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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Round-Up: Alex and Aaron Craig talk rodeos and Sufjan

Filmmakers Alex and Aaron Craig of We Are Films. Photo by Noah Abe.

Sufjan Stevens’ upcoming piece Round-Up (Jan 20—25, BAM Harvey Theater) features a 1 hour 15 minute film of the Pendleton, OR, rodeo filmed in gorgeous slow-motion by brothers Aaron and Alex Craig of Brooklyn-based production company We Are Films. The brothers answered some of our questions about the collaboration and explained how a five-minute short evolved into a full-length film with a live score.

How did you initially link up with Sufjan Stevens on this project?

Our intro to Sufjan and Asthmatic Kitty Records began maybe four years ago. We had worked on videos for AKR artists My Brightest Diamond and The Welcome Wagon, and developed a really strong friendship with the label, so when Sufjan came out with the Christmas album Silver and Gold, he asked if we could direct his "I'll Be Home For Christmas" music video. The concept was almost impossible to accomplish given the limited resources we had, but we just put all we could into it as we do with every project we work on, and the end result turned out pretty great. We ended up getting a Vimeo Staff Pick and lots of articles written about it on tech and film sites because the entire video was done in a single take and was technically complex.

What did you know about the Pendleton Round-Up before you started shooting? How did your perceptions change once you were there?

We didn't know about the Pendleton Round-Up until about two weeks before we started shooting. We got an email from Sufjan in 2013 with just one sentence in it: "Have you ever filmed a rodeo before?" From there everything happened really quickly.

We are from Texas originally and have been to plenty of rodeos growing up, but had never been this close to the action. And by close, I mean that we were in the stalls with the cowboys. We had to jump out of the way of bulls kicking on multiple occasions. From afar, you look at the cowboys doing these events and think that they're invincible. But when you're right next to them, you can see that everyone is human just like everyone else and is scared out of their minds before the horse or bull gets released.

Did you go to Pendleton knowing exactly what you were going to shoot and how? Or did the footage come more organically once you were there?

When we went to Pendleton, we intended to make a five minute video for Vimeo. But while we were there, we quickly realized that we had something much bigger. By the time we left we had 60 hours of footage to sift through. We couldn't capture the essence of the rodeo in such a short time, so we all decided to make it long-form and increase the scope by a lot. Now here we are with a 1 hour 15 minute film with a live score. The footage really did come organically once we were there. The main thing we knew was that we wanted to get as close as possible without getting killed, in order to make the viewer feel like they were there, experiencing everything first-hand.

For the film nerds out there, what equipment did you use to shoot and edit?

We shot everything on both the Red Epic and Red Dragon at 300 frames per second. We edited everything in premiere in native R3D and then colored the film in DaVinci Resolve.

Where did you grow up? How did your upbringing influence your love of film?

We grew up in Dallas, right next to some railroad tracks. We spent most of our free time as kids making short films with our parents’ VHS camera on the tracks. Looking back, that was probably super dangerous... but no one ever got hurt. We just had the best time as brothers working together to make films. We never really sat down and said, "We're going to start a film production company and be filmmakers in NYC someday!" We just did it because we loved doing it and we didn't own a video game console or have cable. We simply kept at it and it naturally turned into a fulltime thing.

What is your working relationship? What is each of your roles at We Are Films?

We both have experience in all parts of the filmmaking process. We do whatever we need to do in order to get things done. But we both have a strong passion for cinematography and directing. Usually Alex will focus on cinematography and I'll focus on directing. But many times there are so many projects happening at the same time that we'll do things separately and work with separate crews. But for the most part we both have an understanding that we need to work really hard together to get things done. For example, sometimes Alex will be on set filming a commercial, while I'm at the office producing another project. Or maybe I'm in Colombia filming a documentary, while Alex is producing another project at the office. We prep for everything and work with a team of some of the best people in the industry.

What upcoming projects (that you can talk about publicly) are you excited about?

While 2014 was an amazing year, we are very excited about 2015. We're currently producing and filming two narrative feature films and we are also working on a documentary down in Colombia about coffee production. When it comes down to it, we just love making good art and work hard with every project we're a part of. I'm sure 2015 will have lots of surprises and we love that.

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