As an artist who is used to shooting legendary music icons such as Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Eddie Vedder, Bruce Springsteen and Tupac Shakur, photographer Danny Clinch is becoming a legend in his own right. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Spin, GQ, New York Times Magazine, and other publications, and he has published two books, “Discovery Inn,” in 1998; and “When the Iron Bird Flies” in 2001.
In recent years, Clinch’s passion for imagery, music, and stories has come together at Three on the Tree Productions, a New York City-based boutique film company that Clinch founded in 2003. Clinch has expanded his horizons to include music videos, concert films, and documentaries into his repertoire. His most recent project is a music video for Tom Waits’ latest album, “Orphans,” a creative endeavor that started out as a series of publicity stills before taking on a life of its own. The video, “Lie to Me,” rhythmically—and energetically—animates Clinch’s still photos of Waits playing his guitar near a roadside café.
MVWire: Could you talk about how you were awarded the video?
Danny Clinch: I was photographing Tom for publicities for his new box set CD - Orpahns and we were out at this little bizarre roadside café that is out in the country of Northern California around were Tom lives. I have done a fair amount of film work, a couple of music videos, documentaries, concert films, etc. The idea for these photographs is … Tom showed up with a truckload full of old vintage speakers and cassette players and radios, etc. and decided that we would build this speaker cabinet behind him. (It was) what you think a Tom Waits speaker cabinet would look like, with all these crazy bells and whistles. Then we plugged his guitar into it and we were shooting these photographs… it was just sort of an amazing location; everything came together and we were all so excited about it—myself and my assistant and Tom kind of built this thing together, over a cup of coffee.
We were super excited about it and Tom looked at me and said, “It’s too bad that we do not have a video camera… this would make a great video.” Then he said, “Maybe I can have my wife run out with her video camera,” and it didn’t go farther than that. I said, “Well, check it out. Why don’t I load something in my 35 mm camera, I’ll burn through it really fast as I go through the motions and we will create something that is just really raw and I can animate those stills–run them together and we will create something that is just really raw, something that is not lip synced, something that is just super down and dirty–you know, style.” Of course, he got a big smile on his face and he was like, (in a rough Tom Waits voice) “Yeah, that sounds great.” We jumped on it; he went through it a couple of times. He did sing the chorus a few times so it might appear there is a moment of lip sync in there, maybe not. We loaded it all into the computer and started pushing it around.
MVWire: Did you talk to the label about it at all?
DC: I just called them and said, Tom said that he wanted to consider turning this thing into a video. Matt at the label said, “What would it cost to do it?” We gave him an idea; they just wanted to keep it super Lo Fi. We were going to throw some animation into the mix, some drawings that were done on glass, it was pretty cool. In the end I think they just wanted to keep it super Lo Fi and I was all for it. We just stripped it down to the barest essentials.
MVWire: So the video was something that was inspiration, in the moment.
DC: The opportunity to do something like that with Tom was just … I didn’t care what it was going to cost.
He is fantastic; he is one of the most creative guys, he is very restless as well… He doesn’t like to sit still for too long. If you are taking a photograph of him, you might get two frames of the same pose and the next thing you know he is off doing something else. You have to be able to work fast, which is why I think I got the gig with him.
He is all for the creative process; he is always coming up with ideas and participating. You have some people that just sit there and are looking for direction all the time and there are others that actually participate in the creative process, and that’s what he does and he is always bringing something to the table.
He is definitely into it… he is a super creative guy and has a lot of great ideas, a lot of them are super simple—a lot of time the more simple the better
For example at one point … the publicist had asked me to get couple of simple head shots that they could use. After a couple of frames he looked at me and said, “OK, are we done here? Because I feel like I am getting my hair cut.”
MVWire: What was the actual process of creating the video?
DC: I shot the stills with a motor drive on handheld. I just shot a bunch of frames consecutively and had him kind of running around and he was really giving it up which was really kind of cool.
I shot it several times over and over again and then said, “Let’s do a few close ups of your face, feet and things like that so that we would have some things to cut away to… let’s do a couple that are really wide.” Basically I was thinking like an editor, I was coming in close then backing up wide, having him doing some motion.
I had never done anything like that before. When I got back and loaded it into the computer I talked to a friend of mine that knows the process and she was very excited and she said, “You shot this on a tripod, right?” I said, “No,” and she said, “Ooo.” And I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “Well, if you shoot it on a tripod, the background stays steady and the subject moves throughout the background, and that’s how you get it animated to make sense.” I said, “You (know) what, it doesn’t have to make sense—it’s Tom Waits.”
MVWire: What went into creating the black and white look of the video?
DC: I used color film for the most part. I drained all the color out of it in the edit and added a lot of contrast to it… (and) edited on Final Cut Pro.
MVWire: What was the editing process once you had the images loaded into the computer?
DC: Another friend of mine, Tosh, he is really an animator and we started to work on it. As I said, we were putting animation in with the stills. He started it and loaded it into the computer and just started to align the cut together. Once he did that, he put the images in some sort of order. I came in came up with the idea of stopping at certain points and having areas where you could actually freeze on the photo.
I did belabor over it; it is Tom Waits and I wanted to give it my best.