August 30, 2012

Interview: Joshua Rogers of Broken Machine Films

You may have noticed that filmmaker Joshua Rogers and his de-facto corporate home, Broken Machine Films (i.e., the name under which he does his bid-ness), have been popping into a lot of our posts recently. Though we love the chance to talk about him in any context and we try to make sure our discussion of film content on Decoder is not angled exclusively toward audio content, Rogers more than deserves to have his works seen. That he is not happily employed at this work full time and with compensation is an unfortunate quirk of history, because at any other time these films would have 'made him a name' by now. It doesn't help him that half of his time is spent making videos for free, without regard for what those bands might or might not be able to do in order to promote him. Rogers is a person you know and as with many of the most focused artists, his "business" heading at many times seems an uncomfortable formality, tangential to his real work. In spite of his scruples, the name "Broken Machine Films" has become synonymous with quality and that trademark modesty, compensating for any of his seeming mistrust of crafted marketing narratives. In that respect, Rogers' work is truly transcendant. In order to better know Joshua the person, who just incidentally was born in the same West Virginia mountain-mini-metropolis as myself, I asked him to collect a group of his videos that did in fact communicate a narrative about his experience and had some fun trading questions for a week or so.

Click through the jump to read our full interview

How do you tend to organize projects? Do you approach bands yourself very often?

To begin a project for Broken Machine Films, I tend to reach back into my music arsenal. Labels and artists have been sending me a plethora of music since 2004 or so, to review and/or just take a listen to. We are at about 10 gigs a week, these days. Mainly because I promise to always listen to what is sent to me in it's entirety and multiple times in order to give the artist or label a truthful, informative and solid review. Both myself and the artist gain nothing from smoke being blown up ones ass. I just want to help - and I refuse to delete any music, so I have multiple 3+ terabyte external hard drives to hold all of this sweetness. I refer to these as my 'vaults'. Whether the music is old or new, I am the one ultimately who reaches out to the artist. I do most of the contacting in this relationship. I personally send out probably 40 or so e-mails every couple of days to artists. Using my 'vaults' as a guideline, I peruse the bandcamps and facebooks of many-a artist and check the links that they have to other like-minded artists. I try to keep busy. I do realize that I cannot, and probably will not want to do this type of thing forever. But for now, it satisfies me in ways that words cannot express.

I learned early on in life, probably back in the day after my defunct band Grey Area called it quits in high school, that I really have zero musical talent, but [I] developed quite an ear for that which was new, experimental, innovative and exciting aurally. So, I decided to do the next best thing... get a film degree or two and promote bands that I feel are worthy of a quality video promo for cheap. Artists that need a leg up when it comes to promotions. If I believe enough in their work, I may even work out a trade... a quality promo video or two for perhaps an unreleased album or tracks that have ended up on the cutting room floor.

That's something we think about a lot - creating alternative economies so it can be worthwhile for creators to leverage each other's talent, without having to go in to debt or muddying complex digital relationships with money.

Oh, yes... it is often thought about. Quite a bit, but if I had a definitive answer for such things, I would help my fellow man and divulge. Alas, I have no answer. Communism, in the true sense of the word, obviously doesn't take in to account the inherent human greed factor, which is a mistake. The best thing that we can do as "artists" is, to quote 80's Nike, just do it. If talent be available, talent will be noticed. You just have to expose the right person to the genius of what you have to offer. If any money is to be spent on the part of the 'artist', besides on a medium and utensils with which to work... promotion, is the key. One may be a literal and even figurative genius at one's craft, but if no one is there to witness it, was it really genius at all? Same as the tree falling in the forest adage.

I think our perspective would be that it definitely is. That people's art is representative and if one "art" can be meaningful to others, some art may only be particularly meaningful to a small group of people who happen to share some of the experience that can overlap with what the art is representing. The only thing that system lacks is the easy validation that comes with making art that does have resonance in the experience of larger groups. Can you tell us more about how the communities you engage with have effected your work?

For the last ten years or so, all I have really been dealing with has been the 'art' community. They embrace change. Most of society, no matter how much they fuss over situations, do not. I find that, although not lucrative at this time, creating in this type of community is both stimulating and rewarding, while forcing ones hand at times to create when one is not yet ready. It both maintains my belief in what I do and casts doubt on my very artistic abilities. Challenging and thus making me strive to be more. And yes, bolstering one's ego from time to time. "Art" has always been in the eye of the beholder, but in this day and age, there are so many different groups. So many different eyes. So many different outlets and mediums... that finding an actual community that would embrace one's art for art's sake is almost impossible. Almost unheard of. There is no 'easy validation' these days and over the last ten years+, I can most certainly attest to that. Validation must still be earned. Even in a community that embraces individualism and personal expression, much like how in high school art classes, the teacher still grades you on your artistic ability. But how do you put a gauge of competence in creativity? There is no way to definitively explain how the local and abroad "art" communities have effected both my personal being and creative output. It is who I am now, for better or worse. I feel that it would be impossible for an artist these days to say that he/she's 'art' was not influenced by any outside stimuli. A completely new and original thought or idea? Impossible. All that we are is all that we ever once were and will ever be, until the end of time. How did the communities that I have engaged with over time effect my work?

So do you see your work as being dynamic, interactive with your various environments, digital or otherwise? Do you ever have any sort of desire for some state of affairs that would allow you a more private experience?

Creative? Perhaps. Dynamic? ...not exactly. I consider what I do just simply that. What I do. I sleep a mere 4 to 5 hours every night, sometimes less. Any more and I feel that I'm wasting my time... when I could be searching for new footage to use, searching for new artists to experience, then creating something from the combination of the two. I find that I cannot do otherwise, nor do I feel any sense of fulfillment doing much else. There is something inherently satisfying in creating, in doing something that you truly do enjoy and for me that is in film and editing. I am, most of the time, a very private person, I sit in the back, I talk quietly, I have very few acquaintances that I would even consider 'friends'... not that they have done anything specific to me in any conscious way or that I feel that these people are for one reason or another beneath me, far from it. I have just always felt a sense of loneliness and isolation. I follow what I know. I have a lady that puts up with this type of behavior, which i am thankful for. She understands me or at least cares enough to let me be me. I do long for the mountains, though, both literally and figuratively. A small town, a close group on a monday night. Affording just enough to perpetuate this lifestyle. Projections by Broken Machine Films, audio provided by you... a man can dream, right?

Can you tell me a little about these videos? These are all done mostly in the style of archival collage videos, but these songs aren't all library music and the Telethon video even has some live footage in it.

For the most part, I enjoy taking ephemera or "retro" footage from VHS tapes that I find at thrift stores, old 8mm reels from flea markets, various free archives online, etc. Then I'll likely peruse bandcamp or the piles of CD's that bands and labels send me and find a gem of a track... sometimes I'll even shoot footage with the artists, if a specific idea comes to mind or the band shows an interest. That was the case with the Politesse/Cassida Pax, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Telethon videos. Only after contacting the band and finding out that this is indeed kosher, and something that they would find appealing and needed, will I actually start. Immersing myself in SED track or tracks, I will imbibe them completely, listen to what the track is telling me, what the music is truly saying... the type of outfit that it would like to wear to the soiree. I then embark on a journey of editing excellence, painstakingly piecing together a video using only the finest footage. This process can take anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks depending on the length of a track and whatever arrangements have to be made. Every morning, at sunrise, I start... mainly because i feel that i am wasting my day if I don't start before 8am. Most of the time, not throwing in the towel until about 4am the next morning. I am a 'perfectionist', if you could call it that. More like thick-skulled. So, I tend to take a little longer than is really necessary... the devil is in the details, as they say.

How do you feel about some of the flourishes you build into your juxtaposition of sound and video? That is to say, for example, when you edit footage in such a way that the sense of an evolving interaction is accentuated.

That is essentially the point to what I do - create an interaction between already shot footage and pre-recorded music that never existed there before. I like to build momentum, push the viewers mood and attention. Focus. I'm greatly inspired by "Good Morning Vietnam" during the It's a Wonderful World scene. That Metallica "one" video... how well Dark Side of the Moon went together with The Wizard of Oz. How well the Crystal Method Vegas album went together with The Dark Crystal. A Jim Henson classic, by the way... that and Emmett Otter's Jug Band Christmas. Using timeless footage to portray a current style of music. I use wiki search found footage... I prefer retro-ephemera, myself. TV Carnage and Tobacco (of Black Moth Super Rainbow fame) touched upon these things in the mid 2000's. However, I feel that they didn't adequately synthesize modern music with this type of footage in a way that was palatable for the masses... it was never seamless enough for my liking... Too repetitious at times. Almost as if just regurgitated... no real thought and creativity added.

Do you or have you ever felt a sentimental connection to the ephemera you find?

When it comes to choosing footage, finding a connection to the footage is a must. I like to find/captcher footage that has that effect on me. Nostalgia, excitement, fear, anxiety, love. As far as which of my videos I might be closest to... I really do love all of them equally. They're like the (ill)legitimate children i never had... and yes, you can even still find me reprimanding and playing catch with them from time to time. I was never the type to be a neglectful father.

Seen any fabulous videos you didn't make lately?

To be honest, I don't watch as many [other] music videos as I should. I realize their significance to the music industry and I know that they're an important tool for bands and labels promoting upcoming and current releases... their role is huge, and yeah, I do like the new Animal Collective and Cut Copy vids. That video for the Ramones track "I Wanna Be Sedated", I've always been in love with the "Just" video by Radiohead, and Peter Gabriels "Sledgehammer"... but as far as what current or past vid-e's would be on my top 20 music video countdown... I liken it to one of my own personal 'back in the day' moments, high school circa 1996, when i had some notion of being in a band. I simply refused to learn how to play someone else's music... covers, etc. No Nirvana, no Hendrix... and certainly not Skynyrd. I always felt that it would influence my own creative process to much. Same with my vid-e style-e... trying the best I can, when I do things, to come from a clean slate.

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