Starting with 42, how did the narrative come about – did it evolve through discussions with dylAn or was it driven more by a desire for self-expression? What were the main challenges of the production?
“42 is a bold statement that needs to be seen by the world.” – Jaden Smith
Ben: The idea of 42 came to us after a few days of writing vastly different scenes. 42 was originally a much larger video that took place in multiple locations but it just wasn’t feasible. Our favorite scene involved two boys in a brutal fist-fight on the grass, that eventually lead to them making out. That idea grew into a narrative where dylAn gets invited by his friends to partake in their secret fight club.
I wanted to tell a badass story about kids like myself. I’m a skater, martial artist, artist, and I’m bisexual. There’re times when my energy is masculine and times when it’s feminine. Growing up I was sorta ashamed of the way I am but I have learned to love myself unapologetically.
It was a lot of pressure creating believable fight-sequences with actors who don’t have experience with theatrical fighting. I was also pretty nervous to kiss someone on camera. It was my first same-sex kiss.
David: We shot the video in six hours without a producer or AD. Malik Shakur (nephew of Tupac) lent his often kept-private image to one of the pivotal roles.
David, with such earlier solo-directing hits as Tears for Health, the series for Hammock, and By Some Miracle for Philip Selway why did you feel the need to create a directing partnership with Ben Tan called American Millennial?
About three years ago, I took a step back from the industry in order to re-evaluate my long term goals. Right around then… I met Ben.
Ben saved my life. He knows this. He single-handedly lifted me out of my darkest period. Teaming up with him forced me to stop focusing so much on myself and to assume the role of mentor. I strive to provide Ben with the guidance I often sought but rarely received during my self-actualization at his age. In some ways, it feels like starting over from the ground up; with that oddly familiar feeling not unlike a dream.
There’s a ten year difference between you and Ben – how has this affected your collaboration and what are the key lessons you’ve learnt since creating American Millennial?
We spend our lives chasing the memories of youth. Art reflects this. If the opportunity presented itself for you to re-live the years 18-21, would you seize it? The ability to “come of age” in Southern California was something I dreamt about daily while growing up in New Hampshire in the late 90s.
It’s now 2017 and it’s like I’m 21 again. For the last three years, I’ve been a fly on the wall. I witnessed all the essential awakenings once more and up close. Ben welcomed me into his world without judgement. He introduced me to the broad range of people in his life, from those he’d grown up with to artists/creatives he’d met off twitter (Benji Taylor, for example). These kids are dropped in and not settling for anything less than incredible pursuits. You will hear about many of them in the coming years if you haven’t already.
Ben: I love working with David. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t reflect on how lucky I am to be working with him.
Please tell us about some of the other AM projects – in addition to 42, we particularly love Horny AF and Generation Why.
David: No project thus far has been the same. The budgets range from nothing to $100k.
Generationwhy took about a year from inception to completion. It’s not often the industry bends that far to accommodate the creative process, and it did not go unnoticed.
Our film Chloë stemmed from a shoot our friend Todd Cole booked. Todd and his wife Cayce are true role models on how to balance life with art and they continue to inspire us.
Often, we try to pull from the unique pool of talent that already exists around us. We have plans for long-form content too.
How does your creative process work within the partnership? Do you both work on ideas and narratives together?
Ben is a sponge. Three years in, our roles often feel interchangeable. Our tastes line up and differ in enlightening ways. There is a mutual trust that exists between us that removes the anxiety from splitting tasks. I’m the most efficient I’ve ever been and what I’ve learned from him will inform my work for the rest of my career.
Do you extend your visual work across other platforms?
I’ve been taking a lot of portraits.
David, directors are now valued for their talent to write their own narratives along with their ability to craft films with a distinctive filmic voice. To what extent do you think this is applicable to your own development as a director?
The first couple years directing professionally, you practically boil over with excitement. You fly around the world and work with new people constantly. Previously locked doors swing open and each opportunity seems to top the last.
Then a humbling occurs. What seems like “artistic integrity” translates to “elitist asshole” which proceeds to destroy your finances and eat away your at personal and professional relationships. You frequently arrive at the crossroads of doing right by the work or maintaining relationships. I couldn’t stand the concept of compromised art, which labelled me a liability. I watched many of my peers get rich while I went broke… but I never betrayed that voice in my head. I think that’s worth something.
I’m happy to hear that things are progressing in the right direction for directors who come to the table with something to say.
We loooove Empty for Kevin Abstract. Was this a solo project?
I helped Kevin through the process of self-directing and I like to think I left my mark in the process. I believe if you invest time and energy when it matters most, you rise together. Kevin Abstract is having a very interesting career and I’m happy to support him in his early stages. Over this last weekend, I consulted with him about his plan to shoot a feature film (he’s 21) to release alongside his collective’s (Brockhampton) new album release later this month (and third release this year).
He wants to shoot and edit a feature film in one month! Based on his track record, he just may pull it off. Hours after our meeting, he boarded a private jet for the first time, off to shoot an ad campaign in NYC. Then he’s back two days later to start filming the movie. Godspeed, friend.
The song “Empty” comes from Kevin’s solo album American Boyfriend, which has become the ultimate escape for queer youth, as evidenced by their VICELAND show, sold out solo tours, and prolific online releases thus far. The goal of that video was to not only break, but shatter, any sense of normalcy within the hip hop community.
“42” follows suit, attacking from another angle and with slightly different intent.
Incidentally who are you signed to at the moment and is American Millennial affiliated with any production company?
We are looking for a home.
Ben, may we have the back story please on what led you to directing and where did you meet David? Was there a particular project that drew you to work together?
In high school watching movies like Kids, Enter the Void, Requiem for a Dream, and A Clockwork Orange inspired me to make films. I got a camera in 10th grade and taught myself how to edit in Final Cut Pro.
David and I met when he was casting a music video he was directing for Washed Out. We stayed in touch even though I wasn’t cast and eventually it led to our short Horny af.
You must have been driven to make films from a young age because, er, how old did you say you were now?
I am 21.
How would you define American Millennial?
American Millennial is a world we are creating. It’s people, ideas, memories. It’s also friendship. David and I have become best friends in the process of all this.
Are you directing some solo projects too?
I have a short film written that I’m hoping to shoot soon.
Directed by David Altobelli, Noah Kentis, and Ben Tan
DP: Jacob “Kuba” Bojsza
Color: Jack Tashdjian
Makeup: Shelby Smith
Cast: dylAn, Malik Shakur, Satchel Freiberger, Ashland Anderson, Gabe Plaza, Ben Tan, Sam Tan, Noah Yesa, Alexander Chavez, Louis Licata
Song produced by Noah Yesa