Nick Kozakis: the Greek Aussie director behind the clip for record breaking song ‘Dance Monkey’

We speak with the founder of Visible Studio, nominated for an ARIA Award

When Nick Kozakis was approached to create the video clip for Dance Monkey by independent Aussie talent Tones and I, he could never have anticipated the song’s projected popularity.

Since its release the pop hit by Toni Watson, 26, has topped global charts in 27 countries, and spent a record 16 weeks at number one in Australia, with the music video boasting over 200 million views on YouTube (watch below). Now the song has received eight nominations for the 2019 ARIA Awards, one of which is for Best Video.

“I never would have thought it,” Kozakis told Neos Kosmos. “I mean you never expect that anyway. You can never predict the success, let alone it being the most successful Australian song of all time.”

Kozakis’ involvement in the project is in part luck. His Melbourne-based production company Visible Studio was approached to come on board just two weeks before deadline, after another team pulled out.

The video clip, produced with a tight budget, sees Watson transformed into the character of Mr Tones, an older man who is whisked away to a golf course by his mates, where they generally get loose and dance around between holes.

The concept was the artist’s own, and Kozakis admits that while it sounded fun – which it was – it initially came as a bit of a curve ball.

“We wanted to understand a little more about why she wanted to do that. She had explained to us that she was sick of seeing the same type of videos that sometimes exploit or objectify women in music videos. And being that this was her first music video where she was going to be the main protagonist in front of the camera, she was able to escape any kind of insecurity or any kind of performance anxiety and become a totally different person. And from there we just continued to build from the idea,” he explains.

Aside from the tight turnaround time, with only a couple of weeks from initial negotiations to getting the video out to audiences, Melbourne’s infamous weather proved to be one of the biggest challenges for the team.

“We had to fit all that content into one day. So we were lucky, we didn’t get rained out, but we had the most overcast day, and considering it’s a fun, happy clip, we had to do sky replacement on every single shot, whilst trying to keep the deadline in tact. So every time you see the sky, it’s an artificial sky,” he reveals.

When comparing the song itself heard on the radio, to the experience of watching the music video, the clip certainly has the potential to be a little jarring, which Kozakis says goes hand in hand with their mission to break the mould.

“It creates conversation, and through conversation you get debate; it continues to give it a second life. So it’s not like you watch it and move on; you then go back to it and analyse it,” he explains.

Nick Kozakis (bottom left) on set with Toni Watson (bottom centre) and the team. Photo: Supplied/Antonios Baxevanidis

At 35, Kozakis boasts an impressive CV. He first started out as a graphic designer before going on to pursue his true passion of film, which evolved after being exposed to horror films the likes of The Exorcist, as well as classic blockbuster, Terminator.

While still studying he launched his first company, before going on to establish Visible Studio at just 28. His first high profile music video was with Hilltop Hoods, which helped lift his profile and get his name out there. By 2014 his first feature, horror film Plague made it to Cannes and was distributed world wide.

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Self made in an industry that is not for the faint-hearted, Kozakis cannot underestimate the hard work, and lack of sleep, that helped get him where he is today.

“I got a job at Woolworths and had to pay my way through to live essentially ’til I finally got my degree; studying and doing late nights. During the day I was also doing as many projects as I could, whether they were at cost productions or funded by myself.

“There’s guys that were way more talented than me that waited around and if the job never came through they gave up. Giving up wasn’t an option for me, especially considering I’ve always loved film; it’s the only thing I want to do. So it was persistence, drive, drive, drive; you take some wins, you take some falls, but you just get back up and you do something even bigger and better.”

Aside from his personal drive, he can’t underestimate the unwavering support and guidance of his parents.

“My dad’s 80 and my mum’s 72, and on the contrary to what you might think of Greek parents, they’re quite progressive. When I told them that I wanted to go back into studying and pursue my dream, they supported that and mum would provide me with meals. I knew I always had that safety net, so it allowed me to take some pretty big risks,” he says.

Nick Kozakis. Photo: Supplied/Filip Konikowski

Next year is already, unsurprisingly, shaping up to be a big year for the filmmaker. He is projected to film a 10-episode series on location in the Gold Coast, and also plans to get his second feature film off the ground, in amongst creative campaigns spanning from advertising products to important social issues.

But for now, Wednesday night’s ARIA Awards are the immediate focus.

For Kozakis and his team, the nomination has come as a pleasant surprise. Their focus has always been on working with great people with good energy, as opposed to concerning themselves with budgets and projections.

Ever so humble, he says he doesn’t have expectations.

“At this point in time it’s already been decided whether or not we’ve won or lost, but we’ll see what happens. It’ll fun if it happens, but I’m not expecting anything. I’m very humbled and excited about the nomination. Anything else is a bonus.”

Watch the music video for Dance Monkey below: