Thursday, September 24, 2009

CB Q/A #16: Eileen Yaghoobian (Director of Died Young, Stayed Pretty)

Welcome to the 16th edition of the Cleveland Bachelor Q&A series, in which I conduct brief and generally parallel interviews with some of the visiting artists and musicians from out of town that I'm most excited about bringing their skill and energy to Cleveland. Usually these interviews are conducted with musicians, but over the few months I've been doing them, a filmmaker or two has made its way into the mix.

When I first received the CIA Cinematheque's monthly member mailer and read over the films that were screening in the early fall, I knew immediately that Died Young, Stayed Pretty was one I wanted to see. The subject of the documentary, indie rock concert poster making, was one I found intriguing, and everything I'd heard about the film was positive. So much so, not only did I put the date and time of the two screenings on my calender, I also shot off an email to Eileen Yaghoobian, the director and mastermind behind the film.

You can guess how pleased I was when Yaghoobian responded, saying that she'd definitely be into the Q&A idea, but preferred to do it over the phone. Normally, I do these things via email, if only because it makes it easier for folks to respond and to do so at their whim and on their own timetable. However, I'd always rather chat with someone than email them, especially when they say something fascinating and I want to ask a follow-up. I called Eileen at the agreed upon time and we had a lovely chat, the general outline of which has been transcribed below.

Because we had our conversation on the phone, not via email, you are once again subject to my typing skills. As a result, any misspellings, grammar mistakes, and lack of continuity are my fault entirely. If I failed to enlighten you on something you find interesting, make a point of talking to Yaghoobian yourself - she'll be at both screenings of Died Young, Stayed Pretty this weekend when it screens at the Cleveland Institute of Art.

1) Other than other films/filmmakers, where do you find your influences? I mean, is there a certain type of art or artist, idea, spirit, etc.

Movies. I love movies. I get my inspiration from a lot of 70s directors, as well as several European directors. I got into film early. The first time I picked up a camera, I was 15 and I would watch the late night, 2 AM movies. So I’d go in late to school and get my parents to write me a note. I remember when I first saw Antonioni’s Blow Up – I loved the idea of discovering something hidden in the process of the protaganist’s photography. I'm really attracted to the investigative nature of being a filmmaker or artist.

My interest in investigations has influenced everything I've done, from work in theater, animation, to short films.

Landscapes, especially American, also inspire me. In this film, I stayed away from Los Angeles and New York, and gravitated more toward industrial locations in the middle of the country.

I love road trips and movies. And old spaghetti westerns.

And of course music.

Really, I'm inspired by everything.

2) If you were asked by a younger filmmaker about to make his/her first serious and hopefully commercially viable film, what advice would you give him/her? Or is there a better (earlier?) time to give sage advice?

Just don’t stop. You’ll have many reasons to not continue with a project, tons of reasons and they are all very good, valid reasons for you to quit, but don’t.

Every day was like that for me. I shot solo on location for 3 years. I was shooter, editor, director, producer, I had to do everything there was with a feature film. Every day was hard.

I started working on this film in April 2004. I received a lot of personal criticism about the subject. It can be really hard to sustain the amount of interest you'll need to have if you are going to push boundaries and make a good film. It could be easier to make a short, but I really sweated and struggled to make it feature length.

There is no narration in the film, which makes it extremely difficult to enforce your narrative and instead let subjects speak for themselves. But I decided from day one I was not gonna spoon feed the audience.

Another decision I made was that I didn’t put indie rock in film. I didn't want the music to overshadow the artists. I wasn’t making a feature length music video. Instead, Mark Greenberg from The Coctails did all 16 cuts.

3) What is the film festival circuit like? What's the best thing and the worst?

We had our world premiere at the Montreal World Film Festival and our US premiere at South by Southwest. The experiences were exciting and amazing, and it was great to be able to release my films at such wonderful festivals.

4) What's your favorite moment in Died Young, Stayed Pretty?

The end, but I can’t give it away. The end is a gift, the gift of documentary film making.

I went to Providence, RI, where I talked to Brian Chippendale (acclaimed comic and poster artist, as well as the drummer/vocalist of Lightning Bolt). There, all the questions I’d been asking for 3 years he answered without me having to even ask. When it happened that way, I knew it was the perfect wrap for the film.

5) In March, while at the SXSW music festival, I took a walk through the Flatstock exhibit and walked out realizing that a whole inter-connected world of artists and art I'd never really considered before existed and was pretty well aware of (and to some extent enamored with) one another. It certainly changed how I looked at gig posters the rest of my time down in Austin and ever since. What do you think it is that is so vital about this particular form of art and what do you think the future holds for it?

What makes it vital, I think, is that the artists don’t make it for anybody – not the band, not for sales – they are just making it because they are fans and love the music. They can do whatever they want with it. That gives total freedom to the artist's voice.

Because of increased communication between artists, through technology and events like the Flatstock exhibit, we've seen regionalism dissipate, and styles are really crossing over each other. The entire idea of creating art in a bubble is dissipating, though at the same time this is making posters more collectible and sellable.

So, the future? I don’t know.

6) The city of Cleveland has made some noise recently about wanting to make this a more film-friendly city. In your opinion, what are the most important things a city can do to encourage that kind of industry attention?

Tax breaks. Its all about making it more financially attractive (and, thus, possible) for a filmmaker to do their work in your town.

7) Last but not least, any previous Cleveland experiences worth sharing?

You know, I may have driven through once before, but never stayed for a visit. This will be a first for me.

Died Young, Stayed Pretty
will play at the CIA Cinematheque (11141 East Boulevard, Cleveland) on Friday, 9/25, at 7:30 PM and on Saturday, 9/26, at 9:40 PM. The film is 95 minutes of awesomeness, and Director Yaghoobian will be present to introduce and discuss the film at both screenings.

I'll be making an appearance on Saturday, and you can bet that a number of Cleveland's own poster artists will be checking the film out, as well. Cleveland's finest poster artist (and CB pal) John G. created his own tribute to the film, poster-style. Check it out below.

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