Ten Questions with David Casey

TWBE: Name, occupation, clothing label and beverage of choice?
David Casey / Producer, Current TV / APC / Jameson on the rocks

TWBE: What inspired your initial trek from Kansas to NYC?

DC: The Village. I used to drive an hour to Wichita to *buy* a Village Voice. I read Burroughs and Langston Hughes – both Kansas guys with romantic ideals about New York.

When I got here, I thought that type of scene still existed. I was the only New Yorker my age that knew why the West 4th Basketball courts were really famous (because Jaco Pastorius would sleep on the court). This didn’t really hit me until I forced a music journalist friend to meet me on MacDougal Street for dinner – he said he hadn’t been west of Broadway for years. He had no idea Café Wha was still around.

My favorite time in the city is to walk down Bleecker, Houston or Canal very early in the morning – trying to imagine what it was like.

TWBE: In creating your films, you’ve employed some incredible methods to get the shots you want. (I’m recalling the moment where you had your cameramen listen to waltzes via headphones whilst filming a Motherfucker event). What inspires such techniques? Who are your biggest cultural influences?

DC: We shot four large-scale parties – our largest crew was 22. After watching the dailies from the first shoot, I noticed my very pro shooters were distracted by everything. I felt that if I could just reduce one of their senses we might get steadier shots. So I gave them studio headphones and ipods, playing waltzes and canons. It worked. It also improved their internal rhythm and gave us amazing results.

As a movie-maker, I like to reduce every facet of production down to its core science.

After the success of the headphones, I realized we should be documenting this party scientifically. I reduced those four shoots to steps in a scientific method. It’s one thing to depict a party as a party – but what about it as a collection of people? What makes a party successful? Sure, it’s the drugs, the people, the music – but let’s reduce those to their basic instincts.

From there, the cameras were used not only to capture footage, but also to be diversions and devices to prove our hypothesis: parties (especially ones called Motherfucker) are an attempt by partygoers to return to the womb.

So, we set up mirrored booths, with a camera inside. I also had cameramen with ‘dummy’ cameras, as we found people were posing for the cameras, rather than enjoying their natural habitat. I would have one cameraperson record from a distance, while I would send another out into the field with a camera without tape in it. This distraction allowed us to shoot the more timid partygoers while the fame-starved gawked at the other camera. It also allowed us to be self-referential about the entire experience. It was fascinating to view people posing in a mirror, or for this camera. It was also valuable to observe how my shooters were affected. At first, they went out in street clothes and their manners weren’t organically fitting into the environment. They responded and were reacted to as ‘others.’ So, by party three – and in going with the Black and White Ball theme of that Motherfucker party – we were all wearing lab coats.

Besides Sidney Lumet (“All great work is preparing yourself for the accident to happen”) and Werner Herzog (“Filmmaking is athletics over aesthetics”), one person that really influenced Motherfucker was Thomas Keller. When I moved back to New York to direct Motherfucker, I had to find a day job. I have a long history of waiting experience – and interviewed at Per Se. I wasn’t experienced enough for the position, but was allowed the opportunity to stage in Keller’s kitchen for one night. His kitchen is a living organism, from the beginning of night to the end. The ‘finesse’ – as he calls it – of his waiters, his back-of-house staff and his cooks was inspiring. It changed the way I view a set, a scene and an edit.

TWBE: You’ve had the pleasure (and occasional misfortune, I’m certain) of interacting with countless personalities in creating Motherfucker: A Movie—many of whom people would kill to meet, let alone spend time with (New York Dolls, Mick Rock, Jack Rabid, James Murphy, Ryan Adams, the Motherfuckers themselves). What was your most memorable moment? From whom did you garner the most wisdom?

DC: The memories and nightmares have consumed me (and emptied my xanax bottle). Someday, I’ll have to write a book about the experience. I interviewed most of the artists that have performed at Motherfucker, but one person I was really impressed by was Andrew WK.

There were so many moments that just ‘fit’ the film – and this was one. Somehow, we decided to meet on 18th street and Broadway for the interview. I had this idea of doing the interview while running down the street as I jogged his memory about his performance at Motherfucker. I ran backwards and he made sure cars didn’t hit me. He’s got an amazing head of ideas – and great eloquence about music and New York (my two favorite subjects). As soon as we finished our run and talk interview, we were standing right in front of The Roxy – the venue of his performance at Motherfucker. It, like most of the clubs I documented, is closed now.

TWBE: You’re certainly one of, if not the first to truly document the past decade of the new york music scene. A lot has taken place (the advent of the nyc blog scene, The Strokes, Interpol, Fischerspooner, DFA records, Motherfucker, Misshapes, etc. ) How do you think this era will compare to Warhol’s 60s, Hip Hop, Disco and Punk of the 70s and the post-hardcore scene of the 80s? Who do you think is the most important new york band of this decade?

DC: I could go on and on about this. How do I think this decade will compare? John Varvatos killed the Chuck by making it a cozy little slip-on, now he’s made CBGBs a fashion boutique. I think that’s statement enough about the state of affairs in New York and how it compares. New York is suffering a basic class meltdown. It can’t support an artist culture because they can’t afford to live there.

Every act that came out of this scene was either inspired by or a derivative of a past scene in New York. And if they weren’t, they’ve left for LA, Berlin, Montreal, Austin … somewhere cheaper and less competitive. 1999-2003 was an amazing time for acts to get signed – and there were great parties and moments from those times. Fischerspooner at Deitch. The Strokes showcase at Mercury Lounge. CMJ 2001. The only problem for me, however, is that I missed most of them. I was always working or too tired from work to see the Shitty Beatles perform at Mercury or The Walkmen’s sold out shows at Bowery. I want to think I missed something, but looking back, bigger things were happening in New York at the time – like paying my bills, getting laid off or 9/11.

Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone – The Walkmen

Even though it seemed like great things came out of New York, the only people that enjoyed them were the ones that could afford not to work. That is a luxury only past New York and its scene could enjoy. Now, you have to go to a house called Silent Barn in Queens to see anything that resembles a scene. And the only reason I enjoyed any shows there was because I was editing them for Vice.

The only way I found a way to contribute to that scene was to include my friends and influences in work I was doing.

Who is the most important New York artist or band of the past decade? M.I.A. She’s not a New Yorker, but she’s more important than anyone.

TWBE: Speaking of the current nyc music scene, I simply cannot tolerate Vampire Weekend. What am I missing?

DC: Nothing.

TWBE: You have a profound fondness for food, and more interestingly, the physical space in which food is prepared, presented and consumed. Since I met you some five years ago, the time you’ve spent not behind the camera or editing equipment has been spent working in, talking about or spending time with friends in restaurants. Could this be the next story?

DC: It’s a nightly story. I eat and drink well – that’s my biggest problem. I’d definitely love to consider kitchens as a career when I’m too old to shoot – but still believe the craft of food making is much more of an influence than a subject for me. Maybe I should do a film on the kitchen at French Laundry or Per Se.

TWBE: Since leaving New York City, you’ve moved on to become a producer for Current TV in San Francisco. How does this compare to recent roles as an editor for VBS and as a director? What is the most notable experience at Current so far?

DC: There are a few really great experiences. Producing a spot with Saul Williams recently:

Another was an experience that didn’t happen. It was the diatribe and letdown to an upcoming shoot I was producing with Sebastian Horsley. I found his videos on Momus’s website – and struck up the most amazing discourse. I was on my way to shoot some spots with him in New York in March and two hours before I was to leave, his publisher called – he had been denied access to the US for ‘Moral Torpitude.’ Still, the email dialogue we have going is publishable on its own – and someday soon we’ll work together.

TWBE: Speaking of Current, can you tell us a good story about Al Gore?

DC: I can tell you I think it’s interesting my most direct influences in the last two years have gone from Michael T, to Gavin Mcinnes to Al Gore. I admire and draw influence from them all equally.

TWBE: “You win five million dollars from Publishers Sweepstakes, but on the same day what’s-his-face gives you the check, aliens land on earth and say they’re going to blow up the world in two days. What would you do?”

DC: I would make a fifteen-minute Apocalyptic drama about a world where Fred Phelps became president and announced to all his followers that the Sun was Homosexual.

We would call it “I Love My Dead Gay Sun.”

One Comment, Comment or Ping

  1. i was amazed to be mentioned in such kind terms in such a fine list of other people. thanks so much! i won’t lie. it feels good. and i’m grateful.
    Jack Rabid
    Big Takeover Magazine
    “big takeover” on breakthruradio.com

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