“Blue Angel”

A city like Portland has all kinds of hidden neighborhood gems where someone can go and fade away into the din. The Basement Pub on SE 12th Ave is just one of those kinds of locations. Andrew Warnecke suggested we meet up at one of his preferred happy hour locals, they have that $1.75 PBR special. When I rolled up he was reading a book by Tom Robbins called “Villa Incognito.” He’s been working on a film titled “Blue Angel,” Blue Angel Movie and excited to have wrapped up the actual filming. Now he’s has to get out and put on the push to get it viewed. We chatted for a bit about general things that eventually led into this…

Andrew Warnecke ~ Every time I’d make something I’d hate it immediately, I’d say “Wow, that totally sucks, I’m no good at this” but ya know, if someone likes it, they don’t want to hear you tell them it sucks! I‘ve gotten a lot better at looking at it and [telling myself] “yea, that didn’t work out the way I wanted it too, but it’s not bad,” I just know I can do it better. And then trying to find opportunities to then find another film or scene where I can explore that further, or correct my mistakes, because once the films been made you don’t want ot be George Lucas and go back and tinker with it over and over and over again. People will either like or they don’t! And the people who like it, they don’t want you to change it.

[Editorial interjection: how often does the painter go back and paint over the painting, or retake the photo that’s been published?]

Leave it at that, and improve on it on your next project.

Moments Of Truth ~ How do you prepare? Do you do a lot of story boarding, free writing or something?

AW~ My storyboards don’t make any sense, so I stopped doing them. I think a lot of people do story board, what sucks about film making, film making education and any book you read is like this is how you do it, this is how you prepare, and you go about it in that way it doesn’t get you any where, everybody says “do story boards, do story boards” and I say “no” because if I do them it’s hard for me to draw the frame I want to see.

MOT ~ What about using a Polaroid camera? I know they’re discontinuing a lot of that film but….

AW~ Yea, actually have a filmmaker friend who does that, but no, I haven’t done that myself. [Story boards] depend on what you’re working on. On ‘Blue Angel,’ the one I just finished, there were storyboards but not ones showing camera angles or that. It was completely for art department. Working with the art director who does story boards we sat there and talk through every little prop and detail, the color palette of the film and try and draw sketch’s you could show to say the location scout, to select a location that fits our color palette. So it’s more from an art department or art direction standpoint.

Working with that storyboard artist was great for me because he was very detail oriented. He’d ask me how do you want this to look? What do you want here? Do you want this person with a prop, yea…?… okay, now what color? What kind? I remember, we sat there discussing this scene where this guy should be eating an apple. He said, “Well, what kind of an apple, what color, size, ..” and I’m thinking “dude, I don’t know.” He’s like “do you want just a normal green apple or should we find some kind of exotic apple that looks really weird or. . . ?” And this is really good for me, because this forces me to clarify what I want to see. As you go along, thinking up these details, you start seeing a pattern emerge. In what you’re looking for, that you hadn’t talked through yet, and all of a sudden this entire vision that was in your mind, you hadn’t really totally thought through is like “oh, wow I have this huge plan here I didn’t even realize.” So it’s helpful for me to clarify what I need to see, and obviously from there sketches can be made, and I’m very clear on what I want to see, and I want to communicate that to every one I’m working with. Like well, shit, I focused on “Blue Angel” for all this time and now I have no idea what I’m doing next!

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Background:

Moments Of Truth ~ Please break down those creative things that you do? Obviously film is top, but anything you may like to mention…

Andrew W ~ Film making, directing and writing are the primary things I’m involved with now. Every now and then I’ll decide to do pencil sketches on a large scale, and it takes me two or three weeks to finish one, because I’m not very good and I have to work at a square inch at a time to make it look any good. Other then that, I don’t really do a lot of creative endeavors… (finishing with a solid chuckle..)

MOT ~ Soooo in this film “Blue Angel,” or working with film in general, do you know the point where you began with it? Were you taking shots, clippings, or what? Did your interest in film just evolve?

AW ~ I think I knew pretty early on that I wanted to do something creative; something artistic or whatever. I mean, I took all the art classes all the way through school and things like that, wanted to attend one of the art institutes but didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I just figured that was the place for me, I’ll figure it out later!

Throughout high school I did a lot of photography. I wasn’t very good. It was basically if I’d get really lucky I’d have a good photo, but the rest of the time I don’t think the concepts of framing or composition made any sense to me. I didn’t really get that so I couldn’t really apply it at the time. That was an early interest in artistic kinds of things, but I think it was senior year when I actually took a class that focused on creative writing and film. [breaking away to clarify that times have changed] Film is actually video in high school, and they’d give you camcorders and send you out to make your “music video,” and it was terrible, but I had a really great time with it. So that’s when it clicked that that’s what I should pursue. Any time I had an option to do a project on video, that was the direction I went. It was more fun and it wasn’t really work. I think that interest was always there, I just didn’t acknowledge it could be a career.

Greatest video ever though was…, I was supposed to do a project about “Lord Of The Flies.” What it was, was a ‘60 Minutes’ type program where they were interviewing the kids that survived off the island after they got back. I did reenactments of the horrific things that happened on the island.

MOT ~ That’s a good idea. [I’m laughing because that sounds seriously bad ass, and maybe he’s laughing for the same reason. Maybe?]

AW ~ It was high school video though, ya know?! There’s the part where the character in the book, Piggy, gets squished by a rock because the kids push a rock off a cliff and kill him. That was a little hard to reenact so it was Lego figurines. That was probably the most takes I’ve every done, …. To date! It took so long to get that little rock to hit the Lego figure.

MOT ~ So where exactly did you grow up?

AW ~ Milwaukee.

MOT ~ Milwaukee, Oregon? Do you think ‘Dark Horse Comics / Publishing’ had any influence on you?

AW ~ I knew they were there, I wasn’t really into comic books. I was into comic books for a very limited amount of time. I remember reading “Sin City” pretty early on, and that really kind of messed me up at the time. But I wouldn’t say they directly influenced me or anything.

MOT ~ Where there any elements of the Milwaukee community that influenced you in your way of thinking, or your approach to your projects now?

AW ~ I think probably. That’s one of those things where I’ll look back at something I did, some little moment in a scene and when I watch it I all of a sudden connect that to something from growing up. It’s not something I consciously draw on, but I discover later that I did. It’s not a conscious thing, but it’s there!

But yea (laughs thinking about it), I did know my neighbors well. Everybody in that neighborhood knew each other well, and you couldn’t get in trouble with out everybody knowing and telling your parents about it. So it was more of a sense of community then I think most people grow up with.

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MOT ~ Any body else in your family focused, or now focus on creative type of work?

AW ~ In my extended family, there’s some creative types, musicians and that, basically, no though. My moms a teacher and my dad’s an engineer, and engineer’s are about as far from the creative end as can be as they’re a lot more logical. So you don’t see eye to eye very often. My sister is a school councilor, so they’re pretty far from the direction I’m going?

My family’s been really supportive. I think when I first told my parents I wanted to do film making they were like “maybe you should go to community college and check out some other things.” At a certain point they realized that community college wasn’t going so well and that wasn’t where I should be and that’s when I started pursuing filmmaking at the Northwest Film Center. Since that time they’ve been very supportive. They just looked at it like “that’s not a very realistic career, maybe you should have something to back it up with.”

MOT ~ In the process of learning film making, photography, and honing your eye, have you had any mentors that you’d count as having influenced you? Leg to stand on kind of thing…

AW ~ There’s been a lot. Some times I think they might not realize how much they’ve influenced me. It may be some small little thing they said at one point that clued me in. An example is I was talking to another film maker who makes a lot more then what I do, he made the statement that pretty much, if you don’t have an audience, or if… if there’s nobody who likes your film, it doesn’t matter how artistic it is, it doesn’t matter, nobodies going to watch it. You’re making films for the audience, not yourself.

That adjusted the way I look at it. No matter what art form you’re working in, there’s this idea that it’s all about you. Well, you might have all the talent in the world, but if you’re not making something anybody likes, what’s it matter? Sure, you’ve satisfied your needs, but aren’t you wanting other people to look at it?

[Not meaning to disrupt you like the guy who just about ran his van up on the curb to pull out and dusted us with copious amounts of foul smoky thick exhaust fumes, but it’s all about creating a visual experience to go along with the conversation]

That was pretty close (noting the van)!

Just a little thing, I think he was completely hammered when he said that to me, but it sunk in. I’ve been making this work because it makes me happy, but what I’m discovering trying to promote this thing is that it’s all about the audience. And if they don’t like it, well, who cares.

There’s been others who’ve since pissed me off because I feel their point of view is pretty warped, but they managed to say a couple good things that helped me along with what ever I was working on at the time. A lot of my first mentors were into experimental film. When I first started film, that was what I was into. So I took their advice to art then, and some of it has carried through to more narrative work. I reached a certain point in experimental film where it felt like I was just taking everything from my influences and mixing it up and doing the exact same thing that everybody else had done. So now, when those same people try and give me advice, it doesn’t sink in as much. I kind of feel like, okay, …. Ummm, I’m loosing my train of thought.

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Inspiration:

MOT ~ Well, let’s move on to inspiration. Do you have a particular source you draw from?

AW ~ Kind of all over. I think my inspiration comes from a ton of different sources. I don’t think any of my work is autobiographical at all, but I definitely take things from my life and mix them up and throw them into something. So that’s there. I’ll take things from some weird job I’ve worked that most people don’t know anything about and write that into something that I’m doing. I also, of course, have some friends that do really dumb things, or better said make bad decisions… (we both laugh because, well, who doesn’t or hasn’t, right?!)

It’s not like in an insulting way, you hear about one stupid decision that somebody made, and it’s not like I’m trying to poke fun at anybody, but that’s a whole story right there. That could stem an entire story. I think inspiration from real things in life, like I’ll steal somebody’s life story I know because that’s a good back-story for that character. It doesn’t actually make it into the film, but I know where the character is coming from and can go from there. I wont name any names ‘cus I’ll get in trouble, but….

It’s kind of weird for a film maker, but I take a lot of influence from literary sources.

MOT ~ That’s weird?

AW ~ It is I think. Because most film makers I meet don’t seem to read a lot. Or they read books on filmmaking or that’s about it. I listen to DVD commentaries and they’ll say something like “well, I don’t really read, this book was the first book I’d read in like 20 years and I decided to base a film on it.” Yea, I think it’s kind of weird. It’s a great place to take inspiration from.

There’s one short story that stuck in my mind, called “A Rose For Emily,” a William Faulkner story with this really subtle eeriness, a general sense of unease. Even though at the time I couldn’t remember the name of it or even what it was really about, I remembered the feeling it gave me. Stuff like that is a big influence on me. When I can do films like that, something not in your face, nothing strikes you as uneasy right on the screen, but it [may leave an uneasy feeling in you]. Stories like that always stick with me, or stories that were so subtle I just didn’t get them at the time and hated them [for that]. Then I think back years later realizing what they’re about and it messes me up. That’s an interesting direction to go in film, because it doesn’t generally go in that direction.

MOT ~ Your film “Blue Angel” is based off a short story, correct?

AW ~ That was exactly the kind of short story it was, a subtle story. A lot of people read it, and didn’t really get the sub text of it. There’s this whole sub text the narrator is saying. I knew there was more to the story than what [the author] was telling. It was really interesting to me in that sense. It was an ideal story. Making that really helped me find a direction I’d like to go in the future.

MOT ~ How’d you come across the story.

AW ~ About five or six years ago the author sent it to me and wanted me to consider making a film of it. Immediately I wanted to do it, there were some things in it that reminded me of someone I knew back in school, so strongly I knew; as well as recognizing the subtle aspect of the story. I wrote back to her and said I’d really like to do this, and that’s when she let me know that she’d also sent it to some one else. Apparently they were interested as well. I had to duke it out.

What she wanted from both parties was to get the idea about why we wanted to do it, and what our impressions were of the story. What’s some other work we’d done and that sort of thing. Apparently they didn’t get the subtext. So it was a pretty easy decision after that. That’s how that came about.

Then once I had the story, I didn’t really think I was skilled enough to make this movie. I didn’t tell her that, but I was thinking that. In my head I could see it, but didn’t really know how to do that. So I put it on the back burner while I goofed around with some other stuff until once I felt I was ready, it went into production. This took some years.

I shot a film called “Voyeur, “ that didn’t get done. It went through a couple of editors, but none would get done with it. Eventually, I was so far removed from it, I just didn’t have the energy to keep working on it. It was tough, I cared about it when I started, but now I don’t feel anything for it. So it was hard to keep working on it. Which I think pissed a lot of people off that worked on it. They felt like “we’ve put in all this work and now you’re not going to finish it.” You know, …. What are you going to do?

I did another really short project called “Tiffany’s Bad Day.” It was really short decent into action. I’m probably never going to be an action director, but I did get to have a car stunt with a limousine done, kinda cool. Nerve wracking though!

This limousine barreling down the street, skid in a half circle around the actress who was running; which was bad ass. It’s pretty freaky when you’re watching this little actress running down the street, and this huge car is supposed to spin around her, yea, I really, really felt sick to my stomach, feeling like something bad was going to happen. In there was a few other things, like “Works For Hire” that didn’t really pan out, until I quit goofing around with stuff that wasn’t important to me and focus.

(Here we took an interlude for beer and WC break, . . . take a deep breath, you can do the same but get right back!)

Oh and just another note on preparing for and making a film, I mean, doing the other film was a really good thing in order to connect with new crew members; a good way to test out people who I’d never worked with before. They were a lot more on the professional end than I’d worked with before. That was a good way to find out who’s good and reliable. So many crew members, when working on low budget projects are more likely to ditch out on you. When it’s something you don’t care about it is a little easier to take.

MOT ~ A lot of technology allows people to work on various subjects on their own, like music. You might be able to do that with some films, but you still have living characters. Filming seems to be a collaborative form of creative expression. How do you develop your own sense of what’s yours in these projects?

AW ~ Really you can do film making now with a minimum of collaboration if you want. I don’t think it’s the best thing. By myself, I don’t feel like I do anything to the best of my ability. I wouldn’t recommend it to any body, but some people do it, and can actually do it pretty well.

MOT ~ Maybe these other forms of expression aren’t as individual as people would like to think that they are.

AW ~ Such as…?

MOT ~ Well, like with painting or drawing, you read a story or see a moment in time and illustrate some basic natural element(s).

AW ~ Well, you can [lose your sense of self], pretty easily. I feel like I have dealt with that exact issue a lot. Usually I’m quite a bit younger then the people I’m working with, and some take it as a sign that “oh, that person doesn’t know what they’re doing. They’re younger, I know what I’m doing, I’ve been around longer.” Not to discredit those people, as they do know what they’re doing; but some bring the attitude that they’re going to have to take over for you and do directing for you. I’ve had directors of photography who will change a camera angle after I’ve walked off. Then, back in the editing room it’ll come up and it’s not what I wanted, it doesn’t really work with anything else that I have.

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Also, people will bring their own ideas and just do that, and you let them because they’ve explained their reason and it sounds reasonable. Later though, you realize that it doesn’t work well, it wasn’t what I wanted at all. I mean you definitely can loose your sense of what you need to get when you’re shooting, then it can end up feeling like not your own film any more.

The only way you learn not to do that is from having it happen to you. You’re pretty naïve when you first show up on your first set and try to tell people, this is what I want, this is what I need and expect every bodies going to do it just because you said it. You know, you’re in the director’s chair, but it doesn’t really work that way. I think part of it is that people have a pretty good sense if they can trust you in that position. If they don’t think you can handle it, they try and bring their own ideas and try to “save you.”

I used to get really pissed when people would do that, take it as a personal insult. Now I don’t because I look back, and can see that I wasn’t always communicating clearly what I wanted. And yea, I was young and you can’t blame them for thinking they knew better. We you have to face that and deal with it a couple of times, you realize that until you take control of that, it’s just going to happen. As the director you need to be the one confident person on the set. They need to feel that you know what you want and if you don’t get it you’re going to let them know. I think it’s all about confidence, they’re relying on you to show them where to go. That doesn’t mean I always know where I want to go when I show up, but I try to pretend like I do. I also try and have a specific plan when I show up, but no matter what, you have curve balls thrown at you and can’t do certain things, or what ever, and you have to adjust. I just have to pretend it doesn’t faze me, even though it usually makes me panic. It also comes down to getting to know the crew-members as much as you can before you get on the set. And feeling them out and seeing what they’re like, so that they have a clear idea of what you’re looking for, and you have a clear idea of who they are and whether they can trust you or not. Whether they can trust that you know what you want.

On “Blue Angel” I took to having discussions with the directors of photography especially. Just pulling them aside and saying “Okay, look, so I’m directing, I give the actors direction and you don’t, is that cool, you know.” Establish the boundaries. And sometimes you might sound like a jerk to say it, but the professional ones take it just fine. Once I find some one who works very well… basically I look for someone who trusts you but isn’t afraid to bring an idea to it and say “hey, if we frame it this way, this accomplishes what you want and allows us to cut this shot.” I love it when people can bring suggestions like that to it. I mean, nobody knows everything. . .

MOT ~ Wait, what? Are you sure… (both laughing)

AW ~ Well, maybe I can think of a couple [people].

Yea, so I don’t think there’s any director worth anything who shows up on set and thinks that they have all the answers. Any great director can take suggestions from anybody on set. I mean, you hear stories about some of the really great directors and they try and take the suggestions from everybody and you never know, it could be a production assistant or an intern that might bring an idea, and if you let them know it’s okay to tell you what those ideas are they might give you something where you’re like “oh, you know what that accomplishes my vision better then my original idea.” The idea is to know what you want well enough to know when somebody else’s idea accomplishes that better.

I think that’s how you make your center. It’s to know the feeling you want to get across, and know the different places you need each scene to go well enough to where when some one brings a suggestion you can identify it as either fitting or not, or even being better then what you want.

MOT ~ Do you set aside specific creative goals that you are working to accomplish?

AW ~ Kind of. I have about three projects that I’d like to do. I think all three of them I want to do because they all have little aspects of things I haven’t felt have gone as wanted in another film. I’m juggling two screenplays at once, and there’s a novel I’d like to adapt. I’m always just looking for projects that allow me to improve on something that I was not as happy with before. But other then that, story wise, I don’t think there’s anywhere I’m trying to go in the future.

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Technical:

MOT ~ So how do you go about researching and figuring out the ideas you want to use?

AW ~ Experimental film for me was more an intuitive way of filmmaking. I didn’t necessarily have a story, just try to set up some parameters for it where I was free to shoot what I wanted and follow intuition. One of the masters of that is David Lynch. I love his work, I think he does it very well. At a certain point I got really bored, and lost interest in that style. It definitely helped along the way to develop things I’m interested in now. Being able to shoot something very intuitively comes in handy. So much, even on a narrative film, requires you to think on your feet.

When it comes to selecting a narrative story, it differs. If I’m writing it myself, I couldn’t tell you necessarily where that comes from. It depends. When I start writing, it can be for a million different reasons. Sometimes I heard a really good song or something, and somewhere during listening to it an idea occurred to me. Or it pulled together a lot of ideas that had been running through my head that I wasn’t sure what to do with and then got clued in on the path I’d like to take with it. If I’m writing, the things that interest me are character development, to create complex characters who do what real humans would do, and not what you’re used to seeing people do. There’s a very set way of developing characters in most mainstream film, and it’s not necessarily what real people would do. When you’re trying to create very realistic characters you have to figure out “where’s this person coming from, and what would they do here.” When you actually watch a movie like that, it’s surprising when a character just seems to do what they would do. Any time I can take something that’s like a normal genre and put that spin on it, it’s very interesting to me. I have a feeling though, if and when I start shooting stuff like that I’m going to piss some people off. Audiences sometimes don’t like what’s different.

MOT ~ Do you think that’s part of the point as the director? That you have the opportunity that you can take them down a path they wouldn’t necessarily go?

AW ~ Well, yea. Fingers crossed I can do that. Like I mentioned a novel I want to adapt, what drew me to that is that the characters are so well developed, characters that in most stories would be either cut and dry good or cut and dry bad, and there was nobody in the novel that was completely evil and nobody that was completely good. It’s a story about a girl who goes missing in a small town, and all the characters are to blame in one way or another to varying degrees. But you understand their motivations and why they make the decisions they make so well that you have sympathy for everyone in the story which is kind a bizarre thing in that kind of story. And that was interesting to me because any time I hear of a child going missing that kind of messes me up. For a long time I’ve wanted to do a story in that vein. I’m hoping I can pull that off, but that might be another one where I wouldn’t want to do it right away, but shoot something else first to get up to par before hand.

MOT ~ So it sounds like you like to align your projects to prepare for the next project. Are you consciously considering that while you’re working on one?

AW ~ Not really, no.

MOT ~ So how do you know when you’re ready?

AW ~ Usually it when I’m pissed off with what ever I’ve been doing. Then it’s time to do something I want to do more. When I was working on “Blue Angel,” that was all I was doing. There was no thinking ahead to what was next which kind of sucks now, because I’m scrambling to figure out what’s next. Once you put a film out in the world, that’s a question that comes up a lot. Any film maker who’s had any degree of success with a short film will tell you “every body wants to know what you’re doing next and you better have an answer.” So while I was working on that one I didn’t plan ahead at all.

Right now, if I’m writing it’s what I want to, what feels right, and not really planning ahead. The deal is, I haven’t worked in feature film at this time. It’s one thing for me to have my first journey into feature film be a script I wrote, because I’d rather screw that up then say, a novel I really respect. Make all my first time mistakes with that one. I guess that’s what I meant when I said that novel wouldn’t be one I’d necessarily want to do right now.

MOT ~ Do you have any books that you use as resources, say potential sources for your trade, your projects?

AW ~ Nothing comes to mind off the top of my head. Every time I refer to books on film making or web sites, like I mentioned earlier, they all tell you “this is how it’s done, and this is how you do it.” That usually ends up getting me really really stuck more than anything because what I’m trying to do doesn’t really fit into that. Then I’m trying to figure out how to relate what ever I learned in that book to what ever I’m doing. It usually just makes life a lot more difficult.

MOT ~ Do you have anything you do when trying to make a decision, or to get loose, or to reconnect with your original idea, and energy?

AW ~ All the time, it’s never ending. Usually if I feel like I know exactly where I’m going or where I need to be, I am not doing anything creatively. So, are you asking ways to recharge creative batteries?

I’ll go through phases where I wont touch a screenplay I was working on for months. I might think about it, but I can’t bring myself to put in any time on it for whatever reason. Things that recharge creative batteries, I have friends I hang out with to just go have a good time, and usually they have some great story about something they did, and a lot of the times there’s just something in what they said that makes me go, “oh, there’s an idea.” A lot of times it’ll send me back to what ever I was working on to explore an aspect that I hadn’t thought about for the story. You know, just something like that might get me excited about the story again.

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Going to the bar, (laughing because that’s exactly where we are) and no I’m not joking, that’s serious. I wouldn’t want to encourage any one to start drinking, you know, in order to be successful creatively, I have to admit that writers block can be fixed at the bar. I’ve sat here and, well, one time I actually wrote an entire music video treatment during ‘happy hour.’ The deal is, if I’m working in a quiet environment, I’ll get distracted by every little tiny noise I hear, where as if I sit down at a bar and try and write for a while, it’s so loud, noise surrounding me, it’s easier for me to tune that out. There’s that energy around you, but you’re tuning it out at the same time, (imagining a great distraction) the only thing likely to distract you is the really loud drunk chick that comes and sits on your lap (laughing and we’re both looking around for that one. . . nope, not today). But uh,

MOT ~ A welcome distraction right?

AW ~ Nah, a lot of times if I just don’t feel like I’m getting anything done, something about the atmosphere that sometimes works for me. More often than not, if I choose to do that, it works.

MOT ~ If you had the opportunity to sit down with some creative individuals that inspire you, what would ask them?

AW ~ These questions come to me all the time but now I’m drawing a blank. I think they might be questions that might sound dumb to any body else . . . Probably if I met any film makers or writers that…

Well, here’s an example, I wrote a letter to Chuck Palahniuk who wrote “Fight Club” and I felt like I had so many question to ask and I couldn’t really think of any of them. And I think I ended up asking him a bunch of stupid questions and telling him some story about how my letters to Santa were sent to my grandma and she responded. I didn’t get any of my questions answered because I didn’t really ask them. Of course he responded and sent me this big box of toys and stuff. And I thought “Oh man, why couldn’t I think of anything to ask him?!” I think if it was somebody that I admire I would freeze up and draw a complete blank. So something really simple like “how the hell did you come up with the idea to shoot it this way, because I’d never think of that?” What gave you the guts to shoot it like that?

Wrap Up

Thinking back to high school and early college, I was involved in a communications, radio broadcasting, and filming a campus television program. When Andrew mentioned how he had fun doing that in school, and finding ways to create projects around that I remember just how much fun that is. A lot of folks are creating all kinds of short videos, telling stories, humoring people, music videos and all that. Most of them can barely be considered C quality, but the seed has been planted. Everyone has to start some where, right. Well, a larger production sounds a lot like being an organizer slash project manager slash company director. I imagine working a film is a lot like creating a short term business, each one a new and interesting challenge. I’m looking forward to more!

Thanks Andrew for sitting down and sharing some thoughts!

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“Blue Angel” Trailer

Catch the light

NYC Corner Stand

For my first interview I was able to sit down with a friend made during 2002 while living in San Francisco. He recently relocated to New York to take full advantage of the short remaining time on his visa. New York beckons as one of the most challenging locations in the United States and a point where the world, its cultures, industries and ideas merge to create new forms of human expression.

Joji Shimamoto grew up in Chiba, Japan, a place he compared to New Jersey because of its size and proximity to Tokyo. We sat down at the ‘Bar and Grill’ on 83rd and Amsterdam in Upper Manhattan for a few pitchers of Kirin to discuss his creative philosophy. He is what I would refer to as a hands on type of photographer. Attempting to do a lot more with the photo then just use the moment captured. He works to create new ways for the viewer to see into the moment, past, present, and future. Most recently delving into color, he believes his eye sight has now changed from his previous focus on black and white a greater confidence in what he captures in color. Not that being published means one photo or photographer is better than another, but it is sure to help build confidence. Joji has most recently had two photo’s of Venice Beach released in the Japanese publication ‘Tokion.’ Just the night before this interview he’d organized and promoted a roof-top party in Brooklyn. With full on DJ’s spinning and wall displaying his photography experiments with light boxes back lighting particular photos wrapped around the box he gathered the peoples reactions into feedback on his work.

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Background:

Joji Shimamoto catches the light. “I do photography, always catch the moment, but now as I’m making the light, maybe I’m thinking about more mixed media as my next form of shooting pictures and present some other style.”

Moments of Truth~ You develop your photos different too, using some interesting techniques like splashing and drips. How do you come up with those ideas?

JS~ Actually I began using those elements in High school, because the first time there I was in the darkroom with no teachers and had a kind of freedom to do anything. Tools were scarce, there was a brush so it was like I was drawing with the developer and maybe two or three years later, at the dark room in college I thought “I wanna do it [dark room development experiments done during high school] again.”

MOT~ Do you know why you gravitate toward photography versus other mediums like say painting, sculpting, music or design?

JS~ Because photography is like reality, it’s the only way I can show my life of reality, and, yea, I guess it’s like pure trueness to me captured through taking pictures. I think the most key thing is that when I was in high school, I had the key to the dark room and if I was bored with school so all the time, say well even night time you know or be up around dawn, I’d get done with whatever I was doing and go to the dark room and smoke cigarette, it was a safe spot to smoke cigarettes with the red light and they had a small CD player. I would bring my favorite CD and just listen to music, smoking cigarettes and printing all the time.

MOT~ And this was back in high school?
JS~ That’s right. Eight years ago, not that long.
MOT~ Still going strong, still love it?
JS~ Yea, but like I would change a little bit, like the presentation. The way to show the people my pictures, a little bit different. But like my main things is still the same, just taking my life, what I saw and sharing my view. Because now I’m spending time in New York City one Japanese kid set in. . . most Japanese people don’t get to spend time here, and I just want to show them what life is like over here, yea.

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MOT~ So where exactly did you grow up, what was it like? Your community, how would you describe your neighborhood?
JS~ It’s nothing. It’s like deserted, forty minutes train ride to Tokyo, and everyone is always going to Tokyo to have fun. When I was in junior high school I was hanging out with kids that were kind of considered gangsters. My parents worried about it, because I wouldn’t go home for like five days at a time, just hang out at my friend’s house.
MOT~ Do you think your environment and that situation influenced your views; how you approach the photography, capturing life around you?
JS~ Oh yea, sure, a little bit, because I think every kids always they like, I’m not sure how to best say it, but they want to be gangster or bad people, and I did too. So I just saw that and tried to be cool. No more though, it’s stupid [trying to be a bad person to be cool] but it’s like a version of having fun with the homies, you might get caught up in doing some bad stuff that’s my junior high school times. Around this same time is when I began skateboarding. Now it’s much more common to find someone skating in Japan, but when I started skating, skaters equaled bad boys [an activity that was initially looked down on by Japanese elders].

MOT~ Ah, okay, so is that why you started skating?
JS~ Nah, I remember the first time I saw skate, at some park in Tokyo, I mean I’d kind of skate even when I was six or five but I could only do this, [tapping his hands on the table as if he has a mini-skateboard in his fingers he motions just the most basic type of movement] I didn’t know how to ollie, and in junior high school when I saw an ollie for the first time I thought “what the fuck, jumping, oh so cool! I want to do that,” and I started. I was lucky, because in Japan skateboards are so expensive, like three times as much [as the US].
MOT~ What, like $300.
JS~ Yea, say for everything complete. Some three hundred something or more. But I got a deck from my friend’s cousin, we went to skate with him and I said “I want to go” and he let me use this deck, graffiti on it, but it didn’t last long. After about two weeks it had broke. Skating is one of the key points for my life because in skate you have so many people and so many things I can see from skating. So many things I’ve learned from skating, like attitude, how to talk to people, how to approach the world. Because skaters just do it man, doesn’t care about it, if some one says stop you’ll stop and move on, but they’re not going to go up and ask, never asking, just straight skate. That has been something I’d apply to my shooting. Now I do it a little different. But before I’d just walk up and be shooting, and if someone said “Stop!” then I’d stop. The same approach as skating. (finished with a soft chuckle)

MOT~ That’s just how you get down. Just do it! So what do you think inspires you the most to keep you motivated and energized to keep going?

JS~ Actually, I would say two or three things. One is like from my friends, my friends come out in a book, get their work published, having a good project and getting a lot of exposure or if I’m looking at magazines and say find Kento’s or Dustin’s picture accidentally I think “oh shit I want to like keep going.”
MOT~ So some healthy competition a little bit with your peers?
JS~ Yea, I might say that. If I see you doing good I want to push too. Another is from my old pictures. I could be going through old negatives and never printed this picture, but maybe three years later I see the picture and wonder “why didn’t I print this one?” And think, hmm “oh, I have some good pictures.” Motivation often comes from an event like yesterday, I threw the party and showed people my work and they might say “Wow, that’s great” and I believe I’m doing good. Yea, because I some times worry about it, “how am I doing” but once I have a good exhibition or show the people, I receive a lot of feedback and know to keep going. Just sharing with people.

MOT~ What’s another, do you think? Another reason for motivation, you describe the competition, exhibiting your pictures and getting feedback, vibing off of people…
JS~ And well, I would saaaaayyy, ummm “Love.” (said in a low voice with a soft embarrassed giggle)
MOT~ Love?
JS~ Yea, Love. Because I’ve learned recently if I like someone I will do more, because I want to show her my way show them. If I have a lover I can do much better.
MOT~ You think so?
JS~ Yes, but like a real one. Yea, yea (at this point a little nervous about this thread of the subject) hahahaha. But I think motivation is going to be about what somebody likes or other
I just want to share [with] most people.

MOT~ Do you think while you were learning photography, say in high school, did you have a mentor, or anybody that inspired you?
JS~ (shaking his head and digging deep) Actually my school mate, she’s Korean, she’s really into photography. We the main ones to use the dark room. Her stuff is more fashion, like taking people. At that time I took mostly cityscapes, cities with people.
MOT~ Did you learn anything from her?
JS~ Just like different approach. I think mostly just me, I think about it and it came out. My photography is one idea and theirs is theirs. They’re taking their life and I mine. It’s different, I can only capture my life.

"Please Watch Your Step!"

Techniques:
MOT~ So how did you learn about photography, the different equipment and processes? By reading books, talking to people…?
JS~ I just learn the basic, the very basic, how to print, develop the film, that’s it. Because in high school there wasn’t really a teacher. The teacher was a beginner too, learning it all for the first time too, we are learning together, no assignment just shoot shoot shoot and print print print. That’s how I came up with my style.

MOT~ What do you think about the difference between digital and film?
JS~ I don’t care actually. Like my ideas don’t matter if it’s film or digital, it’s about catching a good moment, a good picture is good. I’m not doing Photoshop stuff. I do like film though, because you have to wait to see it, sometimes there are surprises there. Digital is about grabbing a moment and sharing while film is developed in the dark room and seen by only me, and going “je je je.” So for fine art I like film, because I can do more.

MOT~ Before you go out shooting, do you have any exercises, or do you just have your camera with you all the time?
JS~ Generally I had my camera all the time, but this year it’s changing a little bit. Now I am making a once a week book, so I have to shoot it. Sunday is always a deadline…
MOT~ Is it a personal deadline?
JS~ Yes, a personal deadline for the personal book. Sometimes Sunday [comes around] and I don’t have enough pictures to make the book [forcing me] to go out and shoot it. Today I didn’t carry a camera because I wanted to take a rest. That’s why I’d like to have a small camera in my pocket, just in case. So many things are going on, and I want to shoot everything. Catch as much as I can. Like on the subway tonight I saw some kids. . .
(Then I rudely interrupt suggesting Joji take some pictures with my camera and we don’t get to finish that story)

MOT~ Are there any books or specific resources that help you?
JS~ A book by one of the best photographers in Japan, shoots everything, maybe every moment. Seeing his book inspired me, changed my photography a little bit.

MOT~ Do you think there’s a point when it’s too much?
JS~ No, I don’t think it’s ever too much. I think too much is good (in the background a siren blares, and you see his eyes light up at the prospect of a great photo op) I think art if you are happy, happy with it, with what you’re doing it’s not too much. If you are happy with what you’ve created, that’s art.

MOT~ How would you describe your process, from your idea to going out and finding things, finding moments, your flow from beginning to end?
JS~ (A long pause)
MOT~ Have you ever thought about it?
JS~ No, not really. Actually, I do have some time line. Shoot shoot, I would say while I am shooting pictures there’s something, because when I see the old pictures I can get back to the point. I don’t know how to explain, photography sometimes tells the future, and sometimes I can go back to a picture, and remember what followed and it was like those pictures predicted the future. I think that the process of developing the negative, well, so many processes in filming. I shoot it and put it inside in my brain, then print out the film, and look through all the negatives to choose the one to print. That’s the process. A really good moment is going to be remembered.

MOT~ Do you think a really good moment is emotional, an emotional connection or more a spiritual connection?
JS~ I would say spiritual connection with the moment. Sometimes it’s scary. One example, I got arrested recently right, before I got arrested I’d made a book using for the back cover using a picture of a kid posing near the police car, kind of making fun of the police. After getting out, a couple days later I was shooting and a the picture I took happens to look like a girl in jail. It’s spiritual. Anyway, I would say the process is a making of my lifeline, making my history.
Trying to capture the moment is also like capturing a parallel world. And the blurriness [helps represent] the difference from the reality, you know.

(At this point, the beer, lack of good sleep, or the back ground action is starting to takes its toll on me. I’m about to miss a pretty profound explanation of Joji’s work and philosophy. Luckily for me he takes the time to expand on this idea)

JS~ I like blurry pictures, the movement, it’s like drawing sometimes [with light] and I when I try to capture the moment also capture the modern world. Ten years later my pictures [taken now are] gonna be [like] I was in a parallel world, because I’m trying to shoot not normal stuff, it’s normal but different the variety of a drama moment. Not quite the answer to the question but, hmm, that’s what comes to mind, my life.

MOT~ How do you know when something’s done, or pick out that picture that you like?
JS~ It’s automatic, I just know.
MOT~ Well, how do you feel, what is it inside you telling you this? I mean well why is one better then another?
JS~ Ahh, it’s all good, (laughs)… I have no idea. I would say that they touch me, maybe it looks like a movie shot or something. It’s hard to describe.

At this point our conversation trails off into other matters for about ten minutes before this women wanting to buy a cigarette interrupts us. Actually, I think he made about $3 selling three cigarettes to different folks randomly asking if he’d sell them one. They followed through and paid up, I was surprised. He liked to point out that the brand was ‘Peace’. So it seems proper to end this with the stock phrase:

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“Peace, I’m out.”

For some great examples of his work, stop by his lower east side Manhattan show at Sunita bar 106 Norfolk St in New York near the Essex subway stop. And be sure to drop by his web site Jojiphoto.com or become his friend at myspace.com/jojiphoto.