Back in NYC

So the installation is finally done! It was a huge amount of work, but I’m happy with the way it turned out. The whole SFMOMA exhibition is up too, so if you’re in San Francisco, stop by the museum and take a look. My video is called “Buckminster Fuller and the Bay Area: A Relationship in 11 Fragments (inspired by the Dymaxion Chronofile).” The piece is a series of vignettes about different connections Fuller had to San Francisco.  It’s on a loop, so it’s always playing.

The sculpture part of the installation is inspired by Fuller’s Dymaxion Map of the World and was designed by SF projection company Obscura Digital. One of the huge challenges for me was to create a piece that would take advantage of the sculpture and feel almost collage-like but at the same time work as a coherent narrative. There were definite stories that I wanted to tell here, so that clarity was necessary.  We found, through trial and error, that too much “collage” made it impossible for the viewer to follow things––the piece became overwhelming––but not enough “collage” and it felt like we were squandering the potential of this cool sculpture. Finding that balance was the real work, and I hope that we’ve done it.

I’m back in NYC now, working on the second part of my commission for the museum: a “live documentary” about Fuller that I’m going to premier on May 1st. The band Yo La Tengo will be performing a live soundtrack, so I’ve been going out to Hoboken all week to work with them. It’s been a super interesting collaborative experience. Making music for movies is always a complex and challenging process; there’s no right or wrong way to go about doing it. And even the language is tough––as a director, you find yourself saying weird things like, “Could you add a little more heartbreak to that song?” Anyway, we seem to have found a pretty organic way of developing the soundtrack, and I’m very excited about the songs that are taking shape. More details in the next post.

Yo La Tengo image courtesy of Josh Sanseri Photography.

Killing Your Babies, Part 2

So I’m down to the final stretch of editing for the Fuller installation. I’ve been working nonstop for about a month now with my old pal and collaborator Dave Cerf, as well as an After Effects wiz, Matt Notaro. We’ve been hanging out at SFMOMA as the sculpture’s installed, testing and screening video clips. The whole process is really exciting—it’s been super helpful to see how the video interacts with the actual space. It’s so different from watching it on a screen.

But as I’ve fine-tuned the piece, unfortunately, I’ve had to cut more things that I love. The latest casualty—that 1952 proposal that Buckminster Fuller put together to build a domed restaurant at the top of Twin Peaks! Check out how cool the design was in relation to the real place:

Can you imagine?? The restaurant would have looked quite a bit like the famous dome Fuller later built for Expo 67 in Montreal.

Killing Your Babies

I’m still deep in the editing phase of “Buckminster Fuller and the Bay Area: A Relationship in 14 Fragments (inspired by the Dymaxion Chronofile),” the video installation I’m creating at SFMOMA. The show opens on March 29th, so the clock is ticking!

The video’s structure––a series of modular vignettes––is modeled on Fuller’s personal archive, the Dymaxion Chronofile. What sets the piece apart from my past work is that it involves so many different images––the multi-channel-ness of it is new to me, but also just really complex. It’s extremely difficult both from a technical perspective (I’m working with some great After Effects folks to make it happen) but also from an aesthetic one; there’s a big design component to this. Here are a couple early tests that we did, just to see how different layouts will look when projected on the installation:

One of the hardest things about any film project is eventually having to cut little details or pieces of footage that you’ve fallen in love with. Someone once referred to this part of the process as “killing your babies,” and it’s true.  In this case, something that broke my heart recently was having to cut a little section about Buckminster Fuller getting an honorary degree from the California College of Arts and Crafts (now known as CCA) in 1966. Also getting an honorary degree that day was… Duke Ellington! And CCA had a bunch of photos in their archive. Buckminster Fuller and Duke Ellington––can you imagine what they talked about?!! I even found a (slightly muddy) audio recording of Fuller’s talk that day. Wow. I loved this little moment, but alas, it just didn’t fit in the overall flow of the piece and it ended up on the cutting room floor. I guess that’s one of the good things about blogs: something like this that used to languish in obscurity can now make it’s way into the world… or at least onto the Internet.

Dymaxion Installation Update

I’m in San Francisco for a couple of weeks putting together the Buckminster Fuller installation for the SFMOMA show I mentioned in my last post. It’s exciting to see the project begin to come together, but also daunting! I’m collaborating with Obscura Digital on the installation, so the other day I visited them and checked out a wooden prototype of the piece they’re making. It’s a sculpture inspired by Fuller’s great Dymaxion map, pictured below. There will be four projectors behind the sculpture, projecting my video onto all of its surfaces.

The video I’m putting together is called “Buckminster Fuller and the Bay Area: A Relationship in 12 Fragments (inspired by the Dymaxion Chronofile).” It’ll be about 30 minutes long and will screen as a loop. Like the title implies, it will look at Fuller and his relationship with SF through a series of vignettes, ranging from his proposal to build a domed restaurant at the top of Twin Peaks in the early 1950s to a weirdly lifelike bronze cast of Fuller’s hands that the sculptor Ruth Asawa made in the 1970s. “The Dymaxion Chronofile,” by the way, is what Fuller called his enormous archive of papers, now located at Stanford, where I’ve done a lot of research for this project.

The big challenge with this piece is figuring out how to use all the screens––to make something that’s truly multi-channel and collage-like, but also maintains some narrative and clarity. It’s a great problem, but also fun, and definitely new ground for me. I am working some hella-long hours!

Back to Obscura Digital––remember that huge, world’s-largest rubber band ball, which used to be in the corner store on Dolores by the Lone Palm? The family that owned the place was building the rubber band ball for years, hoping to get a Guinness World Record. I’d wondered what had happened to it, since it’s not in that store any more. Turns out it’s actually in the basement of Obscura Digital now!

Buckminster Fuller – SFMOMA

I’m deep into a new project that I’m very excited about: the SFMOMA is opening a show next month called “The Utopian Impulse: Buckminster Fuller and the Bay Area,” and they commissioned me to put together a multi-part documentary project about Fuller and SF. I’m going to post regular updates about the project here, and hopefully it’ll be an interesting window onto the process. The research is really interesting and great fun, and I’m excited to share some of this stuff.

When you work on a film, you end up having a similar conversation over and over:

“What are you up to these days, Sam?”

“I’m working on a new project about this guy named Buckminster Fuller, ” I say, and at this point in the conversation I usually look at the other person’s face to see if there’s any recognition – if the name the means anything to them. There’s a whole range of responses, from stone-faced and no-bells-ringing-at-all, to “oh, isn’t that the Geodesic dome guy?” to an enthusiastic: “I totally fucking love Buckminster Fuller – that’s excellent.”

If you’re reading this and have no idea who Fuller was, just take a quick look at Wikipedia – he’s definitely worth checking out. He was a fascinating figure – a designer, architect, visionary, and utopian. And like Joseph Cornell or Jean Painlevet, Fuller was around for a long time – he started working in the 1920s and continued all the way thru the 80s – and spanned a bunch of different eras. Fuller is definitely having a moment of being rediscovered, perhaps because his work has such a striking resonance today.

So the two main pieces I’m putting together for SFMOMA are a live documentary and an installation. The live piece is called “The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller” and it’ll combine live narration and powerpoint live score, a lot like my previous “live documentary,” “Utopia in Four Movements.” I’m really excited that for this new Fuller piece, the band Yo La Tengo has agreed to do perform the live soundtrack with me. (I’ve always been a big YLT fan, and I still have very powerful memories of the live show they did with the movies of Jean Painlevé at the Castro way back in the early 2000s. It was one of the most sublime cinematic experiences I’ve ever had!)

“The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller” will premier at the SFMOMA on May 1, 2012 as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival. (A warning: you better get your tickets early – it’s definitely gonna sell out. I don’t want you to be to be texting me a half-hour before the show asking if I have any extra comps!)

The other part of this project will be a multi-channel documentary installation about Fuller and the Bay Area. I’m putting together a 20-minute video that will be projected on a super cool sculpture that’s being built by the SF projection company Obscura Digital. My pal and collaborator Todd Griffin is doing the music for this one.

This piece will be part of the exhibit at the SFMOMA, which will open on March 29th – yikes, that’s not very far away, so I gotta sign off and get some work done. But like I said, I’m going to post updates here – I hope you enjoy.