Thursday, November 06, 2008

Building "The Ark"

Adam Kurland
is the 26-year-old director of Dr. Dog's new video for their song, "The Ark", in collaboration with Panoptic. The video has been praised by no less than blogger Kanye West for its "beautiful" imagery. Here are some exclusive behind-the-scenes photos from Kurland himself:

You're getting noticed these days for directing Dr. Dog's new video. What is your background in film and/or music?
I've been obsessed with music since I first passed out in a mosh pit at the Bored in South Bay festival, while I believe Bad Religion was playing Suffer. I was 12 and stoned out of my mind.

I did a steady progression of record store jobs, slinging at both Rhino and Amoeba Records in Los Angeles. When I look back at Amoeba and who was working there I find my alumni to be more illustrious than that of USC where I was supposed to be "making connections" (no offense, George Lucas). Randy Randall from No Age, Devon Williams (who you may not know now, but check out his s/t record on Ba Da Bing Records), Subtitle, Jimi Hey (All Night Radio), Russ Pollard (formerly of Sebadoh, now Everest), were all doing time in that building that can only be described as a music lover's wet dream.

I mean, working there I was a fiend, gobbling up anything (that is, if you've got that exclusive Amoeba check-out card). While I was enrolled at USC I would work mainly on the weekends, using the store as my amended film school curriculum. USC's focus on modern Hollywood filmmaking can take the piss out of you, so I, of course, had to dive head first into Brakhage, Kenneth Anger and Jodorowsky - get wild about the Psyched out 60's - The Monkees' Head; High-class horror - Argento's Suspiria, out there docs, Orson Welles' F is for Fake and whatever else looked like it might curdle some brain pieces.

My USC production knowledge mixed into this music nerd on acid s**t that I was on set the scene for my first feature project, a documentary about the J.L. Hunter Rountree, The World's Oldest Bank Robber. The film, This Is Not A Robbery, was shown at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, and is now traveling the festival circuit, mixing it up with the sordid tale of how this 86-year-old upstanding Houston businessman became a notorious bank thief.

How did you get hired to direct this video? Who is Panoptic, and why are they trying to steal your glory?
I had met Zach Fischel at Park The Van Records who had invited me to see Dr. Dog play a show back in May at the Mercury Lounge here in New York. I think that it might have been there first show playing the material from their new record, Fate, and I really found myself digging it. I had only heard Dr. Dog's Takers and Leavers EP which I also enjoyed, but for different reasons. These new songs had that sort of earthy-whimsy that can be heard on CSNY and early Band Records, and I've been on a pretty big Deja Vu, Music from Big Pink kick, so I really got into it.

I let Zach know what I thought of Dr. Dog and put myself out there to direct Dr. Dog's first video off the new record. I got the track for "The Ark" about a week after that, and spent a couple of weeks letting the song take me to places, I'd never been before. I would close my eyes, lay back and see what happens.

I have a strange relationship with music videos. I love the medium, the mash up of music and film, but given the quality and ideation of most videos, I often wonder: what is the point, what is being said, what is being furthered... just constantly investigating what the hell is the point of spending all of this money on a product like this.

When I started listening the lyrics for the song, and hearing the biblical references, that bombastic cry and plead to a higher power, I at once felt the pull away and towards simultaneously. I wanted to make something that responded to the emotion behind the song, but not directly reference and play on the spoken words. Something that was spiritual, cosmic and altogether otherworldly, but not biblical.

The pitch came from that deep dark place where you go into late at night, half asleep, when your dog turns into corn-on-the-cob and you smear butter on your hermaphroditic college professor's ear lobe, yelling: Pompano!

The central phrase in the song is, "what does it mean to be here?" At the time Sam Peckinpah's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia was on constant rotation inside my brain. I had revisted it recently and I got really into the interplay between Warren Oates and Garcia's head, and I thought, what happens if you take it one step further. What happens if instead of the head being hidden inside of a bag the whole time that it is just out in the open, held up by his hair, and what happens if the head talks back. What happens if the head starts to sing.

I knew that I would run the risk of being morbid and grotesque, but I wanted to try and do something different, to treat the gore, the blood, the inevitable accoutrements of any good decapitated head scene as their own sculpture pieces, going less for authentic, believable effects, but those that look fake, that have a sense of artifice, so that the viewer can look at it as a creation, rather than actually believing that they are looking at "real blood" (if the viewer could ever actually believe that their was real blood coming out of a singing decapitated head).

Panoptic is a directors collective out of New York. I had worked with previously on This Is Not A Robbery and we decided that we wanted to collaborate on future projects. This seemed to be the perfect project. They have much more experience working with short form, highly graphic work, s**t, they even have a Wu-Tang video to their credit. Gary Breslin, the Creative Director at Panoptic, and I worked together on taking this from the original idea and sculpting it out into a complete piece, working out how we were going to mesh the computer effects work with the sets, and real-life effects et al, and then implementing then into all of the insanity.

How did you make these crazy images jump from your brain onto my TV screen?
Through a combination of coffee grinds, coconut milk and sunrise mart, we spent hours and hours and hours, first building our miniature sets (which were the background projections behind almost every image in the video. We created 4 dioramas, each representing a different season, and then built a jury-rigged dolly contraption that we could push our 16mm Bolex camera into. What we then captured on those cameras we transfered and using a rear projection screen (20' x 20' in dimensions), we used as our backgrounds during our main shoot with the band.

But beyond that we did so much detail work between blue screen suits, background plates, shooting things underwater, CG seeds... that I could go on and on and on forever about all of this.

Are you from the future?
I am from the future. About two minutes in the future. There's no real benefit, except that I'm usually a little bit early to most of my meetings.

Did it cost you over one million dollars?

Nearly, you just have to subtract one million dollars from that amount.

Kanye West posted the video and several stills from it on his blog and called it "beautiful". Did you give him permission to do so? If not, do you have any plans to sue him?
I didn't. I only gave him permission to use "lovely" "darling" "neato" and "ass-tastical." But actually, I am honored to have Kanye blogging the video. I've been listening to beats that Kanye's laid for Jay-Z tracks for years. I think the guy has great taste.
So, I might hold off on suing, for now.

Your feature-length documentary, This Is Not a Robbery, screened at the Indie Memphis Film Festival last month and you won the audience award. Wouldn't it make more sense to go to Cannes instead?

Cannes is far away and they have less quality BBQ restaurants, so, you know, we do what's best for the film.

Do you have any advice?

Advice? General Advice? Well, my dad always says drink lots of fluids and take twice the prescribed amount of Advil, other than that: eat well, when you can, read The Savage Detectives, and watch F is for Fake.

Do you have any other future plans, beyond continuing to breathe?

That phrasing makes it sound like: do I have any plans after I'm dead? The answer is YES! Most of my plans are for after I'm dead. I'm going to have my estate left to a one armed eunuch who will take half and dedicate it to collecting the most extensive Vintage Dolce and Gabana wardrobe (all personally tailored), and the other half to building the largest telescope/slide whistle.

As for while I'm living: I'm currently directing a documentary. So check that out in February 2010; it will be a balls out, irony filled psychedelic sports phantasy.

There are more projects that are too top secret to let loose, but keep your eyeholes peeled...

EDITOR'S NOTE: Both Russ Pollard and Warren Oates are natives of Louisville, KY. Neat!

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