Stop motion

Having spent a good portion of my childhood making stop motion films in the basement using modeling clay, legos, a Super 8 camera, and lots of time. I loved this one.

My Funeral

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. 

CREDITS:

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

Mountain in Shadow

I saw this on the TGR site, and fell in love with it immediately. After 5 minutes it started to feel long, but that made me love it even more. Walking or sliding in the mountains has a way of bending time. Watching the clouds move, the shadows stretch, and the sun descend can be hypnotically soothing. Filmmaker Lois Patino was able to capure that feeling. 

Gas Station

A few months ago, I shot a project with Venables, Bell & Partners, for their client, Phillips 66. The P66 brand family, which includes 76 and Conoco, was updating the designs of their service stations, and wanted to update their imagery.

After discussing the project with the AD, the first image that came to mind was Ed Ruscha’s iconic Standard station. It's one of my all time favorite images, and if I had a spare £82,850 I’d get one. I wanted to bring that clean, graphic, sensibility to my own images, and thought a lot about composition and color. And I thought a lot about Mr. Ruscha’s image:

In preparation for the shoot, I did my own test at a Conoco station in Boulder, using my friend’s vintage 911. In the process of making this image, I learned that gas stations are busy places with lots of visual clutter. And they’re dirty. There would be a lot of variables to control on our production if we were going to make great work and be efficient. In addition, there would be a lot of post production on these images to make them clean, graphic, and iconic. Here is the finished test image:

We selected four service stations that had interesting visual elements that would give us some variety with our compositions: Two in LA, one in St. Louis, and one in Denver. On each shoot day we’d close down the pumps, bring in a range of prop cars and talent that were brand appropriate, and arrange them into compositions. To visually differentiate the brands, we used constant lighting for Phillips 66 and Conoco, and strobe lighting for 76. Each has its unique advantages, and I’m equally comfortable with either, but the workflow for each is very different. Which makes the images different.

Of course there were obstacles to overcome: Including the client’s signage / branding in every shot in some way. Scheduling the shot list to work both with the sun and the shade. Controlling car traffic. Controlling foot traffic. Removing snow (we were shooting in December) to make it look like Summer. Removing power lines and cars and oil spots and Taco Bells to make everything look better. 

But the main challenge with this shoot was coming up with many different and interesting ways to photograph gas stations, when really they’re all basically the same. In the end, we delivered a comprehensive library of images for all four brands. Some images are straightforward, and others have been worked on extensively, with many elements rearranged, removed and rebuilt. Huge thanks to the team at Danklife, who brought loads of expertise and vision to this project.

That said, here are a few of my favorite images.  See more of the project here.