Travelling Light: Aaron Rose On DIY Filmmaking With An iPhone 4

Travelling Light: Aaron Rose On DIY Filmmaking With An iPhone 4

The Aaron Rose talks to PSFK about inspirations, his process and street storytelling.

Kyana Gordon
  • 17 november 2010

There’s plenty of truth to the old adage “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself” when looking at how an individual’s behavior needs to shift in order to incur change. In this instance, it was a collaborative project between Incase and Aaron Rose, an artist, film director, curator, and writer. Rose, a fixture in the street art community and former gallery owner of the Alleged Gallery in New York City, which was responsible for catapulting the careers of several contemporary artists, graphic designers, and film directors. The movement chronicled in the Rose directed film, Beautiful Losers, is also present in this Incase project because Rose challenged himself to make something out of nothing like his film subjects and in the process pushes the boundaries of film making. At its core, the concept reveals the possibilities of travelling light. There’s no crew. It’s simply a director, city streets, and a camera (an iPhone 4) which in itself defies traditional methods of film production. The final product is street storytelling.

We previously wrote about the project launch and the first installment in the film series, Kreuzberg. This time around, PSFK spoke with Aaron Rose to get a firsthand account of the film series and photo essay project with Incase and second film, Fake Love.

Great ideas are often simplified into light bulb like epiphanies where everything magically comes together at once. It’s never that easy, but it’s always interesting to learn the creative process behind an innovative project. What sparked your interest in using the iPhone 4 as a medium to shoot three films?

While I would love to take credit for the idea of making movies on the iPhone 4, it was actually Incase that approached me about the project. However, I can honestly say that it’s something I probably would have been doing by myself anyway. I have always been attracted to making things in unorthodox ways. I believe that the easiest answer is sometimes right under our nose actually. Finally the technology is such, that one can shoot a film on their phone and it is suddenly judged against productions that cost millions of dollars to produce. This is very exciting to me.

Please tell us how the brand collaboration with Incase came about?

There’s something very DIY about the concept. I really like to inspire people to get off their butts and do something. So using a device as simple as the phone in your pocket to make really fun and interesting films just seemed like a logical fit with this philosophy. The best thing about working with the Incase iPhone case was the ease and accessibility to the phone. At the same time as I have been shooting these films I am also using the iPhone 4 as a communication device. So there’s a lot of pulling it on and off the tripod, etc. to make a call or send a text. The case made it really easy to slip the phone out, make a call and slip it back in without losing my frame. I know that seems like a funny use for the case, but in terms of the film making it made it much easier for me. Plus it looks so cool!!!

Your recent short film, Kreuzberg, shot on location in the Berlin neighbourhood feels like a memory. The black-and-white picture, soundtrack and the reading captures an intimate portrait of the creative enclave that inspired both Brian Eno and David Bowie in the 70s. Why did you meld the past and present together to tell the story of Kreuzberg?

Berlin has always been a very inspiring city for me. Ever since the first time I visited I’ve felt a very special connection to the place. It was fortuitous timing that I happened to be in Berlin for an exhibition while shooting for this project. I wanted to write a love letter to the town and that’s how Kreuzberg came about. In terms of melding the past and the present, there’s really no way to capture Berlin without this happening! There is so much history there. The political history alone is so heavy and the artistic history is just as vast and diverse. The Bowie/Eno thing just always hits me so hard when I’m there. They really did a wonderful job of capturing the tone of Berlin. However, I was never intentionally trying to copy their work. My only hope was that I could connect with the city on an artistic and energetic level to the degree that they did. I hope I came close.

Fiona Geuss, one of the main characters in Kreuzberg recites a passage from Boris Groys’ essay Comrades of Time. The theme in his essay explores modern reductionism by travelling light since “they show that one can give up a great deal—traditions, hopes, skills, and ideas—and still continue one’s project in this reduced form.” As a filmmaker, was it a challenge to trust your own skills and “travel light” without a crew?

It’s nice that you ask that. You are right, making films, even with a small crew, still requires a certain amount of people and logistics. At first the fact that it was just me and my little iPhone 4 was a bit terrifying for me. Even though I do shoot a bit, on most of my projects I’m working with a shooter. So the fact that all of a sudden I had to become director of photography was challenging for me. I didn’t think I could do a good job. However after I started and loaded some of the footage my fears quickly went away. I began to have an enormous amount of fun with it. I would pull my phone with this little slipcase out of my pocket and capture an image. Amazing! I really was “traveling with light luggage”. There was an incredible freedom in that. On an interesting side note, for my second Incase film, Fake Love, I actually used a cinematographer. I chose to work this way mostly as an experiment to see what the iPhone 4 could do and also mimic a certain cinematic style. I think the results are amazing; I think the footage shot with the phone rivals the work of productions with massive crews and lots of money. That said, there’s a certain professionalism in Fake Love that almost counteracts the freedom that came across in Kreuzberg. As a filmmaker, the results are what I was looking for, but there’s also something nice about reminding people that it was shot on iPhone 4. It’s an interesting conundrum.

With all the short films for this Incase project being site-specific, what inspired the location for the second video in this series? What would you like viewers to take away from this film?

Basically Fake Love is my (abstract) tribute to the teen soap genre. I’ve recently been kind of hooked on these types of shows and I started to realize that what is happening in TV is really special at the moment. It’s almost like a renaissance. I truly believe that American Television is the new avant-garde cinema. Based on this idea, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to make one of these soaps as my next Incase film. Not just as a commentary on the medium, but also maybe as the first step in a dream of actually producing and directing a series? Once the idea was hatched, I asked a bunch of my friends in Los Angeles to be actors, we developed a very loose script and shot it. I chose the Echo Park neighborhood in Los Angeles as a location because I think it’s beautiful! Also, most of these TV dramas follow wealthy kids, and just to be contradictory I thought it would be cool to shoot something in the ghetto. I reached out to NO AGE (one of my favorite bands) and asked if I could use their music for the score. The rest is history. One must realize that most TV dramas are at least 30 minutes and Fake Love is only a three-minute film, so I wasn’t really able to do all the things I wanted to do with it. It became more of a meditation piece as opposed to a straight-up narrative, but I think the overall feeling is there. Plus, the fact that the entire thing was shot on iPhone 4 makes it pretty funny and modern in a strange way.

Fake Love

Aaron Rose for Incase


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