Interview: Australian Documentary Star David Elliot-Jones on trying out Insta-Fame for his film Big In Japan

Directed by Lachlan McLeod and edited by Louis Dai, Big in Japan tells the story of David Elliot-Jones, a bigger than average Joe. Or was that just an average Joe? David isn’t anyone special, like you and I, he dreams of having his work seen, being heard, being noticed… but if it doesn’t happen, we shrug and get back to working retail or flipping burgers for a living. At least, that’s what I do.

Now that David has made it marginally big as a walking, talking piece of Sushi (Nigiri), I’ll just sit back and watch Dave, ‘cos Dave’s do it best. Moving from Melbourne, Australia and heading over to Japan, David tries and see what it takes to become an overnight sensation! As they say, if you can’t make it in Japan, you can’t make it anywhere.

Check out the preview of the film below:

I had the pleasure of talking with David Elliot-Jones before the Australian release of his documentary Big in Japan. Did David regret anything he did while working his way to the top? Would he have done anything differently if he started all over again? What was it like to meet another Australian (Lady Beard) who made his fame by singing Heavy Metal while wearing a dress and keeping his beard? Let’s find out.

How you been and what’s been happening after Japan… are you still flipping burgers?

Here and there. I stopped doing it for the last couple of months, just to work on the film, promoting it. But yeah, I went to Japan for our preview screening with the film the other week and we’ve just been up to Sydney, as well. Just to do a few media interviews. So, it’s all happening now.

I really hope Big in Japan gets itself international screenings and an proper release.

Yeah, cheers, man. It’s super hard to get people to watch it. I’m hoping that will pick up.

Tell me a bit more about yourself, the guy you were before deciding on the big life-changing documentary, Big in Japan. What made you turn from student to documentary film creator?

Initially Lochy (Director Lachlan Mcleod), Louis (Editor Louis Dai) and I, we went to university together. We were looking for a creative project together. We bought a camera off eBay. Louis and I studied journalism together. Lachlan did another arts course. We decided to follow the journeys of Indian students. We went all the way over to India and followed stories of students who hoped to migrate to Australia. That eventually became a documentary for SBS (Convenient Education). From then on, we invested in proper camera equipment and embarked on the next adventure, which was moving to Japan. Trying to make me, as a hopelessly ordinary person, become famous.

It was brilliant, I loved it. The idea that you became any kind of internet-based instant fame on anything other than pure luck is a surprise. You see people who are overnight sensations purely because someone accidentally had the camera on them at a certain time. To find out there is a whole world of people out there trying so hard to make a mark, it’s another world!

Yeah. It’s hard to cultivate a following.

The Beast (Bob Sapp)

The fact that you found so many people that had a big plan to go insta-famous is insane. An entire culture in Japan that basically influences it. Out of everything you achieved over in Japan, what has to be the biggest thing you walked away with?

I think there’s a moment in the film in which we just completely and spontaneously meet Lady Beard aka Rick Magarey. None of us could’ve picked that and at that point, we had Bob Sapp (The Beast) and Kelsey Parnigoni (JPop Idol) as subjects that we were following. It was just like we were looking for that other character, the other person who went from basically just starting out on the journey to achieving pretty amazing fame, he just walked through the door, literally. As you see in the documentary, that’s how it happened. We were sort of kicking ourselves with joy at that point.

Ladybeard (Rick Magarey)

He was brilliant. I just love how just he is full of positivity, saying that, you know, his life sucks back in Australia. He’s made just a completely different career change in Japan and keeping everyone happy, keeps him happy. It’s crazy. I love him and would love to speak with him one day.

Yeah. He gave us so much and he is really honest as well, which really helped us tell, I guess, a well-rounded story about fame and its perks, as well as price. Because I think media generally likes to focus on the price. It’s quite popular to sort of slam fame, but people pursue it for a reason as well. It’s interesting.

Some people deserve it.

Yeah. Some people need it.

Kelsey Parnigoni (JPop Star)

A scene in Big in Japan, while you are trying to become famous and take dares from online followers, where you are seen walking into a freezing waterfall, was that it for you? Was that like, “Okay. I’m done.” Because that was nuts.

Yes. That was a serious physical challenge, as well as a mental one. At that point, yeah, there was that and there was some extreme public arguing about my appearances. At that point, I was really questioning how much further I would be going.

You looked a bit burnt out.

Yeah. It was exhausting.

If you could do the documentary and all the research again with the entire back catalogue of knowledge you have now, would you have done anything differently?

It’s really interesting with the YouTube stuff. We invested heaps of time and money. Like, Japanese lessons, scripting these proper stories for the YouTube videos and then getting them professionally translated, practicing the acting and all that kind of stuff. But, in the end, the next YouTuber on the internet was just vlogging about what they ate that day and getting 10 times as many views as we were. So maybe we would have done that differently.

Yeah. Is there anything you can flat out tell me you regret doing?

Well, actually, you know, not really because the whole project was all about going into something like this, I couldn’t really have any regrets because I’m putting my public persona out for everyone to see anyway. Maybe on a filmmaking level we could’ve got some funding earlier on. That would’ve really helped us, but we made it very hard for ourselves. So yeah. That’s probably one of the regrets.

I think the grittiness of it, the realization that you put yourselves in the deep end, I think that’s what makes the documentary gritty and real, it’s better to watch that way too. So, I think it added to the magic of the documentary I think.

Thank you. Cheers, yeah, the struggle was very real for us.

You say you’ve got something coming up now that you’ve finished the Japan fame, so what’s next for you?

Yeah, we’re working on a new documentary and it’s overseas, a fish out of water type story. We can’t say exactly what it is, because some of the scenes in it are politically sensitive. It’s going to be really exciting. Yeah, it’s a little bit more socially issue-y than our last one. It’s an important story so we’re pretty stoked to be telling it.

Can’t wait. What’s biggest influence that you’ve had up till now?

You can probably tell, we were pretty inspired by Louis Theroux docos. Also, more recent docos like Catfish that had that sort of DIY element to it, we took inspiration from. One of our favourite documentaries for, I guess, the humour aspect is King of Kong. It’s about this rivalry between two arcade game players of Donkey Kong, who battle it out. It’s just got these stranger than fiction characters. You can’t really write a better story, and yet it’s real.

Big in Japan hits selected theatres this month. Check out this link for the official YouTube page and here for screening times.