Jacob Perlmutter: ‘Bugs’ Wins Grolsch Shorts Competition @ SFIFF // Interview

Paint Bookend A
JP Foreign Exchange
interview by Catie Robbins
CR/ so is that the longest piece you’ve done–French Exchange?

JP/ yeah it’s a 15 minute film which is now turning into a feature film.

CR/ oh okay yeah the trailer looked cool it reminded me of…but what’s the story?

JP/ um well the short is about a boy who gets thrown together with his French exchange teacher and they spend the day together and he has to go with her and she has to go meet her family and they learn some sweet things from one another… but the feature is really really different.

CR/ what inspired you i mean did you spend some time in France?

JP/ yeah, yeah, well it’s like, like, like most things it’s inspired by life, it’s inspired by something that happened but very loosely, and now the feature has really taken on a life of its own.

CR/ so it’s been transformed from the original. do you usually kind of know what you want to say when you start a project or does that happen along the way?

JP/ it changes along the way…in life, you go through something and come back; you go through one idea and then you write a film, you come out the other end…then you know the point you’re trying to make.

CR/ and would you say that the process [the process of taking an idea making it into a short film and then making the short film into a feature] you’re going through clarifies that point or sort of augment it into multiple points?

JP/ i’m a great believer in…like from one acorn makes the tree and if everything doesn’t come from the same acorn, all the other branches and the others leaves….will be confused. you have to unfortunately sometimes sacrifice the things you like, i’ve been learning more about writing over the last few years and i’ve learned that discarding things is very fundamental to the process.

CR/ right is that still a painful thing for you or has it become easier?

JP/ i think that it can be frustrating, but it’s important not to be precious with my ideas.

JP Bellamacina
JP Harpers

CR/ you have a lot of clarity in your pieces, yet you have such a wide range of styles. which of the short films you’ve made that are up there [on Vimeo] do you consider to be representative of what you’re trying to do creatively right now. like what you’re narrowing down into your own aesthetic.

JP/ um.

CR/ and which are like ‘i tried that it’s not really what i want to continue.’

JP/ uh…probably none of them. i’m proud of the Harper’s Bazaar one [A Love Poem to San Francisco] even though it’s an homage to Woody Allen– to Manhattan–i can’t say ‘oh that’s my style’– i’ve lifted the homage of that style, but into a new direction.

CR/ you have a few videos with poetry in them do you like poetry?

[phone noise]

JP/ whoops–

[phone noise ends]

JP/ there are a few videos with poetry all from the same collaborator [Greta Bellamacina] – sorry just one second–[on phone] hello?? um just a minute could i call you back in about 20 minutes? cheers, thanks….right…sorry tomorrow morning i’m just organizing a little…

CR/ no problem.

JP/ the poetry — she’s a great writer and we collaborated on a bunch of projects together. we had a collaboration that was ongoing for a few years we had a photography project together and film projects and part of that was the cross of poetry and film which is a really fascinating thing so yeah we wrote a lot of them together like we were asked to do the Harper’s Bazaar film and then i came up with the concept of the film and then shes in the film and wrote the poem. She’s a phenomenal talent and I had a good time doing that work together.

JP Bugs
JP Bugs poem2

CR/ mm […] oh cool so you were collaborating on all those projects…so it wasn’t like you had the idea for the film and you were like i have to put a poem here, it was already decided to use poetry… yeah i was wondering about that because ive always wanted to try mixing film and poetry myself…so Bugs — is that kind of the direction you want to go in now, that seems like it was completely you.

JP/ aesthetically, no i can’t see myself making lots of you know, dingy, dingy films with creatures… [Laughs] there was…the ideas in Bugs, they’re little tastes of, you know, philosophies which i have to explore one day, i mean Bugs is about like why we’re here…Bugs is about imagining life from the perspective of…a bug, and Bugs is about……………..existentialism…so they’re like macro themes explored by micro animals…Bugs is like a reimagination of ev– ev– of human deception…what i like, what i like about the bugs is their humor and the sweetness…that is–that stuff is from the heart. with French Exchange, that’s a bit more, i mean, it’s a comedy drama and it’s live action and it’s far more the tone of what i’m interested in exploring. i think that with genre and aesthetics there are hundreds of worlds i’d love to explore and i say if there’s any kind of theme through my stuff so far it’s just humanity and…just trying to figure…trying to figure life out and beyond that i can’t yet comment on any sort of continuity between the stuff i’ve done.

CR/ so do you think you’ve maybe found your themes but not your visual aesthetic or is your visual aesthetic something you’ve been gathering too?

JP/ when i started out as a photographer and i ummm…and have you seen the photography on my website?

CR/ um yeah.

JP/ so i got really into the aesthetic of American street photography from the 50s through to the 70s and 80s, and the 70s street photography really dictated my aesthetic. although the San Fran film was an homage to Woody Allen, i’m still heavily into that aesthetic and i just recorded an album of music in Rio (which i’m releasing in July, which is my first album) where i’m dining and playing guitar with a whole bunch of local musicians in Brazil and the aesthetic i’m currently working on, from the cover of the CD and the book and the teaser trailer for the album, there is that aesthetic of that rough and ready, black and white grunginess that has carried over–i really love that aesthetic for its punch and for its nostalgia and i love it when it’s used properly so i love it in photo and i love it in music stuff and sometimes it works in film but i’m also a sucker for color in film.

CR/ right so then do you admire directors who find one aesthetic vision or people who explore different kinds of genres?

JP/ i think that whatever best serves the story … obviously there are filmmakers and artists who have a particular sensibility and they might reach a point where they’re happy to work in that style but as much as there are a lot of filmmakers who are known for their aesthetic there are a lot who change their aesthetic to the process.

JP street football
JP two ladies
CR/ that makes sense, um. and then a question for my own personal gain–with street photography what is your way of going up to people and asking them whether you can take their picture because i always want to take pictures of strangers but…

JP/ i don’t shoot portraits–

CR/ you don’t do people?

JP/ yeah i do just no portraits i do situations–

CR/ ok.

JP/ wait im sorry i do do portraits obviously but with street photography i don’t ask permission i’ve been chased ive made people angry–

CR/ arent you scared?

JP/ uhhhh, im excited

CR/ [laughs]

JP/ like in my project 88 days, its a black and white project i spent 88 days traveling across america and uh all on one camera; one lense…i didn’t ask permission … if you see two people in the street arguing and you go up to them and say excuse me your arguing really speaks to me your arguing really captures humanity they say what the fuck are you doing so ahhh as Banksy says apology is not permission–there’s a photo of a boy throwing an american foot ball…

CR/ [laughs]

JP/ i went up to this family i saw playing football in their front yard and i went up to them and talked to them and that’s kind of entering a situation in the documentary sense and still trying to capture the naturalism–

CR/ ok thats interesting…

JP/ been chased a lot.

CR/ im glad you find it exciting.

JP/ sure… its a… its a mild crime.

CR/ what about El Musgo… i really loved that one… but like where was it shot first of all?

JP/ it was shot in a combination of Bolivia, Peru and Brazil and uh i went traveling for several months around South America and shot a bunch of footage without knowing what it was going to be used for which is often – which is really often my process, i do a lot of traveling and i often shoot footage and it often ends up with a different purpose than what i intended it to – [with El Musgo] originally i was trying to make a documentary. this was after i made the first music video for Gabriel …for Gabriel Bruce of him dancing on the cliff.

JP El Musgo 2
JP El Musgo

CR/ mmhmm, i really liked that one.

JP/ i heard his song El Musgo and totally fell in love and started a concept for a music video with what i’d shot and realized a story in it with these people going through their daily lives alone and coming together at night for this big party […] that’s that’s that’s one of the things i’m very proud of is that piece of video.

CR/ yeah it was a very emotional piece with a very exultant moment, it was the first one i saw, no i guess i saw Armstrong before that a few days before, and then i watched El Musgo, and then i watched all the other ones in a row and i started to notice this structure –i started to feel like a lot of your films have this burst right after the middle – kind of where it should be, and everything is a little more plateau before and after, not plateau but building and then receding.

JP/ yeah obviously in the case of El Musgo i was working to the structure of the song but i definitely endeavor to…

CR/ yeah i really enjoyed the structure of all of them.

JP/ thanks it’s important not to make something flat, things have to have their payoffs, you ask for these people’s attentions…

CR/ yeah.

JP/ good stories have that, it doesn’t matter how big or small the moment, life is full of beautiful small things like noticing the light filtering through the leaves onto the ground right down to big intense experiences falling in love or you know, having a big injury, and i think the power of film, photography, and music is capturing these moments and putting them into a story and making it matter.

CR/ yeah its amazing how you can take a small moment where the emotional arch is completely parallel to a larger moment and yeah i think you do that really well.

JP/ um thanks, yeah. the album we were recording in brazil, the album is around 45 minutes so its a pretty big project and, that’s a story told through ten songs, but you know once again its kind of about having the bigger moments and the smaller moments; the moments that you can just dance to and moments that are more angry, and more sweet things… track listing is super important, it creates the different moments of the story.

JP Recording


CR/ yeah that must be interesting doing music and having it parallel your film process. it’s um it’s kind of special when you can have several different forms that you like so that you can learn from all of them and take it back to each of them.

JP/ yeah definitely i think that we’re only one person each, but there are different parts of us that are interested in various things and if those different parts of our brains can have conversations and learn from each other it sort of–

CR/ yeah if all the people in our brains can connect and agree on things its always nice.

JP/ exactly.

CR/ cool um im really excited to see your short film.

JP/ cool yeah thanks ill send it over.




Paint BG-C watermark
JP i didn't..


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