Friday, August 23, 2013

Pearl Jam's new video features a major Missoula connection (aside from Jeff Ament)

Posted By on Fri, Aug 23, 2013 at 10:20 AM

Pearl Jam released the music video to the first single off its upcoming album, and local viewers may have noticed something familiar: "Mind Your Manners" includes silhouette animation with the distinct look of Missoula filmmaker Andy Smetanka.

It looks like Smetanka's work because, well, it is.

Even if you've been in Missoula for just a short time, it's hard to miss Smetanka's stuff. He's screened his short films at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival and displayed his prints and light boxes during First Friday. He's made music videos for the Decemberists and worked with Guy Maddin. A successful Kickstarter campaign afforded him the chance to make a feature-length film about World War I called And We Were Young. All of that exposure appears to have helped Smetanka land in front of an even bigger audience.

Pearl Jam's connection to Missoula is just as well known as Smetanka's work: bassist Jeff Ament grew up in Big Sandy, went to school at the University of Montana (where he started his pre-Pearl Jam hardcore band Deranged Diction) and is now a part-time resident who can often be seen around the valley at various arts and culture events.

So, how'd Smetanka end up working with Ament and Pearl Jam on the project? We caught up with Smetanka by email as he was traveling through Finland and got the scoop.

How did you end up making a music video for Pearl Jam?
Andy Smetanka: Jeff Ament made a generous donation to my Kickstarter campaign (for And We Were Young). I sent him a message to ask him how he wanted to take delivery on his custom light box, and he wrote back asking if I was interested in "creating some images" for Pearl Jam. Hell yes, I replied. It went from this not-very-specific request to actually starting work on green-screen animation for a music video in less than a week.


Did you approach it as a silhouette animation in the way you have with And We Were Young?
AS: I approached it pretty much the same way as any other silhouette project, with the difference that I shot it digitally and not on Super 8, using a Canon DSLR camera and a program called (I think) Dragonframe. I had to do it this way because of time constraints, but it was also very liberating, very encouraging to get a peek into my post-film future if I intend to keep making silhouette movies.

What was the hardest part of the project?
AS: Getting to grips with this new technology wasn't very difficult. The hardest thing about the project was the disruptive effect of the long working days on family life at a time when we were also getting centered down to go on a major overseas adventure. But I'd set the whole month of July aside to not work on And We Were Young, and the PJ project fit perfectly. Another great thing about the digital process was that it created, as a sort of happy by-product of the animation, literally thousands of huge JPG files for the band to incorporate into both the Electronic Press Kit and the album artwork for the upcoming release! Double bonus!

Did you get full creative reign or did Jeff Ament and Eddie Vedder have their own ideas?
AS: I think Jeff takes a direct hand in designing the artwork for PJ projects, kind of the de facto Art Director, so I was mostly working with him and their frequent collaborator, Danny Clinch, who was directing the video and filming the live performances behind which the animation will be inserted via green screen. Everyone had great ideas, they usually gave me the go-ahead on mine, and I took great care to film some interpretation of theirs, from Danny and everyone else in the band filtered through him and Jeff.

How long did it take you?
AS: The whole thing happened lightning-fast. Starting from scratch (with a few ready-to-go silhouette trees and things from my silhouette archive), it took two solid weeks of 10-14 hour days to come up with around 8 minutes of animation. The song itself is around 2:39 in length, so there was plenty of coverage.

How do you feel about getting to do this?
AS: All in all, an exhilarating experience, and probably the most compact, efficient and blindingly fast film project I've ever had a hand in, speaking only for my part in it. Also a great weight off my shoulders.

Are you a Pearl Jam fan or, if not, have you been converted in any way?
AS: I don't own any Pearl Jam recordings apart from a CD burn of just this one song, but I definitely consider myself a fan of the band, more for what they stand for than for the music itself (although the song is a corker!). As many who know me will surely point out, this has not always been the case. Along with certain other Indy writers, I used to be infamous for knocking them in print every chance I got back in the mid-to-late '90s. But the truth is that I've never had any substantive beef with them, and in my experience it's hard to find anyone who does. We were young, snotty punks and we wanted enemies. Now, of course, the idea of little punks like we were then casting aspersions on what is and is not worthwhile music and "selling out" is just comical to me.

Check out the video here:

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