Putting things together that don’t really belong with each other can be part of what makes art interesting. A quote attributed to Heraclitus goes, “A wonderful harmony arises from joining together the seemingly unconnected". I found this quote to be true while working on the Area 52 films. But will it work for this film? Will it work at all?Read More
This week, I started this project in earnest. As exciting as it is to jump into this full force, it’s extremely uncomfortable. After a year of not making any films, I’ve gotten very accustomed to the commercial world again. Running a business requires it’s own focus and attention and making money is very good and very important. Without it, I couldn’t even dream of self-funding my work. Or, to quote Muhammed Ali, if I even dreamt about it I better wake up and apologize.
So I’m right back to where I was all those months ago, splitting the work embryo into fraternal twins. Making art and making commercials are definitely at variance but it’s incredibly difficult to just rip yourself out of the mindset required to tackle commissioned work and get into the mindset of making art. It’s truly like oil and water. Everything is different. Lifestyle, mindset, stability, sleep patterns, eating patterns, focus and priorities are all changed when you exit one of these realms and into the other.
After spending a good portion of the week remembering some of my own advice, I tried to apply it the best I can at this difficult starting point. I was reminded of my own personal reasons of why I even make films in the first place. This was key. I remembered to trust myself. I remembered to take risks. I remembered that art is not safe (this was also key). Commercials are safe. Art is not. I’m not fully there yet but I can’t wait to get to a place where I relish improvisation and simply DOING.
Also - and this might be a little corny - but I remembered to have fun. Fun is a key ingredient and is one of the main reasons why I put myself through the torture of making these films. I like to believe that if you aren’t having fun while making art, then you aren’t really making art. Even torture can be fun.
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The first thing I did this week was to aggregate all of my notes from the last few months and create a first rough order of films for the album. These ideas may not be the strongest ones in the end, but they are the most stubborn at the moment. Here’s an initial album order. I’m sure this will change 100 times by the time it’s complete:
I’ve been listening to albums in their entirety while I work and have been sharing my favorites of the week in my IG stories. Any and all album recommendations are welcome so feel free to DM me yours.
Here are this week’s favorites. Click on any of the images below to listen to the album on Spotify:
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Lately I've been watching YouTube clips of great artists reflecting on making their great albums. The two that I've watched multiple times so far is Pink Floyd reflecting on the making of 'Dark Side of the Moon' and The Beatles in the studio making the 'White Album'. Two classics that sound like they were made by people who were sent from the heavens specifically to make those albums. Although Pink Floyd had made 7 albums prior to Dark Side of the Moon, they were still an underground band with no hits. The Beatles, quite the opposite.
You would imagine that The Beatles would have such an air of confidence in their ability to write and record classic after classic that they wouldn't be afraid when starting something new. Same for Pink Floyd, who were pioneers of live performance visualizations and had a rabid underground following.
But, the one major take away from listening to the members of both bands talking about initially starting the recordings was that they only really had a vague idea as to what they were doing.
John Lennon talks about being paranoid during recording sessions. Paul McCartney talks about how certain songs unfolded in a collaborative, open-minded, loose way. They tried things. They failed sometimes, made adjustments, jammed, experimented and worked through the songs on the fly to get to the final piece they were happy with. But the ideas they started with were still very vague.
Roger Waters and David Gilmour of Pink Floyd talk about "On the Run", the second track on Dark Side of the Moon, in a very shoulder-shrugging manner. They had almost no idea how to use the VSC3 synthesizer they used to create the track.
The footsteps and voices heard on the track are the only external sound effects used. The plane sounds, explosions and the sonic tapestry of anxiety and hurriedness were all made using a machine they initially had no idea how to use. They had to bring in someone from the company to give a demonstration on what else it could do.
The lesson here is that the artists who made these albums set out to create something that was only a vague idea when they had started it and they were not confident going in. I don't know about you, but to hear John Lennon admitting that he was nervous and paranoid about succeeding on what eventually became the White Album is pretty reassuring.
In my own personal experience, being vague and leaving the door open to let other ideas in (or out) is an incredibly freeing way to work. I think it's the best way. They don't tell you that in film school. At SVA, animation was posed as something that is rigidly planned. Clearly you don't want to do anymore work than you need to do but following the same exact steps every single time and never leaving your lane can be pretty stifling. Maybe it works for some. Like, if your goal is make hit TV shows that sell a bunch of merchandise, then the rigid method will probably work for you. But if you're trying to push your own personal boundaries and create fresh and exciting work, be vague.
I've found that one of the best places to start a project is at the end. I mean, imagining what the finished product is, what it looks like, what it sounds like, how it makes you feel, etc. I even give these imaginary films titles. Sometimes I start with titles and go from there. An intriguing title can open the door to a great idea. But this tactic only gets you so far and you can all too easily fall into a vortex of thought redundancy. Inevitably, you have to actually DO something.
No matter how many films I've completed, the process of starting a new one is always the same. Every. Single. Time. Never once have I had a lightning bolt epiphany where I suddenly have all of the ammunition to go ahead and just make something. It requires action and elbow grease. Just make something. While making things, you find out more. It's a process of discovery. The more you dig, the more you find, the more you fall in love. That doesn't happen with thinking alone.
But still, even after 52 films, I force myself, for some reason, to feel like I have to start at the beginning. With blankness. But experience has taught me that this just doesn't work. Zero multiplied by any number, no matter how high the value, is still zero. You can imagine all of the possibilities for a project, sweat structural details, get real nitty-gritty with bits that may have been living in your head, think about actors (I don't but maybe you do), think about music, think about minutia all day long. But until you manifest those ideas with an initial vomiting, it's not real. You gotta vomit. Vomiting sucks but it's so crucial. There aren't any beings on Earth that enjoy vomiting. Ever hear a cat vomit? Sounds like someone is plunging a toilet full of gelatin. Then the cat's face expands like they're falling from an airplane while being choked. Then, suddenly, it pours out and it's a mess.
Cleaning up that mess is really the "beginning" because, usually, there's a gold nugget in there just waiting to be riffed on. Sifting through the vomit is a dirty, dirty job that usually happens behind closed doors. The process is really ugly. I hate when movies show an artist's process with beautiful sunlight pouring through the windows and dissolve after dissolve of them just banging it out as if obstacles don't exist. It's bullshit.
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“You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
- Jack London
My initial vomiting are the following images. I've collected over 100 painfully obvious Google images that are meant to supply some kind of inspiration, even if just to get me in the mood:
Other inspiration comes from reading. I selected a few books from my shelf that have to do with greed for power, revenge, dystopian control and primal control. As I read, if something strikes me as pertinent to the concept of The King of Spades, I'll write it down. Here's my initial reading list to help stir the pot:
The real work begins when you've got to start organizing your ideas. I work in Notes, both on my phone and on my desktop. I prefer typing ideas so I can easily edit, delete, move, copy and keep them compartmentalized. Writing things down is nice and romantic and all but, for me, much less efficient:
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THE FIRST REAL VOMIT
The moral of this story is that organizing what you've consumed is necessary but it's useless without taking action on the bigger goal. Right after Labor Day weekend I'll be starting production on the first film. I have no idea if it will work or if it will end up making it into the album. But, who fuckin' cares, right? It's an insect ballet that I've been thinking about for quite a while. Very anxious to dive in.
WTF AM I DOING?
I've decided to start up a new project and, although it's going to be a lot of work, I'm really excited to take it on.
The name of this project is THE KING OF SPADES. Much like Area 52, THE KING OF SPADES will be another collection of short films. Also like Area 52, the films will be experimental in nature and I want to explore new and radical directions with a plethora of materials. Unlike AREA 52, I will definitely not be making 52 films, there are no constraints on time-length or the time I have to produce them, and the films will not be released one by one.
In cartomancy (that's card-reading), the king of spades is the most powerful card in the deck. The themes of the films will deal with things like authority, power, greed, control, patriarchy, slavery mechanisms, and the eternal struggle between the dominators and the dominated; all toxic components of modern life.
With THE KING OF SPADES, I'm setting out to create something more pointed and a more sophisticated than my prior work. By making a slew of short films and releasing them all at once as a singular collection, it's very similar to the way a band releases an album. In fact, there are many parallels to the music industry.
The idea is that you can watch the entire collection strung out as a feature-length film, roughly 40-45 minutes. OR, you can just watch the "singles". The "singles" will live as both self-contained pieces, garnished with titles and credits, and also live as compartments of the feature-length film, sans titles and credits.
POSSIBLE COOL THINGS BEYOND THE FILMS
In my wildest imagination, I'd want to release this project as an actual packaged product, no different than buying an album. The "liner notes" might be an actual book where you can look at pretty artwork and read about each film in sequential order. For AREA 52, I wrote a blog each week to correspond to each film where I talked about the motivation for making each one, a short essay on the particular topic and a brief behind-the-scenes explanation. So, the concept for the THE KING OF SPADES book companion is similar, but prettier. And possibly more in-depth.
Here are some rough visualizations/inspirations:
Once the "album" drops, I might take it on tour like a traveling pop-up gallery/screening experience.
I don't know. I have no money to make any of this happen and no idea how I'm going to pull it off. But just announcing this in black and white is a great first step to making it real.