Last year at Anderson Ranch, I was talking with Tom Sachs about ways to progress what I do. First, he suggested that I take advantage of the resources available for commercial jobs to make personal work, but in a very subversive way — which was a super interesting, but sort of scary idea. Then he suggested that I make a “commercial” to advertise me and my work. Of course I’ve done plenty of marketing and promos over the years, and while a well crafted print piece can be a nice visual-tactile experience, I can never get over the feeling that I'm just printing and mailing expensive filler straight into the recycling bins of the ad world. The thought of creating a video promo was appealing, especially given the amount of directing and DP’ing that I’m doing.
So I spent some time thinking about what this commercial might say. At first I thought it would be funny to stage my death as an elaborate hoax, complete with fake news, photos, and a proper obituary -- to play with the idea that artists only become famous once they're dead. I kicked this idea around for a while, along with some other ideas based on common stereotypes involving artists.
Shortly afterward, I was installing a piece of my art in a friend’s house. At the time, he was an Art Director at CP+B, so I mentioned the idea. He told me about his high school art teacher, Mr. Williams, who used to joke with his students that “the artist’s best career move is death.” It was perfect. And I had my creative brief. Thanks Nic.
After discussing Mr. Williams' words with my friend and creative partner Evan Fry, we came up with the idea of recreating my funeral. I wrote a script and made some notes on the look and feel of the film, including the complex camera move that required a dolly/jib/gimbal/follow focus rig and four super-skilled operators. Evan wrote the VO:
The artist exists to create,
But the judgements of his creations are subjective.
And this is a profound truth.
Just as another profound truth is that,
The artist’s best career move is death.
And with these truths at the core of the artist’s life,
A question is begged:
What is the artist to do?
Finished script in hand, I met with Denver-based production house Postmodern to make this happen. They would source the casket, locate the funeral chapel, book the cameral rig (Arri Alexa for those that care) with the four super-skilled operators, and pull everything together for our shoot day. Evan directed while I lay in the casket, caked in makeup, trying to look as dead as possible.
We did 32 takes, where each take produced a small, incremental improvement. It was a complex, organic camera move that required great touch. My eyes were closed for most of the shoot. The last take was the best. Postmodern did the edit, color, and sound. With Evan's help, I did my best to make the VO not suck. Paul Spaeth composed an original score. And we were done.
And I don't have to worry about this promo getting tossed into the recycling bin.
Executive Producer -- Ben Seymour / Postmodern`
Producer -- Krisi Olivero / Postmodern
Director -- Evan Fry
Director of Photography -- Jon Firestone
1st AC -- Carl Otto
Grip -- Dylan Rumney / Light Factory
Gaffer -- Jason Tahara / Light Factory
Still Photographer -- Jon Rose
Editor -- Bandera Cruse / Postmodern
Audio Engineer -- Mike Cramp / Postmodern
Colorist -- David Baud / Postmodern
Music -- Paul Spaeth
Production Assistant -- Eva Weinberg
Make-Up -- Michael Long / Fairmount Cemetery