"There can be something rather Zen about rotoscoping and animation but I get a little depressed when I spend weeks on end alone in a room in front of a computer screen. Last year I adopted a dog. Someday I’ll teach him to hold a Wacom pen and all the Final Cut keyboard shortcuts."
The Directors Bureau’s Andy Bruntel has shot videos for Rilo Kiley, The Mountain Goats, Stephen Malkmus, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, and No Age. We catch-up with Andy coming off his recent MTV premier of No Age “Eraser” in our ongoing series Thirteen and 1/2 Questions, and discuss his new video, design influences, film, music, and his significant breaks along the way. (Read More for Interview)
Video Militia: Your new video for No Age “Eraser” premiered on MTV’s “Friday Night”, a new show that returns to prime-time music video programing. Do you think this is something that will last? Are we going to see a significant return to music videos on television again?
Andy Bruntel: Honestly I really couldn’t say. Someone once told me that the reason MTV gradually stopped playing video was all due to advertising sales and the structure of the Nielsen rating system. The Nielsen system wouldn’t rate small blocks of music videos and the half hour / 1 hour standard programming draws higher ratings which is of course more appealing to advertisers. This new program is attempting to be much more of a full show and it seems to be working.
Have you seen the Close Encounters light-show and lasers? It’s a spectacle! And MTV is desperately trying to bridge the gap between TV and the Internet. Trying to create programming that will drive viewers to their website and promote interaction and user created content. They know the numbers. More and more of their youth audience rather be online than watching TV.
VM: A lot of the reaction to your video has been mixed among the MTV “Friday Night” online crowd who apparently need an easily digestible message to enjoy a music video. Can you fill in the blanks for our less inclined viewers, what should they take from it?
AB: Ha. I tried to look at the comments but my browser wouldn’t display them. Maybe it’s trying to protect me? My browser is in tune with my emotional vulnerability. I heard the main complaint was the long intro and the indistinguishable vocals. I did make a cut down MTV version with a shorter intro but MTV opted to play the extended version. I was shocked.
I don’t usually think in terms of creating work with a digestible message or creating work that is inherently indigestible. I really feel like the video could be viewed as a slightly abstracted performance video. Are they finding easier messages in the other videos on MTV? I tried to think of the video in terms of a simple procedural that would play out within the chaos of our low-budget production. There are some lyrical connections that most would probably find boring so I’ll just say I was mostly establishing a connection between the imagery and the audio: building a sense narrative time and space and then creating playful subversions. Sort of like No Age’s music. Great melodies drowned in noise and DIY production.
VM: What is the significance of the additional effects in No Age “Eraser” video?
AB: Again, layered subversions to the imagery. I wanted to degrade and take away from the footage to create a bit more of a challenge to the viewer and play with expectations. I used a lo-fi morphing process. Lorphing! I took out random frames from the video and then forced the computer to fill them in. Not at all a new trick but I didn’t want to clean up any of the mistakes. It constantly glitched and made some beautiful still frames.
VM: In 2006 Boards named you a director to watch. What impact, if any, did that and other early accolades have on your career?
AB: The people at Boards have been super kind to me but in reality I’m not sure if it’s had any impact. My live action work at that point wasn’t very commercial but it never hurts getting your name out there.
VM: Walk us through your early successes, describe a few significant breaks along the way that lead to being signed by The Director’s Bureau?
AB: I interned for Mike Mills and then started doing animation and FX for other directors at the Bureau. The video reps gave me a chance to write on a few low budget projects which just sort of cascaded into more work. I didn’t officially become a part of TDB until after my video for Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy.
VM: At what age did you realize you wanted to be a director?
AB: Probably around 10 or 11? I bought an RCA VHS camcorder with some hard earned paper boy money.
VM: What advice do you have to young directors looking to get signed?
AB: Keep making work and focus on establishing an original voice. That term is thrown around so much in L.A. but I think it still holds value. Also, making one outstanding and original video / short film / spec commercial is worth much more than having a long list of mediocre work. Keith [Schofield] had some great advice if you’re primary focus is getting yourself into a commercial position.
VM: You come from a design background, how does you film-making approach benefit from a post-production orientation?
AB: I do most of my own post-production work but mostly just because the budgets don’t allow me to take the project to a post house. There can be something rather Zen about rotoscoping and animation but I get a little depressed when I spend weeks on end alone in a room in front of a computer screen. Last year I adopted a dog. Someday I’ll teach him to hold a Wacom pen and all the Final Cut keyboard shortcuts.
VM: Which designers influences your directing style?
AB: I’ve always loved Bradbury Thompson. And Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s ideas on photography.
VM: Where do you apply your design skills the most in what you do?
AB: At this point it’s so ingrained. It’s hard to say.
VM: Do you spend a lot of time pre-visualizing and planning or do you work more in the moment while on set? In other words, take us from start to finish.
AB: It depends on the project. I often over prepare and try to control too much of the production. I think that’s just natural coming from such low budget projects. Nowadays I try to go into it with just a rough shot list. I’ll have a notepad with me on set and if I need to quickly sketch out a specific frame for the crew or talent I’ll do it. I’m still extremely detail oriented but some amazing things can come from learning to “let go”.
VM: We read that the chairmen of the Maryland Institute and College of Art opened the door for you to work with Mike Mills. With that in mind, what role do art and trade schools have to play? What do you take away most from your formal training?
AB: Ellen Lupton is amazing. She’s such a phenomenal communicator. I feel like her theories, concepts and approaches have stuck with me the most. College can be a great testing ground for ideas and can provide a sort of safety net. That said, I don’t think art school/film school is right for everyone. It all depends on the person.
VM: Is there someone unknown from film or music that we should know about?
AB: Hmmm, I feel like the Internet has made everything past and present so readily accessible. I keep going back to ZNR’s Barricade 3record. Do people know about that one? I think it was re-released a few years ago. And Jean Claude Vannier’s L’Enfant Assassin Des Mouches! And Camberwell Now. Film-wise, I’ve been going to Cinefamily ( www.cinefamily.org ) as much as I can. They’re such amazing people. I try to take advantage of L.A. as much as possible. It’s such a prime place for catching original prints of lesser known films. I’m also excitedly waiting the release of The Whole Shootin Match on DVD. I think it’s coming out in October.
VM: Helvetica or Arial?
AB: I’ve sort of been on a serif kick. I guess I’d choose Helvetica since I just watched that documentary. Was that the half question?