Further Not Better

Wife

What's Between

Played 166 times

Music for the Weekend: Further Not Better by WIFE.

Am halfway around the planet in India, just getting started on my meetings with potential financiers for some long-gestating projects. It’s been three years since I was last in this country, which continues to reinvent itself on a daily basis. The world is changing at a pace that few of us can comprehend.

I chose this song because of its backstory. James Kelly, who is the brain behind WIFE, is also the brain behind Altar of Plague, one of the best black metal bands in Ireland. It’s a complete shift in musical ideology, and yet Kelly makes it work. Listening to this album on my flight reminded me that the greatest joy as an artist is to be unclassifiable. It means no one can peg you down, no one can predict your next move, and if you’re really good at your craft, the world will eagerly anticipate your next move.

It also means that you will continue to challenge yourself, you will never become complacent or spin your wheels. As the saying goes, change is the only constant, and this applies to so much more than just art. Never be bored. Never be satisfied. Never settle. Always change, always learn, always discover. The art which will come out of you will surprise you, it will be dangerous, and most importantly, it will be yours.

Have a great weekend.

Compulsion

Martin L. Gore

Counterfeit E.P.

Played 134 times

Music for the Weekend: Compulsion by Martin Gore.

I’m four weeks into my insane ten-week travel schedule and I’m already starting to feel burned out. I’ve done three cities in four weeks, a meeting a day, and still have the hardest part ahead of me, which is international travel. I’m abroad for the next three weeks.

Feeling worn out aside, I’ve gotten a lot of things done and things look promising. I’ve been in the film business long enough to temper my emotions coming out of an outstanding meeting (and I had a few) where everything seems perfect and your life is ready to change forever, but then weeks, months, sometimes years later you’re still waiting for those promises and agreements to come to fruition. It’s an old adage from my business law classes during my MBA, which is that if you don’t have it on paper, you don’t have it. I don’t start breakdancing until the ink is dry on the contract.

This song popped up on my playlist - a relic from my college days - and the lyrics hit me hard as I was sitting in a crowded discount airline cabin in my middle seat, at the back of the plane, by the lavatory.

Charms in limited supply and refusing to stretch
That indefinable nothing somehow keeps pushing you
Finding the right words can be a problem
How many times must it be said
there’s no plan
it had to happen

Got to move on sometime and it’s about time
By putting one foot in front of another and repeating the process
Cross over the street, youre free to change your mind
Strength through diversity couldnt have put it more plainly

It seemed to perfectly distill the process of pitching. You’re good in the room, your passion is authentic and vital, and the other side seems excited, but whether it is out of professional kindness or genuine sincerity is known only to them. Then the dance begins, the coaxing of that simple-yet-evasive one syllable answer: yes or no.

Scott Rudin used to say the best answer he could get from a meeting was a “yes,” but the even better answer was a “no.” Because when someone says “no” you can move on, you can try a different angle or strategy. But the media business rarely works like that. On average my discussions / negotiations with agencies take about four months of back and forth, all of it exceptionally noncommittal. It’s absolutely maddening.

We slog it out. Work damn hard. Make sacrifices. There’s few luxuries. Save money by crashing on the couches of loyal friends. Spend money where it benefits your goals the most. And sometimes you make a breakthrough and it’s our human nature to feel excited. But besides giving you a thick skin, this business will give you a new concept of delayed gratification. The celebration must wait until the movie is in the can, or even better when it’s onscreen, or even better when you get your first check from the receipts. There are so many stages, so many uncertainties.

Doesn’t mean we can’t be happy. It’s a cliche but it really is all about enjoying the journey, this is the source of our joy. Those moments when you look up at the ceiling of a room that isn’t yours, and realize that you’re working towards something that’s pretty fucking cool and is incredibly important to you, and is your mark on the world. It’s a pretty amazing feeling.

Soldier on. Back on a plane tomorrow and away for three weeks, so the posting may be a bit spotty. Thanks for understanding, and let’s keep fighting for our dreams.

Have a great weekend!

Asleep

Makthaverskan

II

Played 229 times

Music for the Weekend: Asleep by Makthaverskan.

What a brilliant record by this Swedish quartet. You know music is special when it can transport you, either to a future that you wish could happen or to the past you’d like to reclaim. In this instance for me it is the latter.

There’s something about this track that reminds me of my most awkward introduction to love, or what I thought was love. Sometime around freshman year of high school. I couldn’t stop thinking of this one girl in my math class. She wasn’t one of the unattainable popular girls, she was a figure skater and would show up at school at like five in the morning to practice. Nobody seemed to really notice her. In that sense we had a lot in common.

She was very pretty but more fascinating to me was an understated elegance to her. Every movement of hers was soft and on some sort of parabolic glide. She had sharp features mostly hidden by long, straight brown hair. I was mesmerized and awestruck. She was the first girl that reminded me of Audrey Hepburn. And the last.

She also had a boyfriend. Every nerd’s nightmare. She was off limits, and even if she was unattached I was so painfully shy I wouldn’t have done anything about it. What would a beautiful girl like her want to do with an introverted dork like me?

High school continued and two years later I ended up having a photography class with her. And her boyfriend. My torture resumed. Then one day I had my nightmare scenario. One early morning before school started, I was in the darkroom (we used to develop our pictures back in the 90s, kids) and I was developing a series of pictures that I took in the mountains. It was really good work, the nascent legs of a visual career that I had no idea would turn into my life’s passion. I was in the darkroom by myself, and then she walked in. It was just the two of us. I was petrified with fear. We worked in silence.

She looked over at my picture in the developer bath, and looked at me and tried to say something, but she choked on her words. I looked up at her, as if I’d done something terribly wrong. She smiled and said “your pictures are really beautiful.” My brain exploded, and I eked out an almost inaudible “thanks” and smiled at her. And then something amazing happened. We talked. Like a lot, for an hour or so, about a ton of stuff. Music. Mountains. Skating. Art. Life. We got out of the darkroom, and for reasons beyond my understanding, she asked if she could take my picture. I was dying inside. I said okay. She snapped a pic, and I took a picture of her on my camera. Our relationship thereafter was relegated to exchanged smiles in the hallway and a hug at graduation.

And that’s it. Rather unspectacular in the annals of recorded relationships, but the emotions that were invoked in me, the sea change of feelings, I cannot possibly give justice to. It wasn’t love, or infatuation, or some teenage masturbatory fantasy, it was a special moment when you just connect with someone on an entirely different level, when every nerve is activated and every cell engaged. Small, beautiful moments that carry on for the rest of your life. For that, I thank Lisa with all of my heart.

All this from one song. Such is the power of art.

Have a great weekend!

Cigarettes & Loneliness

Chet Faker

Chet Faker - Built On Glass

Played 439 times

Music for the Weekend: Cigarettes & Lonliness by Chet Faker.

This weeks starts an insane ten weeks of work travel, and I’ve already spent a considerable amount of time in airports. I’m shopping three television shows and two feature films, all which has been written in the past two months. I’m all written out for now, but now it’s time to hit the road and sell.

My father used to be a consultant, and he was on the road all the time. There was a period in my childhood where I’d see my father maybe 1/3 of the year, because he’d stay for weeks in Europe on consulting gigs. He’d always come back with gifts from wherever he visited. He’d get me old comic books and weird stationary products from Asia.

My pops rarely if ever shared his stories from the road, but having grown up and logged my own fair share of miles, I can now understand why. The road is an amazing place, lonely and introspective, and simultaneously dangerous and exciting. Those stories are personal and just for my dad. Someday he might tell us, but that’s okay, we all have to take some things with us.

Eating dinner in a hotel bar, or getting room service in a small town hotel. I always order fish and chips or french onion soup. Don’t know why, but it’s comforting. Watch the spelling bee on ESPN. Local news, where the Mudcats scored three touchdowns against the Fighting Hornets. Weird guy who sat next to me on the airplane and who tried to convert me to Christianity. People crying on their own. Cigarettes and loneliness.

Have a great weekend!

Jumpin' The Turnstyles

Alms For The Poor

Sweet Mother: Free Activation Series No.1

Played 139 times

Music for the Weekend: Jumpin’ the Turnstyles by Alms for the Poor / DJ Z-Trip & DJ Radar

My brain feels like this song. Really. It’s been a hell of week. Perhaps I might’ve taken on too much, I haven’t gotten much sleep as I’ve got some big deadlines looming. Been writing an eight-episode TV bible for a noir crime show that uses time travel. That’s right. Time travel. Never easy, because there’s so many loopholes / wormholes to navigate, and I want to get the science right. So while my days have been spent writing, my nights have been spent studying quantum physics, particle / string theory, uncertainty principles and predestination paradoxes, singularity, the heat death of the universe and Schrodinger’s Cat among many other things. Because if the internet proves one thing, it’s that everyone loves cats.

Also this week I had an amazing opportunity to meet two very important directors who have had a profound impact on my life. I got to hang out with Steve James, director of Hoop Dreams and Andrew Davis, the director of The Fugitive. Both men were incredibly humble, despite having created some of the most powerful and influential films in cinema history, and what really struck me was that they were infinitely curious and asked questions with the same energy of a debut filmmaker embarking on their first project. It was incredibly inspiring, and I made two very good friends who I know will be there when I need some advice, an extra set of eyes, and a solid opinion. I was honored and humbled, and aspire to follow in their footsteps of creating art without compromise.


Andrew Davis, yours truly and Steve James. Chi-city represent.

Have a great weekend!

Fallout Friedman [Pause's Broken Brain Rework]

AK/DK

Dispatch #2

Played 119 times

Music for the Weekend: Fallout Friedman [Pause’s Broken Brain Rework] by AK/DK.

A slow burner electronica jam, but it’s insanely cool, like if old school Autechre got skrewed. Makes me think of an awkwardly violent video game that hasn’t been made yet.

This weekend is going to involve a lot of research for a project that I hope to film by the end of the summer. With the LA feature getting delayed, I’m glad I planned out backup projects that I’m able to launch simultaneously. Always keep working, you never know what takes off, what stagnates, or what dies.

Have a great weekend!

Midas Touch (Hell Interface / Boards of Canada remix)

Midnight Star

MASK 500

Played 255 times

Music for the Weekend: Midas Touch (Hell Interface / Boards of Canada remix) by Midnight Star.

So happy to share this with you. One of my prized possessions is the complete set of MASK records, which contains some of the finest electronic music in the world. It’s taken me over ten years to complete the set, and I’m now in the process of converting the vinyl to digital.

This is probably one of my favorite songs from the series, a remix of an RnB classic by Boards of Canada long before their debut landmark Music Has the Right to Children. There’s just something about this track - bubbly arpeggiated bassline, whooshing synths, and the original soul - that makes me immensely happy. It’s pretty simple, to the point, and doesn’t mince words. I love it, and sometimes I hum it to myself when I’m working on a screenplay. It does wonders.

Been a long week of setbacks and gains, discoveries and disappointments. Just another week in the film business.

Have a great weekend!

Choosing a Soundtrack.

Soundtracks are a big deal to me. My films often contain 5-6 licensed songs, the rights for which are always built into my budgets. Naturally I can’t afford the Rolling Stones but I always am on the lookout for young, breakout artists that I can still afford. I never ask for music for free, whatever I can pay, I will. Nothing is for free.

I also choose all of my own music. Many films employ a music coordinator whose job it is to collect a bunch of music and present them to the director. Many of these songs are offered by labels as music that they wish to promote, which is why so many Hollywood blockbusters contain new singles of Top 40 artists. Blockbusters exist to make money, an ethos that trickles down to pretty much every creative decision in their conception.

I bring this up because this weekend I witnessed this commercial from Apple:

I disliked the commercial from the very moment I saw it, and there are a myriad reasons why. The first being that I’m not a big fan of emulators - an iPhone can never replace a guitar amplifier or actual instrument, it will forever be an approximation. If you want a tube amplifier sound, go source a tube amplifier. Borrow one. You’ll make a friend.

There are tons of other things I don’t like about the ad, but for me the biggest problem is the selection of music. It’s not some curmudgeon generational thing either - sure the Pixies’ “Gigantic” was an anthem for any kid growing up in the 90s, and yes there are nostalgic memories attached to the song, but it’s an ad. The whole idea is to tap into nostalgia for customers like me and a cool edge for hipster revivalists. It’s also no coincidence that the Pixes have a new record out. Commerce as usual.

But I take issue with the selection of the song in context with the ad. ‘Gigantic,’ which was written by bassist Kim Deal, is a song about a young white woman who is obsessed with a young black man. The core of the song is about the woman watching the man have sex with another woman. It’s a creepy song whose refrain of ‘gigantic’ is a double entendre about the gaze upon black men. It’s pretty much a masterpiece of indie rock.

It also has absolutely nothing to do with the selling of mobile devices, or anything that’s going on in the ad. Launching model rockets? Creating a projected planetarium? Emulated violin concerto? Kids playing Godzilla in the backyard? No connection whatsoever. The song is employed for the aforementioned nostalgia and because it’s just got a killer hook.

I find this reprehensible. When a song is used with little to no regard for the spirit in which it was written, I consider this an affront to the musician. One can argue that the artist agreed to its use, but the reality is that most musicians do not own the publishing rights to their music, and while they may receive a royalty from its use, unless it is specifically stated in a contract the music can be used by the highest bidder.

It’s happened before. Take Royal Caribbean using Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust for Life’ to shuck holiday cruises:

It’s a song about heroin, about celebrating the bombed-out blitz of drugs. Whoever chose the song did it only for its title, either that it’s a brilliant act of subversion, which I highly doubt.

I remember reading about President Ronald Reagan using Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA as a political rallying call, not understanding that the song is about an American man who is in a spiritual crisis, about a veteran who feels betrayed and isolated, a man without a country. So unless Reagan was going for some deep metaphysical shit with his campaign, it’s more likely that he or his campaign lackey heard the title and ran with it. Springsteen famously lashed out, stating “The President was mentioning my name the other day, and I kinda got to wondering what his favorite album musta been. I don’t think it was the Nebraska album. I don’t think he’s been listening to this one.” It only cements Born in the USA as one of the truly greatest American songs.

Choosing music takes a lot of effort. It’s not enough that the song be popular, it has to work in all facets. A song needn’t be so literally used either, it can be an ironic use, a metaphorical use, a subversive use. But the main thing is that it must have an application beyond the commercial.

In Lilith I pondered over the final track to use in the credits. The credits song is an immensely important one for me, as it is the time when the viewer can reflect all that has happened, and I like the song to guide me through that spiritual minefield. In my debut film 19 Revolutions, I closed the film with Rjd2’s Smoke and Mirrors (before he hit it with the Mad Men titles), because besides being a kick ass song, the words made sense - 'who knows what tomorrow will bring, maybe sunshine maybe rain, but as for me I'll wait and see, maybe it'll bring my love to me.'

At the Cinequest film festival I was praised for using the song, as it fit the theme of my film perfectly. 19 Revolutions is the story of a young man faced with the brutal decision of an act of crime for honor. I ended the film ambiguously, as the man points a gun at the screen, eyes closed, moments before he decides if he will pull the trigger. At SXSW I was feted with having the best soundtrack (which included tracks by Rhythm and Sound, Porter Ricks, Mouse on Mars, Flying Saucer Attack, Rjd2 and Anticon), all of which were selected meticulously to fit the narrative and spine of the film.

With Lilith I had about twenty songs on my list, most of which I could afford because they were not major label artists. But it just wasn’t working, none of the songs I had completely encapsulated what I needed. I was getting desperate, as we needed to audio lock and mix. I was thinking of dipping into my savings so that I could pay for an obscenely expensive Nine Inch Nails song, but then, a stroke of luck.

I was in NYC doing the sound mix and a major rainstorm hit. I was on 3rd street and Broadway without an umbrella, and I knew that on 4th I could kill an hour at my favorite music store, Other Music. I’ve been buying music at OM since 1998, and they, along with Aquarius Records in San Francisco, have been a great source of new music for me and my films.

I got to Other Music, soaking wet. One of the staff kindly offered me a dry t-shirt - such are the perks of being a regular (and why brick and mortar stores are worth supporting). As I was drying off, a new record was being put on the shelf. It was by a band from Sacramento, CA called Sister Crayon, and the record, ‘Bellow’ was their debut. I picked it up and saw the title of one track - ‘Here We Never Die’ - and something about those words resonated. It fit my theme perfectly, that Lilith was a girl trapped in hell, and it is a place where she never dies, as she lives in the heart of her sister forever. It is both a prison and an infinite void. On a whim I picked it up.

I took the album home and listened to it, and it was magnificent. Ethereal female vocals from Tera Lopez, a chilling organ and wispy, crackling percussion. The lyrics fit everything, almost eerily. I immediately got on the case and within a week we had rights to the song. It’s a magnificent piece, and something I felt was meant to happen. The storm gods led me to that store and I was meant to find that record.

Searching for a soundtrack is an act of exploration and discovery. It takes time and lots of thought. Throw into the mix the financial restraints and it can be downright exhausting. But trust me, it’s well worth the effort. A thoughtful soundtrack can take a film to the next level, and I can’t imagine my films with other songs or without songs altogether. They are part of the diegetic world of the film, they are influence and nuance, they are atmosphere and mystery. As important as performance, cinematography and edit. You can easily make a film without a soundtrack, it’s not a requirement to have one. The films of the Dardenne Brothers contain no music, and as a result they are harrowing, sparse and bleak. It’s by design. I choose to have music because it is a way I express myself in my art. Music is elemental, it is basic, it’s another language with which to communicate. There will be projects where a soundtrack will sound forced or introduce artifice, and this is where restraint must be applied. The choice to use music is like any other creative choice, it must be done in the benefit of the story. Fail to be cognizant of that and you will end up with a shitty iPhone ad: forced, pandering and completely clueless.

No Way

Young Fathers

Dead

Played 255 times

Music for the Weekend: No Way by Young Fathers.

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, as I’m starting to hear some truly innovative hip-hop coming out of all places, Glasgow, Scotland. Young Fathers have put together a truly unique sound that pays respect to both Dizzee and Scottish indie legends like The Beta Band and even Arab Strap. Unique beats, dense textures and outstanding writing (the chorus of ‘AK-47 take my brethren straight to heaven’ has been stuck in my head) easily makes for a contender for best record of the year. I’m really blown away by these lads.

Have a great weekend!