Brendan Toller is a US-based independent filmmaker, animator and musician. HorizonVU Music first got to know Brendan by way of his first feature documentary “I Need That Record” featuring Thurston Moore, Mike Wyatt, Ian Mackaye and Noam Chomsky.
With his focus on the fusion of non-fiction filmmaking, Brendan has worked on several short projects with Meat Puppets, Built to Spill and Danny Fields. His work has been featured in Wire Magazine, Pitchfork, Paste, and The Onion.
Brendan holds a BFA in documentary filmmaking and music industry studies from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Brendan, it’s great to catch up with you once again! Let’s turn back the clock a bit to “I Need That Record”. We had the privilege of introducing the film to French audiences at The Independent Music Event, 2009 in Paris. Briefly for our readers “I Need That Record! The Death (Or Possible Survival) Of The Independent Record Store” tells the story of the death of over 3000 independent record stores in the U.S.
Reflecting for a minute, what are your thoughts on that feature today? Thinking about the film in terms its influence on your work today – where is Brendan?
BT: I Need That Record! has done extremely well for what was admittedly my thesis project at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. It played at over 60 film festivals and events all over the world and has over 55,000 views on Netflix instant (a big video on demand streaming service in the States), which is more than a lot of documentaries can say. That’s all the numerical measurements of success. I’m most proud of the people it’s touched and the entire collective experience of it all which I marvel at sometimes. It beat out Jimmy Page’s It Might Get Loud for the Audience Award at Melbourne International Film Festival. Hopping around with my Les Paul at age 15 I never thought I beat Jimmy Page at anything. I also got a very very nice letter from Robert Pollard, and a sweet postcard from Ian MacKaye. It certainly influenced me to take on Danny Says because I proved to myself I could make a movie in the 21st century.
Recognizing that in addition to your feature work you have a very impressive list of short projects which can be viewed at http://www.brendantoller.com, do you have a particular project that you consider to be a milepost along your professional timeline – both with respect to intellectual growth and technical achievement?
BT: After I Need That Record! was “finished” I was busy plotting my first film festival run. I learned a lot, and sort of found a deep network of people who are into rock ‘n’ roll films. Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace! Headquarters was literally a ten-minute walk down the street from me. So one day I poked my head in there and asked if they needed any help. That’s how the 2008 Election Series came to be- me trouping around All Tomorrow’s Parties in upstate New York getting lectured by Curt Kirkwood. Matt Krefting is an incredible performer, vox-shredder and one damned fine arbiter of taste. I just wanted to help his record out any way I could. I did a few other video projects there and went through a lot of Magik Markers footage that I hope one day gets sculpted into some sort of document or documentary- some really amazing stuff there. In terms of mileposts I can only compare anything to I Need That Record! that’s the heavyweight of the Brendan Toller catalog thus far, after all its my first movie and I’m only 26.
Let’s turn to your most recent project “Danny Says”. For our readers that might not know of Danny Fields, he is best known to many of us as an American journalist and writers; He was a music industry executive from the 1960s through the 1980s and perhaps best known for managing Iggy and the Stooges and the Ramones. He also had parts to play in the stories of Jim Morrison, the MC5, and the Velvet Underground. The film, we should note, is fiscally sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts and Artspire.
BT: Danny Fields not only has had one of the best vantage points for rock ‘n’ roll, art and culture of the late 20th century, but he’s the smartest guy I know and many of his friends have said the same—including Jon Landau (MC5 manager & Bruce Springsteen manager/guru/visionary). I think a documentary would be worthy for the guy that published John Lennon’s “more popular than Jesus” quote in the U.S. alone- never mind, that Danny was at almost every watershed moment from ’68 on: Velvet Underground, The Doors, Judy Collins, Tim Buckley, David Peel, Nico, MC5, Stooges, Modern Lovers, Patti Smith, Ramones, Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright and more. He also kidnapped Jim Morrison, took a swig out of Janis Joplin’s last bottle and was the first male to be censored on public access television for pretending to stick a light bulb up someone’s ass. His taste and mark on the culture is reverberating today louder than ever. In his time, a lot of the bands Danny supported and championed were dismissed. As Danny says “Stick with me, and in 40 years you’ll be a star.” Danny really is a philosopher and we don’t have too many around these days at least here in the States. The film is fiscally sponsored by New York Foundation for the Arts who are assisting us in grant development and research. Documentaries are not cheap- especially ones with music.
So, in your words, tell us about “Danny Says”. Up close and personal – what is the background of the project and how is it progressing? “I Need That Record!” has a clearly defined message. What is the message your sending us with “Danny Says”?
BT: Danny Says currently has a Kickstarter campaign rolling. We’re looking to raise $20,000 which will help us with initial post-production costs. It’s a lot of money, but in terms of documentary money (somewhere around $ XXX,XXX) it’s pretty small. I made I Need That Record! on next to nothing though so I can stretch a dollar. If we reach our goal we’ll begin editing the first film of the Danny Says series, which will most likely focus on Danny’s early life to his time with The Doors. All subject to change once we enter the editing room. At the very least, Danny Says will be a look at one’s deep influence continuing on. Danny sums it up pretty well in the first line of our Kickstarter video. But Danny Says will touch on so much its hard to define the themes and messages just yet.
Does your work on “Danny Says” pose any new challenges, or what are the key challenges facing you in making the film? Let take a look at a clip “Justin Vivian Bond, Danny Fields and the Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat”.
BT: The key challenges of Danny Says in the director role here are fundraising enough finishing funds and being able to achieve the visual look I envision for the film. Danny’s stories are very vivid and descriptive. I’d like to accompany them with strong visuals pulling from a lot of archival photographs, film and audio. We’d also like to use 2D animation and motion graphics. Danny Says will also allow me to further my aesthetics and approach as a filmmaker. If I Need That Record! was extremely focused and driven by narration Danny Says will be more meditative.
Perhaps a bit out of context, but having talked about your work to-date, can you tell us about your film and music influences? Have your influences changed over time? How so?
Brendan Toller on Collin McEnroe Show (WNPR) Photo Credit: Chion Wolf
BT: That’s also part of the work: inspiration. You have to constantly keep looking, listening and thinking about new works. films that have been influencing me in a haunting way over the years are Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell by Matt Wolf, any films by Abraham Ravett who I studied with at Hampshire College, Silverlake Life: The View From Here by Tom Joslin, Filth and the Fury by Julien Temple, Benjamin Smoke by Jem Cohen. As for music I’ve been listening to mostly stuff before 1980 these days: John Martyn, early Cramps, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Swampdogg, The Move, Incredible Casuals, and a lot of early rock ‘n’ roll shows on WFMU (David the Spazz, Fool’s Paradise). I don’t think my influences have changed so much as I have changed. It seems to take me a shorter time to find things that will impact me in a fruitful way. I suppose that comes with age. I tend to like things now that initially I’m puzzled or don’t like much at first, then bam two days later it cripples you.
Looking out to the horizon, what’s Brendan’s plan for Brendan?
BT: Danny Says! Its all I can think about aside from my personal life.
So, to wrap up, what are your target dates as concerns the project and how can our followers get involved? Are there opportunities to sponsor or contribute to your efforts?
BT: We hope to have the Danny Says series ready by November 2014. You can get involved by heading over to the dannysaysfilm.com website where you can make a donation anytime through Artspire and New York Foundation for the Arts after our initial Kickstarter campaign. So excited for you all to check Danny Says out.
Brendan, thanks so much for joining us. You know we follow your work with considerable interest and I have no doubt that we’ll be in touch going forward. All the very best.
Visit Brendan Toller and Danny Says at http://www.brendantoller.com and http://www.dannysaysfilm.com
Find the Danny Says Kickstarter campaign at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/654487791/danny-says-a-documentary-series-on-danny-fields