Mardi Gras…Choose Your Own Adventure
Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

One week ago today, New Orleans celebrated the coldest, rainiest Mardi Gras in over 100 years. Sure, the crowds were thinner than usual. But there were still crowds, out reveling in the streets despite a steady downpour and frigid temps. Because nothing can keep this city down when it’s carnival time.

Many people assume that this holiday is all beads, boobs and booze, and it can be. But if you look beyond Bourbon Street, there is so much more to the season than that. Among many other things, Mardi Gras is a celebration of heritage and tradition, and a time for community and family.

Every year my family gathers Uptown to watch the Krewe of Thoth make its way from Henry Clay onto Magazine Street. Each of us has a favorite part of the parade that we look forward to – My mom just loves the 610 Stompers, while my dad is all about amassing throws. My little brother prefers to sit back and people watch, while my older sister admires the artistry of the floats. My younger sister and I both love the high school marching bands. I especially like the way the big bass drums make my chest vibrate.

Jason says that his favorite part is how easy it is to take photographs. “Once people realize that I’m not competing for their throws they let me move around, even to the front row.” This was only his second Mardi Gras, but he knows that this kind of unrestricted access during a parade is something one should never take for granted. So he put it to good use.

Here are some of the photos that he took during Thoth this year, which offer a glimpse at a more personal carnival experience.

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Becky


 
6 Questions: Eva Weber
Monday, October 28th, 2013

This is the eigth installment in our 6 Questions series, where we email creators, curators, and other people we admire with 6 questions about their work and process, and then share their responses with you. You can read our previous interview with renaissance woman / documentary filmmaker Amy Finkel here.  -Ali

 

 

We’re in love with Eva Weber. One of our favorite documentary filmmakers, Eva tackles subjects that may seem mundane — such as personal storage units or animal herding — and manages to capture the key details that make these ordinary things appear exceedingly beautiful. She’s currently partnering with Vendela Vida on the screenplay adaptation of Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, but paused for a moment to answer our questions about her documentary work. Here’s what she had to say:

 

1. Tell us about the concept behind your recent short, “Reindeer,” a beautiful film that caught our eye. There’s no narration, just visuals and atmospheric audio. At what point in the process of making the film did you know you wanted to focus on this type of footage?

 

I was always fascinated by the idea of going to Lapland, and seeing reindeer and Northern Lights, so when Nowness approached me about making a film about reindeer in Lapland in the run-up to Christmas 2011 I jumped at the chance (albeit, I never managed to see any Northern Lights, but I did see plenty of reindeer). The original idea was to make a film about reindeer racing. A unique part of Sámi culture, young jockeys compete to find out whose family owns the fastest and strongest reindeer. Unfortunately, a couple of days before we were due to travel in early December, we discovered that the racing hadn’t started due to recent weather conditions. It was unusually warm, temperatures were around 5 to minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit, which meant the herding of the reindeer had been delayed but also there was not enough snow to seriously start training the reindeer for racing, let alone for the racing to take place. Once we got to Karigasniemi, Which is a tiny town at the border between Finland and Norway, we therefore had to re-group and started to explore our surroundings; the only brief at this point was to capture the energy and movement of the reindeer.

 

I realised very quickly that I wanted to film at the herding pen where the reindeer are corralled and then separated coming down from the mountains. We visited the pen on our first day, and I was fascinated by the place, it had a very distinct atmosphere, even completely deserted. I wanted to capture the eerie isolation of the Artic landscape and capture the sheer adrenaline rush and excitement of the herding. At the pen, the energy of the reindeer is incredible, I will never forget standing in the middle of the animals frantically running around us in circles as they were being separated. What was amazing, was standing in the path of the running reindeer and barely being brushed by them. At the incredible speed they move and with those antlers it’s amazing how they manage to avoid obstacles in their path. Originally, the idea was to do some interviews with local herders but also people involved in racing; and whilst I did interview one person, I very quickly decided that I did not want to use this in the film. For me, the power of the images was enough to carry this short.

 

2. We’ve noticed that you are fond of long, lingering shots that focus on seemingly small details or movements. What influenced you in developing this aesthetic?

 

As a filmmaker, my passion is to make beautifully photographed films that explore subtleties and nuances of meaning, films that look at the small details and microcosm to say something about the bigger world we live in, and that let us experience the world in new ways. For me, the success of a film relies on mood, quiet observation and rich, sensual details. I am a great believer that the theme and subject of a film should go hand-in-hand with its aesthetic. When I set out to make a film, I have a very clear idea of the themes I want to explore and this informs the whole filmmaking process for me, from the interviews, to the visual style, to the way I approach the sound design. So for instance, in my film ‘The Solitary Life of Cranes’ I was fascinated by the idea that there is almost another world above London; yet most of us never look up to notice cranes or their drivers. The drivers in turn can see everything going on below them, yet their only way to connect with the world they are building is by watching it from a distance. This is a film about intimacy and distance, and the space that separates us from others, and I felt the visuals should hint at our characters’ isolation in the environment they inhabit. In the process of making the film, I decided very early on that I wanted to divorce the image and sound in the film to reflect the way the drivers are separated from the world they are building below. My aim was to make a film that transcends individual stories, and for me, the detached stylistic approach invites the viewer not only to engage in the portrait of individual people, but to recognize in them bigger, more universal emotions and experiences. 

 

3. Tell us about your interview process. What do you do to encourage your subjects to open up in conversation?

 

I normally try to have preliminary chats with all my characters before the interviews, to get some background but mainly for them to get to know me and get a sense of what I’m hoping to achieve with the film. I tell them about the film, but also about the process and what I like to do in interviews. Before the interview, I tend to write up a lot of questions, pages and pages actually, approaching the same topics/questions from various angles. Yet, for me, these questions are more reminders and I try not to actually use them during my interviews. Instead I try to approach the interviews more as a conversation between me and my characters, as I want their answers to sound more like observations or internal monologues, rather than formal interviews. My aim is to allow them enough space and time to further explore subjects and ideas that come up and to try and go beyond the questions that I had thought of. I tend to talk quite a bit myself during my interviews, sharing my experiences and thoughts, again I feel this helps to make them sound more like conversations but it does mean that my interviews tend to be fairly long. I also tend to do audio interviews, as I find them less intimidating and more intimate, therefore, allowing the characters to relax more and open up.

 

4. How do you make sure your films are honest?

 

I’m not sure any film can ever be completely honest or objective beyond that they are an honest expression of a filmmaker’s feelings about something or how they see the world. In the end of the day, I see a film, documentary or fiction, as an expression of myself, so for me it is about whether a film is true to what I think and how I see the world. Rather than being unmediated moments of reality, films are for me a ‘creative interpretation of reality’ (to quote John Grierson, although I’m not sure he would agree with my interpretation of this) which is informed by my own take on the subject. While I obviously try and capture the thoughts and realities of my subjects, my films are in the end shaped through my own experiences and interpretation of their situation. Yet, I always try and keep an openness to change my ideas about a film or a subject, during the interviews, the filming or in post-production, and to respond to what is actually unfolding in front of me.

 

I once wrote a piece about the film ‘Lessons of Darkness’ by Werner Herzog, saying how much I admired his approach to film and truth; and the way Herzog, for the sake of storytelling, blurs the line between truth and fiction in all of his films; be it his documentaries containing fiction, or his fiction films containing fact. He is not afraid to unashamedly manipulate the audience to set a certain mood for a film (as with the opening quotation in ‘Lessons of Darkness’); or to stage, script or fabricate whole sequences, if he feels there is no other or better way to unearth the deeper truth in a documentary.

 

5. What have you learned from the business side of filmmaking (distribution, getting funding, etc.) that you would share with aspiring documentary filmmakers?

 

I feel that, in particular, when you start out, it is important to go out and meet distributors, sales agents and financiers as much as possible, to understand what they are looking for, to attend markets and festivals and to build your own network. I remember attending Docs for Sale at IDFA with one of my first short documentaries, ‘The Intimacy of Strangers’. The film didn’t get into the festival, but I decided to attend the market nevertheless, not so much in hope of selling the film but to make contacts and maybe get accepted into other festivals. I can honestly say that I am still benefiting from this today; and that I am still in touch with a lot of the people I met then for the first time – and have started working with some of them since then.

 

6. Many of your past projects have been documentaries, but you are currently working on adapting a book, Vendela Vida’s Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, for the screen. Are there any tactics you bring to screenwriting that you learned from working on documentaries?

 

[No comment -- to be continued, as Eva's screenwriting process progresses.]


 
Better Than A Window Office
Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

How lucky are we that sometimes our “office” is outside, in a park? Yesterday, AC got the chance to work with STRAVA on another product shoot and we traveled all over the city searching for the best lighting. We discovered two gorgeous shoot locations in San Francisco’s Alta Plaza Park and Golden Gate Park, which turned into some beautiful product images. Here are a few peeks from behind the scenes:

 

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–Ali


 
6 Questions: Amy Finkel
Thursday, September 26th, 2013

This is the seventh installment in our 6 Questions series, where we email creators, curators, and other people we admire with 6 questions about their work and process, and then share their responses with you. You can read our previous interview with filmmaker/all-around-cool-person Ben Nabors here.  -Ali

 

 

Amy Finkel is the kind of person you hear about who immediately makes you feel bad about yourself. But it’s only because she’s so cool. A true renaissance woman, not only does Amy produce her own documentary films and run a web design studio, she also finds time to teach at NYU and the Parsons School of Design. Not to mention that metalwork studio she runs with her brother. Really, who is this woman?? We reached out to Amy to talk about her work, and here’s what she had to say:

 

1. You spoke with an extensive range of people for your film FUREVER – pet owners, taxidermists, and religious and scientific experts. How did you decide who to interview, and what factors informed those decisions?

 

I had a general outline of the film before I started to work on it, but, of course, you don’t know what you don’t know. So the scope of the project, as well as the subjects, was constantly evolving. FUREVER was always meant to be educational, and not merely an overly sensational mockery of some not very conventional characters. I enjoy that aspect of it (the colorful characters, not the mockery), but I was never making a reality TV show. That would have been the easy way out due to the provocative nature of the subject matter. There would have been no gravity to that project, and I felt that without the voices of experts guiding us along (hopefully in a balanced manner, though that was tough too, as I knew it wasn’t an even playing field), I would surely be exploiting the subjects whose trust I had worked so hard to achieve in the first place. My goal as a documentarian (and teacher) is to educate and inform, and in the case of FUREVER, to help our audience learn about themselves; to further our understanding of the human condition. We shy away from discourse on death—in our culture we avoid the subject. I, personally, don’t have the expertise to teach anyone about the sociology of death, nor about traditions of ancestor worship or the physiology behind the human-animal bond, for example, but I knew that I could find people to do so. And with the general outline, while I didn’t know what the content would ultimately be, I knew that I wanted to find specific experts to help explain some of the behaviors that I was witnessing. I planned some interviews with scholars in tandem with those of the more colorful characters, but I tried to save as many as I could for the end. I knew that their voices would tie all of the characters together and give direction to the larger narrative arc. It was sort of like going to a therapy or information session with various experts on my characters’ behalves. I could tell a scholar about something I had seen, and he or she would discuss their actions, and the context, from his or her vantage point. I was endlessly fascinated, and I hoped my audience would be too.

 

2. In a previous interview, you mentioned that you’ve allowed yourself to cry with your interview subjects if the emotions came, which ultimately made your subjects trust you more. What else did you do, planned or unplanned, that encouraged people to open up in front of the camera?

 

I’m just generally a very friendly person. I enjoy people, I like hearing their stories, and I like to see the good in everyone. Those traits, combined with the fact that I’m nonjudgmental, helps people to open up to me. But it’s always been that way, both in the documentary and non-documentary domains. Sometimes it was to my detriment. I’ve often had complete strangers come up to me on the street and cry to me about their horrific abortion or abusive relationship. I’ve accepted it and I try to help when I can. Or I get away as fast as I can. But that attribute is probably one of the reasons I wanted to make documentaries in the first place.  As far as the crying goes, that was rare. I don’t cry easily, but I did, at times, get emotional. Really, it’s probably more empathy than anything else. It’s sad to talk about death with people! I think I’d be a sociopath if I didn’t get moved by some of the stories. I will say that I’ve definitely been told, and maybe this comes from my acting and improv comedy background, that I’m a chameleon. I take on the characteristics of my subjects, but a lot of that is subconscious. Regardless, I’m sure it does make people open up more. I also try to take anything that feels like an interview out of every shoot. I do extensive research and write my interview questions days beforehand. Then I try to, essentially, memorize them. Or, at least, get to the point where I’m not relying on them. That way I can simply have a conversation with the subject, and they’re less aware of the camera. Interviewing is all about listening, so it’s much easier to have a conversation. I just happen to have my conversations very close to one of the cameras. And I also work with an amazing DP, Gregg De Domenico, who shares that chameleon quality, and has an uncanny ability to fade into his surroundings and go unnoticed on the other camera.

 

3. How do you keep your documentary work honest?

 

I’m very honest and up front with my subjects. With FUREVER, I told them that I was not making a reality show, and a lot of them had to put their faith in me and hope for the best. But I would never tell people that, then go and make one. Some of my subjects had been burned before (specifically by reality TV networks, or reality TV shows posing as ‘news/science’ shows), so some were more reluctant to jump on board at first. Some declined entirely. But as long as I’m maintaining my integrity, being honest with my subjects and not exploiting people, then I suppose my documentary work is honest?

 

4. You seem to be quite a renaissance woman, not only directing documentaries but also running your own web design studio, working as a teacher, and running a metal studio with your brother (among other things!). How did you get into documentary film, and how do you see it fitting in with your broader vocation?

 

My parents are very creative and, as entrepreneurs, they encouraged my brother and I to do all types of creative work, in multiple disciplines, from a young age. As long as I have an experimental outlet and I’m using my imagination, pushing my design and problem solving capabilities, and producing original work (and, of course, that I can make a living in so doing), I feel most fulfilled. Perhaps I’m too curious for my own good or I simply get bored easily, but as long as I’ve created an interesting concept that inspires me, it’s all fairly similar no matter the media used to create it. That said, certain disciplines tend to allow me to produce more innovative, inspired work, and, due to client involvement or other factors, many do not. Ultimately I feel that I’m most free when I’m working in photography or video. I also think that, for me, certain parameters or limitations promote more exciting work and documentary filmmaking is the epitome of that. When working within the confines of ‘truth,’ I’m in my most creative element. I can’t imagine documentary work, or documenting subjects and stories in some fashion or another, being anything but my primary craft.

 

Oh and I originally got into documentary filmmaking in graduate school. I got my master’s in “Design & Technology,” but my main focus was on 2D motion graphics. For our thesis the program directors encouraged us, due to the nature of the program, to essentially build robots (“physical computing”). I knew that I could probably conceptualize or design a pretty neat robot, but there was no way my robot was ever going to work (microcontrollers, lasers, and motion sensors are a bit of an enigma to me), but I knew I needed my calling card out (the reason I went to grad school in the first place). So I told them that I was going to make a documentary instead—it called upon more of the skills that I’d built leading up to the program. I had a really positive experience making it and it ended up going to several festivals, so my career began.

 

5. Documentaries seem to be having a moment right now. Why do you think that is?

 

Truth is always the most interesting! I don’t know. Maybe people are less impressed by dream sequences or flashbacks these days?

 

6. What’s one thing you learned in the process of making FUREVER that you will take with you to the next project (documentary or other medium)?

 

There are too many to count! This is my first feature-length project, so it was an entirely different beast than anything I’d ever worked on. I learned a lot about working with a team, relying on others, will power, budgeting, distribution. I had no idea how long and difficult, yet also how incredibly fulfilling, the process would be. But a lot of my lessons had to do with trusting my instincts and pushing forward when I thought I didn’t have it in me to continue. That was probably the biggest lesson. You can always work harder, get less sleep, push yourself more. It’s the toughest thing I’ve ever done. I also learned a lot about gratitude. I could never have made the film without the help of countless people who offered everything from advice to their skills and time. I was absolutely bowled over by friends’ generosity and guidance, and also by their ability to deal with me when I was at my worst (my most tired, most drained). I will be furever grateful…

 


 
The Expiration of Park(ing) Day
Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

A strange thing happened this year on Park(ing) Day — in San Francisco, there seemed to be a lack of participants. Despite the outpouring of creativity that went into building and displaying innovative uses for a parking space last week, these installations were still far outnumbered by the semi-permanent permitted parklets that already exist across the city.

 

And this is a good thing!

 

The decrease in Park(ing) Day installations in the city shows that we’re nearing parklet saturation. We no longer need to create parklets so many parklets that expire in a day because we already have enough semi-permanent permit-protected ones across the city. That’s not to say that our current parklets completely fulfill the need for innovative uses of public spaces — just that we’re ready for the next iteration or solution. What’s next for creating more livable cities?

 

Even though we feel that Park(ing) Day is nearing its expiration day (for San Francisco, at least), we did enjoy visiting all of the cool pop-up spaces people made. So many awesome ideas on how to inspire community! Here are some of our favorite installations that presented creative ways to innovate and reinvigorate public space:

 

 

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[freespace]‘s Dream Bar — a public living room, complete with comfy chairs and a bookshelf. Visitors were encouraged to write down their dreams and share them with others.

 

 

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SF Transportation County Fair — a mini carnival where visitors could play games, win prizes, and pedal a bike that powered a pair of speakers blasting pop music.

 

 

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SPUR’s “Design Your Own City” encouraged visitors to add to a map of San Francisco, drawing in the public transportation or green spaces plans they would like to see become a reality.

 

–  Ali


 
Playgrounds in Park(ing) Spaces
Thursday, September 19th, 2013

It’s one of our favorite and most creative days of the year again — Park(ing) Day is this Friday, September 20th! In honor, we’ve made a map of the San Francisco installations we want to check out before they’re gone.

 

Park(ing) Day is an annual global demonstration in which everyday citizens take over metered parking spaces and turn them into tiny public parks. The project was originated by Rebar, a San Francisco-based urban design studio, after partners Matthew Passmore, John Bela, and Blaine Merker discovered a loophole in public code that didn’t specify what you were allowed to keep in parking space once you put money in the meter. Recognizing the lack of urban space for humans to “rest, relax, or just do nothing,” they staged an intervention on November 16, 2005. In a tw0-hour experiment (the time limit on the meter), they turned San Francisco parking space into a park, complete with a fake grass lawn, a small tree, and a tiny public bench.

 

Since then, Rebar’s intervention has snowballed into an annual global event where citizens demonstrate creative alternative uses for parking spaces. The event has also influenced civic leaders to create more permanent parklet permitting processes in cities around the world.

 

Some of our favorite Park(ing) Day parklets have been ones that encourage us to let our inner kid out. Last year we explored a balloon tunnel, witnessed a toy boat regatta, and sat down at a campsite. In anticipation of tomorrow’s awesomeness, here are the must-see parklets on our list (and you can check out our Google Map of SF highlights here):

 

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6 Questions: Ben Nabors
Friday, August 30th, 2013

This is the sixth installment in our 6 Questions series, where we email creators, curators, and other people we admire with 6 questions about their work and process, and then share their responses with you. You can read our previous interview with skateboarder/filmmaker Colin Kennedy here.  -Ali

 

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A still from William and the Windmill.

 

Ben Nabors is incredible. Not only does he make critically-acclaimed films including William and the Windmill, he also finds the time to run the creative collective {group theory}, which seems to be putting out another impossibly cool new project every time we check up on them. We talked to Ben about the work he does, and here’s what he had to say:

 

1. Tell us about the day-to-day logistics of filming William and the Windmill. What was it like being a part of William’s world but limited to the role of an observer/recorder?

 

This film took more than 5 years to make, and over that amount of time real relationships can develop. To speak in general terms, I think it’s clear from the story that the filmmaker grows close to the film subject, and the process of making the documentary comes to influence the film itself. These were unintended outcomes of the documentary process, but they happened nonetheless. For that reason, in presenting the film we felt it was necessary that I be a part of the story, and thus be implicated in some of the transitions that occur in William’s life.

 

2. When you started filming, did you have an idea of how complicated William’s story would be? How did it affect your approach when you realized that it may not follow the traditional hero narrative?

 

I was initially drawn to William’s creation of the windmill, and when our project began, that invention was the focus of our work. As time passed, the other changes in William’s life — educational opportunities, international fame, cultural transition, a changing family dynamic — became central to his experience, and therefore to me. So that said, the film arc doesn’t follow a traditional (or expected) hero narrative, but I don’t think this makes William any less heroic. In fact, in light of the hyper contemporary struggles and challenges that he faces during the narrative, I think he’s even more of a modern hero than audiences know. To have avoided the drama present in William’s transition from Malawi to the West would have diminished his incredible poise and accomplishment, and I didn’t want to overlook the full range of his achievement.

 

3. It’s a big responsibility to tell the story of someone else’s life. What do you do to make sure that your documentary work is honest, but entertaining at the same time? Or do you think that films should be either one or the other?

 

It is a big responsibility, and throughout the process of making this film, we consistently checked ourselves against questions of honesty and authenticity. Of course, this cuts both ways. Not only must we be honest to the subjects in the film, but we also have to be honest with ourselves and what we observe and experience while making the film. If a film remains authentic to the experience of the filmmakers, it holds on to truth.

 

4. Documentaries seem to be having a moment right now. Why do you think people are drawn to them at this point in time?

 

There are a lot of theories to explain why documentaries are so popular. Some people think it’s because of an acquired appetite through the format of reality TV. I’ve also heard that it has to do with new distribution platforms (Netflix, for example) that bring previously unseen genres like documentaries to new audiences. I don’t think either of these are completely true. I believe documentaries are appreciated because the craft is improving, and the work is compelling. Good stories surface, regardless of genre, and there are a lot of excellent documentary storytellers practicing right now.

 

5. Tell us about the model behind the collaboration-driven production studio you founded, {group theory}. What led you to start {group theory} and how does the concept of “collaboration” end up functioning in real life?

 

Before founding my studio, I had the opportunity to work in creative businesses that were very hierarchical. From my perspective, that need for hierarchy became a hinderance, and functioned more to push new people and ideas away rather than nurture them. At {group theory}, we try to establish a collaborative atmosphere, with the assumption that good ideas can come from anywhere and talented people want to be treated like owners rather than employees. Of course, there is structure to the day and there is order, but there’s also a necessary community spirit.

 

6. What’s one thing you learned in the process of making William and the Windmill that you will take with you to either the next project, or life in general?

 

As a documentary filmmaker, I try to walk into a situation with a sense of openness, rather than a pre-established storyline that I try to illustrate. Some filmmakers are essayists, and construct great work by following a pre-existing argument. I’m not good at that. I like to walk into a room and not know what’s going on. I find that my best footage comes from a perspective of confident curiosity. Truth is stranger than fiction, sometimes, and I’m going to hold on to that.


 
O Canada
Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Never let it be said that this job is without it perks. The biggest, in my opinion, is that we get to experience all of the interesting people and places that we’re filming, both on and off-camera.

Never was this benefit more evident than on our recent trip to Banff, Canada, to film a series of videos for Google AdWords. The videos were spotlighting local company, Discover Banff Tours, and the project called for b-roll to be shot on location in Banff National Park. Our job was to capture the spectacular, natural beauty of and the range of compelling experiences that the company offers. Not a bad gig!

So we embarked on a magical 5-day adventure in the mountains. There was canoeing, kayaking, hiking, swimming and sightseeing. We got to hang out with a family of wolves and fly over glaciers in a helicopter and we met so many amazing people. And all of this, we got paid to do! Sure there are always challenges associated with shooting on location. But if you ever hear me complaining about them, do me a favor and smack me. Because the truth is that as far as jobs go, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Here are some still photos that Jason and Nick took during our trip:

Filming and paddling on the Bow River


Mingling with the pack at the Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary.


Georgina & the lovely Kuna, her first rescue.

Filming at the breathtaking Lake Louise.
Filming at the breathtaking Lake Louise.
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Our veteran Discover Banff Tours guide, Hugh.

Our amazing pilot at Alpine Helitours

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Note: For anyone interested in going to Banff, you should definitely reach out to the folks at Discover Banff Tours. They are amazing guides, and will give you all the personal attention you need to help plan your visit.



-Becky


 
6 Questions: Colin Kennedy
Thursday, August 8th, 2013

This is the fifth installment in our 6 Questions series, where we email creators, curators, and other people we admire with 6 questions about their work and process, and then share their responses with you. You can read our last interview with kogonada, the mysterious video essayist, here.  - Ali

 

 

Colin Kennedy is a director who understands the beauty of movement. His films rarely feature a still shot: even when the camera is stationary, he seems to always focus on moments where there is steady movement, like the flow of cars on a freeway or the steady crawl of a garage door closing. We fell in love with his music video for Balmorhea (above) and were delighted to learn that he also works in documentary. You can check out more examples of his work here. We slowed down the Los Angeles-based artist for long enough to ask him a few questions, and here’s what he had to say:

 

1. You’ve done a lot of video work for skateboard companies. What got you into that in the first place?

 

I should start off by stating that I’ve been skateboarding since 1989. My older brother was a skateboarder and I looked up to him and his friends so I followed in his footsteps. Almost immediately after I started skating I was introduced to skate videos and I guess you could say I was hooked. I loved everything about them, the tricks, the music, the locations, the cover art and perhaps most of all, the energy they had. In high school, with the help of my grandma, I purchased my first video camera and starting shooting skate videos of my friends. Eventually, by the time I graduated high school I met some people within the skate industry and they liked the what I was doing so I got my first job filming some local sponsored and professional skateboarders. That led to more work within the skate industry and once I had my foot in the door I just made sure not to let the door close on me.

 

2. How has filming skateboarding informed your overall approach to filmmaking?

 

For me, it’s taught me patience and how to get creative with little or no budget at all. Just like skateboarding itself, documenting it takes just as many failed attempts. Additionally, I think it’s probably informed my love of movement. Not only movement within the frame, but moving the camera itself. I look at old skate footage that I shot and although some of it is crude or amateurish, I can see why I shot it like that and for the most part if I had the chance to re-film it, I’d still shoot it the same way today only with better equipment and a greater understanding of light.

 

3. Tell us a little bit more about your concept for the Balmorhea “Pyrakantha” music video. You filmed different parts of Los Angeles over the course of four months, but only in the last hours of daylight each day, resulting in some very beautiful, haunting footage. Why did you choose to film the video that way?

 

I love Los Angeles and everything about it, the good, the bad, the ugly, the sublime. After you cut through the Hollywood glitz and the Barbie-esque beach life there’s something magical about this city. In movies, music or the mainstream media, LA is always bursting with energy like it’s one big party, nightclub or beach bash. Pyrakantha was basically a love letter to the everyday life of Los Angeles that most outsiders never see in the media. It was a window into a bustling metropolis as it catches its breath at the end of another busy day. Regarding the production itself, I had greatly underestimated how long it would take to shoot the video. Originally, I had imagined I’d have about 45 minutes of optimal light per day and that I could shoot 2 locations each day if they were close enough in proximity to one another. I figured with the length of the song and the amount of locations that I’d be shooting for 20 days max. When it came time to shoot, I learned a few harsh realities very quickly. First, the optimal light was available for a much briefer window than I had originally planned for so instead of 45 minutes of ideal light, I got about 15. The reason being, if I started to shoot too early the sky would have too much light in it and the city lights wouldn’t read as well. On the other hand, if I waited too long, everything aside from the sky and the lights would be in complete silhouette and I wasn’t going for that look. I wanted to be able to see the blue in the sky, the glow of the city lights and be able to see detail in my subjects. On the technical end, I was shooting on a camera with very little dynamic range and its low light capabilities were marginal at best so I couldn’t compensate for the low light internally with the camera. So, after a couple of days of shooting and getting a feel for what I’d actually be able to accomplish per day I realized that this project was going to take much longer than anticipated and that for the most part 1 day of shooting equalled 1 location.

 

4. Tell us about your interview process with Adam Tenenbaum in your short documentary “Chandelier Tree.” What do you do to make your interview subjects feel comfortable about opening up in conversation?

 

I love hearing people’s stories and I love all of the tiny details. When I’m interviewing someone for a documentary, I’m asking my questions out of a genuine interest in the person or the subject and not just so I can get a certain soundbite. I think people pick up on that, they can tell I’m genuinely interested in what they have to say and so they speak to me without putting up any barriers. In the case of interviewing Adam, before we sat down at the table in his front yard we basically knew nothing about each other. All he knew about me was that I was a neighbor who had knocked on his door one week earlier to ask him if he’d be willing to let me interview him about his Chandelier Tree. All I knew about Adam was that he had created something beautiful in his front yard that I had been a fan of for years. We got to know one another through the process of the interview and from his response to my first question I could tell he was an incredibly articulate and thoughtful person. After that moment, everything else just clicked.

 

5. How do you make sure that your documentary films are honest?

 

I do my best to let the person or subject that I’m documenting tell their story in their own words. 

 

6. Describe your dream project. Who’s the client (if any), what type of film is it (skateboarding, documentary, other), who/what/where are you filming, and who do you have working with you?

 

My dream project would be to make a narrative film (preferably a feature) with my wife. She’s an amazing writer and filmmaker and I think she is the perfect balance to me and my approach. We’d be shooting somewhere beautiful like Denmark, Montana, Scotland, Iceland, Prague. Some place where the location is as much of a character as the actors within the film.


 
The Sweet Life
Monday, July 29th, 2013

Imagine working in an office that constantly smells like melted chocolate — it makes it really hard to focus!

 

Recently, the AC team was lucky enough to be one of the few camera crews allowed access to the Mars Factory, and the entire building did smell like delicious M&Ms. Although you can’t smell them, here’s some eye candy from behind the scenes.

 

MandM 2

 

M&Ms Becky

 

M&Ms Pig Food

 

M&M Lentils

 

M&Ms Nick