references - shows such as Narcos, and various, US cop/gangster thrillers.
Q> How was it collaborating with Blok?
Alex> It was a pleasure to continue my on-going collaboration with Paul and Rich, as they are always so excited to embrace new creative approaches in their work and explore different avenues when it comes to the grade. We tend work very closely together, and it’s extremely beneficial that I get to be involved in the early stages of production, the three of us discussing their aesthetic intentions long before the shoot, as it’s these conversations which tend to form the building blocks for the looks we create in the grading sessions months later.