Jimmy Marble is an LA based commercial and film director and photographer. Or more specifically, a filmmaker who is just now starting to take photos. First with Instagram and then now with a full studio set up, models and collaborators. Commercial photographers are endlessly interesting to me because I think we can almost always find the person in their work, in some way large or small. From Andy Anderson, whose expansive spirit and larger-than-life personality fill the frames of his images to Darcy Rogers whose quiet photos that feel personal whether she’s shooting inside someone’s home or out in the middle of the city or the mountains, I love locating them.
I discovered Jimmy Marble on Instagram. He had liked a photo I liked and I loved his name so clicked through to his feed.The series he was rolling out at the time was LA Still Life, a series of studio shots re-interpreting Dutch Still Lifes in modern day LA—the dark Dutch moods transformed with color and come to life, literally, from a cautionary tale about the twins death and life into a call to simply live in the present moment with joy and celebration, suggesting that this is the best antidote to death.
The photos turned out to be the tip of the iceberg, a hint of what I’d find. His site is full of short films, commercials, and music videos most made in collaboration with a close group of friends and fellow artists whose names I was familiar with (Sirocco Research Labs, set designer Adi Goodrich, photographer Amanda Jasnowski – @hokaytokay on Instagram). Some were personal projects and others were shot for Flaunt and two commercial series for Portland’s Weiden & Kennedy. The films were consistently ‘joyful,’ optimistic, full of heart, knowing and absurd (at times), a mash-up of lo-fi and hi-fi concepts and production and a funny, knowing delight. I laughed out loud more than I have in the time I’ve been writing this blog. You could tell that the person making these films had just as much (or more) fun than I was having watching them. They made me happy. And the photos he’s been shooting have a similar effect. Without the narrative, the subject becomes happiness, joy and exuberance and delight. Isolated against solid-color backgrounds.
Getting to know Jimmy has been a joy in itself. I have found that his work stems from his personal orientation towards life: one of awe that we exist at all and a happiness and joy generated from this as a starting point on which to build. And a belief that art doesn’t need to focus on what makes us unhappy—that it’s a greater challenge to evoke happiness.
I personally hope the world is headed in this direction and Jimmy Marble’s work is a challenge to come along. As things fall apart, a new ground is often revealed. Much of the ugliness at the core of our present state has allowed us to also see the happiness, brilliant appreciation and joy peeking from behind our everyday experiences and a new sense of possibility with inclusion and collaboration being central themes.
Not surprisingly, we spent a good deal of time talking about filmmaking and filmmakers. From Godard and French New-Wave to “Holy Motors” by Leo Carax and then on to Matisse and all of Jimmy’s films, including his early films Cleopatra’s Intergalactic Vendetta, Nate and Natalie and of course his internet hit Red Moon, a film about a Russian submarine captain who also happens to be a werewolf.
Big thank you to Jimmy for being so enthusiastic about this interview and his work and for taking the time to dig in and spend time with the questions. And for sharing so much work with us. I’d bring his entire website over, but that wouldn’t give you anything further to discover.
POP: What is your background?
I grew up in Yakima, Washington, which is quite a different place than what one normally imagines when thinking of Washington State. It’s on the east side of the mountains, which puts it square in the desert. I grew up surrounded by pear orchards and horse pastures. I can be incredibly critical of my hometown for its moral and political conservatism, but I also go through fits of extreme nostalgia for its natural beauty.
I don’t think the town shaped my art, because I don’t really do anything blatantly autobiographical, but it definitely helped shape my focus and work ethic. Back then I felt Yakima was a horrible place to be, so I started writing feature-length scripts in high school as a form of escape. This is inspiring to me now, because even since then I’ve written very few 100+ page scripts. So to think about me as a 16 year old being like, “What happens in the third act?” It’s really funny. I trained myself to be ambitious and to see ideas through basically to spite my loneliness and boredom.
My parents were very explicit that I was not allowed to go to art school. So instead I went to Western Washington University and studied creative writing and art history, which isn’t art school, but truly only by technicality. I knew going into college I wanted to be a filmmaker, so I figured learning any narrative theory would be beneficial. And since film’s the most modern visual medium, I knew I needed to understand art’s history so I could understand why images exist, what they mean, who made them, and why the images we make now look different than they did 50 years ago, or a hundred years ago. Outside of school I made films on my own. It was my unofficial third major.
POP: Earliest films?
I made two movies in college I still think about constantly. One was called Cleopatra’s Intergalactic Vendetta, and the other was called Nate and Natalie. I made Cleopatra the summer after my freshman year of college with a group of friends back in Yakima. We made a spaceship out of cardboard, and the story was originally about a pretentious young man who comes home for the summer with ambitions to make a science fiction movie with his friends. Then the whole thing blows up in his face as the movie he’s making is terrible and the production team mutinies. It didn’t turn out that way, though. On the second day of shooting I realized that my friends and I weren’t talented enough actors to pull it off. So we switched gears and made it about the bad science fiction aspect of it. We’d already started shooting and the joke was that it was a bad movie so we just made a bad movie. Intergalactic Vendetta is a terrible movie, but it’s self aware, and its sets resemble what I’m doing now.
Nate and Natalie, made the following summer in Bellingham, WA, on the other hand was a coming of age romantic movie about two college kids falling in love, and was very naturalistic (and also whimsical and now looking back at it very theatrical). It wasn’t quite a feature, and it wasn’t quite a short film, running at around 45 minutes. But unlike Cleopatra, Nate and Natalie was good. We put together a tiny tiny tiny budget and spent the whole summer working on it. I was only 20 at the time, but I was able to pull a group of 10 or 15 people together for a whole summer to create this movie. I have a hard time even now doing that for my personal projects, and these days my productions last only a day or two.
It was this giant life lesson at an early age to be ambitious, come up with my own ideas, trust my vision, and finish what I started.
I graduated college in 2008 and the economy tanked right away. I was lucky and got a job offer in Paris. I had studied abroad while in school and had become close friends with the program’s resident director. So after I finished up school she offered me a job to come teach French New Wave and a DIY digital filmmaking course to American undergraduates studying abroad. It was a dream job; I taught out of my tiny apartment. I spent the year going to museums, learning how to watercolor, and applying to graduate schools. On the same day I was accepted into one of my top schools, I also fell in love. She was older and an amazing artist with this fantastic career. I felt really silly next to her talking about my upcoming school year while she was doing these amazing campaigns for Chanel and Printemps. And so long story short, I said no to school, yes to love, and we made plans to move to LA together so I could start my film career. Another long story short, we broke up by the end of the summer and I moved to LA by myself.
Los Angeles really changed my life forever. I only knew maybe two people in the city when I moved. I met Adi Goodrich (set designer) literally my second day in town, which was her third day in town, and our friendship was instant and incredibly exciting. It was like discovering a long lost sibling almost. We were so excited about the exact same things and had the same shared experiences and interests. Within a month we had started building a submarine in my loft for a short film I was going to direct called Red Moon. It was a perfect time period because we had an exciting new friendship, all kinds of space, and no other social obligations! And our desire to build and work was so giant! So we were able to be super ambitious and productive.
It’s similar now, but we don’t live in the loft anymore and we have more friends.
POP: One is always just themselves. But any foreshadowing of your sensibility or aesthetic when you were growing up?
As a kid I constantly drew maps of my neighborhood. I was for some reason obsessed with people’s yards and the layout of everything. Who had a pool, who had gates, where were the biggest trees. I lived sort of in the country, so there were fields and orchards and dirt roads to account for. This lasted into junior high. I’m not sure how or why I out grew the phase.
I’d also write stories all the time when I was a kid. I’d take them to school and read them out loud at lunch to my classmates. My teachers were super on board with this, which I’m really grateful for now. I loved entertaining my friends. It was the tip-top of joy for me to be up there with something I wrote, getting reactions from people. It helped me understand pacing and timing from a pretty early age, I guess. This was about 2nd grade through 6th grade.
The stories ranged in topic quite a bit, too. Some were about spies, some were about dragons, or basketball players. One was about war criminals. My very first one was called The Cards. I wrote it in second grade. It was about three friends who kept finding these mysterious cards. It’s set up to be this big dark, scary thing. But right before the scary part happens in an abandoned house, I pulled the rug out from the reader and revealed that the cards were actual Seattle Mariner tickets, and the three friends got to meet Ken Griffey Jr. He was my favorite human at the time.
POP: At the risk of sounding corny, were you always happy?
I don’t know if I’ve always been happy, but for the most part my work is pretty lighthearted. I feel like my attitude toward life is pretty well reflected in what I make. I’m pretty much in awe that we even exist; people, I mean. It’s such a rare opportunity in the universe to be a cognizant being! It just feels absurd to not, at the very least, a glass-is-half-full kind of person.
I’ve always been resistant to the idea that good art has to deal with heavy topics. That it’s not real, or valid, unless it’s dealing with something gritty that’s going to shine light on something you don’t want to think about. I remember feeling like joy was important, and overlooked. And more importantly, I remember feeling like joy, or optimism, was a much harder thing to evoke the feelings of being bummed out or sad. Life is already incredibly hard and full of failures and things not going right. Evoking happiness seemed like a bigger challenge than reminding them of what is obvious.
You can wallow in sadness but not in happiness. It’s much more fleeting and rare. No one has ever said to their friend, “I’m stuck in this good mood, man. I’ve been happy for like two weeks, I don’t know what’s going on. I can’t shake this.”
POP: What was your inspiration for making films?
The first inspiration was my emotive response to moving images. I couldn’t and still can’t believe how good people are at capturing super abstract feelings that go way beyond what you’re seeing on screen by putting something on a screen. When I was 16 or 17, I remember starting to pay attention to who was directing the movies, and thinking, “They see the world in such a beautiful way” or sad way, or funny way, whatever way they saw it, and I remember wanting to share the way I saw the world with people.
Now it’s basically the same, but a little more complex. Because for me making a movie or a video goes beyond telling a story from my point of view and more into the exploration of my own curiosity. I’m going to be fascinated with experimenting with and combining genres for the rest of my life. With that said, I guess possibility is my biggest inspiration for making films.
Plus, I’m most present and feel like the best version of myself when I’m on set, so the actual work inspires me to be making too. The labor itself is incredibly important to me.
POP: In addition to your work as Jimmy Marble, you have several collaborations: as part of Scirocco Research Labs, as JimmyNadi with set designer Adi Goodrich and with photographer Amanda Jasnowski (@HokayTokay). How did these collaborations evolve and what work do you do with each?
The first and most important collaboration I’ve had in my life so far was with the group of friends I made when I first moved to LA. We made a little collective called the Sirocco Research Labs. I was going through a phase where I was 100% over realism, 100% over people trying so hard to be gritty and real, 100% over people taking themselves and their art so seriously. It was 2008-2009, and it was like everyone wanted to be making Italian neo-realism again, and wanted their movies to be the most real thing you’d ever seen. And I was like, “They’re not real! Nothing about a movie is real!” So with Sirocco, the idea was that everything would be designed and handmade and clearly fake, but full of personality. To the point, hopefully, where the audience is considering every detail of the production in the same way they’re considering the story.
Red Moon was our first and most ambitious project. It’s a very silly and slapstick script about a Soviet submarine captain who’s also a werewolf. But the cinematography is super serious and dramatic. Meanwhile the production design is whimsical and handcrafted and full of so many small details. And the costumes are expressionistic and sculptural. When people talk about the movie, they talk about the production as much as they talk about the story. I think people actually prefer the production over the story, which is a giant success. Because it means people are watching and paying attention to what they’re seeing, and analyzing it, and noticing what the people who made it were doing. And I think that’s really important to make something that causes people to analyze what’s in front of them, even if it’s for pleasure. “Look at the top stitching on the captain’s hat,” or, “Look at all that blue light!”
JimmyNadi sprang from Sirocco because Adi and I wanted to start doing more intimate collaborations. Working with a group of 5-8 people like Sirocco can be creatively stifling because you have to reach a group consensus for every project. With JimmyNadi we only had to have two people agree on an idea and then do it. So the idea was that we would be able to be more prolific and even if our projects had less ambition than Sirocco, the number of things we’d make would make up for it. But because of the success of Sirocco, and of the first handful of JimmyNadi projects, we both started getting more professional opportunities that have kept us a little less prolific as a duo than we initially hoped for. But the collaboration is always so satisfying, because we have such a mutual love for design and color and work and optimism.
My most recent collaborative relationship is with photographer Amanda Jasnowski. Working with Amanda has been especially exciting because it’s opened my mind to an entirely new medium that I’ve never gotten to explore before. When I’m directing I watch a whole moment unfold and give feedback to the camera department, the talent, the art department — so many people — trying to make the timing more perfect. Photography is much more intimate and quiet and subtle. And Amanda’s been an amazing collaborator to learn from. She’s been so generous teaching me more about light and cameras, and everything.
It’s also incredible working with Amanda because our brains see the world differently. She’s very open to the world and sees so much natural beauty in things, and I want things to be designed and not natural but specific. So when we take pictures together they’re very different from something that Amanda would make on her own, and very different from something I’d make on my own. An example is I might set up a photo, be working with the models, trying to arrange them how I think would be cool, and Amanda will quietly be behind me watching, trying to figure out what I’m doing, and then she’ll step in with the camera and photograph what my brain was trying to do, but with her brain. And it turns out so much better than what I was trying to do. So it’s a very pure, fluid collaboration.
Kelly Moore has been the cinematographer on nearly everything I’ve directed since moving to LA. He’s an invaluable collaborator forever and ever and ever.
POP: From your experience, what are some of the reasons we are seeing so much collaboration?
The majority of the work I make is in collaboration with at least one other artist. I think the more good brains you have thinking about an idea, and working toward the same goal, the better. I think the scope of ambition grows considerably. I’m thinking especially with the films I direct, they’d be completely impossible without my team of collaborators. There’s no way I’d know how to build things like Adi does. And through her understanding of materials, and colors, we’re able to come up with such exciting ideas. And the same with Kelly. From the second I tell Kelly I’m working on a script he’s text messaging me about lighting ideas. So the scope of the project is growing immediately because Kelly’s working to make it great, Adi’s working to make it great, and I’m working to make it great.
I think people are talking more about collaboration right now because craft and quality is making a comeback. People are super in tune right now with color harmony and patterns; it’s not enough to just go shoot and find that good exposure anymore. And unless you’re a complete technical savant and tireless worker, you need friends or lots of money to make really designed, conceptual stuff.
The only time I’m actually not collaborating is with my IG feed. But even then, I’m collaborating with my friends, asking them to stand in a certain way for me.
POP: Your aesthetic blends together genres, historical periods and aesthetic references. What are your influences?
I was obsessed with French New Wave cinema in my late teens. Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard were my heroes. In Paris I’d go sit at Truffaut’s grave and read translated anthologies of Cahiers du cinema. I read everything I could about those guys. I was so inspired by the way they made movies that were personal and serious, but also seemingly just for fun, because they loved movies, and they knew they could do it better than the old guard. So they did. When I watch those movies, I feel their excitement! I feel their curiosity, and their desire to know what would fly in a movie. Even in his most cerebral movies, Godard was super lighthearted and full of jokes.
In my early twenties I became obsessed with Matisse paintings and the history of late 19th/early 20th century art. With Matisse, his work was always about how rad he was with color and applying paint. And that killed me! You’d have this painting, and the subject was a girl sitting at a table with fruit on it in front of a window. But that’s not the point! It grounds it in a nice way, the narrative maybe help people look at it longer than if it were just an abstract painting. But the point is the paint and the color. Modern art was this huge move away from academic art that was all about the narrative and having the viewer enter into the pictorial space through proper perspective and things like that. You see this art at the Louvre, all the religious art, state art, etc– you look, and you can enter these pictures because they’re so real and precise and the quality is so incredible, you can’t help but adopt the point of view of the painting’s narrative. But modern art kept the viewer outside of the painting. They wanted to capture your attention and elicit your feelings just with their materials. It was about the medium! Not about the girl sitting at the table in front of a window or whatever. And I loved that. I loved that all of sudden it was the process that was the message.
And best case scenario, that’s what I hope to do with my work. I try to keep my projects self aware. So like in my short film Robots Attacking the City, the scene may be about a grandma delivering her dying words to her grandson, but it’s also about the harmonies of yellow and green in the design, and about how all of a sudden the actors have switched more or less out of nowhere into the acting style of a Mexican soap opera. It keeps the viewer aware that they’re watching something! That this is something people made! It’s a representation, not reality.
POP: Filmmakers/Directors/Shows that do this well?
As far as filmmakers that do this in the narrative filmmaking world, lately I’ve been super inspired by CANADA. Those guys are a bunch of geniuses. They’re able to blend so many styles and genres and eras, it’s incredible. And it appears to be effortless, which makes it all the more incredible. Peter Greenaway did it very well. “Tokyo Drifter” by Seijun Suziki is a total masterpiece. Jim Henson’s Muppet movies actually do it really well. Pedro Almodovar’s movies are all about design and creating environments, and even if his movies didn’t have the most amazing stories, they’d be important just for their look. I think he’s one of the most important. Twin Peaks! Definitely Twin Peaks. I feel like it’s the most self aware TV show ever made. It’s so full of references to being a television show. It wants you to be thinking about how it’s a television show and the history of TV and the genres that air on TV. And it’s incredible because it’s one of the few shows where you get to sit back and watch it and think about how strange the writing is, how strange the acting, the lighting, the music is, but then also enjoy it because it’s such a banger story. Twin Peaks is a daily source of inspiration.
POP: Your PSAs accomplish this. It’s what reaches the audience, including the messaging which is refreshing. Who were these shot for and what were your roles? Director, writer? How do agencies respond to these pieces?
Adi and I were sitting around one night talking about how grateful we were that we lived in a city that was so accommodating to the creative lifestyle. Being a creative is difficult even in the nicest settings, not just to find the motivation to actually do what’s in your brain, but also just the fears you have to overcome constantly. And living in LA we’re surrounded by good weather and people who are constantly making the most beautiful things. I have very few friends in LA who aren’t artists, and that’s weird, but also the best. Because I’m always learning lessons from them, and being inspired by them. And when I’m down, I have ten artists I admire tons there rooting me on. So it’s easy to keep the eyes on the prize here and stay motivated. But neither of us are from LA, and when we left for LA we both left behind creative friends that are some of the most talented and inspiring artists we’ve ever met. We wanted to make something that was for these friends. We wanted to share our optimism and lessons that we’ve been learning in LA with them, hoping to keep them motivated to be working. To stay positive and keep going, because their art is worth it.
It also came out of a desire to try and communicate abstract ideas as accessibly as possible. Adi’s been a really good partner for that. She’ll read a script and be like, “Jimmy, this is great, but I want my sister to be able to watch it and get it.” She’ll keep me focused on writing for a wide audience. We’re very trusting of each other and respect one another’s taste a lot. On set I’m the director and she’s the production designer, which are collaborative roles we’re super familiar with by now.
I actually showed the PSA Be Cool to an ad agency in Seattle a few months ago, and it made one of the copywriters cry. The series helped land me one job through Weiden and Kennedy at the start of the year for Travel Portland. Those spots are obviously promoting Portland rather than optimism, but their formats are quite similar.
To see the entire series, visit the YouTube sit here.
POP: Do you think the future of advertising could be one of inclusion rather than exclusion? What if advertising made us feel good about ourselves rather than bad? The snapshot, life is a party even though we’re hanging out on a dumpster imagery has been a good start.
That sounds like the dream. I’m pretty certain advertising is moving toward a non-branded aesthetic—commercials becoming short films presented by companies rather than 30 seconds trying to convince you to buy something. I’d rather buy the pants made by a company that produces beautiful art rather than a company that doesn’t. So whether or not something like the PSAs would catch on in that realm, I’m not totally sure. A shoe company recently asked me to write a PSA for them, done in the aesthetic of the ones we’ve already made, that didn’t really have anything to do with their shoes. It was just going to be a “Presented by” thing. But in the end we went a more traditional route, which still turned out weird and exciting.
POP: You shoot quite a bit for Flaunt. How much creative freedom do you get? How collaborative? The David Wain piece is really fun – did you write as well as direct this piece?
Flaunt’s been great to me over the last few years. They’re probably one of the best clients I’ve ever had as far as creative freedom goes. I’ve never had a creative note from them on anything I’ve ever turned in. Most of the stuff I’ve done with them has been behind the scenes on their photo shoots, but they’ve always just asked for me to do whatever I’m in the mood to do. Total, “Just turn in something cool” attitude. They also helped me get my first music video job, directing the “Silky Eyes” video for Puro Instinct.
When they asked me if I could come cover to a shoot with David Wain, I was dying because he’s such a hero of mine. I was talking with the editor and asked if there was anyway instead of shooting a BTS video with David, if we could do something narrative. The magazine did all the work with David’s manager to make it happen. Originally they were going to only give me the last 20 minutes of the photo shoot to film the short, because at the end of the day they’re a magazine and they wanted to put time into the stills. But I was way too excited about working with David to not take advantage of the situation. So I walked onto set, and despite being super nervous, I cool as a cucumber went up to David, excitedly told him what we’d be shooting that day, and got him stoked on it. He clapped his hands and said, “Alright, let’s do it!” So we got to work. His manager let us go for it. I couldn’t believe it.
The whole thing was shot naturally and in just about an hour. I wrote his character based off his David character from Stella. It was incredible working with him as an actor. He’d perform and I’d be transfixed, and then I’d get to ask him to do it again, but this time stressing this phrase, or timing this word differently. It was the best.
POP: You’ve shot a couple commercial series for Weiden & Kennedy. One for Oreo and the other for the city of Travel Portland. How much input did you have on concepts and story development?
For the Travel Portland job the scripts were written by the agency, but I wrote a director’s treatment for how I wanted the series to look and feel. During the weeklong shoot I wound up writing five new scripts, but they were within the formula that the agency had already developed.
The whole job came about because the agency producer Ben Sellon, who produced many of the Sirocco videos, had this great idea to produce a 20 episode web series with the client’s 80k budget. Everyone I think thought he was crazy, but he was able to convince both WK and Travel Portland that my team and I could do it no problem. And we did, we actually wound up turning in 25 videos and didn’t go over budget. Everyone was really impressed with Ben. He’s one of the best producers I’ve ever ever ever ever worked with.
While I was in Portland shooting Travel Portland, the art director for the Oreos account asked me to come in and write treatments for their new “No Wrong Answers” campaign. I wrote 10 original treatments, and wrote on five of their treatments, and in the end they asked me to film five of my own and two of theirs. The campaign was giant. I think they ordered 50 videos total from like 12 different directors. And it was such a genius idea! The videos were for a website where you’d be asked “What’s better, the cookie or the cream?” And then no matter what you choose, one of these videos pops up to tell you that you made the right choice. Totally unbranded videos. Just pure entertainment paid for by Oreos.
My understanding is that the production was very unconventional for the commercial world. During the filming we had no agency people and no client people on our set. So it felt like just a fun weekend shoot with my friends. We were just trying to make the videos as cool as we possibly could. No one was there to say no! It was a dream.
POP: Who was Robots Attacking the City shot for? What was it like to collaborate with a 10 year old?
Robots Attacking the City was part of a web series called “Written by a Kid.” Each episode was written by a different kid, and directed by a different director. My episode was written by Maile Martinez, possibly the best human on earth. I thought her story was so good and so strange. And also so adult! She added so many complex ideas. Part of the rule of the show was that the script had to be 100% from the kid. I couldn’t adapt it to my liking. It was wonderful working with Maile on her dialog. Just being like, “Maile, so, in this scene, we have these two characters talking. This is what’s happening in your story. What do they say to each other?” And she would never even hesitate. She’d just go, “They say this,” and then just come up with the whole conversation on the spot, and it’d be perfect.
Witnessing a kid work is special. It’s a great reminder to be fearless. I totally kill myself over dialog. I don’t need to. Maile’s a better writer than me.
She’s also in the short. She plays the little girl and narrator. Such a talent! There’s so much in her voice! It’s incredible.
POP: What inspired you to start shooting photos and when did you start? You also collaborate on many of your photo shoots?
I’ve wanted to be taking photos for as long as I can remember, but I never owned a camera, so I never really did it Besides my phone, I still don’t, but now I have so many photographer friends who do, I can borrow one easily enough. When I got an iPhone I started taking pictures of everything, before instragram even. I just wanted to be capturing to remember — ideas for locations, strange LA moments, my friends when they were sitting in the good light. And then instagram happened and I started sharing them, and my friends liked my pictures! And then my account sort of took off and people were incredibly generous and encouraging to me. I remember when I met my now good friend Julia Galdo, one of the first things she said to me was, “I really like your Instagram account,” which was one of the best feelings, because I was very familiar with her real photography already, and looked up to her as an artist.
Then I started dating my girlfriend Amanda Jasnowski, and we had a huge urge to be making things together, and so we started taking pictures. That was at the start of this year in January. I had used a real camera for a few photo projects before I worked with Amanda, but it was definitely our collaboration that gave me confidence in my ability to take real pictures, and not just iPhone pictures.
And photography’s amazing because of the speed you can conceive, produce, and distribute a project. If I want to do an ambitions film project I have to assemble this whole team and meet with so many people, and track down casts, find a composer, etc. But with a photo set, Amanda and I can have an idea on Monday night, shoot it Saturday afternoon, and be ready to share it the following week. There’s so much creative freedom! You can just crank out photos in a way you can’t crank out films. It’s so much easier to go from idea to product in photography.
POP: Goals with photography?
Right now my goal with photography is to just be doing as much of it as possible. I love the process so much. I love interacting with the models and learning about light. It’s still such a new process to me that there’s the thrill of impending failure and doom. Like, am I going to show up and do a terrible job today? Or am I going to walk away with some cool images? That challenge is so exciting to me every time. I still feel that way about directing, but the fear is quite a bit more raw with photography. I have to work really really hard to not make it terrible.
I don’t have specific big goals with photography besides being prolific. I want to make so many things! There’s so much possibility!
POP: Do you have the same sense of delight when you look at your photos as you do your films?
I’m not sure. I’m reacting to really different things when I look at a photo I’ve taken versus a movie I’ve directed. Because photos are relatively simple to make, when I look at it, I’m not looking at tons of memories. But when I look at one of my movies, I’m reacting to so many different collaborations. Like during a scene from Robots, I’m remembering conversations about the costumes, the music, the editing, the light; developing the characters with the actors, the funny thing the camera operator did, and the email I got from the producer asking to change something.
But also, my photography is a little different than my narrative work. I feel like my photos are a much better representation of what I’ve been thinking about lately than my narrative work. It’s a little less whimsical, a little less charming, more surreal and more sophisticated. I’m working on some new scripts that fit more into the world I’ve been exploring with my photos. Right now I feel more excited about making than I ever have.
POP: How does your interest in art history play a role in your work?
It is important to everything that I do. I love feeling like I’m interacting with the past. Feeling like I’m submerging myself in things that inspire me is a great place to put my brain. Especially because you can sort of hopscotch history and create really wild combinations. A little bit of this era, a little bit of that era. People have been weirdos since the beginning! People have always been making the strangest stuff. It’s so easy to be inspired by the history of art.
I just read this amazing quote by Brian Eno. It was a challenge to “stop looking at art as an object and start looking at it as it triggers our experiences.”
POP: You shot the Still Life project without a collaborator. I loved seeing them roll out on Instagram.
LA Still Life was an important project for me because it was the first time I was taking pictures on my own. I felt a real urgency to do it because I had been accumulating ideas, and needed to know that I could do it on my own. It was one of those trial by fire things. Could I come up with my own idea for a photo set, produce it, shoot it, and edit it all on my own? I needed to know!
I’ve loved Dutch still life painting since I was in college. They’re so strange — just total perfect renderings of reality, but for some reason set in totally abstract non-places. But non-places with the best, large source lighting possible. I wanted to take my appreciation for these paintings and place them in 2013 Los Angeles. Instead of a dark non-space, it’s a dreamy blue. Instead of dead fish it’s girls in colorful tights. And instead of heavy flowers, they’re these spirally colorful southern California ones. It was a pretty simple concept.
POP: New photos?
Adi wanted to do a collaboration since we haven’t done something since Be Cool last November. She’s been doing a lot of production and art direction on photos recently, and so we thought it would be rad to do a photo set together. She just got hired onto RedEye Reps as a set designer, and so we wanted to use Red as our starting point for the project. Immediately I wanted to use red wigs, and she had an idea for this tromp l’oeil tile floor. It felt so good to be working with Adi again. Making jokes, painting shapes. Total dream shoot.
Amanda and I just worked on a new shoot just recently I’m excited about. There’s this great trend in photography right now with super subtle, surreal photoshop manipulations. I don’t know how to describe it much better than that. I guess you could just call it photoshop collaging. I don’t know. But anyway, Amanda and I were super inspired by it, and we wanted to do our best to recreate what we’ve been seeing, but doing it all in camera. So we chose repetitive clothing, repetitive blocking, used a lot of mirrors, and just did our best to make the images look like these photoshop collages without using photoshop.
POP: You’ve been living in LA for four years. How does it inspire or influence you?
It’s hard to know how LA has affected me because I’ve really come into my own creatively in this city. I started developing the aesthetic I’m known for now right when I moved to town. LA has definitely facilitated my art for me. It’s given me so much opportunity to create. But I don’t know how it’s influenced my work aesthetically. It’s more of a getting out of bed in the morning sort of inspiration I get from LA.
When I bike around I’m constantly inspired by all the colors of the buildings, and all the flowers. Something is blooming in Los Angeles every month of the year. That is super inspiring for so many reasons. And the weather keeps me in a great mood. I love living in LA more than anything. No matter where I wind up living in the future, LA is going to be where I want to be. Each day I wake up more thankful than the last that I live there.
When I’m in Los Angeles it feels like I’m living in the future. I feel like this all the time in LA. People are doing the strangest things everywhere and I have no point of reference for any of it. I’m constantly feeling, “That’s the strangest thing I’ve ever seen.” In other cities there’s always a point of reference I can grab onto. Like in New York everyone’s trying so hard to be a good New Yorker and to be part of that history in some capacity. When I’m in LA I don’t understand what anyone’s up to, and what half the people are trying to be. It’s thrilling.
POP: Favorite films?
Mannnnn, hard to say! I haven’t been watching many movies in the past few years. Beyonce’s “Countdown” music video directed by Adria Petty is probably one of my all-time favorite things to watch ever. Most Frankie and Annette beach day movies are hits in my book. “Holy Motors” by Leo Carax was one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I was so full with joy, I couldn’t believe someone had made something so unique and perfect.
POP: You really see this in Beneath the Pavement, Beach. What was the concept for this project?
Beneath the Pavement, Beach! happened because a Chicago gallery approached Adi and I about doing a project together for them. And they were open to anything we wanted to do. But they wanted us to do it as LA artists. That was what I remember, anyway.
We wanted to make the project autobiographical and decided to make it about LA and our love for LA, and also our shared history with the city of Paris. We started with Paris and used Situationist International and May 1968 student riots as our main inspiration. We were so inspired by that culture and movement, kids who were excited and wanted to change their world. Those kids almost overthrew the French government! And they wrote poetry in spray paint on walls! It sounds too good to be true. The most romantic thing in the world.
So we took reportage photos from the riots, and restaged them in LA, replacing the protestors with our friends and collaborators dressed in wild patterns, and replaced the Parisian streets with colored paper. The historical context is removed and replaced by the creative excitement and exuberance of this new LA youth culture.
This made sense to us because in LA there is a resurgence of design, craft and quality. It made sense for us to present LA in such a collaged, flat, and displaced way.
POP: Favorite places in LA?
My breakfast table, Cody Cloud’s swimming pool, Michelle Newman’s swimming pool, the Glassell Park pool, the bike lane on Sunset between Echo Park and Silverlake, the beach, Daikokuya, Monty Bar, The Forge photo studio, Ms Donut, Huntington Gardens, the Police Academy, cinefamily, and the self realization center on top of Mt Washington.
POP: Future projects?
I’ve always wanted to make a feature film. To me it seems like the biggest, most exciting challenge there is. So much pacing to be in control of. It’s such a huge canvas! But recently I was approached to direct a web series. And they had a pretty decent rate attached for me. But I read the script and it was not very good. Or at least not something I would ever want to direct. While I was reading it though, I realized that they had the same amount of pages in their script that would constitute a feature — and they had gotten it funded! This 100% blew my mind and made me re-think what was most immediately possible for me. I realized that as a young director, if I come up with 150-200 pages of script, I’m going to have a much much easier time getting it funded if I say it’s for the web than if I say it’s a feature film. Because the web has an audience and it has corporations that want to be attached to good content. No one’s really taking the internet serious yet with film. Obviously David Fincher is, and now Arrested Development is, but you don’t hear about the young people pioneering this thing that’s still a frontier. All web content seems to be mostly fake sitcoms. Plus, I think I could also be more innovative and experimental with form and content because it is the internet and that’s what people expect from the internet. So right now I’m wanting to make original content that’s for the web.
I’m still very interested in making a feature. But the truth is it’s really hard to get an audience for a feature. So many features are made, very few get into festivals, and even fewer are going to get distribution outside of New York and LA. And I love NY and LA, but I want the cool kids in Wichita to see my stuff and get excited about it, too.
POP: And the real question. How does one get 26k followers on Instagram?
It basically happened overnight. In February they put me on their suggested users list for almost a month. So in a matter of weeks I went from 2k to 22k followers. IG emailed me this email saying that I was utilizing their app in an A+ way. I wrote back and asked how they found me, but I never heard back. And that was that. Eventually I was off the list. Instagram’s a fun place. It definitely shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
Watch Jimmy’s films and look at and read about his photos. Then go watch some Godard. Watch Holy Motors. Appreciate the objectivity of modern art. Look around and appreciate being alive. Find joy the next time the mariachis stop at your table and humor in the fact that you appreciate them. Let yourself feel awe.