When you are delivered the life story of a man who has spent forty-some years photographing everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Led Zepplin to Elton John and Santana to SLASH and Panic At the Disco and pretty much everyone in between… Well, you’ve been delivered gold. Now, let’s say this rock n’ roll photographer also captured the last images of guitar legend Stevie Ray Vaughn before his untimely death – yet, refused to sell them to the highest bidder out of respect for the artist and the man? Still not sold? Seriously?! Okay, here’s your third act – the guy finds and champions a little band called Sick Puppies. Maybe you’ve heard of them. Or maybe you “need a hug”. Wait – he’s not done, because he might just have found a kid that could be the next legit guitar hero. This guy’s name: Robert Knight. The title of the movie: ROCK PROPHECIES. And the director who spun a great film out of all of this: John Chester. Movie gold.
1 How did you learn about Robert Knight and his story?
As a documentary filmmaker, it’s a rare thing to capture even more than you had hoped when you first set out to follow a story. I don’t know if it was luck or tenacity, but somehow incredible things happened in front of the lens. Now to your question… I met Robert through my producer, Tim Kaiser. Three years ago, Tim calls me and says he’s met this amazing guy who has spent 40 years as a rock photographer and claimed he was friends with some of the worlds greatest guitar legends. He dropped names like Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan. The thing that captured my attention was this story where Robert in 1990 was actually the last person to photograph Stevie Ray Vaughan at Alpine Valley in Wisconsin. These were big claims, did he really have friendships with these guys? I was skeptical so I set up a meeting with Robert in LA at the Sunset Marquis. I showed up early and Robert was sitting at a table with another guy who was wearing a backwards hat, mirrored glasses, a cigarette hanging from his lips and a black tee shirt that said “I support strippers”. Robert said John, meet SLASH. And all I could see was the dumb look on my face reflected in his glasses. Okay, so he knows these guys. An hour later SLASH left the building and Robert and I had our first real face to face. Just for notes I grabbed my camera and shot our conversation in Robert’s hotel room. The audio from that interview actually became 75% of the VO for the film. As most filmmakers know a second interview is never as good as the first. I can’t explain it fully but the main reason I decided to do the documentary had to do with how Robert handled the big money offers from Rolling Stone and everybody else the day after Stevie Ray died. Plain and simple, Robert’s decision to not sell those photos is why I wanted to tell his story.
2 How did you weigh the decisions regarding the balance of telling Robert Knight’s story versus the artists he actually influenced?
At first I thought we were making a film about Robert Knight retelling amazing stories from the road with Led Zeppelin, Elton John, Alice Cooper, Rolling Stones, and Jimi Hendrix. But within two weeks, I realized Robert Knight is what Malcolm Gladwell would call a connector. I watched him spend more time connecting young bands to people who could help their careers than he did photographing concerts. I thought, “Wow, here is a guy who gets more joy out of being the connector than he does out of making money shooting them”. So the balance came from that: Robert knew what he was looking for because of 40 years studying the common threads that link all of the legends together. When we visit with Jeff Beck, SLASH, Santana, Steve Vai and others we begin to see the common characteristics. Robert uses these as clues when looking at young acts. I’d say it’s about 50% gut and 50% recognizing the traits of his legendary guitar friends.
3 On the surface, making a documentary about the guy taking the pictures as opposed to what he’s taking pictures of wouldn’t seem the way to go. What was your way “into the film”?
Well, considering Robert is the common thread in all of these stories, I would say Robert was our way in. It seemed natural to make a film about him and let things branch out from there. Robert’s a wonderful storyteller, so even if the whole film had been him talking into the camera, it would have made for an entertaining time regardless, but if you look at his life, Robert has been in the right place at the right time so many times that we just knew it would happen again. And it did. Since we started filming, Sick Puppies have blown up, Panic at the Disco has blown up, and the Answer is opening for AC/DC. The film became about Robert – who at age 60 felt his relevance as a photographer hinged not on his past success but on his future ability to find the next great guitar talent. And amazingly, he found just that person and we thank god we captured the ride. But watch the film and judge for yourself.
4 Who was the most surprising interview for the film?
Honestly all of them. I think what the film reflects most is how in control these guys are of their individual creative processes. The words they use to describe this translate to any artist and for that matter anyone who has ever wanted anything out of life. They are the ultimate happiness seekers who turn obsession into art. Which is the natural process most people ignore. Steve Vai, SLASH, Santana, and Jeff Beck all fight the same battle every day. The same struggle I have as a filmmaker and, sure enough, the same struggle Robert Knight has as a photographer wrestling with his own self worth, relevance and desire for his career to never end…
5 Seeing as how Robert is accustomed to being the one capturing the image, how difficult was it for him to be the one in front of the camera so frequently and insistently?
Now would be a good time to tell you what made Robert most uncomfortable. It was my clothes. Look, I’m from Maryland, and the LA rock star world is fairly new to me. He hated that I didn’t wear black pants, shirts, and a leather jacket. He despised my sun scorched tee shirts and shorts. I think I embarrassed him in front of his way- cool rocker friends. On several occasions he pulled me aside and asked me to wear more black. I bought a black shirt but can’t see the use of a black leather jacket in sunny CA.
Now, as for Robert – yes, he was uncomfortable with the idea of Tim and me making a film about him. He never liked that idea, he wanted it to be about the guitar players. And to a large degree this film is about them. However I think he did an amazing job of opening up and being vulnerable and honest about his shortcomings as a man, as an artist. The more he opened up about his creative desires the more we all wanted him to see them achieved. Tim Kaiser and I could not have asked for anything more.
6 If you couldn’t make films, what would your second career choice be?
In the film, Jeff Beck is asked that same question, and he says he’d probably be a serial killer. I have been making films since I was 8. I don’t know if I know how to do anything else. I hope one day I get better at making films… Or serial killing may be my only option.
7 What recent documentaries have made an impact on you?
Everything Erroll Morris and (Werner) Herzog. There’s that wonderful Werner Herzog quote about how a filmmaker’s job is to provide people with images they’ve never seen before, and that’s my goal every time I set out to make a film. I can only speak for myself here, but the image of Steve Vai successfully playing the guitar with his tongue is one that will stay with me for the rest of my life, for better or worse. I cut it out of the film three times before finally leaving it in.
8 What is the best thing about having your film at AFI DALLAS?
Well, lots of reasons. There’s a big fan base in Dallas for both the Sick Puppies and Tyler Dow Bryant, two artists whose careers Robert Knight helped get going. Plus AFI is one of those festivals that still does it right.
9 So admit it – Which rock star stories did you geek out about the most?
Surprisingly, the craziest stories came from another rock photographer, Robert’s mentor Jim Marshall, also in the film. Let’s just say it started with him punching artist “Matthew Barney in the fucking mouth” and ended with a .45 caliber bullet going through a picture of Janis Joplin and Grace Slick, which was hanging in his living room. Did I mention that Jim is 72? As for guitarists, I have loads of admiration for Steve Vai’s mind. He’s got some sort of alien brain.
10 Popcorn or candy?
Since my wife Molly is a health supportive chef… I’d have to say sprouts. She claims I’ll live longer. And given how long it takes to make a film nowadays, I should be able to make at least three more.
ROCK PROPHECIES screens Friday, March 27 at 7:30PM @ Magnolia 5 and Saturday, March 28 at 4:00PM @ Magnolia 5.
John Chester will attend both screenings and participate in Q&As afterwards.
Jordan Galland’s ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE UNDEAD is one of those ideas for a movie that can go one of three ways: Moment of wild inspiration is never acted upon because it’s just too ridiculous, the script is written and the movie is made and everyone wonders what the hell they were thinking in the first place, or the “it’s just so crazy it might work” idea turns out to be just that. The nearly everything but the kitchen sink horror comedy about a 2000 year old conspiracy involving Shakespeare, vampires and the Holy Grail entertains and gets the silly laughs. But one of the primary reasons that it all works is because of the grounding presence of Jake Hoffman as a young theatre director sucked (yes, pun intended) into a web of vampirific intrigue. Deadpan is the only thing that can save him and he definitely knows how to use it.
How did you become involved with the film?
I’m old friends with Jordan. He asked me to do the table reading and afterwards he said ‘wanna do it?’. I was just relieved he was talking about the movie.
Have you ever had any real involvement in the New York theater world?
Recently I did my first play, “Christmas Present” By Amy Herzog, part of the EST’s 30th annual marathon of one act plays.
For a modestly budgeted indie-film, your fellow cast members of ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE UNDEAD are an eclectic collection of names (Devon Aoki, Ralph Macchio, John Ventimiglia, Jeremy Sisto, Polina Frantsena among them). Did you ever look around during crew meals and have a thought toward the relative randomness of it?
Hmm. I think about the randomness of life all the time. And I grew up loving Ralph’s movies, so that was pretty cool.
Your character in the film not only can claim Devon Aoki as an ex-girlfriend, but he also has a parade of beautiful actresses finding their way to his bed. Did that scenario make the job more fun or did it just add to the challenge of pulling off a role as a “lothario”?
I guess I thought of him less as lothario and more of a lost romantic. But to answer your question, it was fun.
You seem to have a natural affinity for the dead pan. Where do you think that comes from?
I’m not sure but appreciate the compliment.
Seriously, do you think that Jordan just made up that story about meeting Tom Stoppard?
I think Tom Stoppard made up the story about meeting Jordan, and Jordan doesn’t want to hurt his feelings. Jordan’s a nice guy.
Rumor has it you were spinning records at LA Fashion Week. If so, can you give us one of your go-to no-doubt-about-it song mixes?
I DJ as a hobby sometimes. Actually, when Jordan comes to hang out and hear me spin, I usually pay homage/embarrass him by playing some vintage Dopo Yume.
A lot of people in the film had to work with the fangs. Give us the scoop: who struggled with it and who were naturals?
John Ventimiglia was really convincing. I’m still a little freaked out.
ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE UNDEAD screens Friday, March 27 at 10:15PM @ NorthPark 3 and Sunday, March 29 at 4:15PM @ Magnolia 4.
Jake Hoffman will attend the first screening and participate in a Q&A afterwards.
Chad Jackson’s horror short HUNGER is as direct a shot to the solar plexus of our national political malaise as it gets. Placing you alongside a corrupt politician who has found himself chained to a log in the middle of a field – confused, scared and being descended upon by a hoard of yes, hungry country folk, it effectively disorients and frightens the viewer as much as it’s politician/prey. But the thing that is striking about the film is the populist anger it taps into – the feeling that as things go from bad to worse, that we are still somehow beholden to professional politicians who can’t see the country from beyond the end of their own desks and offices. Like the farm hands after this politician, the longer you aren’t “fed”, the more frightening that “hunger” can become.
You have cited corrupt politicians, Chinese imports and global climate change as inspirations behind HUNGER. Could you give us a little more detail as to where it really came from?
I wrote the script for HUNGER in the summer of 2007. We were still deep in the age of Bush. The war was not going well from our perspective here at home, gas prices were high, there was talk of several new cement plants and coal plants being built in Texas, It was generally very miserable. Then, there was the whole lead paint toy debacle from China, as well as some sketchy dog food, yet it was almost impossible to find anything not Made In China. When my wife, Linda came home with an American flag and we realized it too was made in China – that was it – that was what my movie was going to be about. It’s a cautionary tale.
Do you believe we need to look below the surface “monsters” of horror films to find what is truly frightening us?
In the good ones, there is always something more being said below the surface. That goes for action movies too. If that element isn’t there, the films typically aren’t very memorable.
After making a living for a period as a storyboard artist, do you think it’s necessary to completely storyboard a film before you shoot?
Storyboards are very helpful when you don’t have much time or money. You always know what shots you need to make the edit work. They are also helpful when doing intricate action sequences. But, you always have to be open to things changing. Films tend to take on a life of their own once you start shooting.
Your main location was a farm used in the film PLACES IN THE HEART. How would HUNGER have been different with Sally Field playing the politician?
If you watch the movie, there is a cemetery sequence. The cemetery is surrounded by scarecrows made up of other politicians that were killed and eaten. One of them is a woman. That would have been Sally Field. If the movie had been about her, overall it wouldn’t be that different. Perhaps instead of shackling her to a log they would have locked her in a metal oil drum and left her in the sun to cook slowly. It’s all a game to them. Each victim gets is put in a situation that suits their corrupt sensibilities.
Politicians – taste like chicken or tender like veal?
The more evil and corrupt they are the more sinfully tender and delicious they taste.
What will happen in the feature-length sequel to HUNGER?
There will be no feature length version of HUNGER. Moving on. Next project.
HUNGER screens as part of MIDNIGHT SHORTS Saturday, March 28 at 10:00PM @ Magnolia 4 and Sunday, March 29 at 10:15PM @ Magnolia 4.
Chad Jackson will be attending both screenings and will participate in the Q&A afterwards.
IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE
7TH ANNUAL INDIAN FILM FESTIVAL OF LOS ANGELES
BASED IN THE UNITED STATES
HOLLYWOOD, CA, March 25, 2009– Korn/Ferry International, the world’s largest and leading executive search firm, today announced its listing of the U.S. 25 Most Influential South Asian Executives in the Entertainment and Media Industry. The list was created to honor senior executives of South Asian background who have excelled in various roles in the entertainment business.
In announcing the release of the list, Bill Simon, Senior Client Partner and Managing Director of Korn/Ferry International’s Global Media & Entertainment Practice, said, “We have all heard of the magnitude of the Indian entertainment sector, phenomenal success of Indian themed content with a main stream audience, and expansion of Indian companies into Hollywood. What we are celebrating with this list, however, is the remarkable story of talented business executives who have moved through the ranks and now occupy the top rungs of the corporations that control the entertainment sector.” Simon, who has personally assisted both Indian and global companies in securing senior corporate talent, worked closely with his colleagues in India to develop and refine the list. “While we could have added 25 more names to the list, we believe that those who made the cut represent the very best in their respective areas of focus and expertise,” Simon explained.
The individuals on the list will be honored at a Gala Dinner during the 7th Annual Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) hosted by Globosat Entertainment LLC. Delivering the keynote address at the dinner is Ashok Amritraj, Chairman and CEO of Hyde Park Entertainment, and one of the most successful producers in Hollywood. Amritraj has produced over 100 films for the global audience.
Christina Marouda, Executive Director of IFFLA, observed that this year was particularly significant because of the recent success of Danny Boyle’s SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE at the Oscars and high profile corporate acquisitions by Indian companies such as Dreamworks by Mumbai based Reliance Entertainment. “We are delighted to be able to put the spotlight on executives of South Asian origin who now manage and influence broad areas of the traditional entertainment business,” Marouda noted.
Movie Mogul: Ashok Amritraj
Chairman and CEO
Hyde Park Entertainment
Finance: Bedi A. Singh
President, Finance and Administration &
Chief Financial Officer
Strategist: Salil Mehta
President of Business Operations, Strategy and Development
Television: Roma Khanna
President, Global Networks and Digital Initiatives
NBC Universal International
Cable: Krishan Bhatia
Senior Vice President,
Strategy & Development
Sports: Bobby Sharma
President & General Counsel, NBA Development League
National Basketball Association
Interactive: Bhavesh Patel
Vice President, Interactive Media
Fox Cable Networks
Digital: Salil Dalvi
Senior Vice President, Digital Distribution
Digital Rights and Security: Rajan Samtani
Senior Director, Business Development
Technology: Kumar Mahadeva,
Founder and Former Chairman
Cognizant Technology Solutions Corporation
Online: Ramu Yalamanchi
Founder and CEO
hi5 Networks, Inc.
Industry Organizations: Noel de Souza
Hollywood Foreign Press Association
Marketer: Rohan Oza
Senior Vice President of Marketing
News and International Affairs: Fareed Zakaria
Publishing: Aparna Pande
Vice President and General Manager, U.S. Consumer Magazines
Disney Publishing Worldwide
Mobile: Manish Jha
President and Chief Executive Officer
Music: Nusrat Durrani
Senior Vice President and General Manager
Advertising: Chris D’Rozario
Executive Creative Editor
Media Communications: Latha Sundaram
Senior Vice President & Global Account Director
Brands: Deepak Masand
Senior Vice President & Global Head, Innovation and Commercial Marketing
Public Relations: Rohit Bhargava
Senior Vice President, Marketing
Ogilvy 360 Digital
Distribution, Television: Superna Kalle
Senior Vice President
Sony Pictures Television International
Distribution, Film: Deborah Tellis
Senior Vice President, International Distribution
Post Production: Syed Ahmed
Deluxe Laboratories, North America
Attorney and Strategist: Arnold Peter
Raskin Peter Rubin & Simon, LLP and RPRS Media Partners, LLC