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Fall under the spell of Johanna Cree Brown and Roger Spy’s EXOTICA

Exotica is a fantastical journey into uncharted territory – the hallmark of the collaborative force generated between Johanna Cree-Brown and Roger Spy. Shot entirely on an iPhone, the video explores a tropical beach on an alien planet where an ‘iridescent mermaid’ appears in a soft pink haze. The jellyfish-like movement of her hair in slow motion creates the illusion of being underwater, while the entire film is set to a trippy Blade Runner-esque soundtrack by Leapfrogtown.

What inspired the look and feel of EXOTICA?
Johanna Cree Brown: Motion and movement, as I wanted to capture the surrealness of light bouncing off the hair fibres/strands as it moved through the air. Hair underwater and blowing in the wind is, for me, a huge source of inspiration.  As an artist, I work on developing hair looks that haven’t been seen before and by collaborating with Roger – a unique, super talented filmmaker – we hopefully can take hair into new unchartered territory.

Roger Spy: Jo and I have been experimenting with light on hair a for a couple of years now. My approach is always to do something different from last time – to create an image, a frame, a world that doesn’t yet exist. I was approached by my friend and artist Imogen Parry to be in a group exhibition named EXOTICA , and the whole aesthetics of the project seduced me. It’s trippy and tropical, featuring beaches, palm treas, pink skies and diamonds in the water. That’s how everything felt and looked to me.

And it’s not difficult to be inspired when working with Jo. Her work is unique! There is no one out there that does what she does. She belongs in Hollywood really, creating pieces for big budget films like Lord of The Rings and Star Wars. If you work with Jo, you will get something no else has seen before.

Why did you decide to shoot the entire film on an iPhone?
Roger Spy: I wanted to do an uncomplicated shoot and see how far we could go with simplicity. One of my favourite quotes about the creative process is by Michael Jackson: “Sometimes a pencil, can solve your problem”.  In this case, the iPhone was the pencil! I love technology, I love iPhones, and I love Instagram. I wanted to include them in this shoot.

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How long did it take to craft the iridescent wig used in the film?
Johanna Cree Brown: Thanks to a great, supportive team, we managed to create it in just a couple of weeks.

How was the wig created?
Johanna Cree Brown: A mix of liquids containing reflective materials were added to the strands to create the look.

Did you run into any difficulties during the shoot?
Johanna Cree Brown: Usually you have some difficulties, but happily we had none on this shoot!

Roger Spy: There were no difficulties on this shoot. There was a great atmosphere in the room, just a group of friends working together to create something new. My friend and musician Giddy Gavin aka Logan 5 was visiting me from Wales, so he added an extra layer of good vibes to the evening!

What surprised you most about the process?
Johanna Cree Brown: Really, what was happening in front of my eyes on the evening we shot the film. It was an atmospheric evening and it was stormy outside. We had basic equipment – my wind machine  I’d brought from home and Rogers iPhone – but there was anticipation in the air and we got so much usable material on such short shooting timescale.

Roger Spy: I just couldn’t believe how beautiful the footage was! Everything came out flawlessly. While we were shooting, I was playing Philip Glass’s ‘Glasswork’ and that made everything so magical. We were basically watching a live performance piece.

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The turn-around on the shoot was very quick (we heard under one hour!) – Was this your intention from the start?
Roger Spy: It wasn’t, we just got all the material super fast. It was very organic!

Which is your favourite shot from the film?
Johanna Cree Brown: The jellyfish shot. I’d always wanted a shot of hair like this and just had to wait for right moment.

Roger Spy: Same! That moment is just perfect! You can’t really predict that you’re going to get moments like that one. You can’t direct hair.

You also collaborated to produce ‘Specter’, a video incorporating the use of water. Do you plan to make any more films combining the mesmerising qualities of hair, light and iridescence?
Johanna Cree Brown: Absolutely yes, there’s so much we want to do… My ultimate wish is submerged hair, movement, light and iridescent hair design – hopefully it produces something inspiring.

Roger Spy: Basically, what we have done so far are tests. Screen tests, on zero budget! We wanted to learn how the material works and looks. We have a concept for short film ready to go, where we’d like to incorporate underwater filming.  We’re hoping to get funding for this project or to partner with a big designer brand to get this off the ground this year. Fingers crossed!