For Julien Christian Lutz, “work” looks like many different things, depending on the day. Previously known as “Director X” the filmmaker, artist and veteran music director is best known for being the creative genius behind music videos for artists such as Drake, Rihanna, Future, Ariana Grande and the Black Eyed Peas.
With multiple awards under his belt and a portfolio of artists resembling a who’s who of the North American music scene, Lutz’s artistic legacy both at home in Toronto and globally is undeniable.
But there have been some big bumps in the road along the way: A nightclub shooting on New Year’s Day in 2015 left him lying in a hospital with a bullet in his side. That’s when Lutz began thinking about the neurological and social factors that lead to violence – and how meditation can help.
He has since become an advocate for the powers of meditation, and in 2019 founded Operation Prefrontal Cortex, a grassroots initiative designed to reduce Toronto’s gun violence through mindfulness and meditation.
The 47-year-old, who was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in December, spoke with The Globe about the power of meditation, what he does in his free time and the project of his dreams.
How often do you meditate?
I meditate every morning, unless I have an appointment that I have to get to. If I don’t fall down the social media trap, I’ll sit up in my bed and meditate, and then I’ll journal. Fifteen minutes meditation and then 10 to 15 minutes journaling.
How crucial is meditation, especially for young people in a city like Toronto, who may feel like they don’t have those avenues to centre themselves?
It’s essential. We need to really get into the idea that meditation is brain exercise. In the same way you have to be physically active, you have to meditate. It’ll change everything. If I could go back in time and make myself meditate, a great deal of my other issues would go away.
What’s an issue that you think you could have healed if you knew about meditation earlier?
Everything. I was just a young guy with lots of anger, and everything would have been better if I knew about meditation. If I could go back in time and tell myself one thing, that would be it. And the earlier the better.
Is there a particular meditation that you enjoy most or an app that helps you get started?
I use an app called Endel, and they’ve got all these different sounds for sleeping, working, and it’s all connected to your circadian rhythm. So I play that, and then I meditate.
What’s one thing that you love doing that people who know you would be surprised by?
How do you use it?
I use it for all kinds of stuff; when I make names for characters, when I’m naming a company, how my schedule works. It’s pretty woo woo, but it works for me.
Do you cook?
No, I support the local economy.
Where are your favourite spots?
We’ve lost a lot of staples in the city over the last several years, especially food places. Which do you miss most?
The Real Jerk has moved and I miss that iconic spot they had on Queen, and that pizza joint that used to be on the corner of Gerrard and Yonge. It’s not the same. They’ve gentrified everything.
If you had a blank check to work on the project of your dreams, what would it be about?
There’s a story of a Black samurai that just needs a lot of money to be told, and needs to be told correctly. That’s what I’d love to do.
Oda Nobunaga was a warlord in feudal Japan. He was the number one warlord. The Jesuits called him the king of Japan. One day, the Jesuits showed up with a tall Black African man as a bodyguard [named Yasuke]. They’d never seen anyone like this before. There was a riot in the streets with people trying to see this Black man. Nobunaga hears about him, and summons him. He tested Yasuke’s strength, and they said he had the strength of 10 men. And then they rubbed his skin to make sure he was actually Black.
So Oda Nobunaga brought him into his clan, made him a lord and made him a samurai. He became Nobunaga’s weapons bearer, and being the weapons bearer is as important as it sounds. Eventually, one of [Nobunaga’s] generals betrayed him and attacked him while he was at a temple. And Yasuke was there, fighting beside Nobunaga to his death. [He was later] sent back to the Jesuits, and where he ended up we do not know. There’s no more mentioned in history after that.
What led you to discover the story of Yasuke?
It might have [initially] been a script, and then I started researching. I was definitely sent Black samurai scripts over the years, but unfortunately, they were taking the idea of a Black samurai, and just writing their own thing. And so when I started digging into the actual history, I found that the real story was incredible.
What world issue is keeping you up at night right now and why?
Environmentally, the topsoil crisis that most people don’t know about. We’re running out of topsoil, that’s a big one. We have wars happening everywhere, the environmental crisis is massive. This world needs a big change.
How important is rest? From worrying about the big changes the world needs but also from a day’s work? How important is it to find moments when you’re doing absolutely nothing?
After a good, long shoot, your body will demand it. When you get to my age, there comes a point where rest is not an option. Your body’s going to get that rest.
This interview has been condensed and edited.