If by chance you watched some amazing music videos, characterised by a light and a rigor in the construction of the image that remember certain films of the Eastern Europe, long videos, longer than the songs they film, you would have probably fallen on a video by Scott Cudmore, a young promise of the international filmmaking based in Toronto, Canada. The way he conceives and realizes his music videos is definitely original and it struck us deeply. Some names he worked for? Fucked Up, Timber Timbre, Modern Supersticions, Great Lake Swimmers, Brian Bocherdt, The National, Hidden Cameras among others. We looked for him, we “reached” (power of the net!) him and, with a rapidity that has favorably caught us, he answered a series of questions we made and he commented some of his videos. We really enjoyed this exchange of ideas with Scott and we are sure that in not a lot of time this interview will be much more precious than it is already now, we bet on it.
Have a good reading… and a good vision.
FUCKED UP – TURN THE SEASON
Hi, could you please introduce yourself?
My name’s Scott Cudmore and I’m a director and writer in Toronto, Canada.
Why did you choose to make music videos? What’s your relation with cinema? And with music?
I started to make music videos because I knew some musicians and it seemed like a good way to get some work done that would be seen by some people. I had finished school not too long before, and I didn’t feel comfortable just going and making a short film and much less a feature film, so music videos seemed like a good place to start. So I made one and then that led to another and another and eventually I was doing quite a few of them. I got into film in high school when I saw the Lindsey Anderson films ‘If….’ and ‘O Lucky Man!’ Those two films hit me pretty hard, like, “Oh, you can do THAT with a movie??”. Then I decided that I wanted to make movies and started watching 3 films a day most days. I still haven’t made any narrative work…I’ve been waiting until I feel like I can do it right but that’s what I really want to do, like everybody else I guess. As for music, I wish I could make it…I don’t have any talent for songwriting though, so filming musicians is the next best thing maybe?
Your videos often starts with a long intro. Why?
With intros and things like that…I don’t know, I just think it’s better to think of a music video as more of a film project than as a commercial for a song or band. And if it’s a film, then it can kind of be anything- it doesn’t have to be just a montage of images set to the song. It can have dialogue and other stuff going on…it can be more cinematic. I think having something to give context to the music, a scene or a situation or something like that, really helps to make the music more powerful within the film too. Then we have to think of it as something other than just a soundtrack, or the video just being a visual track for the music. I like when I see a music video and it’s different from the song as on the record. I like when it’s a different thing. It’s more interesting, it’s something new. I did a music video for The Rural Alberta Advantage that is almost more of a short film than a proper music video. The video is 9 minutes long and the song is something like 3.5 minutes. So that’s probably be most extreme example of that type of thing that I’ve done but I’d love to do more of that.
In most of your videos you show the set and all that is usually behind-the-scenes, out of the frame, out of the sight of the spectator/viewer. Is it a way, we could say a philosophical-political way, to wake up the spectator from the “dream of the imagination”, disclosing the pure fictitious essence of the images or does it belong to a precise choice of your poetic, of your language?
I don’t know why I keep revealing sets and crew members and all the behind-the-scenes stuff but it is definitely a common theme. I think you’re right though, I think I’m compelled to fracture the illusion of cinema and to show a bit of the process. But more than that I think I’m interested in blending the fiction and the documentary together so that it’s not quite clear how those two things differentiate from one another. In other words, I think I like to make the production a part of the fiction, and vice versa, turn the drama into kind of a documentary. We think we’re watching one thing, but it’s actually not that thing. Filmmaking is a whole lot of lying. On one hand it’s disclosing the fictitious elements of the images but on the other hand it’s introducing something completely literal and factual into the images and I think that’s what I like about that kind of thing. I think I was probably influenced by Godard too, in the way that he would narrate certain films as the “director”…talking about characters emotions and things like that. Or how he shows Raoul Coutard operating the camera off the top of ‘Contempt’…things like that. Or when characters look right into the lens. It’s a reminder that this isn’t real,…I’m not even going to pretend that it’s real, you’re watching a movie. Something happens to the viewer in that moment I think…I don’t think it takes you out of the drama though, I think it just changes it. The viewers perspective has to change and that’s interesting to me. I read a lot of Italo Calvino and stuff like that when I was in university and a lot of that work probably stuck with me too.
Here are six videos of yours we’d love to know more about. Would you please describe them for us?
FUCKED UP – QUEEN OF HEARTS: This is the first video I did for Fucked Up. We shot it in this old schoolhouse in a place called Buxton, Ontario. It was one of the first black communities in Canada I think, and was an underground railroad stop. The schoolhouse is part of a museum now. There’s a museum and some other buildings on the property. When they asked me about making a video they said that they didn’t want a conventional music video…so I thought kids singing the song instead of Damian would be pretty different. haha. The album, a concept album, is such a huge, epic, mind fuck of a meta narrative that plays with a lot of post-modern elements such as the narrator becoming a character in the story that I thought that the video should be set in the world of the album… but then also pull the rug out from under itself at the end. It was also pretty low budget and I’m still kind of amazed that it actually came together….all credit for that goes to Michael Leblanc who produced it and also shoots almost everything that I do. We work as a very tight team and it’s a pretty overlapping relationship in many ways. The projects that we do together are both of ours, he as producer and cinematographer and me as director and writer. And of course the awesome crew of people, and cast, who pretty much all basically donated their time on this one. That what made it possible to get this one done.
MODERN SUPERSTITIONS – MERCY LINE: I guess this is my attempt at comedy?? The main thing you need to know about this video is Spencer Butt. He’s a poet who lives in Toronto and of course he plays the crazy preacher guy in this. He’s really amazing and it’s impossible to say enough good things about his work and his writing. Google or YouTube him.
TIMBER TIMBRE – DEMON HOST: This was another really low budget one that we shot up on a farm not far from Toronto…all with natural light, which Leblanc and I are in love with. We’d prefer never to use lights if we don’t have to. The idea was just to present a fictional “recording of the song”…as if to say it was recorded by some grim reapers. It’s such an amazing song. I kind of wish that the whole video was just his face.
BRIAN BORCHERDT – SCOUT LEADER: Brian Borcherdt is the man behind the electronic rock band Holy Fuck. I think he’s one of the best songwriters in the country and far too under appreciated. I’ve heard his new album and it’s sure to be one of the best of the year. Anyways…uhmm….I like suburbia as a backdrop for people’s anxieties and fears and tension. That’s kind of what the video is about.
THE NATIONAL – FAKE EMPIRE: This is an old one! 2007. It’s really weird to go back and look at these old videos because I haven’t seen them in years. I want to cringe a little bit. This is actually an unofficial video, but it’s also the most seen video I’ve ever made. It was made with the approval and commission of the band, but in the end they didn’t want to release it so it ended up being an “unofficial” video. It’s the only one of these videos you’ve asked me about that wasn’t shot by Michael Leblanc…this one was shot on Kodachrome by Lee Towndrow. Lee is an amazing photographer and cinematographer who lives in New York City. We had around 25 rolls of Kodachrome Super 8mm film…a film stock that is now pretty all but extinct but it’s also, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful and special film formats and it’s really a shame that it’s gone. I’m happy that I was able to shoot one thing on it though, thanks to Lee.
AUX – CARUSO: This is a little station ID spot that I made for a music television station here in Canada, called AUX. They came out to pick up the slack left behind by outlets like MTV and MuchMusic when they started playing more reality-based television than music television. So AUX plays music videos and music documentaries and films. The spot doesn’t make a lot of sense..it’s a few shots of people lip syncing to a recording of Caruso, the great opera singer. It’s similar, in a way, to the Brian Borcherdt “Scout Leader” video in that is just nondescript portraits of isolated people. I like showing people in moments like that without articulating what exactly is going on…leaving it open like a still photograph would or a painting. The cinema too often seeks to explain everything and I suppose that comes from the storytelling tradition of narrative, but really we don’t need to know everything. I like that photographs and paintings only give us an impression and I think that moving images have the same power, lots of power, it’s just that we expect answers from moving pictures that we don’t expect from other forms of imagery. But mystery is so much more interesting to me than answers.
Your way of filming is very cinematic and in particular, reminds us some great Russian directors, such as Andrei Tarkovsky or Alexander Sokurov. Which are your influences, not only in cinema?
Yeah, both of those filmmakers, especially Tarkovsky, are a huge influence on me for sure. He’s my favourite director along with Béla Tarr… Miklos Jansco too. I like the Eastern Europeans a lot. There’s something in that cinema that is very dreamlike and surreal even when presenting things that are literal. It’s not fantasy, which I’m not all that inspired by, but the banal and the everyday is almost lifted to the level of the fantastic by how they move the cameras and the tone of the work and I find that extremely powerful and that’s something I hope to do. Herzog of course does it too. And then I’m influenced by documentary but outside of film…I think I’m most influenced by landscapes. There’s something so powerful about landscapes and it’s not something that can be articulated easily…That’s what the sublime is.
Are you planning to direct a film?
I want to make features, yeah, but I’ve never been in a hurry to do it. It’s getting to be time to do it though. I always wanted to wait until I felt good about it…music videos are practice in a way. I’ve got some projects that I’m working on.
Suppose Madonna (or Lady Gaga or someone else) asks you to make her new video. What would be the screenplay?
It’d be great to make a video for somebody like that because you could really go far with it…not only because you’d have a budget to play with but because you’d be dealing with such a large public persona…there are so many things you can do with that, I think it’d be really fun. I really would love to make a Beyonce video or a Rihanna video and just really do something, you know? They both make amazing videos of course but I’m just curious what would happen if I tried to…what would come of it…
What are you currently working on?
I just finished a new video for Great Lake Swimmers that should be out sometime soon and I just shot a live music film for The Wooden Sky last night actually. It’s all live performance but with a narrative running through it. It’s going to come out in 5 different parts but it all will form one whole film if you stuck all the parts together.
THE WOODEN SKY – A DOCUMENTARY IN PIECES – Part Two
A HOME MOVIE WITH JEFFREY LEWIS
Watch other Scott Cudmore’s videos here or :