K.K. Barrett

K.K. Barrett

AS: Did your being a musician have an impact on your film work?
KK: I was an artist first and I discovered when I became a musician that it was the same as being an artist. I approached everything the same. The same decision-making process exists in music as it does in film and design.

I used to compare a live set-list of songs to a song itself. You’ve got an introduction, you’ve got some alternating balances, verse/chorus, verse/chorus, you’ve got a bridge. A cliff-hanger. Film is exactly the same way. Instead of the songs there are scenes. And if you blow the ending- if you don’t have the ending then they’ll never remember the wonderful things that you’ve done to them on the way. If the last note is off they’ll forget the whole song. All they remember is the thing that stuck out. Rather than the dynamic journey.

It’s the same type of thinking whether it’s musical or it’s artistic. What’s your first glance? What’s your discovery after you look at something for a while? What’s the thought after you think about it tomorrow? I certainly hope that everyone walks out of the theater arguing at least. Because then they’ll keep thinking about it tomorrow. They might change their mind. They might hate it again. They might love it afterwards thinking they hated it at first. You don’t want them to just go, Yeah, that’s… good. What do you want to eat? And the design is just one cog in that.

AS: Would you describe the project that you’re currently working on with Karen O., Stop the Virgens, as an opera?
KK: It’s a psycho-opera. Karen recorded some music five years ago when I was off doing Marie Antoinette. She was a neighbor in Los Angeles. Between my doing Marie Antoinette and Where the Wild Things Are she wrote this whole album of music that she thought of as a musical or a song-cycle. She wanted to make it into small vignettes with different directors doing each piece. That never happened and we talked about making a film out of it. I tried to write a script with her on it and we realized that we didn’t really want to have any other words besides the lyrics. And we didn’t want anyone talk-singing like they do in musicals.  So it was not a musical whatsoever, it was an opera. It was story delivered emotionally through music. Not narratively through music.

She moved back to New York and since I’ve been in New York for the last year [working on Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close] we had time to really start thinking about it again and everything fell into place. We started interviewing directors and then we got funded by the Creator’s Project which is a combination of Vice Media and Intel. And all of a sudden we said, Okay, we gotta do this. We gotta do this right now.

I had made models for it maybe two years ago. Trying to figure out if it was to be staged or if it should be filmed. The models could have been for either one. And then I had to quickly re-organize them to be specific to this New York stage presentation. I’ve never really done actual theater before but if you’ve done enough music videos you’ve pretty much been doing theater in some way. It just kind of fell together and a lot of our friends are creatively involved with it. It’s got an orchestra, the people who actually recorded the songs, and her costume designer Christian Joy is doing the costumes. Everybody’s able to get outside of what they normally do and play.

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About the Interviewer

Tom Lisowski is a production designer who has designed swamp mazes shot in China, crumbling cliffs in Utah, future arenas in South Central, dilapidated tenements and twisted laboratories under luxurious mansions... William Anthony is a Los Angeles-based commercial and editorial photographer specializing in portraiture, lifestyle and documentary imagery... Guest photographer Nelson Cragg is an award-winning cinematographer who shoots and directs television, feature films, and commercial projects. Contact ArtStars: tom@artstars.us