[an error occurred while processing this directive]
||Through the eyes of Lance: Courtney Love in the recording studio; Cameron Diaz; John Cusack on the seventh-and-a-half floor; Brad Pitt on MTVs Jackass; Spike Jonze and his titular star; Catherine Keener on the set of Being John Malkovich.
Lance Bangs digital video camera has recorded a lot of extraordinary things since he started making documentaries in 1996.
In this issue, he reveals to musician Carrie Brownstein what happens behind behind-the-scenes.
CARRIE: Youre working on a behind-the-scenes documentary of Spike Jonzes Adaptation. Before that, you made one on Being John Malkovich. How did you first hook up with Spike?
LANCE: In 1995, Sonic Youth approached Spike about doing a video for a song called "The Diamond Sea". At that time, I was shooting shows by a lot of different bands, and I had a bunch of footage of Sonic Youth playing live. Spike ended up cutting my stuff into his music video, and we split the directing credit. That started us working together on various things.
CARRIE: Do any other early collaborations stand out?
LANCE: We shot some documentary-style commercials for Wrangler Jeans at rodeos in Little Rock and Houston in 1997. We interviewed people very informally, and I think we got answers that a larger crew might not have been able to get. Spike really responded to the intimacy of my approach and wanted me to start doing the same sort of thing when he made his first movie.
CARRIE: So he asked you to join the production of Being John Malkovich right from the start.
LANCE: Right. Hiring me was a way of sidestepping the usual studio routine of sending a professional documentary crew to the set for a couple of days to get behind-the-scenes footage for the films "Electronic Press Kit" which is usually just talking head interviews with the actors and the director. Spike took the budget and used it for me to cover the entire filming.
CARRIE: Do you find that being the full-time documentarian on a film allows you to establish real rapport with the whole cast?
LANCE: Definitely. By spending several months on a project, I can sort of wear peoples guards down and shoot a lot of situations that would be impossible to capture if I were only on the set for a short time. I usually do all the camera work and sound myself, so Im able to be way less intrusive than a normal documentary crew would be.
CARRIE: One thing that Ive noticed about you having known you for the last four or five years is that youre particularly good at gaining the trust of people who are usually very closed-off.
LANCE: I think Im pretty good at getting people to open up.
CARRIE: It seems like theres a fine line between what youre doing and the Reality TV fervor thats swept over America theres the shared element of voyeurism.
LANCE: I do everything I can to steer away from that. I mean, Ive made mistakes in judgement where I didnt pick up on a shift in mood and got caught filming a moment that I probably shouldnt have. But I dont have any interest in exploiting someone when theyre open or unguarded.
CARRIE: You get to know your subjects pretty well. Whats the most unexpected thing youve learned about an actor?
LANCE: John Malkovich is such a fascinating guy. I was amazed to find out how fluent he is in the music of N.W.A. and Eazy-E. hes a huge fan. I think he even tried to mount a production of Oliver Twist starring Snoop Dogg and some of the guys from N.W.A. We shot footage of John at the MTV Video Music Awards, and all the hip-hop and R&B people knew him. Busta Rhymes was really excited to see him.
CARRIE: Your body of work is so eclectic. Youve done music videos and film documentaries, and then you go and shoot a segment for MTVs Jackass. Do you have a common approach to it all?
LANCE: Id say that I have two approaches. Music videos are more pictorial, so I tend to focus on small details like objects or peoples faces. On the other end of the spectrum, I tend find some humor when Im working on a documentary. I like to capture the moments when people are getting fatigued and they start to say and do strange things.
CARRIE: Let me ask you about something completely different. How did you end up filming the wedding of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston?
LANCE: The whole thing was entirely surreal. Id met Brad a couple times because hes friends with R.E.M., and he also visited the set of Being John Malkovich. When Brad and Jennifer were planning their wedding, he asked Spike and Catherine Keener if they knew anyone who could make a personal documentary rather than a traditional wedding video, and they both recommended me. I covered the days leading up to the ceremony, the event itself, and the reception. I had just gotten married the month before it was just Corin and me in Iceland at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Going from our little ceremony to what may have been the nicest storybook wedding ever was a little jarring. [laughs]
CARRIE: The security must have been pretty tight.
LANCE: All the guests had been given directions to a high school that was several miles away, where there were shuttle buses to sneak them down to the wedding. I loved shooting the people coming off the buses youd have the cast of Friends, and then a confused-looking Jon Lovitz.
CARRIE: Were there problems with the paparazzi?
LANCE: Everyone was worried about helicopters. Theyd all heard that when Madonna married Sean Penn, you couldnt even hear the vows because they were drowned out by low-flying choppers. So Brad and Jennifer got a couple of giant weather balloons, which made it totally perilous for a helicopter to try to fly too close. But the wedding was along a public beach, so some photographers surfed in.
CARRIE: Wait, they were coming out of the ocean?
LANCE: There were boats anchored near the beach, and the photographers rode in on surfboards. They set up cameras with telephoto lenses on the beach.
CARRIE: Wow. I know you recently had a son. How has that affected your work?
LANCE: I work a lot with people who have known me for a long time, so theyre excited that I have a son now. Theyre respectful of my needing to go home on weekends and stuff like that. With the new generation of editing equipment, I can work at home rather than having to go to a major editing suite. Thats made a huge difference. I can do production out of the house while taking care of my son.
CARRIE: Whats the best thing happening in film today?
LANCE: Im really excited about the future of DVDs. Nowadays, people can make them on their home computers. With DVDs, were going to see work by new filmmakers who dont have the backing to get expensive prints for festivals and theatrical distribution.
CARRIE: So DVDs could free people from the idea that what they do isnt valid if its not widely distributed.
LANCE: Yeah. Im also excited that people in the smaller regional music scenes are putting out CDs that include digital video footage.
CARRIE: And what are you working on now?
LANCE: Ive been working on a DVD for years with Pavement, and its almost done. Its called Slow Century. It covers the entire history of the band. Its got live performances and music videos, even scraps of lyrics and set lists. I hope its going set a new standard for how a band can catalogue its past.
CARRIE: From being at your house, I know that youre a collector of records and band ephemera. Is your approach to documentary similar like collecting images?
LANCE: Yeah, especially the footage that Ive shot with bands over the years. I also hold onto things like show flyers just for my archives. Now all of the things Ive amassed are being spit back out in the form of a DVD. Its a great way to bring together the stuff that Ive been keeping around.