Jordan Ellis: Exposing To A New World
Q: Thanks for sitting down with us, I know you’ve been busy lately.
A: My pleasure.
Q: So, let’s get to it. We know you’re a huge fan of both music and movies. Which came first for you - music or movies?
A: Music. My mom had the album Whipped Cream & Other Delights by Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass and loving the song “A Taste of Honey”. I also remembering singing “Raindrops Are Falling On My Head” in choir, and then hearing the song in the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I loved that song.
Q: In regards to movies, which ones initially captured your interest?
A Clockwork Orange, Taxi Driver, Night of the Living Dead, Destroy All Monsters, Our Man Flint, The Legend of Boggy Creek, Assault on Precinct 13, American Graffiti, Going Places, Animal House. I’m sure I’ll think of others later...
Q: What was about them that moved you?
A: They all are very different films, but they are all things I hadn’t seen before. They were either extremely funny or sexual or violent or scary but each one exposed me a new world that I didn’t know existed.
Q: So do you feel that you connect with one or the other more viscerally?
A: Yeah, Clockwork Orange. It changed my life, for better or worse. That’s the film that first introduced me to who a director was.
Q: And what was the first music you attached to?
A: Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin
Q: What's your favorite period of film?
A: The French New Wave, with a close second being American’s new wave between 1968 to mid 1978.
Q: And what period of music?
A: 80’s indie college scene, more specifically all bands on the SST label.
Q: If you had to list your favorite films, what would they be?
A: Well, obviously A Clockwork Orange. I’m also a big fan of Taxi Driver, 8 1/2, Au Hasard Balthazar, Andrei Rublev …
Q: Two of our favorite directors – Robert Bresson (Au Hasard Balthazar) and Andrei Tarkovsky (Andrei Rublev). Au Hasard Balthazar is such powerful film.
A: Yeah, that film blows me away every time I watch it. Others include Ordet, In the Mood for Love, Apocalypse Now, Weekend, Satantango, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Shampoo, What's up Doc. So many …
Q: And what about songs, not full albums, but what songs impaged you the most?
A: Well, the Beach Boys - Hang on to your Ego, for sure.
Q: Some personal experience there?
A: Haha. Maybe. Let’s see, Beck’s - Loser is still great; Beastie Boys - Sabotage, The Beatles - Ticket to Ride and Strawberry Fields Forever, Rolling Stones - No Expectations, The Breeders - Cannoball, Pixies - Where’s is my mind, Bod Dylan - It’s Alright, Ma (I’m only bleeding), Can -Vitamin C, The Cure - Just Like Heaven, Daniel Johnston - Some Things Last a Long Time, Minutemen - History Lesson Pt.2, Davie Bowie - Rebel Rebel, Dinosaur Jr. You’re Living All Over Me, Elvis Costello - Lipstick Vogue, Frank Ocean - Strawberry Swing, Funkadelic - Can You Get to That, Gang of 4 - At Home He’s a Tourist, Glen Campbell - Wichita Lineman, Hank Williams - Lost Highway, Husker Du - Celebrated Summer, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Bellbottoms, Joy Division - Transmission, Kanye West - I am a God, Neutral Milk Hotel - Two-Headed Boy, Nick Cave - Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow …
Q: What an overlooked piece of genius that is.
A: Yeah, anything Nick Cave. The video is fantastic too.
Q: You were on a roll, keep going …
A: Pavement - Summer Babe, Here, Public Enemy - Night of the Living Baseheads, REM - Harborcoat, Radiohead - The National Anthem, The Replacements - I will Dare, The Smiths - How Soon is Now, My Blood Valentine - Soon, The Stooges - Fun House, … I have to stop. I could go on forever.
Q: Clearly a big passion, music.
A: Yeah I still seek out new things. My iPhone is loaded!
Q: You're two earliest features, Guns Before Butter, and A Little Crazy - they’re quite different in style and tone, do you feel one or the other is more your thing? What did you learn from those films that you carried into your later work?
A: No, not particularly. I think it has more to do with the amount of time in between the two films. Over that time, I changed as a person, and then obviously as a filmmaker. Also, one film was shot on 16 mm and the other one was shot on DV. There’s a finite amount of footage you can shoot on film, because of budgetary constraints. So, you do more wide and single takes. When you shoot on DV you can shoot for as long, and as many takes and angles as you like. Which is not always a good thing!
Q: Alpine Village People, your web series, is such an original idea, and the humor unique, with its own rhythm. What inspired the idea?
A: I came across the Alpine Village People through casting a beer commercial, with our company, Alice Ellis Casting. We had such a great time during the shoot, I wanted to work with them again. So, I came up with the idea of inserting the APV into a music video for the band Thee Oh Sees. They were to play a Black Flag type polka band driving form one show to the next, a “get in the van” 80’s indie tour. We had so much good footage that wasn't used for the video, So Sky Elobar, the lead actor, and I decided to create a web series based on on the trials and tribulations of the APV.
Q: How did you come upon the timing and tone?
A: The tone of the web series mostly came from my sense of humor and the wacky band members. By the way, Bob Smokey Miles, who plays Einstein in the video, had a part in the 5th AVP episodes.
Q: The music video for Caretaker, which has Abe Lincoln wandering through modern day LA, is another example of your unusual take on things. How did that come about?
A: Well, I had this idea to make a short film involving a friend of mine who impersonates Abe Lincoln. That project never happened. But later, when I was vacationing in Hawaii and listening to what I thought was Chopin (turned out it was The Caretaker), this image of Abe Lincoln wandering the streets of LA popped in my head. My friend was not able to shoot the video, instead I found Robert Broski (who was fucking amazing!) who played Abe.
Q: Were you making a statement with that video?
A: I wasn't really trying to make a statement. I was more interested in capturing and creating the images of Abe and then letting people make their own interpretations.
Q: It would be a shame to talk about your music videos and not mention your excellent short documentary on the often overlooked, but excellent band, Cowboy Nation. Did you have a prior relationship with them, or were you a particular fan?
A: I meet Chip Kinman working at a commercial casting studio. Chip invited me to a Cowboys Nation performance at the House of Blues in West Hollywood. I went to the show and was blown away. I fell in love with their sound and we started talking about doing a documentary on their band and the cowboy scene.
Q: Lastly, where can people watch your movies and videos?
A: For all my short projects you can go to my website at www.jordanrellis.com. And my first feature film "Guns Before Butter" can be streamed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zfUVs8YEOw
I hope to have my second feature film "A Little Crazy" streaming later this summer.
Q: Thanks for taking the time to talk, Jordan.
A: I love talking music and movies!
Editor: Two of Jordan's music videos are linked below.