6 Questions: Colin Kennedy

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.