If you’re looking for a good way to fill your rainy weekend, make some time this Sunday for the premiere of Jacob’s Ladder at Filmtech in South Philly. The short film, written, directed, filmed and edited locally by J. Randolph Brown of Steady State Productions, tells the surreal story of a 20-something who finds an endless ladder in his backyard one day and what happens when he climbs it. Monsters own, The Quelle Source, and indie-rockers, The Chairman Dances, have contributed brand new singles for the short, and will each play 30-minute sets at the premiere.
For a look into the films beginnings and a deeper understanding of its music, check out our interview below with J. Randolph Brown and Dan Wisniewski and Dan Comly of The Quelle Source.
How did you come into the film making business, specifically music videos?
Jonathan: Well, I guess it started with a guy from my old job needing me to film something for him. He's a hard style DJ (which is not exactly my scene), but he gets a whole laser light show going and wanted it filmed. Anyway, he had me borrow the camera for a few days to get used to it. I'd dabbled in digital photography before but never had my own video camera. This was right around the time the Quelle Source was getting ready to record "Enjoy the Ridge", so I figured I'd film a few of their shows, and everything kind of took off from there. The video for "Creepy" came out of that footage, and I've since gotten better equipment of my own to do more projects.
So you and the Quelle Source (TQS) have a good amount of history; how did you all become acquainted?
Jonathan: We met at Saint Joe's University. I was playing bass in a band with a bunch of guys I met there. We were all in the class a year older than most of the guys in TQS.
Dan Wisniewski: Yeah, the band was called Count Robocula. We played at least one show with them and stayed friends even after we all graduated SJU in 2007/2008.
I noticed a lot of the work you've done lately, Jon, are all individual music videos. Tell me about them, and what inspired you to choose these three artists for the project?
Jonathan: The first videos with TQS just kind of came together when I started sifting through all the footage I had. They're all great guys, so it was easy to just hang out and film. I have a bunch of live footage, as well as a lot of footage just documenting the recording process for "Enjoy the Ridge". Once the album came out I got the idea for “Creepy”, which has live footage, and a pre-existing portfolio of digital stills from graveyards around Philadelphia. I didn't really have that in mind while I was filming, but I was pleased with how it turned out. Eric from the Chairman Dance saw the videos I'd done for TQS and asked me if I'd like to work with them on one of their songs. We'd met before and were already friends, so that project was a lot of fun too.
For this project, well, really they're just great guys and amazing songwriters. Music for films in tough; you either need fantastic musicians who you can trust to understand your vision (at the risk of sounding pretentious for using the word "vision")...or wade through hours and hours of music trying to find the right track, and then cutting through miles of red tape to use it legally (not to mention the fees) and then still have something that wasn't truly written for your purpose. I was lucky to have the former in guys like TQS, the Chairman Dances, and Sam. They did a fantastic job. I could not have asked for better tracks.
Can you all give us more insight on the development of the music?
Dan Wisniewski: I read the script over and went home to work on the song that afternoon. I actually really relished the deadline that we had - we haven't had a deadline in a while, so that felt good to just sit down and try to bang something out. I wrote a very small part of the song, particularly the chorus, then took that to the rest of the band and we finished 95% of the track in one practice. It was super collaborative which was really life affirming. It felt good to work hard, come up with something worthwhile that really worked.
Dan Comly: It really just came at a good time in the work cycle for our band. We felt super prepared for the project and it was cool to be asked to contribute a song for a film.
How long was the project for both parties from start to finish?
Dan W: I can't quite remember the deadline but it was a couple weeks, which is a short time for us to write, record, mix and master something considering we can only practice once a week. It was great to have that fire lit under us.
Jonathan: Yeah, I put a bit of pressure on these guys in terms of the deadline. I wrote the first draft of the story on June 13th. It started out as an essay, and I honestly didn't think it would translate to film but it was one of those things that wouldn't get out of my head. I couldn't really move on to other writing projects before I got this one on paper. Over time I kind of worked out the things that were bugging me. Once I had a clear idea for a film I just converted the essay to a screenplay. By then it must have been early July. I approached the bands about having the songs ready my mid-August. The filming was done by the last week in August (barring minor tweaks and touch ups for this upcoming screening).
That's pretty quick work. Was there a defining "Ah Ha" moment that inspired the idea behind the paper originally?
Jonathan: Not really. It was one of those things that slowly unfolded in my head. By the time I got around to writing it down, the whole story was already formulated. I actually wrote the first draft on my phone on the bus to New York.
There you go! How about for the Quelle Source?
Dan W: Well, I read the script and immediately went home to start working. When I write I usually just start trying to find a melody around what I come up with and then see what words come out (your unconscious can be pretty awesome sometimes). What came out was the chorus, which ended up being a fairly dead-on summary of the movie -"I set sail on a falling out with my head cocked and a puzzled look". Then it was just filling in the rest, which dealt a lot with getting inside Jacob's brain. If you read the script (and subsequently see the movie), you really feel for him - his girlfriend broke up with him, he's got a weird ladder in his yard - and it's not that much of a leap for him to question his sanity. so most of the song is really trying to marry Jacob's actions with Jacob's thoughts, and sometimes they weren't always aligned, which causes dissonance, frustration, etc.
That emotion definitely comes across. After listening to the soundtrack, I feel I can visualize the mood changes throughout the film. Will viewers be happy in the end?
Jonathan: That's tough to answer... Will they be happy because they saw a good movie? I hope so
Dan W: Haha
Jonathan: Will they say "I really like that character, I'm happy for him because of the ending"? That's to be determined.
Anything else you’d like readers to know?
Dan C: I'm thinking about what similarities there are in writing endings in music and film. Eventually you get to the point where you have to think about how to end the song, as I’m sure Jon had to make a decision about how to end the film and whether or not you want to resolve that tension. I think the instrumental second half of Set Sail is a classic way to end a song without a definite musical resolution.
Dan W: I agree, we struggled immensely with the end of the song. We kept trying to make things more and more complicated. I have a memory of our other guitarist, Kevin Ryan, playing about 15 different chords in a row until we finally took a step back and said, “I don’t think this is working”. The first half of Set Sail is this start-stop madness; it's confusing, which I think lines up well with Jacob's confusion. But, at about the 3:00 mark, the song sort of opens up and feels like the Ah-Ha moment in the music.
Dan C: Basically you have two minutes of, I don't know how many layered guitars and piano tracks, to think about the answers to the lyrics.
Jonathan: One of the reasons that I think the song is so amazing is because it captures the film on its own. It’s not practical to just play the song straight through in its entirety during the film. It works incredibly well when it's used, and that's great. But when you take it out of the context, it has a way of capturing the film on its own. The two projects work well together, but they're linked even as standalone entities.
Folks, $8 will get you into the premiere and a hard copy of the soundtrack. For supporting local music and film makers, I'd say it's a deal you shouldn't miss.
The Quelle Source