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Timothy Saccenti (Part 2)

Timothy Saccenti (Part 2) (photo)

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Yesterday I put up some video work by director/photographer Timothy Saccenti, if you haven’t seen it take a look. He’s an artist of great depth and though he’ll lament how poor our internet bandwidth is and is fully on the digital cutting edge, his roots lay in darkrooms, covered in emulsion, with silver halide sprinkles. He’s working on a ton of stuff, and has his sights on a feature film, which I hope to have more on in the future. Here’s most of what we chatted about the day his new video for Chairlift came out.

BK: Tell me about your process, what do you do to begin conceiving of a video, is it headphones and thinking cap on in a dark room?

TS: Yeah. Basically I get the track and hopefully I haven’t heard it before, and I take it and go in a very dark room and play it really loud. Like 30 or 40 times. And then I do sort of free association for what I start to see, whether it’s shapes or colors, or an action scene, or protagonists, or antagonists, some kind of creature or whatever and I just fill all these notebooks. Then I go back and actually listen to the lyrics and see if any match what I was writing about. Generally the first wave is like synesthesia. Just really abstract, like does it feel fast or slow, is it aggressive or sexual. And then basically spend 2 weeks walking around with just that song in my headphones – which can sometimes be a pain for everyone else around me cause they end up having to hear that same song maybe 3 or 4 hundred times [chuckles manically]. Which is a good test… you know, you’re gonna spend 2 or 3 months of your life living with this song and living with the artist and getting into their psyche, so I have to feel personally some kind of connection to it and feel like it’s actually going to resonate with people and translate visually.

And then I sit with my collaborators and we see how everyone is feeling about what’s happening at that time. All the people I work with are very interested in experimental films, and art and fashion and there’s almost always some kind of synchronicity between what we’re all working on and we decide what we’re not going to do. Say for instance, this video we just did for Chairlift, most of the process was deciding what we were not going to do.

BK: What you’re not going to do. So how did that ipod nano commercial (which first featured the Chairlift song) factor into that or did it?

TS: Oh it definitely did.

BK: Is that the first time you’ve created work for a song that’s already been so commercialized?

TS: Yeah, it definitely is. And somehow I’d managed to never have seen the commercial. I’m not sure about you, but living in New York I tend to not watch that much television.

BK: Same here.

TS: Right, so I completely missed it. I’d never even heard the song before. When we met (Chairlift) a lot of the conversation was that they wanted to get as far away from the ipod nano, kind of brightly colorful, naïve positive feelings as possible.

BK: You were a photographer first, how do you think that shapes your approach?

TS: Well, right now I still do probably 50% still photography. Coming from that background has been really helpful for being able to execute these things as far as camera and lighting and all of those techniques go without relying on a whole huge crew. I can go in and say I know exactly how I want this to look, I know where I want the camera for that shot, and say, when we sat down with Caroline (from Chairlift) I knew how we should light her. Also, often with bands, when I first met them, it’s during a still photo shoot. There’s so much less pressure at that point, you can get to know the band, and they can get to trust you. It’s almost like going on a first date with them. And if it works out, and you know, everyone’s pleased with it, then you create a sort of energy and it helps to move things forward faster. ‘Cause there’s always fear when you’re going into making these. For the band it’s a lot of money, and you only really get one shot to make that one video for that one song.

The most difficult part is knowing you’re taking this piece of music that the artist has spent a long time and a lot of heart creating and you’re gonna tell them how it’s supposed to look and it becomes very personal. It feels very risky, so if you can do anything to gain their trust – being able to do a still shoot with them I’d say is one of the best ways you can do that.

BK: Sounds like you’re in the perfect position.

TS: Yeah, I’m extremely lucky. But it’s taken forever; I mean I’ve been working in the industry for almost 20 years now since I was like 15 years old.

BK: Ah, so your roots are as an old school photographer, film, darkrooms…

TS: Yeah, dark rooms and apprenticeships with some really big photographers and learning the ropes through that. Learning lighting, learning how to use film, and different kinds of lenses. Yeah, wet processing, with chemistry! Which I don’t really do any more but all of that is really good to have learned because we do apply it all the time, even now, as far as lighting techniques and aesthetics and things like that. Burning and dodging, and different color palettes and how to control saturation through lighting. There’s tons of dark room techniques that are much easier to apply now in computers but if you don’t know what the actual techniques are or why you would use them, you know, it’s kind of useless.

It’s easy now to show up with a few pieces of camera equipment and make something look very professional, very quickly and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but I do think it maybe takes some[thing] out of the process. Say when you had to shoot a roll of film and wait two days to see what it looked like, maybe during those two days you were trying to figure something else out, and the film came back and you made small adjustments to it. I felt that lag in the time period made it so that you spent more time conceptualizing, or wondering why you were doing things a certain way. Also now because everything seems really immediate, even though it’s not, the clients expect everything to be finished in a ridiculous time frame. It used to be that we’d shoot something and the client wouldn’t expect to see anything for a week, and now they want to see it that night or the next morning, which ends up for making sloppy work I’d say.

BK: Are you a big Sci-Fi film fan?

TS: I think so. I like “Bladerunner!” I like a lot of different films, I’ll say that.

BK: I’ve been thinking about “Bladerunner” while we’ve been talking actually. Maybe I just do it all the time, but when you were talking about old school shooting, and you’d have a couple days to wait, I immediately thought about why “Bladerunner” looks so amazing. And it’s because, well there were amazing people working on it, but they had this built in time delay. For the same reasons, but also because the production went on hold, so some of those guys sat there for months longer than they’d normally have just conceptualizing an conceptualizing and adding to the set.

TS: Right and that texture comes across in every frame in that film. I think Ridey Scott at the time, when people were criticizing the story, he said well, “sometimes the design is the message.” Because they spent so much time designing it, and working out the textures and things like that. For me that’s extremely important. And I’d say for Sci-Fi, yeah “Bladerunner.” I hate “Star Wars.”

BK: Oh no.

TS: [laughs] I’ll watch it! I’ll watch it, but I don’t think it looks very good…. But of the films I’d say we watch here are things that are really esoteric. Like Alejandro Jodorowsky films (“The Holy Mountain”) or maybe Maya Deren (“Meshes of the Afternoon”) and things like that. Or Tarkovsky. “Solaris” that’s a huge influence.

BK: What do you think about Soderbergh’s remake?

TS: I did see it. I thought he was trying to do more like a Stanley Kubrick version of “Solaris,” it felt that way. You know I find the original one to be much more, sort of mysterious. I love Sci-Fi movies, there’re just not very many good ones. It’s so easy to do them poorly. And they play with the same themes all the time.

BK: You already got into this, but what other films inspire you?

TS: Have you ever seen [Sergei Parajanov’s] “Color of Pommegrantes?” It’s again, it’s more in the Jodorowsky range of things where it’s a lot of mystical symbolism and more visual poetry than any sort of story. I just find those films infinitely re-watchable. Or “The Planète Sauvage” also called “The Fantastic Planet.” That’s a Sci-fi influence. It’s a very surreal cartoon about this planet where there’re these giant aliens and they keep humans as pets. And the pets are tiny. [laughs] And then hilarity ensues. But I have a lot of friends who are very into films and they’re always introducing me to these sort of obscure things. And you know living in NY you have access to that stuff, you could go to Kim’s and find some of the strangest stuff you’ll ever see. I’d say conceptually that’s where some of our ideas come from. That and fine art books, and things of that nature. But then you have to turn it into like a pop video, so how do you do that. That’s kind of the fun part. You don’t want to just be esoteric and have your head up your ass and no one understands what the hell you’re talking about. Or being weird for weirds sake. Which tends to happen a lot right now. You see a lot of artists just trying to be really strange.

BK: Some one-upmanship going on.

TS: Yeah, and it gets tiring. There really should always be some story to it. We have this like “what the fuck” culture now where everything has to appear strange for people to think it’s deep. Even some of the things we do, I’m sure fall into that range, but there’s a concept behind it. It’s meant to be part of some story. That makes it re-watchable I hope. The whole point of doing any of these is for story telling, getting some kind of emotional message across… if you’re very lucky.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.