The Limits of Control


Paul Thomas Anderson is one of my all time favorite directors. So when I heard that Phantom Thread was the film that ultimately made Daniel Day Lewis quit acting, I had to see it.

By the time I got around to seeing the film, it was only showing at 10:15am. I don’t think I’ve ever been to the theater before noon. Of course Black Panther was playing in two theaters at 23 different showtimes. 

It’s sad. It appears that from here on out, Daniel Plainview and Reynolds Woodcock are no match for Captain America and Wonder Woman. And I get it. Big budget movies are about making as much money as possible, and there are a lot of Marvel fans out there. Not to mention an endless stockpile of comics from which to mine more stories about superheroes in goofy outfits. 

Anyway, Phantom Thread is awesome. DD Lewis is a twelfth degree black belt ninja at the peak of his craft. So is PT Anderson. And he’s only 46 -- my age, which is crazy to consider. Apparently he directed and also manned the camera for much of this shoot, which was also cool to see.


It’s an achingly beautiful film about the need to control, and how people react when they lose that control. It’s also about making art, and the sacrifices that can require. I could certainly relate to the breakfast scenes, being annoyed by loud chewing / crunching / clanking that goes unnoticed by my wife and daughters. At several points I laughed out loud, mostly because Woodcock’s need to control his surroundings is something that I can definitely relate to.

If I’m stressed or anxious, which is usually when I’m feeling overloaded with work / family / money worries, I get hyper sensitive to sound. Furthermore, as a photographer, I’m constantly trying to make order out of the natural visual chaos that exists all around me, all the time. It’s like I’m always taking pictures with my eyes instead of a camera, and it is really hard to turn that off, which can be exhausting. I’m getting better at recognizing this, and working on it through meditation and self care. A lot of the work has to do with letting go.

Woodcock is an asshole to most of the people that surround him. And in that way I don’t think I’m like him. At least I hope not. But I get it. I understand him. And as the film eventually reveals — sometimes the way to truly control everything is to understand that you have to let go of controlling everything.

Surf Is Where You Find It

Gerry Lopez grew up in Hawaii, where he spent lots of time barefoot, surfing empty breaks with his friends and family, and communing with the ocean.

I just finished his book, Surf is Where you Find It, a collection of surf-related stories from throughout his life. I was struck by the ease with which Gerry floats through life, taking the various winds, currents, ripples, and waves as they come. As far as I can tell, he has zero enemies, is genuinely loved and respected throughout surf culture, and still loves surfing and the ocean as much as he did as a barefoot grom on the rollers of Waikiki. 

His life is one of singular focus coupled with a divine ability to read and adapt to his environment. Lopez is wholly aware of his surroundings, whether it’s surviving dangerous surf, making business decisions, or navigating the complex landscape of celebrity.


This sort of focus/vision is something that I aspire to. It’s a skill that seems so straightforward — just keep your eyes (and ears) open and pay attention. Listen closely. Being a surfer, I know that 90% of surfing is just paying attention and being able to read the ocean. But in surf, as in life, there are always distractions that cloud our vision and muffle our hearing — social and cultural filters that we are born with or pick up inadvertently along the way. As Lopez says, “Don't talk in the lineup unless you want to get caught inside.”

Gerry has spent much of his life as a waterman, a businessman, an adventurer, a pioneer, and an ambassador of not just surf, but all around Aloha coolness. But above all, he is an artist, fully committed to a life with a singular focus. 

However, artists with this sort of singular focus are often faced with difficult life decisions that require them to be either selfless or selfish. Do I chase waves around the world or stay home with my family? Do I work late or go home to have dinner with my family? Do I even get married, have kids, and start a family?  Somehow, Lopez seems to have found a way to duck dive under this wave as well — which is a true testament to his ability to see.


At the end of the book, he lists five rules that he has created for himself:

1. Surf to surf tomorrow, never surf like there's no tomorrow.
2. Pace yourself.
3. Don't talk in the lineup unless you want to get caught inside.
4. Never, ever, take the first wave of the set.
5. The best surfer in the water is the guy having the most fun.

I couldn't agree more. Thanks G-Lo!

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. 


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.