Interview: Jon Burgerman on The Great Hip Hop Hoax

Interview: Alison Emm
Wednesday 04 September 2013
reading time: min, words

"I was excited when Jeanie told me about it. It’s a very intriguing tale. I kind of didn’t believe that it was true"


How did you and Jeanie come to work on this project together – did you know each other prior to the film?
I’d seen a few of Jeanie’s films at Broadway and I’m sure she came to events I’d been involved in, so we just kind of knew each other but I can’t really remember how or where or why. Then she asked me if I’d be interested in helping her with The Great Hip Hop Hoax. I didn’t think we’d ever have an excuse to work together, so it was really great.

Had you ever heard of Silibil n’ Brains before Jeanie approached you?
No, I knew nothing of their web of deceit, I was excited when Jeanie told me about it. It’s a very intriguing tale. I kind of didn’t believe that it was true, but I liked that it exposed the hypocrisy of the record industry. The hiphopcrisy. They had the talent but were deemed to be from the wrong place, so when they said they were from somewhere else all of a sudden they were going to be the next big thing.

So, how does your work fit into the film?
The animation fills in the gaps, it’s a visual enhancement for the parts of the story where there’s no video footage. It’s being retold by talking heads - people talking to camera - so the animated bits show the things that they’re talking about. I drew characters and backdrops and props and then very talented animators made it come alive.

Will Anderson and Ainslie Henderson animated your doodles. How did it feel handing it over?
It was fantastic because it breathed life into my work. I see my work animated in my head when I’m drawing so it’s great other people can now see it too. It’s the age-old magic of movie making where static images start moving and, like with Frankenstein’s monster, it comes alive. Will and Ainslie were great, they’re Scottish but they put on American accents all the time they were working on The Great Hip Hop Hoax.

Were you given free reign with your artwork?
I could decide how it looked. There was a lot of back and forth between the three of us - me, Jeanie and the animators. We discussed what would work, what wouldn’t and what needed to be added to emphasise a scene. Everyone was allowed to do their thing; it was very easy, fun and fluid to work on.

How long did it take you to do?
I’ve discovered that making films takes a long time. I’ve been working on it for two or three years, Jeanie got me on board very early on to do tests to show people how it might look. I probably spent a solid month drawing and colouring and tweaking the drawings. That’s quite long for me, I don’t like to spend more than ten minutes doing anything.

Do you still use pens and felt tips, or do you use a computer to draw now?
Everything for the film was drawn by hand, I try to hand-draw everything I do which is why my work has a kind of wobbly, wonky, badly drawn quality. I don’t really like being stuck on a computer all day, but inevitably you are because you have to scan in the drawings and clean them up. I draw pretty quickly, it’s digitising images that’s laborious.

Would you get involved in another film project?
I would gladly entertain the offer of more movies or animations. I’m just a little cog in the big machine of the film, which makes a nice change to working on my own.

What’s the best lie you’ve ever told?
You mean the lie I got away with? I may have to think about it…

You might have to implicate yourself as well…
I always get a bit paranoid that I’ll get found out. I could lie about a lie... Oooh, I have one. When I was still at uni I got a job on Regent Street. They asked if I could use Photoshop and Quark Express, I didn’t but I said, “yes, I totally know how to use those things.” I printed off tutorials so when no one was looking I could look at the print-outs in my drawer to check the shortcuts. Lie now, learn later.

You’re not originally from Nottingham…
I’m from Birmingham. A lot of people assume I’m from Nottingham but that’s not actually true.

You studied fine art at Nottingham Trent University. Most people wouldn’t consider doodling as fine art – did you dabble in other styles?
There was no-one telling you how to hold a brush or how to make marks, no practical form of teaching. They might have taught us how to cut wood properly or how not to electrocute yourself, practical things. We just kind of made it up and they then nudged you in the direction you wanted to go. This is just how I draw, people would ask me what my style was and I’d say, “it’s just doodling…” which kind of stuck.

You live in Brooklyn now?
I moved here a couple of years ago to do fun things. I really liked Nottingham but I’d been there about ten years and had been travelling around and seeing different places and I realised that I’m quite privileged that I can work from anywhere.

Do you miss England?
I miss the people and the fish and chips. Well, just the chips. And the BBC and buying newspapers. The little things. It’s okay when I’m working because I’m inside my head but it’s when I walk outside that I notice the difference. I keep in touch with people and fly back every so often. What’s great about New York is that everyone wants to come to visit.

Do you ever laugh because you’ve managed to create a career that takes you across the world doing something you love?
I don’t laugh…

With happiness, not in a Monty Burns kind of way…
You know how people are, we always want more. I always want to do more, achieve more, be better, do bigger things, do exciting new projects. When you do one thing, you want to move onto the next project. It’s good and amazing and I just want to keep doing it. I’ll laugh more when I’m really old and I know that I’ve totally beaten the system.

Do your parents still expect you to get a proper job?
Probably not now. They weren’t very encouraging. When I started I didn’t really know what I was doing, I didn’t know you could get away with this kind of thing – I just hoped for the best.

What’s the best thing you’ve been allowed to doodle on?
Any walls, especially indoors. I think that’s crazy that you’re allowed to draw on a wall. The Nottingham Castle event in 2011 was really brilliant, I had work inside but they made Burger character flowerbeds too. I’ve drawn on cars which was kind of fun. I like making stuff and collaborating with people, like with the animation – I guess I can see it more objectively when other people have added their bit.

You’ve done a few online projects recently, tell us about them.
I did a little project called Burgered where people uploaded their photos and I drew over them. I’ve moved onto a new project where I draw pictures of girls that I’ve seen on Tumblr. And I’ve done projects where people tweet me something and I’ll respond by drawing. It’s using social media to have a conversation between two people, I find that connection really fascinating. It’s about being a playful online and seeing what happens. You’re never quite sure who or what you’re going to get and that’s interesting.

Have you got anything exciting lined up at the moment?
A whole bunch of things but until they happen I worry that I might jinx them. I’m doing more stuff with Burgerplex, my merchandise company: I’ve been making more notebooks, sketchbooks, stickers and things, which is fun. I’ve been giving more lectures and talks recently, and I did an event at Pick Me Up at Somerset House. That involved a game that you could play with me called Game, Sketch and Match, it was a way of making a collaborative drawing in about fifteen minutes with prompts given by me - I’m hoping to develop that. I’m working on animations but they’re taking a very long time. As always, lots of little things.

The Great Hip Hop Hoax is released on Friday 6 September through Vertigo films. A gala screening with a Q&A with Jeanie Finlay is at Broadway is on Thursday 5 September at 8.15pm.

Jon Burgerman website

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