The immeasurably capable Eric Jacobus came to me with a very funny idea, given to him by an also very capable Clayton Barber (who, as a producer, has been championing Eric’s many efforts): a fighting man’s Groundhog’s Day. Eric flew with the idea; he was excited. I got excited too.
I ended up co-directing the picture with him, which took just four days to shoot. We ended up channeling more Buster Keaton than any Jackie Chan or Groundhog Day bits. Our job was to keep all the elements as straight as we possibly could, never once winking at the audience, nor parodying any known scenes. We went to the corners we loved, from Oakland to Emeryville to Treasure Island, knowing that if we could keep the comedy real, then we could let loose with the climatic battle no problem. Watch out for some cameos - like Boots Riley’s house, or little Jacob (and his house), whom’ve all made appearances in my previous work. Especially Jacob. That kid’s everywhere.
This was a small project that snowballed into something pretty grand, at least by our standard. We were given a couple of cool wine dudes and a couple of vineyards, and we were asked to make the most epic little video within the given means.
About a year ago, Eric Wolfinger was approached by Hoffman/Chrisman to do a video portrait for a winery. He took the usual suspects with him and they went up to Russian River Valley to grab some gorgeous harvesting shots at Michael Browne’s new project site, even sent Drew up on a helicopter. Two seasons later, I was brought in to bring the footage to life.
Over a few very intense sessions involving multiple parties, we decided to do a mix between a very simple story, with very laborious methods to get the most beautiful shots. The result is a grape farmer’s drive to work that spanned over 8 months and nearly four seasons to shoot and edit.
I’m gearing up for my month-long cookbook shoot with author and chef Cathy Erway next month, trekking cross country then across the globe to finish her book on the food of Taiwan. Here’s a little set I’ve thrown together of some of my favorite food shoots in the past couple of years:
Last October, I was approached by Anastasia to craft a music video for her. She told me the song was about migration, and was written as a tribute to the immigrants who’d gone through incredible hardship to uproot themselves and embrace a pretty harsh journey. I thought it’d be fun then to turn those feelings into a pulsing run, and I re-imagined her as an Amish girl on the run from bounty hunters.
We built long dolly tracks in unforgiving San Francisco rain, with a camera department led by cinematographer Drew Daniels, and lead grip Alan Cecil. The crew laid down some serious tracks in the Presidio, which was also later matched with Napa. Then we pretended the rain didn’t exist and hauled ass with the shots.
For the cast I summoned the always trusty and inspiring Eric Jacobus, who also helped me with some of the action elements; Anastasia’s boyfriend Ben, who gets to chase her with a rifle; and my old friend Terry who bares an uncanny resemblance to a very athletic Leonard Cohen. Also amongst the usual suspects were brothers Jacob and Joshua Munoz, who played a pair of wild boys. They were styled by Kat Yeh of Style Kouncil, and Candice Santaferraro, a farm girl who did fashion design in her past life.
It was a fun shoot, trying to fit an intimate song about California’s migrant workers into a story about Amish hunters and rifles.
Here it is, the second video I directed for Magic Clap. It’s a b-side video in which Cosmo Ray's texts dance with Patton Oswalt's meta charade with my frenzied editing and Margaux Rust's prop work (courtesy of Hot House Comedy).)
A few months ago my good friend and musician Boots Riley of The Coup casually mentioned to me that one such Patton Oswalt was interested in doing a remake of Magic Clap. Boots had been asked by interested parties in premiering another music video for the same song, on account of all the new fans the song has garnered, particularly in Europe and inside the US.
I wanted to be on board so badly, but I know between the two guys, they have more than enough talented and available friends, and I knew that scheduling a shoot in LA with someone as busy as Mr. Oswalt was gonna be a mountain in and of itself. But somehow Boots just kept me in the loop the whole time, and really sold Patton on the idea of having me direct this second video.
I came up with this idea while on my back for three days after pulling a muscle because I was a producer on a set and I wanted to lift something heavy to show my boys that I was one of the boys. The pain made me feel old and useless and also I was squandering two VIP passes to The Lumineers show courtesy of a very good looking and generous band member. I spent 72 hours on lotsa pills and green tea, trying to figure out a concept that would be free, quick, and non location specific. This was what I came up with (taking notes from Lasse A. Gjertsen’s “Amateur” and David Armand’s interpretive dance set to “Torn”). They got onboard quickly, I got nervous quickly, and we set off to LA to shoot this sucker.
I had never worked with a hero of mine before, and was pretty nervous, but the shoot couldn’t’ve gone smoother. We blocked out 11 hours for the shoot, but wrapped in under 4, with candy breaks and all. A lot of it had to do with my new frequent collaborator Margaux (pictured above kissing Patton on the cheek), and how she got the ball rolling by being so easy and so funny. We were in a comedy studio, and she, along with intern Richard, just went to town with the props.
After it was done, I asked Cosmo Ray to insert just a few effects shots for me. He liked my edits but hated the way I overlayed the texts, and volunteered what ended up being a whole week to correct my incompetence. Same with Jeffrey Schwinghammer, who gave up sleep to color correct all the shots.
So here’s the result! Please enjoy. It’s something that I’m very proud of, and it’s one of those rare shoots in which nothing went wrong and everyone involved jumped in and slaughtered the beast way harder than my original demands.
Click here for a little behind the scenes interview I did with IMVDB.
Back in March Eric Wolfinger asked me to follow him around for a few hours one afternoon, to capture some honey bees in action, as a part of his ongoing series for 7x7 Magazine, titled From Scratch. I showed up and it was such a nice little break from all the massive music video projects I was in the middle of. Last weekend I finally got around to editing it. I hope it zens you out the way the shoot and the edit did me.
I was brought on, semi-last minute, to direct The Uncluded’s first single from their upcoming album. The song is called “Delicate Cycle”, and the duo is comprised of old friends Aesop Rock and Kimya Dawson.
I directed it with my best friend Ben Fee, my usual DP Drew Daniels, my usual SF crew had my back, but this time we also flew up to Portland for parts of it, and recruited some new family members, and we were tasked with the challenge of dealing with a huge cast everywhere we went. More on that later. For now, here is the video:
About a year ago, Guru Khalsa and I co-produced and directed a ballet piece for a very talented dancer by name of Victoria Ananyan, who was a principal dancer at SF Ballet at the time. She’s since then done big things in Mexico and Amsterdam.
The piece was called Krounk, or Crane. As a tribute to the composition of poetry by Komitas, an Armenian priest from the last century, who’d slowly gone mad after surviving and witnessing the genocide of his people. Victoria herself is a survivor of war and famine as a child, so the works of Komitas carries a special connection. It was choreographed by Noemi Araxi, a fellow Armenian dancer and choreographer with a school in the Bay Area. The two lovely ladies, though differ age, share both extreme dedication to their work and zanily romantic outlooks on life. I was thrilled to spend the day with them.
We spent the day shooting in the dance studio with a few small lights and a skateboard dolly, then finished it during magic hour in The Presidio, with the help of Matthew Washburn (my DP for Magic Clap), who manned camera C. The idea was to have a dancer imagine herself in the wild as she put on a very private and personal performance by herself in the studio.
I did a campaign for Robert Mondavi some time ago with Eric Wolfinger and the usual suspects. It involved a lot of epic setups, so we could improvise freely when it came shooting and still yielded shots that were both perfectly lit and but still felt fancy free. It spanned over four days in some of the most beautiful corners of Big Sur. Here’s a little taste of it, for one of the ads that never officially launched, set to the music of Grand Hallway.
And, far more recently, Eric Wolfinger started a column in local tastemaker magazine 7x7 called From Scratch, where he delves into processes for foods and drinks that fascinate him. He’d met Mama at the Slanted Door Commissary when he shot Charles Phan’s Vietnamese Home Cooking. She was his aunt who ran a little commissary full of mamas ‘round her age and shape, and each morning they made 3,000 delicious buns, rolls, and tamales from scratch. Here you go:
My frequent partner/ collaborator Eric Wolfinger and I were commissioned by Calphalon to do a series of interactive recipe videos that showed off their pots and pans. We turned his kitchen into a beautifully lit and noisy studio and got to work. You can watch the first two videos of the campaign here.
Shooting food with Eric always borderlines backbreaking, because he’s got such a high standard on what food should look and sound and feel like. The trade off is that we always get to eat what we’ve filmed, and he’ll never agree to photograph food that doesn’t taste amazing.
Enjoy the first two, there are more to come, and I’ll see if I can update this post in a few days with just the videos, just for you guys.
I know I’m pretty overdue for an update, let’s kick it off with a Pitchfork premiere of a Cycles of Gehenna music video, edited by Ben:
From my facebook post, a little behind the scene rambling:
My best friend Ben Fee and I directed a music video for Aesop Rock together this summer called Cycles to Gehenna. It was an arduous production with all sorts of craziness and logistics and math, but at the heart of it were four dancers (and one choreographer) we’d casted, who put their trusts in us and really just dove into everything we asked of them. We shot through four 12+hour days, and we were at San Francisco’s infamous Armory until about two A.M.
We had one last little bit to do with Aesop Rock and we were going to wrap the production, and while I was prepping with him, Ben Fee and the girls fell in love with the hanger and decided to fit in one more dance sequence. When I entered the hanger, it was completely dark except for the one 4k light we’d placed earlier, there was no music, and the entire crew was silent, all you could hear were the footstep shuffles of Sati Harutyunyan and Avery Oatman. It was a magical moment, and one of the few moments in that production where we felt like we’d beaten logistics and we were free to be filmmakers and dancers.
I’d put some of my favorite shots into the music video, but Ben was so in love with the footage that he’d decided to cut a video with just the dancing girls. First he’d only wanted to do it as a present to Aes and the girls, but the label took a liking to it and now it’s on Pitchfork and other sites for everyone to see.
That music video shoot truly contained some of the soul-crushing defeats I’d endured in my short time as a music video director, but damn it all, we got the shots we came to get. And they were beautiful, and the crew was wonderful, and the dancers were faithful, and my partner Ben was a friend. And Aes was a sweetheart. And the rental houses were family.
And sometimes, in filmmaking, getting the shots means we’ve defeated our defeats, and now we get to choose how we want to remember our shoot.