- Name: Aaron Rose
- Created on: 1969-Apr-29, Los Angeles, California
- Record last updated on: 2008-Mar-14
- Homepage: www.allegedpress.com
- Domain: Art, Filmmaking, Music, Publishing
- Location: Los Angeles, California (East side)
Aaron Rose’s bio reads like a creative person’s dream–artist, writer, independent curator, publisher, editor, musician and now accomplished filmmaker. In the 1990s, Aaron founded the highly influential Alleged Gallery in New York, dabbled as a producer/director for MTV Networks and more recently mounted the highly successful art exhibit “Beautiful Losers: Contemporary Art & Street Culture”, which will tour the world through the end of 2008. We worked with Aaron last year on the Flux-produced Swerve Festival where he curated the art show and screened a work-in-progress version of his new documentary Beautiful Losers. I chatted with Aaron as he prepared for the World Premiere of his film at the 2008 SXSW Film Festival.
Much has been written about you and your history as a curator when the Beautiful Losers art exhibit toured the world. Let’s talk about what people don’t know–specifically your successful first foray into documentary filmmaking with your new film also called Beautiful Losers. Originally you’ve said that BL was supposed to be an added component of the art exhibit but while working on it, the project took a life of its own. Can you talk to us a little bit about that and what the experience of becoming a filmmaker was like.
It’s funny because the film project actually pre-dates the exhibition by about a year!! It’s just that at that point (2002) it was just me and my friend Josh Leonard running around with a little DV camera. After the exhibition opened we got more serious about the project and the film really took on a life of its own. Working on this was total film school for me. I had done some short films in New York, but this was the first feature length thing I had ever done, so every day was a new learning experience for me. The first thing I learned really early on, was that making a film about an exhibition is really boring. Art doesn’t move. It just sort of sits there on the wall, so in order to make a film that is compelling to an audience, we found out that it couldn’t be about art…it needed to be about people. We would have these long story sessions with the entire crew, the producers, editors, etc and trace the lives of each and every artists we interviewed. Then we took those studies and tried to figure out a way to intertwine the individual stories. It was especially trying for me because I knew most of the people in the film really well, so detaching myself from that and just looking at their lives from a strictly character-based standpoint was pretty difficult at first. I struggled with it. I also learned so much from our editors Fernando Villena and Lenny Mesina. Those guys really deserve so much of the credit for the end product. It was a real collaboration, lots of arguments and lots of inspiration. I also reached out to other filmmakers I know. Both Mike Mills and Harmony Korine are featured in Beautiful Losers, so I would send cuts to them and they would send me back notes. Those notes were very valuable to be as well.
Opening at Alleged Gallery in its heyday
Early on in your career you worked at MTV. Can you describe the types of films you made there and later via Alleged? Is it possible to see any of these? Was this experience helpful in the making of your first feature film?
I was a producer/director at MTV on-air promos for two years in the 1990s. It was a great experience. That was the first time I had ever shot film, or worked on an Avid. Plus I was producing and directing so I learned a lot about both sides of the film experience. The stuff I did for them was very small in scale compared to Beautiful Losers, but it was still a good primer. I produced short spots for Harmony Korine, Rita Ackermann (with Thurston Moore), Thomas Campbell…basically we asked visual artists to create little commercials for the channel. It was fun. We were all really young. That project was the first time Harmony had ever edited his own film! Later on I directed a series of 30 commercials for MTV2 called “Kids In America” where we went around the country and shot the verite interviews with all different kinds of kids and asked them about music. Tobin Yelland (who shot Beautiful Losers) was the DP on those as well. In terms of short films I produced a skateboarding film called Dysfunctional, two or three fashion films for Susan Cianciolo, and a film called Backworlds For Words, that Cheryl Dunn directed. That was a documentary of a performance Mark Gonzales did where he skated through a museum in Germany in a fencing outfit.
Who were some of your favorite collaborators while working on your feature film? How did working with these collaborators influence what we see on the screen? Were there any happy or unhappy accidents?
Aaron Rose in the studio working on the Beautiful Losers film
That’s a very hard question to answer. Everybody involved in the project work so hard! Lenny and Fern, our editors, Money Mark, the musical genius who composed our score, Tobin Yelland our DP, Rich and Jon and Jared our producers, Max and Otto who did visual effects, all the artists and friends who sat for interviews…too many people to list! It was a real family affair. Of course there were accidents (both happy and unhappy), but in retrospect I think that’s just what filmmaking is about. Especially in documentaries where you don’t have a script and you’re just kind of making it up as you go along. We worked for nine months in New York and edited what was essentially a finished movie and then just threw it in the garbage and started over with new editors in Los Angeles. That was crazy! But from what I’ve heard from taking to other filmmakers since, not entirely uncommon. Also, some of the most beautiful moments in our film were happy accidents. We used to laugh to ourselves that the cut would talk to us. The edit would give us clues as to where it wanted to go!! I know that sounds crazy, but sometimes there would maybe be a little glitch or a music cue that was off and when we looked at the problem closer it became a clue.
Many years ago when you first started the film project and were looking for financing, you gave me a videotape you made to give people an idea of the type of film you intended to make. Not only does the finished film look nothing like that version, it truly has come full circle in its evolution. Why do you think this happened? Was it time? Was it trial and error? Was it all in the editing? When did all the pieces come together for you where it actually started to make sense?
At some point a few years back it became incredibly clear that the film we set out to make back in 2003 was not going to happen. Not only was the footage not there, but after shooting and interviewing all the subjects it became obvious that the story we thought we were going to tell at the beginning was not necessarily honest. The subjects said different things than we expected and we had to live with it. For some of us that was a bitter pill to swallow, but it was what needed to happen. The one thing I’ve learned about documentary filmmaking is that it is 50% art and 50% journalism. I felt very strongly about upholding those journalistic ethics…even if it meant saying goodbye to concepts that I had fallen in love with. When we really started to look honestly at what our subjects said, without our own agendas as filmmakers, that is when the film started to come together. Part of it was editing, part of it was story discussions, but mostly it was just about us giving up and letting the film live and tell us what it wanted to be.
Another thing many people don’t know about you is that you are in a band. Tell us about that.
Yeah. The Sads! I love it. It’s funny cause you could say that me forming the band was a direct result of working on the film. The overriding message of Beautiful Losers is to “do it yourself”. To get over your fears and just get out there and make your dreams happen. That’s what The Sads are about. I have been writing songs since I was 14 years old, but never played them for anyone (except girlfriends and stuff). I realized that if I was ever going to make that dream come true I had to just jump in and do it. Getting up in front of an audience was my biggest fear in the world and now I just love it! Plus, I work with amazing musicians. David Scott Stone, who plays guitar, and modular synthesizer in The Sads is a straight musical genius. He used to play with The Melvins, Unwound, Jello Biafra, etc. and he brings so much to our collaborations. Aska Matsumiya is a classically trained pianist and just beautiful to watch and play with and Dan Monick, who plays drums is just so weird in his playing…in the best way! Those guys really push me to be a better musician. We just got back from touring Europe and we’re going to record an album this year.
You are also the publisher of Alleged Press a venture with Italian book publisher Damiani Editore and co-editor of ANP Quarterly. Tell us more.
I’ve been making little photocopied zines since I was a teenager so the leap into publishing isn’t that far of a stretch. I’ve always loved books. I have a huge collection. Right now we’re just putting the finishing touches on Ed Templeton’s big photo-monograph Deformer. It’s a book he’s been working on for like six years! It’s awesome. It will be out in stores this fall. ANP Quarterly is published by a clothing company called RVCA. They are an amazing company that has a long history of artist collaborations. Two years ago, Pat Tenore, who owns the company approached Ed Templeton, Brendan Fowler and myself to edit a magazine for them. They gave us complete carte-blanche and ANP Quarterly was born! It’s a free magazine dedicated to art, music, culture, etc. We’re currently working on our tenth issue. The idea behind it was to make a magazine that didn’t just focus on “what’s hot” and instead reported on things that we love from any place, regardless of space or time. We live in such a trendy world, we somehow wanted to subvert that with our magazine. Maybe make people question what’s “cool” a little.
The Sads rehearsing at Choke Motorcycle Shop
After 10 years or so of living and working in New York City, you relocated to your hometown of Los Angeles. Many have said that LA is having a moment, do you agree? While you continue to curate shows and perform around the world, what do you especially like about being based in California, LA specifically?
I think Los Angeles is experiencing what is perhaps its greatest creative moment since the early-1980s when Punk hit. This is the Eastside of LA by the way, the west side is still the same (sorry west-siders). There are some wonderful creative people here and venues for that creativity in both art, music and publishing. Things like The Smell, Ooga Booga, Family, Hope, The Sads, No Age, Mika Miko, Abe Vigoda, BARR, Teenage Teardrops, LA Record, Choke Motorcycle Shop, ANP, Arthur, and more and more people, places and things everyday! It’s a very communal scene, not concerned with money or fame really, just about making cool things and sharing with friends. Of course all that will change soon as people start to experience success, but right now it’s in that wonderful time where it seems like anything is possible. I love Los Angeles right now.
Many young people look up to you and are inspired by what you have accomplished. Tell us a story about what you were like when you were 15 years old. An experience or memory that holds true about you even now. In fact, can you share a photo that speaks louder than words?
This is a photo of me as a “mod” when I was 15. This is taken in my parents backyard in Calabasas in 1984.
Finally, I know (but many people don’t) that you have been wanting to move closer to the beach. Have you gotten there yet?
Nah, sorry. I’m an east-sider. I tried to deny it for a while, but that’s where my family is.
The Sads music video “Miniature Moons” directed by Jay Buim
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