Blogs Crosscuts

Hi8: Eight Questions with Chris Mason Johnson and Chris Martin, Writer/Director/Producer of Test

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for an Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering those eight […]

Still from  Test . Photo courtesy of Serious Productions.

Still from Test. Photo courtesy of Serious Productions

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for an Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering those eight that best expose their current musings and fascinations. No two interviews are the same.

Nominated for the John Cassavetes award at the Film Independent Spirit Awards, Test documents the life of a modern dancer living in San Francisco in 1985 as he struggles to navigate his sexuality, masculinity, and career. The film’s writer, director, and producer Chris Mason Johnson, was a dancer himself as part of Frankfurt Ballet and White Oak Dance Project before pursuing a career in film. Test is the director’s second film and won two Grand Jury Awards at Out Festival in Los Angeles. Fellow producer Chris Martin is based in San Francisco where he has spent the last decade working in film, television, and journalism. He currently has two other films in the works. Both Chris’s took a moment to answer a few questions about novels, artistic influences, and recharging creatively. Test screened at the Walker at the end of January.

Chris Mason Johnson, Writer/Director/Producer

1. What was your worst (college/post-college/make-ends-meet) job?

An admin assistant to a choreographer. I’d been a professional dancer and suddenly I was this office boy faxing things while the dancers danced without me.

2. What is one of the most unexpected influences on your art?

My own past. I thought I was going to bury it but I put it on display.

3. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Physical thing: my jaw. It’s weak. Psychological thing: chronic procrastination.

4. How do you recharge creatively?

Pose questions to myself before I fall asleep and see if I have the answer when I wake up, or at least a feeling for them. Also: walking without technology.

5. Whom would you like to spend three hours in an elevator with?

A very talented and generous masseur.

6. What’s your most vivid Minneapolis memory?

Buying a folk art wooden pig with wheels and surprising my boyfriend on his birthday at our hotel while on tour with the Frankfurt Ballet. He’d seen it earlier in a store and loved it. I snuck back and bought it for him.

7. What global issue most excites or angers you?

Excites: the spread of basic human rights to all corners of the globe. Angers: the treatment of women where those rights have yet to spread.

8. What is your advice for young people today?

  1. Your 20s matter. Be careful what you work at because it might stick.
  2. Money matters but not in the way you think it does.
  3. Learn how to listen. It’s not easy. 

Chris Martin, Producer

1. What have you been obsessing about lately?

Living in sunny and dry California, I’ve been obsessing about winter wonderlands lately, even watching cross-country ski tournaments in the Alps on ESPN just for the scenery.

2. What is something you have never done before?

I’ve never gone sailing on a craft of my own and I’ve never gone spelunking. I would love to do both.

3. What global issue most excites or angers you?

Building tract houses on the earth’s richest farmland.

4. How do you recharge creatively?

I read short stories or take my camera out to shoot landscapes that only I think are beautiful.

5. What’s your most vivid Minneapolis memory?

Going swimming in the downtown YMCA with its big windows that overlook buildings.

6. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Abstinence.

7. What’s your favorite mode of transport?

Trains and bicycles – they work great together.

8. What have you been reading lately?

Billy Lynn’s Long Half-Time Walk and Station 11.

The Film Independent Spirit Award nominees screen annually at the Walker Art Center as part of a collaboration with IFP. Screenings are free for all IFP and Walker members. Click here for the complete list of screenings.

 

Hi8: Eight Questions with Ira Sachs, Director/Writer, Love Is Strange

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for an Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering those eight […]

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for an Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering those eight that best expose their current musings and fascinations. No two interviews are the same.

Jeffery Perkey, filmmaker Ira Sachs, and Dean Otto, program manager, Walker Film/Video

Jeffery Perkey, filmmaker Ira Sachs, and Dean Otto, program manager, Walker Film/Video

 Love is Strange, the second installment in an unofficial New York Trilogy, is nominated for four Independent Spirit Awards (Best Feature, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor). Director Ira Sachs and writer Mauricio Zacharias team up again to tell the story of two men—Ben and George—who finally get married in New York City after 39 years of partnership. Because of their recent marriage, George is fired from his teaching position at a Catholic school and the couple is forced to live separately while they figure out their finances. Sachs traveled to Minneapolis in January to introduce his film at Walker Art Center and participate in a post-screening discussion. His previous films have screened at Sundance, including Forty Shades of Blue that won the Grand Jury Prize. He is currently working on a new film with Zacharias called Thank You For Being Honest.

1. If you could throw a dinner party for anyone in the world, who would you invite?

My kids, Viva and Felix, and my husband Boris.  In fact, I’m going to invite them for that dinner tonight.

2. What is your hometown like?

Memphis is a city that if you happen to be born there poor you have as little opportunity for good education or good housing as if you were born poor in Calcutta. The American dream is not alive and well in Memphis, TN.

3. What’s your favorite place to people-watch?

The Great Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  They have nice benches and in the winter, when it’s cold outside, there are few places better to while away the hours watching the world go by.

4. What is your greatest extravagance?

I would say going out to dinner more often than I might.  I don’t like fast cars, or fancy watches, but I do like sitting in a round, leather-seated booth at the Knickerbocker Bar & Grill on 9th St in NYC, and having a good meal and conversation.

5. What was your favorite birthday like?

I turned 40 on the tail of the hardest few years of my life so far, and I feel that I came alive again at a party hosted by friends for me on the top floor of the Pompidou Museum in Paris. That night, the past and the future didn’t look so bad.

6. What’s your favorite comfort food?

I eat gazpacho for lunch 4 or 5 days a week, six months a year (the warm months), so I guess that’s comfort.

7. What has been your favorite age so far? Why?

This moment now, without question. As I get older I find that I appreciate what I have more than what I want to have.

8. What recent album, film, or book did you consume recently that you wish you had created?

I have a bit of filmmakers envy for the work of the Chilean director Sebastián Silva (Crystal Fairy, Nasty Baby).  There’s an ease to his directing that I covet.

 

The Film Independent Spirit Award nominees screen annually at the Walker Art Center as part of a collaboration with IFP. Screenings are free for all IFP and Walker members. Click here for the complete list of screenings.

Hi8: Eight Questions with Justin Begnaud, Producer, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for an Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering those eight […]

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for an Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering those eight that best expose their current musings and fascinations. No two interviews are the same.

Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. Photo courtesy Kino Lorber 2014

Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. Photo courtesy Kino Lorber 2014

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night effortlessly blends genres. One part spaghetti Western, one part noir, and one part graphic novel, the film follows a skateboarding vampire as she strategically chooses her victims and falls in love. Director Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut is nominated for Best First Feature, Best Cinematography, and the Kiehl’s Someone to Watch award. The film’s producer, Justin Begnaud, took a moment to talk about Viking funerals and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off via email. Begnaud is the Chief Operating Officer at Crimson Forest Entertainment and has been producing film, television, and digital media for the past 15 years.

1.  What’s one of your guilty pleasures?

Oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips….hold on…I’m eating one right now.

2. What is your advice for young people today?

Get off your damn mobile device and live!

3. What’s your favorite place to people-watch?

Airplanes. Everyone looks miserable, and they all wear comfort clothes….which ain’t pretty either.

4. What’s your most vivid Minneapolis memory?

My dad was born in St. Paul and my uncle bought a 60 year-old cannery on the outskirts of town… used it as his house… and he had 7 couches inside… one to sleep on for each night of the week!

5. What was your favorite birthday like?

My friends surprised me by re-creating the entire day from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (rented a Ferrari, took me to a museum, a major league baseball game, and a fancy steak lunch… took me a while to figure it out, but once I caught on it was “so choice!”)

6. What’s your favorite comfort food?

Greasy Pizza! (From NYC of course).

7. What is your favorite place in the world?

South Island, New Zealand.

8. What do you wish to have done with your mortal remains?

I want a Viking funeral. Ya know, when they put you on a pile of logs, along with other flammable objects and get shoved out into the ocean abyss…then someone with a flaming arrow fires a shot toward my body. That’s honorable.

 

The Film Independent Spirit Award nominees screen annually at the Walker Art Center as part of a collaboration with IFP. Screenings are free for all IFP and Walker members. Click here for the complete list of screenings.

Hi8: Eight Questions with Lena Waithe, Producer, Dear White People

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering those eight […]

Screen shot 2015-02-18 at 11.33.00 AM
Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering those eight that best expose their current musings and fascinations. No two interviews are the same.

Dear White People seamlessly blends cultural critique and humor in its examination of racial politics in higher education. The film has a special relationship with Minnesota: it was shot on the University of Minnesota campus, screened to a sold out audience at the Walker in May of 2014 as part of the Next Look series, and was presented as a case study at IFP Minnesota’s 15th Annual Midwest Filmmaker’s Conference. Dear White People received two Film Independent Spirit Award nominations for Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay. Director Justin Simien and producers Lena Waithe, Angel Lopez, and Ann Le raised over $41,000 through Indiegogo, a crowd funding site. Producer Effie Brown later joined the mix after the promotional video went viral. Lena Waithe took a few moments to talk about self-care, what she’s listening to, and her favorite pair of pants. Waithe first gained internet fame for writing the YouTube series “Shit Black Girls Say.” She is currently writing a pilot for a show called Twenties, about a handful of twenty-somethings trying to navigate their post-college years, that will air on BET, and developing another show called Bros Before Hos—a comedy about three black brothers—for HBO.

1. What’s your favorite place to people-watch?

Gay clubs and holiday office parties.

 2. How do you recharge creatively?

Walking around my neighborhood listening to whatever my favorite song is at the time.

3. What is your favorite article of clothing?

A pair of corduroy harem pants I found at a thrift store. They’re way too big for me so I often wear them with suspenders.

 4. What is your favorite film scene?

It’s a scene from Eve’s Bayou. It’s when Eve’s aunt relives a memory when her lover shoots her husband in front of her. It’s shot beautifully and it’s done in such a sad yet eloquent way.

 5. What have you been listening to lately?

I’ve been listening to Siya’s latest mixtape “Better Late Than Never.” Oh and Jazmine Sullivan’s new album, “Reality Show”.

 6. What is your favorite inanimate object?

My remote control.

 7. What has been your favorite age so far? Why?

The one I am now (30) because I’ve learned the true meaning of self-care. It’s not a concept one can fully comprehend in your twenties. You’re still too eager to please everyone.

8. What recent album, film, or book did you consume recently that you wish you had created?

The Comeback—because it’s so smart and dark and a reflection of us as a society.

The Film Independent Spirit Award nominees screen annually at the Walker Art Center as part of a collaboration with IFP. Screenings are free for all IFP and Walker members. Click here for the complete list of screenings.

Hi8: Eight Questions with the Directors and Producers of Land Ho!

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for an Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, […]

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for an Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering those eight that best expose their current musings and fascinations. No two interviews are the same.

landho

Land Ho! tells the story of two older men who, bored by retirement, decide to adventure through Iceland. The film received a nomination for a Film Independent Spirit Award in the John Cassavetes category for movies filmed with a budget of less than $500,000. Co-director Aaron Katz played an important role as a pioneer of “mumblecore”: an independent film genre that typically features a small budget, amateur actors, and emphasis on character rather than plot. His artistic partner, Martha Stephens, debuted as a director at the SXSW film festival in 2010 with Passenger Pigeons, a subtle film portraying life in her home of rural Appalachia. Katz and Stephens have been friends for over a decade and decided to shoot Land Ho! together while working on their own long-term projects. The film is produced by three women including Mynette Louie, president of Gamechanger Films, an equity fund that finances films directed by women. Louie won the Piaget Producer’s Award at last year’s Spirit Awards. Christina Jennings also helped produce the film and fell so in love with Iceland that she decided to move there post-shoot. Jennings first connected with director Stephens in Austin while attending school at the University of Texas. These four directors and producers took a moment to answer a few questions about dance hits, dinner parties, Ariana Grande, and the Australian Open. Land Ho! screens at the Walker at 6 pm on Wednesday, February 11, 2015.

 

Aaron Katz, Director

1. What have you been obsessing about lately?

El Dorado rum. On its own or in a rum Manhattan.

2. What’s your most vivid Minneapolis memory?

A long time ago some friends took me to a house party and someone put on “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It.” I hadn’t thought of this song as enjoyable or good until that moment. I was at the peak of my just out of college music snobbery and I was reminded then that music can be enjoyed in lots of different ways.

 3. What is your least favorite sound? 

I’ve been watching the Australian Open and there’s this commercial that has run hundreds of times for Melbourne as a tourist destination. I remember to mute it most of the time now, but I’ll be hearing it in my nightmares for years to come.

 4. What global issue most excites or angers you?

I’m angered by the lack of seriousness regarding environmental issues in mainstream political dialogue.

 5. What have you been listening to lately? 

Dance hits by CeCe Peniston and Crystal Waters. Also, Korean hip hop geniuses Dynamic Duo.

 6. What recent album, film, or book did you consume recently that you wish you had created?

Nightcrawler. I caught the end credits of the movie recently while I was walking into a screening of a movie playing right after it and I was reminded, even just watching two minutes of credits, how great it is.

 7. What is your favorite article of clothing?

The Fair Isle sweater I bought while in the Shetland Islands with my wife.

 8. What have you been reading lately?

John Dickson Carr. He wrote “locked room mysteries” and I’m having a hard time reading anything else right now.


Martha Stephens, Director

 1. What is your hometown like?

I grew up in the Appalachian foothills right outside of Ashland, Kentucky. People call this area Cancer Valley. We have several coal processing plants, oil refineries, steel plants, etc. It’s a gritty, depressed hybrid of the rust belt and coal country.

2. What’s one of your guilty pleasures?

Mystic Pizza. But I feel no guilt for loving it. Julia Roberts in that pool hustling scene is GOLD.

3. What’s your favorite mode of transport?

Inclined planes and chairlifts.

4. What artist turned your world upside-down as a teenager?

Bruce Springsteen. At thirteen I heard Born To Run and was never the same.

5. Whom would you like to spend three hours in an elevator with?

See above. I’m getting flustered just thinking about it.

6. What have you been listening to lately? 

Suzi Quatro. She inspired the spirit of my latest script.

 7. What’s your favorite comfort food? 

Biscuits and gravy, the food of my people.

 8. What artists would you like to collaborate with?

I’d love to work with Billy Bob Thornton one day.  I think of him as a kindred spirit.


Mynette Louie, Producer

1. What’s one of your guilty pleasures?

ABC’s Scandal.

2. Who is your favorite villain of fiction?

Mrs. Danvers from Rebecca.

3. What is your advice for young people today?

This is advice for everyone, including myself: Don’t let the Internet rewire your brain more than it already has. Don’t fall prey to digital mob mentality or allow persecution by social media without asking rigorous questions. Cherish and nourish nuance and critical thinking. Learn grammar.

4. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Good manners and optimism (at the expense of truth and honesty).

5. What’s your favorite comfort food?

Mashed potatoes and soup dumplings (but not together).

6. Who’s your favorite cartoon character?

Lucy from Peanuts.

7. What is one of the most unexpected influences on your art?

Riding the NYC subway. It’s rife with humanity and ripe for existential musings.

8. Describe a recent dream in 15 words or less.

Hollywood agent disappears from office without a trace. Co-workers discover he went on a walkabout.


Christina Jennings, Producer

1. What’s one of your guilty pleasures?

Nada. I own my love of Ariana Grande.

2. If you could throw a dinner party for anyone in the world, who would you invite?

Rashida Jones, Cara Delevingne, the Broad City gals (Ilana Glazer & Abbi Jacobson), Emma Watson, Amanda Seyfried, Addie Bryant, Cobie Smulders, Anna Wintour, Tavi Gevinson, Drake and Paul Rudd.

3. What is your advice for young people today?

Don’t do something just because you think you’re supposed to do it. There are no “rules” in life.

4. Who’s your favorite superhero?

Joan Rivers.

5. If you own a pet, what kind and what characteristics do you share with it?

My cat Finn and I are both sweet-natured and gentle but we bite if we have no other choice.

6. What have you been reading lately?

Yes Please by Amy Poehler & Under the Glacier by Halldór Laxness

 7. Name something you would love to possess, but never will.

A neck tattoo. My mom made me vow I would never get one. I love her so I will obey.

 8. What do you wish to have done with your mortal remains?

I’m working towards my immortality so hopefully this need not worry me.

The Film Independent Spirit Award nominees screen annually at the Walker Art Center as part of a collaboration with IFP. Screenings are free for all IFP and Walker members. Click here for the complete list of screenings.

 

 

Hi8: Eight Questions with Kiara C. Jones, Producer, She’s Lost Control

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering […]

P1010091_2Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering those eight that best expose their current musings and fascinations. No two interviews are the same.

Director Anja Marquardt’s debut film, She’s Lost Control, starkly explores the life of a sexual surrogate in New York who becomes a bit too close with one of her patients. The film was nominated for Best First Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards. The “worst blizzard of the century” provided an opportunity for the film’s producer, Kiara C. Jones, to take a moment away from her busy life to talk to me about the subway, Malcom X, and breaking up with technology. Jones started her creative career as a poet and hip hop artist before moving to New York City to pursue a career in filmmaking. She’s Lost Control screened at the Walker earlier in January 2015.

1. What do you wish to have done with your mortal remains? 

I’d like for the people I love to skip the funeral and see the world. Cremate me and scatter my ashes in warm, beautiful, clear blue, water around the globe.

2. What artist turned your world upside-down as a teenager?

When I was 17 my friend Dent gave me a shoe box filled with cassette tapes. It was recordings of Malcolm X speeches from the 1960s. Some would categorize him as an activist, but he was definitely an artist. He was a brilliant orator, clever and concise in his choice of content and presentation of thoughts. I used to listen to the tapes on my Walkman and would rewind the poignant and often inflammatory thoughts. I moved through the tapes in order. Then, one day, his voice, his pace, his message had changed. I was shook. In reality the distance between those speeches was years, but in my world I had gone to bed with pre-Mecca Malcolm and woke up with post-Mecca Malcolm. If you don’t know what that means, it’s worth a little research. For 17-year-old me, it was life-changing. I would go back and forth between the tapes, looking for similarities, differences, wondering what he would say if he were alive today. It taught me that people truly can change, like butterfly change. Yesterday crawling, today flying. It freed me to understand that being true to myself didn’t mean staying the same. I have the right to explore, discover, interpret, reinterpret and change. Thank you, Malcolm and Dent.

3. Describe a recent dream in 15 words or less.

Glitter dances, bubbles of snow, humble spotlight, applause and laughter, wordless speech, baby sister, proud.

4. What is your hometown like?

Like most of America, beautiful on paper with a torrid past and a volatile future.

5. What is your advice for young people today?

Get offline.

6. What have you been reading lately?

Scripts… lots and lots of scripts. The more I read, the more I discover about filmmaking. There are lots of bad scripts out there. Not bad because they’re bad, but bad because the writer didn’t find the most interesting “good” to put on the page. There will often be one character or a line of dialogue and I’ll think—there, that’s what this script should be about. They say directing is about knowing where to put the camera, writing is about knowing where to put your thoughts.

7. Fill in the blank. What the world needs now is_____________.

A 30-day power outage.

8. What’s your favorite place to people-watch?

New York City trains. I love to imagine where people are coming from. Where they’re going. What’s on their minds. What’s making them joyful or sad. You can see the entire world on the subway, every class, race, creed, color, orientation. It is a microcosm of the human experience. That’s the best thing about living in New York, if you need inspiration, just walk out your door.

The Film Independent Spirit Award nominees screen annually at the Walker Art Center as part of a collaboration with IFP. Screenings are free for all IFP and Walker members. Click here for the complete schedule.

 

Hi8: Eight Questions with David Zellner and Chris Ohlson, Director/Producer, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering […]

The Zellner Bros. and Chris Ohlson during their visit to the Walker in 2014.

The Zellner Bros. and Chris Ohlson during their visit to the Walker in 2014.

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering those eight that best expose their current musings and fascinations. No two interviews are the same.

The Austin, Texas–based Zellner Bros., have been collaboratively making films for over a decade. For their latest—Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter—Nathan wrote, produced, and acted while David directed. After obsessively watching Fargo, their protagonist is convinced the film contains a map to buried treasure and travels to Minnesota to find it. The Zellner Bros. shot many of the scenes on site, in and around the Twin Cities. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter played to a sold out audience at the Walker in September 2014. Along with producer Chris Ohlson, the Zellner Bros. joined Variety chief film critic Scott Foundas for a Q&A afterwards. Their feature was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards: Best Director and Best Female Lead (Rinko Kikuchi).

On a warm Austin day in January, David Zellner writes to me about fond memories of yesteryear and the forces that motivated him.

1. Which creative talent would you most like to have?

The voice of an angel.

2. What is your favorite film scene?

It changes day to day, but the end of Aguirre, The Wrath of God is always a safe bet.

3. What was your most character-building experience?

Years of rejection.

4. What artist turned your world upside-down as a teenager?

Tie between Morrissey and Kris Kristofferson.

5. Name an image from past visits to the Twin Cities that you can’t get out of your mind.

The amazing interior of Nye’s, a national treasure.

6. What was your worst (college/post-college/make-ends-meet) job?

A phone survey job in the late ’90s. You had to hit a daily quota of cold-calls covering everything from political/current events to favorite types of condiments.

7. What recent album, film, or book did you consume recently that you wish you had created?

Ida. It’s a pretty perfect film.

8. When did you realize you wanted to be an artist?

It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, never have had a choice.

Still from Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (2014)

Still from Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (2014)

Chris Ohlson lives and works as a filmmaker in Austin, Texas. He recently produced the Zellner Bros. Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter which world premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and will be released theatrically in March 2015. He is the recipient of the 2015 Piaget Producers Award and previously was a Sundance Creative Producing Fellow.

1. What have you been obsessing about lately?

TIME.  I’m constantly struggling with TIME and how to be best friends with it. Please help me.

2. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

SLEEPING.  I’d like to eliminate sleeping from my daily life and ritual.

3. What is your greatest extravagance?

Completely unnecessary and completely extravagant… A 2nd CUP OF COFFEE in a single day.

4. What artist turned your world upside-down as a teenager?

In 1992, I was 17 years old, and technically still a teenager, yes. I was sitting in the back of my crappy blue Mazda pickup truck and I heard, for the very first time, RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE… Zack de la Rocha, Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk… and Everything Was Turned Upside-Down.

5. What’s your favorite comfort food?

CHIPS AND SALSA.  Sometimes, it’s dinner.  Sometimes it’s dessert… and every once in a while, it’s breakfast. But always, always, always, chips and salsa.

6. Whom would you like to spend three hours in an elevator with?

I don’t know that we’d even talk—but I think silently staring at mirrored elevator walls with WERNER HERZOG for three hours, would be completely revelatory and altogether life-changing.

7. What is your favorite place in the world?

It’s less a specific place, but more of a specific SETTING. I absolutely love SWIMMING AT NIGHT.  Finding a moonlit body of warm water and diving in, that’s the good stuff.

8. What recent album, film, or book did you consume recently that you wish you had created?

I wish I had created HERE IT IS MY BEAUTIFUL FUCKING HEART (a wonderful chapbook of poetic comics by Jon-Michael Frank, buy it here).

The Film Independent Spirit Award nominees screen annually at the Walker Art Center as part of a collaboration with IFP. Screenings are free for all IFP and Walker members. Click here for the complete list of screenings.

 

Hi8: Eight Questions with Mauricio Zacharias, Writer, Love is Strange

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with  a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering […]

Still from Love is Strange (2014)

Still from Love is Strange (2014)

Hi8 is a new series of short interviews that serve as a quick hello to film figures we’re following. Inspired by the Walker’s 8-Ball Q&As, the series launches with  a look at writers, producers, directors, and actors nominated for a Film Independent Spirit Award. In a self-navigated format, each artist picks questions from a list, answering those eight that best expose their current musings and fascinations. No two interviews are the same.

Love is Strange, the second collaboration between director Ira Sachs and writer Mauricio Zacharias, is nominated for four Independent Spirit Awards: Best Feature, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor. The film tells the tender love story of two men—Ben and George—who finally get married in New York City after 39 years of partnership. Because of their recent marriage, George is fired from his teaching position at a Catholic school and the couple is forced to live separately while they figure out their finances. The Walker screened Love is Strange earlier this month with Sachs in attendance for a post-screening discussion.

The writing duo has a promising future ahead. Sachs and Zacharias are currently working on their third film, the final installment in their unofficial New York love trilogy. Fresh from the beach, Zacharias took a moment away from visiting family in Rio de Janeiro to answer a few questions about what inspires, angers, and comforts him in 2015.

1. What have you been obsessing about lately?

The Amazon series Transparent. I love the way it uses humor to portray a very complicated family situation.

2. What is something you have never done before?

Parachuting! To jump out of plane and free fall for a while sounds amazing (but landing safely on a sandy beach sounds even better).

3. When did you realize you wanted to be an artist?

I watched Psycho as a kid. It made me want to make movies. I studied and worked hard to make it happen, but I’m always amazed to see that I’ve become what I’ve always dreamed of being.

4. What global issue most excites or angers you?

Global warming. It is the most pressing issue of our times, and when I hear governments denying to take action, I go: what are those people thinking??

5. They say dogs and their owners tend to look alike. What kind of dog would you own?  If you own a pet, what kind and what characteristics do you share with it?

Miles, a shiba-inu, is the first pet I’ve ever owned (I share custody with my ex). He likes to be alone as much as I do.

6. What is your least favorite sound? 

The ambulance/firetruck sirens in NYC. Can they turn it down, please?

7. What is your favorite place in the world?

My bed.

8. Whom would you like to spend three hours in an elevator with?

Absolutely no one. If this ever happens to me, I wish to be alone.

The Film Independent Spirit Award nominees screen annually at the Walker Art Center as part of a collaboration with IFP. Screenings are free for all IFP and Walker members. Click here for the complete list of screenings.

Alive From Off Center: Video Art in the 1980s

In the mid-1980s, television became a new frontier for independent and experimental video artists. In a unique collaboration between Walker Art Center and Twin Cities Public Television (KTCA), Alive From Off Center was born. This ground-breaking series first aired on PBS in the summer of 1984 and featured an assortment of performances ranging in discipline […]

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In the mid-1980s, television became a new frontier for independent and experimental video artists. In a unique collaboration between Walker Art Center and Twin Cities Public Television (KTCA), Alive From Off Center was born. This ground-breaking series first aired on PBS in the summer of 1984 and featured an assortment of performances ranging in discipline from dance to theater to comedy. Though the series was not quite a variety show, the producers brought in different artists every week to create and execute their own episode. To tie Alive From Off Center together, Susan Stamberg—a journalist who was the first woman to anchor a nightly news program— and later renowned musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson, hosted the show.

Over the last six months, the Walker has featured eleven episodes spanning the first three seasons of the series. The episodes are available for viewing on the Best Buy Video Bay through February 7, 2015. In the summer of 2013, Film/Video intern Anna Swanson sat down with two former executive producers, Melinda Ward (the first producer of Alive From Off Center) and John Schott, to discuss the series’ conception and legacy.

As Ward and Schott both noted, the 1980s were a golden age in television. Network giants like MTV and ESPN first gained their footing at the start of the decade and reached hundreds of thousands of Americans every day. According to Schott, offbeat, avant-garde shows like Alive From Off Center were also “right there at the moment that this larger cultural change was taking place, across a wide range of mediums.” For the first time, less well-known artists not only had new opportunities to work in video, but “a big new awareness of a mass audience.” Alive From Off Center offered a unique platform that tapped into PBS’s pre-existing viewers while still pushing the boundaries of network television.

The show first got its name as a riff on “Live from Lincoln Center,” the PBS series that broadcasts live music, theater, and dance performances. Alive was its alter-ego that featured experimental episodes from artists like director Jonathan Demme, storyteller Spalding Gray, photographer William Wegman, and dancer and choreographer Trisha Brown. Schott believes Alive came to fruition at an important cultural moment, when “a lot of people came forward who were kind of rooting for PBS to do something unusual.” Though Alive From Off Center never reached mainstream audiences, Schott asserts that “there was kind of a secret audience out there…for whom that show was something really amazing and important to them.”

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In the first two seasons of Alive, funding was limited so about half of the episodes were produced by KCTA-TV in the Twin Cities and the other half were preexisting segments that Ward acquired. But after three seasons and a grant from the Ford Foundation, the series was able to produce nearly 70% of the episodes at KCTA. The series was funded entirely through public organizations: National Endowment for the Arts, Rockefeller Foundation, and Ford Foundation made up the majority of the contributions. The structure of the show varied from episode to episode: some included multiple short pieces by a variety of artists while others featured the work of only one person.

As both producers noted, Alive From Off Center pioneered an era of video art in the 1980s. Ward suggests that artists were attracted to the series due to “love of television, as television” because “suddenly anybody could do it for not very much money, and you didn’t have to worry [about cost]…with video you just play.” The show brought integrity and excitement to the medium (the New York Times gave it rave reviews). According to Ward, Alive “validated this idea that you could work seriously in television in some way, or television as a medium, as an art form.”

Alive From Off Center will screen at the Walker through February 7, 2015. Be sure to swing by the Best Buy Video Bay to view this innovative television programming.

Construction Zone as Pinball Game: Ericka Beckman on Frame UP (2005)

Speaking with the Walker’s Bentson Film Scholar Isla Leaver-Yap, New York–based artist Ericka Beckman revisits the making of Frame UP, a double-channel video work from 2005. Commissioned by the Walker during construction of its new Herzog & de Meuron–designed expansion, Frame UP uses chance elements of the construction landscape and its workers to conceive of the Walker as a vast pinball […]

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Still from Ericka Beckman’s Frame-UP, 2005

Speaking with the Walker’s Bentson Film Scholar Isla Leaver-Yap, New York–based artist Ericka Beckman revisits the making of Frame UP, a double-channel video work from 2005. Commissioned by the Walker during construction of its new Herzog & de Meuron–designed expansion, Frame UP uses chance elements of the construction landscape and its workers to conceive of the Walker as a vast pinball machine. Frame UP is on view in the Walker Lecture Room through March 29 and in New York on High Line Channel 14 through March 11.

Isla Leaver-Yap: How did your double-channel video installation Frame UP (2005) come to be? The key “figure” in Frame UP is the construction site where the Walker’s Herzog and de Meuron–designed building was being made in 2005. Building sites seem to be particularly fecund spaces for the projections of desire – they’re microcosms of world-building, especially in relation to the construction of cultural value (in this case the Walker). Could you say a little about the commissioning process and how long it took to make the work? How did the shooting and editing work practically? Were you seeking specific shots, or was the primary work in the edit?

Ericka Beckman: When Sheryl Mousley [the Walker’s senior curator of Film/Video] commissioned me to do a piece involving play and the construction site, I thought I would learn from the process. Which I did! In 1999, after my film HIATUS, I decided that it was time for me to work outside the studio in real locations. Frame UP is the second project I filmed outside the studio. (The studio being a black box where I created everything from a set of rules, and where each film project proceeded directly on the back of the other one.)

I was attracted to architectural sites – particularly industrial sites – because they reveal the process of construction. So having access to a construction site was developmental to me; it allowed me to investigate and observe how things get made.

I met Sheryl when I was shooting Cinderella (1986) in Minneapolis in the mid 1980s. I have been intensely aware of the role the Walker plays in the support of performance, film, video, and in all forms of temporal art for many decades. The Dada works and Fluxus objects, plus the films and documentation in the Walker Collection were instrumental to my commitment as an artist. Once I was offered this commission I felt I should like to make a piece that is in dialogue with that collection.

I was invited to film at the Walker during the construction of the new facility. I was restricted in my vantage point to the outside of the construction site, so I set up many recording cameras in various places to capture the site through time-lapse photography. These varied in formats, from Super 8 and Hi-8 to very low-definition VHS cameras. I also was unable to be there for the length of this commission (2003–2004), so I hired interns from the Walker’s Film/Video department to manage my cameras and send me the materials. I edited throughout the shooting process. I was on site in June to set up the situation, I returned once in December to shoot 16mm film, and then I returned in 2005 for the opening.

Ericka Beckman films construction of the Walker expansion, December 2003

Ericka Beckman films construction of the Walker expansion, December 2003

Leaver-Yap: In a 2012 interview with Frieze you mentioned keeping a notebook of your shots for reference during the edit of your works. I’ve always been interested in the how shoot-for-edit filmmaking has this quality of looking both forward and back throughout – a kind of in-built anachronism that is a process unique to artists’s moving image work. What parameters did you set yourself in the making of the work?

Beckman: From my description you can see that this was a “film for edit” project. However, I went into the project with the plan to make a game and, in place of real planning, I embraced chance and experimentation in the gathering of materials as well as in the editing.

The construction site became the pinball “backglass” for the structure of this film. I looked at the workers as dancers. With my camera, I followed the movement of materials through this space and, specifically, how they were transported and handled by workers. I looked for various pinball references on the construction site – that meant looking for shafts, for paddles, inclines and sockets.

Leaver-Yap: The action on both of the screens is antagonistic, and this notion of competition of course resonates in your earlier works, like You the better (1983), where the narrative builds on competition and accumulation. Did this notion of a double-channel work come right at the start?

Beckman: The idea of using two screens came early on, when I visited arcade centers where multiple players play games side by side. The games may have various backglass themes but the core mechanics are the same. Two players in the pinball arcade actually behave very similarly, hitting paddles, knocking balls around and trying to get them into slots. It’s a solo game but players are in competition for the score.

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Still from Ericka Beckman’s Frame-UP, 2005

Leaver-Yap: For me, Frame UP probes the structural aspects of how one looks/reads/frames a space, and how that framing produces – even in its most minimal and least-ornamented form – a narrative quality. And games, of course, are totally committed to narrative in this way. In Frame UP, the balls lead the eye, and this double-channel form (perhaps a “binocular” presentation) produces a way of looking. How did you consider the sound in relation to this narrative-making, and were considerations of other formal qualities like color significant in determining what you were looking for in the shoot, as well as afterwards, in the editing of the digital overlays?

Beckman: The sound for the work came from actual recording on the location, plus many found sounds from department store recordings, where I recorded toys and games and of course an actual pinball machine.

Editing is where the chance or “play” aspect was featured. Since I had multiple cameras covering the same day’s labor, I assigned cameras and shots to each screen. Then I linked game sounds to all the shots I chose to work with. At this point there was no linear structure just a “bin” of shots and their sounds.

Then I turned “off” the video monitor and cut a soundtrack from the found sounds. I gave myself one rule: I would start in unison and then build a separate soundscape for each screen. This allowed me to let go of building a competitive relationship between the two screens. Then I opened the video monitor and took a look at my action cuts. This first edit governed everything that came after – the graphics, the length of the shots. My second rule was to heavily rework the first edit.

It was a joy for me to take a very important architectural site and turn it into a simple pinball game, and to make the workers of a remarkable structure turn into handlers for the game. And why not? Isn’t that a joy itself to turn work into play?

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Still from Ericka Beckman’s Frame-UP, 2005

Leaver-Yap: I’m not sure if this resonates with you, but I was reminded of some formal similarities in this work to Hilary Lloyd’s videos and Rosalind Nashashibi’s films (specifically Lloyd’s Untitled multi-channel projection piece of a Glasgow building site from 2009 and Nashashibi’s Bachelor Machines Part 1 from 2007) – where these works are shot and edited by a female artist occupying a usually masculine environment or behaviors. This occupation of specific genders has often been true in video gaming, too (and recently problematic). Did you think of the camera eye or the viewer in a gendered state?

Beckman: I do not want to diminish your question about gender viewpoints. I am often asked the question if I understand what I’m doing from a gendered camera. But what struck me about the materials my camera shot was how varied in age these men where on this Mortenson construction site. They defied my stereotype of construction workers. For the most part, the workers multitasked. One day they would be building scaffolds, next laying rebar, then doing the wiring or steel welding. They seemed very well trained and very secure, and there was no stress visible on site. I did ask questions about the M.A. Mortenson Company – their hiring process, their loyalty to their workers, and their reputation in the Midwest. I learned that they are a union company and only hire a union workforce.

Leaver-Yap: Re-presenting Frame UP now at the Walker, ten years on since you made it, I’m conscious not only of how the institution looks back on its own biography, but also how Frame UP migrates to other contexts, namely where it is concurrently being shown on The High Line in New York, a Chelsea location with its own diverse cultural history, but also one of construction, accelerating skylines, high-speed capital and its own competitive rules of engagement. I was wondering if you find the resulting work significantly different from how you wanted to respond to the commission invitation more than a decade ago?

Beckman: This Minneapolis worksite now stands in sharp contrast with what I see going on all around me in lower Manhattan, where much of my immediate community is in a state of renewal or, better said, expansion. The buildings are going rapidly up by the hands of subcontracted non-union workers. When I look at these buildings I don’t see craft but capital, with no regard for the community, the workers, or even the inhabitants who will have to face management that does not care about the building.

Speaking specifically about the Minneapolis work site, I did see and follow a few young female workers on site. They were athletic, strong, and exceedingly involved in various work tasks, like their male counterparts. This reinforced what I saw as a very young female child growing up on the military base. I am not proud of this background, but it did form a strong viewpoint. My father was not an officer so, at his level in the military service, there were many women sharing the tasks of running the base operations. They both wore the same drab uniforms, and marched alongside their male counterparts in full display at military functions. This cut through many of the stereotypes of gendered bias in labor and probably gave me a utopian view of labor politics at a very young age.

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The Walker terrace provided Beckman a clear view of the construction site

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