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I first read about the audacious deception in The Great Hip Hop Hoax that rap duo Silibil 'N Brains undertook in a newspaper article way back in 2008. 

Why would they be convinced that lying about their whole identities and pretending to be Californian was the only way to make it in music? What was the effect on them as people, did it mess with their heads?

I’m never quite sure where the next story is going to come from and I had that tiny moment of “yeah, this could be a film.”

It took about five years from start to finish, I realise that sounds like a long time but it’s not unusual in filmmaking.

I met with Gavin Bain (Brains) four days after his story came out in a newspaper and I started filming him immediately.

I did keep asking myself – “Is this just a massive hoax?” As soon as I started seeing evidence like backstage passes from Sony, CDs, and speaking to people who were taken in I knew it was real. 

There was a lot of interest in Gav’s story and we had to wait for a while to get hold of his documentary rights.

My producer Al Morrow from Met Film and I decided to put the project on hold and I made another film in the meantime, Sound It Out.

It was worth waiting until I was able to tell the story from both men’s perspective.

This is a story about their relationship, their different versions of the truth and navigating the path in between the “lies about the lies about the lies.”

A regular interview question was "How much have you been lying to me?" And they did lie to me, both of them at times.

The quest for truth also governed the way the film looks – we put the cameras close to capture themicro-expressions inherent in lying and bounced gold light off all the interviewees faces to give a sense of the allure of fame, tantalisingly close, yet out of reach.

I also filmed Gavin in the back of a cab as he recalled seedy London tales and in a light installation byBruce Munro to give a very particular look.

Gavin and Billy Boyd (Silibil) were not speaking at the time of making the film so I filmed them separately throughout. Scenes were shot to be edited together later on – like the end credits.

Other images of wind turbines and moody clouds were things that we always saw when filming in Scotland, they offered a very different atmosphere to the frenzy of London.

When I first met Billy, I immediately thought – 'you’re just like a Jon Burgerman drawing come to life, let’s animate some of the story.' It was as instant as that to be honest.

Part of the decision was pragmatic because it’s a story that happened in the past and I wanted to bring to life some of the humour, their antics and to heighten that.

It also reflects the two-dimensional cartoon characters they created for themselves. 

Each scene was cut to an edited interview, storyboarded and then refined back and forth between designer Jon Burgerman in Brooklyn, animators Will Anderson and Ainslie Henderson in Edinburgh, and me and my editor Jim Scott in Nottingham.

There was much tweaking of eyebrows and small details.

Billy and Gavin filmed themselves extensively in their Silibil 'N Brains personas and the archive enabled me to show rather than just tell elements of the story.

I felt that the audience needed to see them on stage, you need to see them rifling through D12’s dressing room or lying to Sony. Seeing them lying on tape was really exciting.

Billy and Gavin were estranged throughout production, like a couple that had gone through a terrible divorce.

They both saw the finished film last November and realised that they had told me things they should have told said to each other.

In February this year I saw a mysterious Instagram of the two of them in a recording studio together and in March they came to America for the first time for the world premiere at SXSW.

They played live at the film party and it was like the archive had come to life! They are now recording and performing together again as Silibil 'N Brains. This time as Scottish rappers.

Jeanie Finlay is the director of The Great Hip Hop Hoax. The Great Hip Hop Hoax is part of Storyville on BBC Four.

Article first published on BBC.

The Great Hip Hoax is noimated for 'Best Enteraining Documentary' at the 2014 Grierson Documentary Awards


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