Neil Ira Needleman
Interview: 10 questions
1. Tell me something about your life and educational background
To some extent, I am a product of the Brooklyn, New York streets where I was born and raised. Although I long ago moved out of New York City proper, I still feel the rhythm of New York’s outer boroughs surging inside me. And when I get hungry, I long for the Jewish delicatessens, Chinese restaurants, and Italian eateries of my old neighbourhood. I was born toward the middle of the last century, which means my first camera (I tend to define the stages of my life by the cameras I used) was an 8mm film camera. My school education was typical of New York youth, which meant there was little emphasise on art or culture. I discovered that on my own by way of a Beethoven record I found (the Eroica), which I played constantly. It taught me the about power of art and music to move people. I was also educated by the endless stream of TV shows and movies that I devoured as a kid. Since I was a lone, skinny Jewish boy in a tough (and intolerant) Italian neighbourhood, I stayed home a lot and watched TV. And more TV.
2. When, how and why did you start filming?
At a very young age, I discovered that I could memorize the movies I watched: the shots, the camera angles, the music, the editing, the dialogue, the lighting, etc. In fact, I was surprised to learn that my friends and relatives didn’t see what was so obvious to me when watching a movie. However, I was always searching for deeper and more personal modes of expression than what I found in commercial cinema. I truly believe that Beethoven helped push me in the direction of a more personal/avant-garde/experimental style in my own exploration of moving-picture creativity.
3. What kinds of topics do you have in your films?
Honestly, I’m the most diverse creative person I know. My moving-picture work, for example, spans many different styles and approaches: sentimental narratives (I’m a grandfather now, so I’m allowed to be sentimental!), intensely rhythmic visual experiences, family documentaries, etc. In the past few years I’ve moved beyond moving-picture works into the realm of sculpture and installation pieces.
4. How do you develop your films, do you follow certain principles, styles, etc?
The shape and form of each work is determined by what it needs to be. I don’t impose a structure on my work—unless it’s a piece that’s part of a series (such as my structuralist “Cellular Activity” series). If my resources are limited, I try to overcome them by using my imagination.
5. Tell me something about the technical equipment you use.
In my “professional” life as a creative person in an advertising agency, I work with people who have the very latest equipment and the most sophisticated hardware and software. But my personal projects are created with simple equipment, like a low-level HD camera and an older version of Adobe Premiere. It’s all about creativity, not equipment. When people tell me that they don’t have anything to shoot or edit with, I say, “Nonsense! If you have an imagination and a creative spark, you’re all set! Now stop complaining and start creating!”
6. These days, digital technology is dominating video as a medium. In which way is the digital aspect entering the creation of your videos, technologically and/or conceptually?
I work using digital equipment because it makes my life easier and helps me produce results that appeal to me. There are certainly aspects to digital editing and post-production capabilities that help shape the look and feel of the pieces I create. But I’m usually using digital capabilities as a convenience and resolution/quality factor.
7. How do you finance your films?
Recently, during the question and answer period at a film festival, someone asked the filmmakers (which included me) how they financed their movies. The answers were typical: “I max out my credit cards.” “I borrow money from my friends and family.” “I work three jobs, day and night.” When it was my turn, I simply said, “I never make anything that costs more than $25 to create.”
8. Do you work individually as a video artist/filmmaker, or do you work in a team?
If you have experience in both, what is the difference, what do you prefer?
I’m a real “team player” when it comes to my job at the advertising agency. However, my personal projects are just that: PERSONAL. They demand that I work alone or with just one other person, usually a friend to do the illustrations. I’ve also collaborated with my wife, who has been featured as the voice-over narrator in two of my works, My Personal Art History and Meeskeit. I’ve also collaborated with my artist friend Herb Rogoff on several videos, such as A Trip to Prague and Corner Delancey. Both of those works have been screened in many film festivals.
9. Who or what has had a lasting influence on your film/video making?
I’ve already mentioned Beethoven. In the realm of cinema, my first love was Orson Welles. In 1968, at the impressionable age of 11, my father took me to see Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey at a Cinerama theatre in New York City. (Remember Cinerama?) Wow! That certainly opened my eyes and my mind. Later on, I discovered Ken Jacobs, Stan Brakhage, Ernie Gehr, Hollis Frampton, Maya Deren, Keneth Anger, and the other greats of the American avant-garde cinema.
10. What are your future plans or dreams as a film/video maker?
I want to have enough time to realize all my current and future ideas. Is that too much to ask?