|INTERVIEWS - AJ Schnack|
Schnack recently completed his first feature film, Gigantic (A Tale
Of Two Johns), which had it's Los Angeles premiere on July 9th 2002,
to a sell out crowd, at the Egyptian Theatre. The film is a documentary
about the band "They Might Be Giants," which consists of John
Flansburgh and John Linnell. It explores not only thier career in music,
but their long lasting friendship. Schnack, who has previously directed
shorts and music videos, was nice enough to have lunch with me so I could
ask him some questions about his film.
that there would definitely be people who would watch it more than once.
What we are doing in it is very straight forward. We have a very linear
timeline, but, because at the same time we have a second layer to the
film, which is the most They Might Be Giants aspect of it, there are these
kind of moments, and tangential things that are not necessarily in chronological
order at all, they are more like, 'And now it's a good time to talk about
this.'" And I think that what's interesting is that at the beginning
of the film we kind of set that idea up. We have Paul Simon doing this
introduction that seems way out of left field and then we have them right
away talking about how they met, which is then followed by them in the
studio, which is happening now, so there's a lot of skipping around in
the first 10-15 minutes. What's funny is that I think for people who do
watch it a second time, that will make a lot more sense because you will
understand how the film was structured. I know fans are going to watch
it a bunch of times, but i didn't specifically think, 'This time, they'll
get this, and when they watch it the third time, then they will understand
what I meant by this...' you know. The film is a comedy, and as such,
it's a lot easier, because i know I could watch a comedy over and over
really easily, because I enjoy watching the set up of where something
is going. Knowing that a joke is coming, it can be fun to watch it progressing,
so in that sense I think Gigantic will be fun for people to watch upon
second viewing. I think they can watch things build a certain way.
Well it's nice to be able to watch someone talk and tell a story in a time when everything is cut so quickly and everything is so flashy. Even the concert footage allows us to watch the band perform without a lot of cutting.
I really hate the way most performance is shot these days. The performance in the film is very straight forward. Our camera's don't really move. We have one camera moving around, but there's none of this 'Woohoo' [moves his hands to mimic MTV style camerawork] which you see everywhere, which is like, 'We're creating excitement.' If the bands not interesting, if they arent exciting to listen to and watch, then moving the camera around isnt going to make them exciting.
It's exciting in documentary today that people are feeling free to do a lot of different things. The documentary form was one of those things that was so 'same-y' for so long, and it's a really great element that you can mix it up and do some really different things. So i'm glad about that, but i still believe that if your subject is interesting, you don't need to jazz it up with style points...[changing his voice] 'Says the man who did nothing but jazz his film up with style points.'
But it never feels too busy or too choppy. It really has the feeling of one of the band's songs or albums. I'm sure that that was something that you wanted to achieve.
We really wanted to create something that was of them, and of their spirit, and I think that is an area where we succeeded and I am really happy about that, and I'm happy that people get the relationship of the two of them, because I think that's someting you don't see all the time. A lot of times in rock documentaries, it's so much about one person. Even if it's about a band...even if it's about The Rolling Stones, it's really about Mick...even if it's about Wilco, it's really about Jeff Tweedy. I watched a lot of rock docs when I was in the process of doing it, just to see how people had dealt with certain things, what seemed to be successful and what did not work as well.
But you already knew the band and were a fan of their work. When did you get into them?
I remember when i got their first album, I really loved it, but i found it very hard to listen to, because it's so different. There were some things that were so off the wall, and there was no cohisive element to it. I was a pretty big music fan, but it was the first record I had got that felt like every song could be by someone else.
I started reading all this stuff about them, and all this stuff I read was about how nerdy they were, and how they were geeks, and I felt like I hadn't been paying attention, because I thought, 'Well when did that happen?' Because to me, as someone who discovered them in the late 80's, it was a really different idea. They were part of this really interesting underground, and there was a performance art element, and my friends and I who were into them were just into all this stuff that was happening in the 'college music' land, and they were just another one of the great bands we were into. We knew they were making great music, but for us, there didn't seem to be a huge difference between them and The Replacements or The Pixies, or anyone else. So when I read all about them being nerds, that just wasn't my perception of them at all, and I don't really get that. So one of the things that I really set out to do was to make a movie that was, 'This is how I percieve them,' which is why I went after all these people like Frank Black and Sara Vowell and Michael McKean, because to me I put TMBG in that world and in the world of bands I'm into. I suddenly got very indignant and i felt like someone needed to tell this story because they have been completely mistold. They were truly alternative artists, because they were not only doing music unlike anything you had ever heard before, but they were doing videos unlike anything else, and they were doing crazy things like 'Dial-a-Song' which no one had ever thought of before. They seemed like very arty guys in a very arty band, and i don't know at what point that transitioned into, 'They're nerds, their fans are nerds,it's all like nerd culture.' I know for me, going in with a very specific view like, 'No, you're all wrong. This is what this thing is,' over a process that was very long and sometimes difficult to focus, it gave me something to focus on.
This one critic who gave us a really bad review, his main point was 'The Giants should go away,' or 'Why haven't they gone away?' you know, 'What are they still doing annoying me?' and the rest of his review was about them and how much he didn't like them. This was a music critic who was reviewing the film. 'They Might Be Giants...stop annoying me!'
I want to ask you about your decision to shoot on DV. This is a very hot topic right now, and the use of DV is becoming more and more accepted by mainsteam America and the film crowd. Was this always going to be a DV project, or did you ever consider shooting on film?
It was always gonna be a DV project. I have to admit to being a bit of a film snob, and not really turning my nose up at the idea of DV, but thinking that I, as someone who was used to films, wouldn't really enjoy watching something that was made and projected on DV. I had made a short film on film, and had gone to some film festivals and met some DV filmmakers, and suddenly had the realization that it was fascinating and that I could totally watch it. When I decided to make a documentary I was intrigued by the idea that it could just be me. I am not a director of photography, and i can't set the light levels...i can frame, but you shouldnt be giving me a film camera alone in a room. The idea that I could be just me shooting without a sound guy in a studio being very unobrtusive became really appealing. Ultimately, we could have never afforded to do it on film. I just saw the Wilco documentary, and it was shot on film, and it's beautiful, and I know they had no idea what they were getting into in tearms of how much it would cost.
So you enjoyed shooting on video?
The whole shooting process was really great. The editing process was very difficult, and i was not at all expecting how hard it would be, but the shooting process was like a dream. For our interviews, we got these globe lights, basically what you could get at Pier 1, and people would walk in and go, 'You can't possible be shooting in this low of light.' It was just totally dim, and it looked beautiful.
Well DV is potentially allowing many new voices to be heard, and it is an exciting time to be working.
Right now I think there is just such a willingness from people in Hollywood to not only participate in a risky, small project, but also to champion it and reward it.
For more information, please visit the film's official website at www.giganticfilm.com
writer/director of Cheaters
writer/director of Maryam
writer/director of Wet Hot American Summer
director of Gigantic: A Tale Of Two Johns
co-director/writer/co-star of Dirt