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Filmmaker‘s Quarantine Mix Tape, Volume 1

in Filmmaking
on May 14, 2020

It’s 9:00 PM on a Friday night about two weeks back (could have been three, but who keeps time anymore?) when I found myself turning off the TV after two films and sitting at my desk. My brain couldn’t focus on another movie, and I felt inspired — wanting to get some writing done. Normally, I’d put on a coat and pop across the street to The Roost, my coffee/wine spot in New York’s East Village for late night writing. Alas… here we are. I realized how difficult it can be to “switch modes” when we can’t switch spaces. Whether that’s to try and get work done on a project, or just to snap out of an emotional state that’s got us spiraling (anyone else? I see a few hands). 

That night, I messaged a friend who’s a music supervisor, and we spent the next three hours trading music. The following week, I was able to put on a freshly unwrapped album or artist, and lock into a different mental and physical space much more easily. Sometimes it was Fiona Apple to get into a liberated vibe after sleeping till noon and before trying to work. Other times, it was putting on my favorite album to read scripts to, h hunt’s Playing Piano for Dad. Or if I needed to bust out a new draft of my feature (there have been three during quarantine good lord), I’d listen to Nils Frahm’s All Melody, which basically occupies the top 10 songs on my 2019 Spotify. If it was a physical record, I’d have broken it by now. 

There have been so many incredible lists going around of recommended film watching. I know I have a stairway of cinema heaven to climb in the coming months. But what about music? Music is an integral part of the creative process, and the flourishing of a healthy mental, physical and emotional state of being — something that’s extra effort right now.  It helps us escape into creative zones, and also pull us out of them — especially for anyone working on something that’s in a darker genre, or is simply a bit tedious. I was extremely curious what music my favorite filmmakers, writers and creators were listening to during our time in quarantine.

The following is a curated collection of artists working in the film medium — an album (or albums) they chose to share, and a bit about why. The criteria was music that’s inspiring them creatively, that they write to, read to, or something that’s purely getting people through existing in the space they call home. 

Listening to each of these albums over the past week or so has been such a delight. I’ve found certain artists like Miles Davis, a Sonejuhi Sinha (Stray Dolls) offering, a great companion to script reading. Torres, from Sean Baker (The Florida Project) has become what I listen to checking emails before getting into a writing zone. And the magnificent The Limiñanas, recommended by Kate Arizmendi (Swallow), what I now dance to when I need to not be at a damn computer. Whether you’re looking for some new music to provide some focus, to have some fun amidst the madness, or music that launches you into a space of reflection (Moby’s “Hotel : Ambient” from Justin Chon is a good one for that)  — I hope you guys enjoy this playlist as much as I have. 

We’re planning to continue this  — with new curations and curators! This first round, there weren’t any stipulations to genre, so what I’ve gathered is ear candy coming in a kaleidoscope of flavors. Listen to one album at once, or put it on shuffle and let the sounds smash together in Volume I: Filmmaker Magazine’s Quarantine Mix. 

Alex Ross Perry (filmmaker, Her Smell)

The Black Album – Metallica

“I’m Far Away” – Vivian Girls 

The energy and chaos of metal called out to me when this all started. For whatever obvious reason, wanting to turn up loud something fast, intense and dark was making the most sense to me in mid-March. I began shuffling through the Metallica remasters of those first five albums. Then, totally arbitrarily, I had gotten to The Black Album on the day my wife and I decided to drive through an abandoned Manhattan, up to Times Square, down 5th Avenue and around Midtown. So, weirdly, the videos she was taking through the windshield became scored to this record, “Enter Sandman,” starting just as we turned south onto Broadway at 49th street to look at the empty theater district. Something about the sweeping, desolate epic-ness of this album will now forever tie it to seeing Manhattan entirely empty for the first time in my life. The bleakness of the lyrics and the situation we found ourselves in complimented each other perfectly, and by accident. I think until this all “goes away” the literate doom of “The Black Album” is going to echo for me, both on the nose and in the ears.

And if I may offer a bonus single-song suggestion, “I’m Far Away,” off the most recent Vivian Girls album, is definitively the song of the covid quarantine for me. It echoes every time I go for a solitary walk, late at night, avoiding people, and at most other times as well. I can’t explain it, but listen and you will understand. 

Celia Rowlson-Hall  (filmmaker & choreographer, Ma)

American Utopia – David Byrne 

The Disintegration Loops – William Basinski 

There is one album playing in our house on repeat and that is David Byrne’s American Utopia. It’s slightly obsessive. We dance to “Road to Nowhere” maybe 20 times a day. 

I’ve been writing to The Disintegration Loops as it helps me escape to a certain world and space that I’m creating in my film.  

Sean Baker (filmmaker, The Florida Project) 

Silver Tongue – Torres

I absolutely love the new album by Torres which came out in the beginning of the year 

(Unfortunately her tour was canceled due to Covid-19).  It’s hypnotic, moving, cynical and overall great ear candy. 

Laura Moss (filmmaker, Fry Day)

Parallel Lines – Blondie 

I was born in New York City, I’m currently isolating at home on the Lower East Side, and I feel incredibly rooted in my city when I listen to this album.  I’ve had it on replay since I was a kid, usually on my walkman, skating against traffic to get to high school. Back then, in the 90’s, the NYC Debbie Harry ruled was already lost to gentrification and time, but you can feel it live again in these songs.

Shannon Houston (writer, Little Fires Everywhere)

Belly soundtrack – various artists 

Everything is changing, but DMX is forever. For me to survive all this, let alone be creative, it’s been all about comfort and nostalgia, and anything that reminds me of being 15 years old, with no bills, no kids, and no disinfecting groceries. Listening to my favorite tracks (“No Way In,” “Devil’s Pie,” “Crew Love,” “What About” and “Top Shotta”) I literally feel safer, but I’m also reminded of great art and how powerful it is, especially when the world is falling apart.  When I’m feeling stir crazy, I pour a drink and blast “Windpipe” and scream along with ODB. Very therapeutic. 

Justin Chon (filmmaker, Ms. Purple)

Hotel : Ambient – Moby 

I love turning this on and sitting in my camping chair outside while I think. There are no words and the vibe gets me relaxed to put me in a good mental space.

Daniel Goldhaber (filmmaker, Cam)

async remodels – Ryuichi Sakamoto

I’ve been listening to this not just because of its varied and calming tones, but also because it basically includes all my favorite electronic artists. 

Kate Arizmendi (cinematographer, Swallow)

(I’ve Got) Trouble In Mind: 7′ And Rare Stuff 2009/2014 – The Limiñanas

I’m the kind of person that listens to the same music over and over until I get so sick of it that it makes me nauseous to hear it again. Then I take a big break and when I come around to hearing it again I get an overwhelming sense of nostalgia and remember exactly where I was when I listened to it. This was one of the albums I put on repeat in my headphones during the hour-long drive to and from set in the Wadi Rum desert when we were shooting Dune. I get such a warm feeling listening to it again now.

Danny Bensi (composer, The Outsider)

… Like Clockwork – Queens of the Stone Age 

The Planets – Gustav Holst

Piano Concerto in G Major – Maurice Ravel 

I rarely listen to a whole album. I do go off on little YouTube listening journeys often… but I’m usually comparing performances of orchestras, soloists, conductors, etc. I’m fascinated about interpreting and performing music.  Last night for example I watched a good two hours of Gustavo Dudamel conducting various orchestras on YouTube.  I also love to watch Benjamin Zander teach students to open up and convey music.  The music moves me — and the performances move me.  If I get in the car, I usually listen to podcasts.  Right now, if I put on music, it’ll be Gustav Holst and/or Maurice Ravel — I stick with a composer or two for maybe a couple of weeks so they sort of seep into me. I listen to the orchestrations which help my work.  The melodies also.  If they seep in unconsciously, they then permeate unconsciously when I write.  It’s very subtle but it helps.

One of my favorite albums to listen to if I do put an album on, is Queens of The Stone Age: …Like Clockwork

Sonejuhi Sinha (filmmaker, Stray Dolls)

Yellow Submarine – The Beatles 

Kind of Blue – Miles Davis

Lately I’ve been listening to the Yellow Submarine album by The Beatles a lot. It’s just so timeless and it was the first time the band really experimented with recording their music in novel and different ways like placing mics inside drums etc. I also just saw the Miles Davis doc, Birth of the Cool, and have been listening to Kind of Blue again. It’s so layered and profound — you can find new meaning depending on the times you are living through and find something new every time you listen to it.

Danny Madden (filmmaker, Beast Beast)

The Soul Album – Otis Redding

I’ve been revisiting Monterey Pop a lot recently, the D.A. Pennebaker concert film documenting the 1968 music festival. It’s a mélange of some of the great, groundbreaking acts of the time and presented with such rawness and presence I can’t help but hit play again and again. Otis Redding is one of the performers that absolutely steals the show. He lifts you up in this superhuman, super-connected musical trance—sweating and yelling and smiling. It’s awe-inspiring. So that’s led me to his albums, the standout for me right now is The Soul Album (1966). Fits the mood, melancholy but gets you dancing — he just carries you. So whether I’m getting inventive with new ways of preparing oatmeal, or finishing the day’s work and swaying back and forth in my room, it sets the right mood. Give it a listen however you’re feeling.

Alex Huston Fischer & Eleanor Wilson (filmmakers, Save Yourselves!)

Titanic Rising – Weyes Blood

It gets us that ’70s Carole King fix with a little science fiction. Like nostalgia for aliens. And if you play it loud you will cry. Bonus: We have a song of hers in our movie [Save Yourselves!] which meant we had to listen to it 1 million times, and even when we got to the point when watching the movie was torture, hearing that song was truly a boost every time. Double bonus: track 1 on the b-side is a song called “movies” which is our favorite brand. Triple bonus: shout out to the music supervisor. Kyle McKeveny for introducing.

Scott Nuestadter (writer, The Disaster Artist)

It’s Never Been Like That and Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix – Phoenix

The thing Michael Weber and I are writing now is this sprawling ’70s rock and roll love story which means, at least creatively, it’s been a pretty steady diet of Nick Drake, Big Star, Fleetwood Mac and Yacht Rock (with some Talking Heads and Television.) 

But on a personal note, we’ve been in the house for almost seven weeks now — my wife, our 7-year-old son and our 3-year-old daughter — and the only albums we can all agree on and have yet to grow tired of are It’s Never Been Like That and Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. 

Kristen Yoonsoo Kim (writer, The NYTimes, GQ)

Honey’s Dead – The Jesus and Mary Chain

It’s not my favorite Jesus and Mary Chain album (that would be Darklands) but “Almost Gold,” off their 1992 album Honey’s Dead (a title announcing the departure from their hit “Just Like Honey”) has been my stay-at-home crush anthem for some time. The rest of this record complements my angsty, regressive teenage mood of restlessness that inspires both brooding and bedroom dancing. Plus, it’s so blown out and reverbed, in classic J&MC style, that it’s also good background music for when I’m writing. 

Emma Tammi (filmmaker, The Wind)

Ache of Victory – Zsela

Last year, Zsela’s single “Noise” blew me away. Then I saw her live, and wow, is she the real deal. Her voice feels familiar and nostalgic  — a nod to Joan Armatrading, Annie Lenox and Sade — while simultaneously fresh and all her own. Now during this shelter in place, she’s dropped Ache of Victory (the very day that I am writing this!) and the first track is aptly named “Drinking.” I’m all in. 

Brandon Harris (author; development executive, Amazon)

Harvest Moon – Neil Young

Basically all I’ve been listening to today is old Neil Young records. There’s a wispy mournfulness that runs through this, one of his most famous albums, and these days I am definitely here for it. He remains my favorite Canadian.

Brian McOmber (composer, Blow the Man Down)

Sorry To Bother You – The Coup

Indeterminacy – John Cage 

The last thing I really listened to was The Coup’s Sorry To Bother You, about a month ago.  I kept thinking about their song, ‘The Guillotine.’  I used to listen to The Coup in college. I also listened to John Cage’s Indeterminacy while doing the dishes the other night.  That’s one of my favorite recordings to do noise making activities to, like clean the house or do dishes. But I don’t really listen to “music” while I work, ever.  I’ve known people who can do things that require concentration like reading or writing while listening to music at the same time.  I have never been able to do that.  When I listen to music, I listen to music. 

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