Who Shot Rock & Roll - Arclight Productions
COW Library : TV & Movie Appreciation : Steven Kochones : Who Shot Rock & Roll - Arclight Productions
Arclight Productions just finished an original documentary short, inspired by and presented at the Annenberg Space for Photography's exhibit Who Shot Rock & Roll. The documentary -- Who Shot Rock & Roll: The Film -- was produced and directed by Steven Kochones and celebrates the collaborations between photographers and recording artists who created some of the most enduring images in rock history.
Covering the early 1950s up to the present day, the film features interviews, new photographs and never-before-seen footage highlighting the work of Edward Colver, Henry Diltz, Jill Furmanovsky, Lynn Goldsmith, Bob Gruen, Norman Seeff, Mark Seliger and Guy Webster. Shot in Los Angeles, New York and the United Kingdom, the film also features musicians Alice Cooper, Noel Gallagher, Debbie Harry and Henry Rollins as well as album designer Gary Burden, author/collector Michael Ochs and the exhibit curator Gail Buckland. Special segments include Linda McCartny through images handpicked by Paul McCartney and Norman Seeff's filmed photo sessions with Ike & Tina Turner in 1975.
Creative COW spoke with Steven Kochones about his experiences making Who Shot Rock & Roll: The Film, which was shot in 5K with a RED EPIC camera and is exhibited in uncompressed 4K at 60 fps.
A few years ago, Arclight Productions got involved with the Annenberg Foundation to produce the documentaries they commission to complement their exhibits at the Annenberg Space for Photography. I call them Photo Docs, and the focus is on the photographer, looking behind the lens at the people creating the images. What's interesting is that photography is a vehicle to get into all these different worlds and genres, from nature to sports to, now, rock & roll.
Who Shot Rock & Roll: The Film was inspired by an exhibition that originated at the Brooklyn Museum in 2009 and has since traveled to museums across the country. The exhibition represents the work of 100 photographers whose images have helped define rock culture since its birth 60 years ago. We worked with Gail Buckland, the curator of the original exhibition, and Patricia Lanza, the Talent and Content Director of the Annenberg Space for Photography, and they selected nine photographers who they felt were representative of rock photography across many decades. The film looks at rock & roll photography through the lens of these photographers. It's not an exhaustive anthology of rock photography; it's rock through their eyes. And the stories are personal and fascinating.
Jill Furmanovsky, in Birmingham, UK shooting Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds on location for Who Shot Rock & Roll: The Film
These nine photographers submitted the images that they felt best represented their work. I interviewed them as well as some historians and authors to set the context of where these images fit musically and photographically in the history of rock. And then we edited like crazy, going back to the photographers for more images when we felt we needed them.
The puzzle was how to tell the story in a compelling way for a special venue setting like the Annenberg Space for Photography, which is so different than producing for broadcast or theatrical release. I believe that documentaries for special venues have to be a little more presentational as opposed to fly-on-the-wall cinema vérité style. The film is only one experience among many in an exhibition, which in this case is a print show, so attention spans may be shorter because there is so much more to see. Therefore, I want to capture the viewer's attention quickly and not let go until the credits roll. In my Photo Docs, the interviewee can break the fourth wall and acknowledge that someone, the viewer, is watching and even say to the viewer, "This image you're looking at right now is about such-and-such or came about this way." I might approach this differently if I were originating the documentary for broadcast.
We did shoot some B roll of a few of the photographers like Guy Webster who, at 73, rides Italian racing motorcycles. We shot him riding near his studio in Venice, California, to establish who he is and add some flavor to the film, so it's not all talking heads. We also used archival footage. One photographer had shot at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1968 and had great images of The Who. So we dug up footage from the actual concert and used the actual live recording of "My Generation" -- and the archival footage, cut perfectly with the photographer's still image of Pete Townshend smashing his guitar on the stage.
I think the most interesting archival footage we have is from Norman Seeff, who was most prolific in the 1970s through mid-1980s. Unlike other rock photographers, he was more of a studio photographer; you went to Norman when you wanted an amazing image for a magazine cover or album. Seeff started filming his sessions in 1975, and we have never-before-seen 16mm footage of Ike and Tina Turner. We did a new telecine of it, and it's pretty amazing, 37-year old restored footage. Seeff got a call for another Turner shoot in 1983, and only Tina showed up. It was her return without Ike. We have 3/4-inch videotape from that shoot that we up-converted to 4K. It's not just miscellaneous footage but shows that photographer working with that artist, and we intercut the footage of the photo shoot with the still photographs to really capture the experience.
One point we try to make in the film is that pictures don't take themselves. They don't magically appear. There's an eye and brain at work -- and a finger clicking the shutter. And because rock & roll is near and dear to everyone's heart, the resulting images are all the more special.
All the stills we used in the film came in at 5,000 pixels. We wanted to make sure our live action was in the same resolution "world." For that reason, the shoot was a combination of the RED Epic capturing in 5K and a Canon 5D as a B camera for insert shots. Arclight's Technical Director Karlo David actually blew up the Canon 5D images to 4K and got an amazingly good result that intercuts seamlessly with the Epic material; a wide shot 40mm lens on the Red EPIC, intercut with a very tight close-up of the same interview on the Canon 5D. I thought we'd have to do a lot of work in color correction, but we didn't; it cut together nicely.
"Who Shot Rock & Roll" Director of Photography John Tipton films Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds concert with the Red EPIC camera in 5K resolution.
Our workflow was pretty traditional. After filming with the Epic, we created and synched dailies and edited in Final Cut Pro 7 using the Pro Res (proxy) codec. The photographs were more challenging to deal with. If you try to put a lot of big TIFFs in a FCP sequence, it won't handle it. So we went through a normal offline process in Final Cut Pro for the live action and then, using XMLs, went to Assimilate Scratch for the 4K conform and color grading. The photos were handled in After Effects, and any motion on the photographs was done at 60 fps. So we have two tracks -- photos and live action. The live action track, which has been frame-doubled to 59.94 was merged with the photo track and the final export comes out of After Effects.
At Arclight, we've built a custom system with Assimilate Scratch for conform and color reading and use it in our studio in Hollywood. We made it transportable and can roll it over to the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City, California, where we perform final color grading onsite. We do two color passes, one for the exhibition theatre and a second for broadcast/DVDs.
The Annenberg Space for Photography was built with 4K projection in order to showcase still photography. A 2K projection system would have been fine for showing movies, but the higher resolution was much better for stills.
But 4K is not our biggest challenge. The trickiest part of the workflow is the 60 fps frame rate. When Arclight Productions was initially involved in specifying the playback systems for the Annenberg venue, we thought it would be digital 24 fps. Then we tested 24P and found that there's judder with still photos. If I'm shooting film or digital video, there's motion blur built in but we quickly realized that moving photos did not work well at 24 fps. It reminded you that you were looking at video of a still image. But if you're showing photographs in uncompressed 4K resolution, we want you to see the picture, not video of the picture. We went to 30 fps, which looked better than 24. When we tried 60 fps, we liked that even better.
Acquiring and projecting at 60 fps wasn't entirely new for me. When I was just out of college, I worked for Douglas Trumbull's company Showscan, which was a system that shot and projected 65/70mm at 60 fps. I later worked in post production on IMAX films, so I understood both high frame rates and special venue filmmaking. For live action, we don't shoot at 60 fps; we shoot at 29.97 progressive and frame-double to 59.94. I like the look -- it reminds me of the 3:2 pull down and feels more filmic look. I need the photographs to be at 60, not the live action.
Making films about photography has been an interesting experience; we're making a motion picture but the still image, the photo, is the centerpiece. You don't want to make it look like a slideshow, but our mantra, mostly in the editing room has been "trust the image." This is world-class photography and you want to stare at it. Our philosophy is that we're telling the story of these images and the photographers who create them, rather than using still images to paint another story.
The question of course is, How do you engage your audience with a finite number of materials: the photographers' words and their specific pictures? What's the answer? Like anything else, it's storytelling. I enjoy the restriction in a way because that is where creativity comes from -- when you have problems to solve. When you don't have coverage for something, you find a different way to communicate the idea. You don't put a slug on the screen that says, "find footage".
My background in behind-the-scenes, making-of movies [No Country for Old Men, Six Feet Under] helped me in making films like Who Shot Rock & Roll, because it's a documentary about another art form, in this case photography. We're trying to capture the essence of the image-makers and the work they're creating. They're not just narrating the story -- it's about those images. It's about process, deconstructing images and showing how they're put together.
Arclight Productions has now produced eight documentaries for the Annenberg Space for Photography, as well as other audiovisual programs for their exhibitions. And while the Annenberg Foundation is a philanthropic organization, not a movie studio, they understand the impact of film in enriching a gallery experience. Who Shot Rock & Roll: The Film provides a good opportunity to engage people who might not be interested in art or photography. And although there are many rock documentaries -- probably hundreds -- this is one of the few times that rock & roll has been examined exclusively through the lenses of photographers. Why else would The Mamas and The Papas and Black Flag appear in the same film? Photography is the connecting glue that allows different styles of rock music from different eras to share the screen in a constructed study of how the still image has influenced our experience of rock & roll.
Title image: Ed Colver, Blight at the End of the Funnel featured in the film.