Our latest LomoAmigo Andrew Standen-Raz is a documentray filmmaker located in Vienna/London. Check out our extensive interview with Andrew who’s been rubbing elbows with film bigwigs like Quentin Tarantino, James Cameron etc. – and learn a TON of insights about passion in film and filmmaking along the way!
- Real Name: Andrew Standen-Raz
- City: Vienna & London
- Country: Austria and UK
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into documentary film making.
The funny thing is I never planned to make documentary films. I studied ethnographic film at SOAS, and learned the basics of documentary filmmaking with the video pioneer George Stoney at NYU, but like most people, I used to think there were “real” films and then there were documentaries. I grew up mostly in the English countryside watching old black and white movies on Saturday mornings after the cartoons. I loved the powerful film noir stories of good versus evil, so I think that was when I first began to dream a little about making movies one day.
I did end up working for big movie studios in Hollywood, where I ate lunch with Quentin Tarantino, and ran errands for James Cameron, but being a small cog in the movie machine was not quite what I had hoped for as a kid. Working at Miramax I watched hours of independently produced films from all over the world, like “Paradise is Burning”, an amazing small documentary about a sub-culture in New York. These films showed me that the best films allow people to express themselves without restrictions, conveying a slice of humanity in just 90 minutes.
I knew then that I could never be happy making films just to make money. Filmmaking for me had to be about exploring different worlds and ways of living, about revealing fresh ways of seeing things, and maybe even having the chance to change people’s lives. After I left Holywood behind, I got the chance to co-write & produce the first documentary about the writer and Punk Icon, Kathy Acker, which we made for the ARTE Channel. When the Director and I presented the film at MoMA in NYC, and at Rotterdam Film Festival, people came up to us to say how grateful they were that we had finally made a film about their heroine. Even though that film was hard to make, and I basically went broke doing it, I knew then that I had made the right choice.
You’re a full-time producer, director and even editor! Where do you find the inspiration to tackle a project so completely?
There is a myth that you can be truly indie these days. Even with much easier access to affordable high-quality equipment, you can’t even begin to make a decent film without the right team to add their skils to the mix . Filmmaking is a very lengthy, collaborative process, and I thank my lucky stars I had a fantasticaly motivated and talented team to help me make my first solo produced movie.
But shrinking budgets does mean sometimes you have to do a lot of things on your own, even learn new editing software or camera settings when needed. Many artists I meet are multi-talented hybrids like me—more “filmmakers” than just directors or cameramen or producers. I think to be a true indie filmmaker, and to make films of any sensitivity or depth, it does help to have a broad background of skills and knowledge. I was always a terribly inconsistent student-I either excelled or flunked out! But when I did find something that interested me, I got into it very deeply.
I learned tricks like building a “helicopter shot” into a budget when I studied film, the different ways to represent humanity when I studied Anthropology, and how to make licensing contracts when I studied Law. Of course inspiration is definitely key too– without it you never have the idea that you need to begin any project. But once you have that idea, you need two essential things to keep that idea alive, and hopefully ignite in others the same love for it that you have. The first of these is Passion.
Fellini quite rightly said “There is no end. There is no beginnning. There is only the passion of life.” It is really easy to lose your passion and get discouraged when you read about someone really young who got an amazing book deal, or is the new darling of our movie screens, but the reality for most of us is that we have to work really hard to achieve our dreams. I was told at school that Art is 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration. And there is the second thing: If you are unwilling to push yourself to do something when everyone else has given up, sometimes with days in a row with no sleep, you can forget filmmaking as a career. The real equation for making a movie is more likely 10% inspiration, 50% perspiration, and 40% pure passion.
How long have you been a Lomographer or are you new to this whole thing?
I’m ashamed to admit I’m a late lomographer! I remember when they first came out a few years back, with the funky lens that took four pictures at once. At that time most people, including myself were actually using a “normal” film camera because digital cameras, and especially cameras on phones, were nowhere near the big thing they are now.
Of course, that has all changed, and everyone is into the instant gratification you get with digital photos. I was divided between enjoying the easy way you can instantly see and upload your picture, and reminded how we lost something nice and tactile everytime I went through an old photo album. So when someone I knew started working for Lomo, I could not help becoming curious about shooting “real” photos again. And, surprisingly, the biggest thing is I feel is a sense of relief – when I take a picture, I leave it in the can, I wait until it has been developed, and when it comes back it’s either a hit or not.
I don’t stress about the photo or spend hours hunched over my laptop photoshopping it. For me, Lomo is about becoming patient again, about enjoying the real process of shooting a photo with low stress and lots of fun.
From behind the movie camera to behind a plastic lens! How did you find the transition and were there any similarities?
That’s a good question! In film, like in photography, we have this debate about the merits of shooting digital or on 16 or 35mm. It has to do with the equipment, and how you use it too. If you use your digital video camera like a film camera – all manual settings, and with some understanding of frame speeds, f-stops etc – you can achieve the magical “filmlook” that people still ironically want to achieve despite using film less and less. When I planned VINYL, my first solo documentary film about Vienna’s underground music scene, I seriously considered shooting on super 16mm, and even using some super 8 (which is now being made again by a company in the US). I made my first films on a cheap super 8 – a stop-frame animation about a toy horse raiding a fridge, and an underground movie shot in an Amsterdam acid rave party.
But when it came time to make a more serious, full-length film, using money I raised from the Vienna Government, it was just so much easier, cheaper and more reliable to achieve a broadcast quality effect with an HD camera. Even so, I made sure to film this project at 1080p, and more “Dogme” style with just available light to give it a film look. The nice thing about using a Lomo is it is already film look, and it also reminds me how much fun it is to shoot on film. With HD there are fewer risks, because you see it all as you film it, and you can manipulate it later in Final Cut. But that loses some artistry too. It’s often the happy mistakes that achieve a much better effect than we could ever plan.
Between motion picture and still image, how do you think the process of documentary is affected by each medium?
Documentaries are very often reliant on still images, especially ones about historical subjects. I was a stills researcher on two award-wining documentaries – “The Roots of Roe” for PBS, about the century long debate over the rights of women to control their own bodies, and “The Separate Beauty”, a trip though the last hundred years of Black American life in the US. The films taught me not only a lot about each subject, but also about the power you have to represent a story with the images you track down and select in dusty archives.
My clients depended on me to find which images of RFK’s funeral train ride through America would best represent a nation’s grief, or which image of a suffragette chained to a building could best convey that moment in time. With my recent films on Vienna, my subjects are very much alive, so I haven’t needed to use still images so much to tell the story.
But that doesn’t mean a photo camera is not essential to the process. In film we use stills not only to maintain continuity, but also to “document” the making of a film, and to create the still images to use for posters or publicity. I regret we didn’t have a Lomo on hand more often, as even the plastic lens of a lomo is better than an HD camera for taking a high quality still. I love my Lomo now and want it with me everytime I make a movie!
Please tell us what 5 films you think everyone must see and 5 books you would say everyone must read.
That is a tough one. There are so many wonderful things you can read, or listen to, or see dependent on your mood or what you want to learn. For me, it’s about balance – there’s no reason just to read intellectual books, in the same way there’s no reason to just see dumb comedies.
But without both in your life, you miss so much. I think the easiest deciding factor for me is whether something has affected me deeply, and even changed how I look at life and myself, or whether it’s funny enough to cheer up even the darkest day. The 5 books I can recommend to someone are Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, Vernon God Little (a “Catcher in the Rye” for our generation), The White Tiger, Microserfs, and for pure fun The Luck of the Bodkins by P.G. Wodehouse; the best 5 films are Fellini’s heart-wrenching charcter study “The Nights of Cabiria”, “Together” by Lukas Moodyson, Kusturica’s insanely funny gypsy film “Black Cat White Cat”, Wilder’s “The Apartment” or “Double Indemnity”, and “Bowling for Columbine” –the film that finally brought documentaries the same respect as ‘real movies’.
What was the strangest, funniest, or hands-down greatest photographic/ Lomographic encounter that you’ve have had so far?
The best Lomo encounter was this year in Chicago. I was there to present my film at a festival, and I decided to bring my Diana mini along for the ride. I wore it around my neck, and before I had been at the festival for a day I was friends with half the people in the room. I got an invitation to crash at someone’s house, I had a chat with a very friendly hooker, and spent the next few days being shown around the city by an extremely cute girl with a trashy sports car. The most frequently heard thing was “That’s so cute!” One girl took a photo of me just because I was wearing the Lomo. I would strongly suggest all single guys carry a Diana mini with them wherever they go.
What are some of the projects you are working on now that we can look forward to?
The next film is called VIENNA: not everything will be taken into the future. It is another documentary about Vienna, also seen through the city’s music & sounds, but this time with more focus on the overground social and political scene. And, like I did with VINYL, I will turn the film into an art installation project, using beamers and sound to give viewers the added experience of seeing my view of the city in a ‘deconstructed’ way. I have been making more artistic collaborations with Vienna based artists in recent years, such as Onno Ennoson and Elsa Okazaki, and this is something I want to continue as well as my more traditional filmmaking.
Any parting words of wisdom you would like to leave us hanging on?
The French Anthropologist Levi-Strauss pointed out that what makes us human is our ability to communicate, and through film and photography we can communicate in very powerful ways. I think as a filmmaker or artist, you have some responsibility to use your skills and passion, when possible, to challenge people to go a bit deeper; to peel back the surface of life and reveal the things less spoken about but which nonetheless contribute greatly to who we are.
And hopefully to do that with integrity and compassion. Our world seems so full of misery and hate sometimes it’s hard to remember Churchill’s recipe for peace was also about communicating: “Less war war, more jaw jaw.” But too much chat can mean not getting anything done – we could probably build a staircase to the moon with unrealised movie scripts. As a filmmaker, especially working independently, you also need a great team and some focussed planning.
Life is a Road Trip, and even though the best road trip movies involve a lot of spontaneous, crazy adventures, and random characters, the hero never gets in the car without a destination in mind. You may reach the ocean and decide it sucks, but you still need to know where you are going when you turn the key. It’s the same thing with a movie, or taking a good photo. When you know what you want, and you have the skills and passion to make it happen, you usually get there.
**Read more about Andrew’s film Vinyl Tales From the Vienna Underground
**Here are some links to the artist featured in the pictures:
Philipp Haffner from Microthol, aka DJ SOULGLO
IVAN KRAL underground filmmaker
MISS CANDY (Vienna drag queen)
ONNO ENNOSON Artist and collaborator