I wrote about The Burning Leaves a while back. I used a song of theirs called Home on the closing credits of Last Ride. I was totally obsessed with that song for a long while and I still feel lucky I was able to make it part of the film.
It's been a long time coming but I recently received a copy of their self titled debut album. I thought it would be good, but was I wrong. It's freaking sublime! Recorded at home with vintage gear, listening to this album feels like discovering a forgotten classic from the 70's.
The Burning Leaves to quote one reviewer "make haunting, melancholic vignettes that sound like they might break if you listen to them too loud." It's an accurate description. For me they tap into something so achingly beautiful with such simplicity that it seems all to effortless, but I'm sure they have sweated over every heartbeat of the 41 mins of the album.
My one complaint is that the album is only available through their MySpace page (Fifteen bucks! Free Postage!) For better or worse these guys are fiercely independent and so far have done everything themselves. No label. Which I'm more than impressed with, but it's a crime that this album isn't in every record store, in every city (both on and offline). I fear it's going to become an undiscovered masterpiece. But what do I know... I'm not a musician nor am I in the music industry. Enough rambling.
I didn't take the photos below, but I wish I did. I hope to work with Indie and Craig again soon.
I'm very proud of this short documentary I made earlier this year. This film is one of three Exit Films and Publicis Mojo produced for an energy drink called 'Burn', and it will be streamed on websites throughout Europe. Playground is a portrait of 21 year old rapper, poet and 'beater' named Julius Wright a.k.a Lyrical God who lives in Philadelphia. Enjoy...
The brief for Playground was simple. Perhaps a little to simple, make a film about '...an unconventional urban musician, somewhere in the world..." kind of narrows it down a little huh? After a couple of frantic weeks research here in Melbourne, London and New York we eventually stumbled upon this clip on YouTube of a guy called Lyrical God.
I couldn't put my finger on it but there was something that just grabbed me about Julius. I had a feeling in my gut there was something more going on than just 'tapping pens' on a table. I found Julius on Facebook, took a punt and sent him a message. I can only imagine what he must of thought when he recieved it. "Hi I'm from Australia and I'd like to make a film about you... next weekend!". So within a day or two I was chatting to Julius on the phone and he seemed like a really cool guy with a great approach to his music and his life in general.
We got go ahead from Mojo (the agency we were working with in Sydney) on a Wednesday, my assistant Ryley and I were on a flight to Philadelphia on Thursday and we were shooting with Julius on Friday.
I had been waiting for an opportunity like this for nearly ten years. The idea of taking the bare essentials and being jettisoned into the unknown to make a film for me the ultimate way to create, where you rely not on a script, but more on instinct and intuition. Responding to what you see and hear, hour by hour, day by day. That's pretty much how I shot Playground over the five days we were in Philly.
Ryely and I found ourselves in an all black neighbourhood in South Philly, totally out of place for a couple of pastey Australians, but we were welcomed by Julius and his friends immediately and were made to feel most welcome. I was totally drawn in by the city and the people we met and I hope that comes through in the film a little.
Above: The last image I took of Julius just after we finished recording in the studio at 3am.
I guess the coolest thing about the experience was meeting and getting to know Julius and really liking him. The risk for me with a project like this was turning up in Philadelphia and Julius being keen on having a film made about him, but showing no interest in actually getting it made. I mean, all I had seen was some YouTube clips and a phone call. He could have easily lost interest in the idea of making a film when it became apparent that he was going to have get up early, do different things, hang out with us etc. I've seen the novelty of filmmaking wear off on people before, once the novelty wears off, it's just hard work. However, I think Julius really got into it, he loves performing more than anything else, but over all I think he loved sharing the experience in making a film with us. He really wanted to make it work. And was very generous with his time.
One thing became very apparent while we were there though. It's really hard for a black kid like Julius to make the leap from living with his Grandma in a row house in South Philly to being a successful musician. Everyone around Julius knows he has talent, and this is in an environment where everyone can rap and freestyle (all the guys you see rapping with Julius in the film live on his block) in fact everybody you see in the film is incredibly talented. Everyone expects Julius to 'make it'. But by the end of our short week with him, I was all to aware of the great divide between who and where he was and what he dreamed he could be and how freaking hard it is going to be for him to make that leap. Simply by the fact that he is a young, black and poor. He has to busk to eat. And while everyone around him is saying how amazing he is and how he is going to be rich and famous one day, most days there is nothing in the fridge to eat, and he's out hustling for change. The pressure to make it and fulfill his and his friends and families dreams must be huge.
I wish Julius all the best. I know he has a really great support network and his managers Aaron and Nathan, who look out for him in so many ways other than just financially are two of the nicest guys I've ever met. I hope this film is one stepping stone closer for him to his dream.
(On the geeky side, this short project was my first real attempt at shooting on the 5DmkII which I have beendiscussing here for a while now. Again, I was so impressed with the quality and the usability of the camera in the real world. I used no focus rig or extra bits and pieces. Pretty much the camera and a monopod was all I used. We had a sound recordist with us most days which made a huge difference, but some of what made the cut is the 5D with a microphone mounted on top. Simple, discreet and beautiful 'film like' quality.)
Those that know me a little will know I'm totally OCD when it comes to anything related to NINand Trent Reznor.
I recently posted about Trent's new side project How To Destroy Angels and am very happy to say that the new ep is now available for FREE at their website. Yes, for FREE!
Trent has pretty much given away his last few releases. His approach it seems to getting around the whole music piracy thing is to either give the music away, or sell it for very little via his own website. It's very clever. The thinking being, that the music is not a commodity but rather a creative asset, and part of much bigger and deeper, b(r)and / consumer relationship. Of course there will be a hard copy of the album for sale in a few weeks. I'll be waiting and paying happily for the vinyl! And if you followed the link to the free download, you'd see a bunch of other things you can 'buy' that can't be downloaded and digitally copied. See how this free thing works?!
Once again Trent and team have provided beautiful artwork. I'm so fascinated by the illustrations that adorn the album artwork and website. Such a beautiful colour palette, design and tone. Oh and the music is everything you would expect. There is a little bit of the last 6 NIN albums mixed with the smokey whispered vocals of Mariqueen Maandig. Do yourself a favour.
Last week I did guest lecture at the Victorian College of the Arts School of Film and Television. One of the things I had wanted to do for a while was just show a bunch of short films that have really effected me over the years. I think I took in about 20 -30 shorts, but I only had time to played around five, once we chatted about each of them. I wanted the students to think about why it is they want to make movies. If it's "to tell a story" or "to create worlds and characters" why not consider writing a short story or a novel? Is your 'film idea' a better idea for a painting? A song? A photograph? A stand-up routine? A newspaper article?
What makes a film want and need to be a film and how do you best use the elements of cinema for your 'film idea' so it can only be a film, and nothing else, because all those other options will perhaps be easier for you and definitely less expensive and require way less people to make it happen.
One film idea I'm sure glad isn't any other art form is Heavy Metal Parking Lot. I showed this as an example of how films don't need to be huge in scale, overly planned and /or require the hearts and minds of a mulitple cast and crew. Sometimes all you need is to be at the right place at the right time and with the right attitude.
Heavy Metal Parking Lot is more than just a cultural time capsule, it's a couple of filmmakers doing what all great documentary filmmakers do. They are simply holding a mirror up and reflecting who 'we' are, in the most raw and pure of ways.
There is a great interview with Jeff Krulick who made Heavy Metal Parking Lot here, and another here with guest Dave Grohl. And also check out this excellent site Triple Canopy that not only has a pretty cool interface but also features alot of Jeffs other work, including Harry Potter Parking Lot!