The Sundance Film Festival has long been a place of discovery for young independent filmmakers. This year’s festival, taking place now through Jan. 29 in Park City, Utah, will propel unknown actors, directors, and writers, to levels of success only a fortunate few ever see.
For Central High School graduate Lindsay Stephen, Sundance 2017 looks to be one of those fairy tale moments we all dream of. As set decorator on “The Incredible Jessica James,” literally all eyes will be on Stephen’s work. The film starring former “Daily Show” correspondent Jessica Williams and “Bridesmaids” funny man Chris O’Dowd, has the extremely fortunate distinction of closing out the film festival.
“It is incredibly exciting to be a part of a film that is receiving so much praise,” Stephen said. “The entire film crew believed in director Jim Strouse’s vision and trusted him completely. It paid off with a really charming movie that I think people are going to enjoy.”
A set decorator is one of many unheralded but crucially important collaborators in the film-making process. Lost in shadows cast by Hollywood’s biggest stars are the behind-the-scenes workers pouring all their creative energy into a project to bring it life. These inventors and savant designers create the worlds that their infinitely more famous counterparts get to act in, and we get to escape to.
On “Jessica James” Stephen was in charge of set dressing the entire film’s sets. Dressing includes hand selecting all furnishings, drapery, lighting fixtures, artwork and many of the other objects featured in the final filmed image. Everything the audience sees on screen is ruthlessly criticized to the point of insanity. If the world people like Stephen help create is not perfect, then overall visual aesthetic of a film breaks down, ultimately dooming the project.
“The most challenging part (of set decoration) is to create a space that appears to have a history, a place that has been lived in. It is supposed to be a slice of the character’s life, and one of the most important parts of the entire art department is for (the sets) to be seamless. A set is supposed to feel natural and real.”
Stephen fell in love with film at an early age and showed an aptitude for filmmaking almost immediately. Like many young girls she would stay up late, watching the Oscars with her dad, spellbound by the magic of Hollywood. As kids, Stephen and her brothers would hijack the family camcorder and make short films during their family vacations. When her brothers lost interest, Stephen kept filming. She would convince her friends to star in her productions, and if they weren’t available, she’d do it herself.
Eventually, Stephen’s passion for filmmaking led her to Boulder, where she studied film production at the University of Colorado. Her senior project, a production called “Well,” was selected for the short program at the Cannes Film Festival. This led to creative opportunities with National Geographic, the BBC, and her first big break into feature film production. Working in the art department on Sofia Coppola’s movie “Bling Ring,” Stephen immediately fell in love with the work and knew that she had found her calling.
“To be in this industry it takes perseverance, dedication, trust in yourself and a whole lot of gumption,” Stephen said. “I have canceled trips, missed weddings and birthdays and probably haven’t slept more than five hours a night since I started, but every year I am working on more exciting projects in more pivotal roles, making all the sacrifices worth it.”
With the buzz surrounding “Jessica James” and Todd Haynes’ film adaptation of “Wonderstruck” — due out later this year and featuring Stephen as a set decorating assistant — this small-town girl who foolishly dared to pursue a life in showbiz is doing exceptionally well for herself.
Sundance is looking like an early career defining moment, the first of what will surely be many, for this young, driven talent.
You guys remember reading? Top to bottom, left to right, a group of words together is called a sentence? Well, now that it’s officially time to start your holiday shopping, why not give the music fan in your life a new book. A number of new releases across all music genres have hit the shelves, and here are five worth considering:
“Gone ‘Til November: A Journal of Rikers Island” by Lil Wayne
In 2010, southern rap god Lil Wayne began his yearlong sentence at New York’s notorious Rikers Island Prison Complex. Convicted of carrying a loaded .40 calibre semi-automatic gun on his tour bus in 2007, Wayne’s “Gone ‘Til November” details his day-to-day activities and interactions with fellow inmates during his eight-month prison stay (Wayne was released early for good behavior). Just two years removed from the release of one of the biggest rap albums of all time and his magnum opus, “Tha Carter III,” the Cash Money lyricist reflects on a humbling and trying incarceration experience.
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
Sixty-five million albums sold. Nine number one albums. Eighteen headlining tours. A Super Bowl halftime show appearance. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee. We all know Bruce Springsteen’s major career highlights. Now it’s time to dig deeper into what makes Springsteen the Boss. In “Born to Run” Springsteen writes about growing up in Freehold, New Jersey, the early days playing bars in Asbury Park, and gives fans a behind the scenes look at the massive success of the E Street Band.
Universally acclaimed for its candor and openness, this biography is the perfect companion to Springsteen’s legendary music catalog.
“Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements” by Bob Mehr
Author and journalist Bob Mehr spent a decade researching the story of alternative rock pioneers the Replacements. Mehr tells the band’s story through new interviews with key members, songwriter Paul Westerberg, bassist Tommy Stinson, and the family members of the late guitarist Bob Stinson. Featuring 72 rare photos, “Trouble Boys” tells the story of a rowdy, unpredictable band that was once permanently banned from the Saturday Night Live stage after performing drunk in front of a live television audience.
“The Keys” by DJ Khaled
Human meme DJ Khaled is better known for his Snapchats than his music. Don’t get me wrong, Khaled has done well for himself as a DJ and producer, working his way up from DJing school dances in Orlando to the top of the Miami music scene. He’s released nine albums and has collaborated with a literal who’s-who of the rap world. It’s the daily inspiration he offers to his 2 million Snapchat followers, though, that he’s become best known for.
Sharing jewels of wisdom like “don’t ever play yourself” (don’t do anything foolish to jeopardize your prosperity) and “secure the bag” (financial security), Khaled’s new book “The Keys,” offers the same quick hit advice he gives his followers on Snapchat.
“Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout” by Laura Jane Grace
Florida teen Tom Gabel formed Against Me! in 1997 with an acoustic guitar and notebook full of politically charged lyrics. Over the next 15 years the band would establish themselves as a favorite among fans and critics alike. Against Me! is one of the most influential modern punk bands, yet this is not your typical music biography.
In a 2012 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Gabel revealed a secret that he had held for 30 years: he was a transsexual. “Tranny” is a groundbreaking story of Gabel’s search for identity and how his life and the band has changed since announcing that he would now live life as a woman named Laura Jane Grace.
Cash Kiser’s laugh had the power to change your day. It was a sort of full-body chuckle, something he summoned deep within his body and generously shared with anyone lucky enough to run into him. No matter how melancholy I would feel, a chance interaction with Cash would always turn my spirits around.
It seemed whenever a wave of anxiety would hit me, perhaps standing alone at a concert, Cash would be the next person through the door. As if he sensed my unease, he would come straight over and we’d hug, share a drink and just talk about what was going on in our lives.
His eyes and cheek-to-cheek smile would radiate so much love that I couldn’t help but let it wash over me and I’d instantly start to feel better. And that chuckle — that’s what I’ll miss the most, I think, about Cash, who took his own life on Saturday.
Cash had this effect on everyone. He gave and gave, and then gave again without any expectations in return.
When I met Cash he was working for KAFM Community Radio as the event and outreach coordinator, promoting shows in the Radio Room and organizing special events for the station. We first got to work together in 2013 on Zombie Prom with event founder Ryan Stringfellow and fellow KAFM employee Alicia Mitchell.
Cash brought so many great ideas to the event that it made me want to work harder and match his enthusiasm. To this day I feel like that was the best Zombie Prom we ever did. We made a lot of money for the radio station and the poster I made for the event is one of my favorite designs.
“You crushed that Zombie Prom poster!” Cash would always tell me. He was so proud to have worked on such a successful event and so flattering in his praise, I’ll forever love him for that.
We continued to collaborate when he went out on his own, forming his production company Skylark. I helped him make logos for his company and posters for his shows because I truly believed in what he was trying to accomplish.
Cash genuinely wanted to elevate the Grand Junction music scene. He saw opportunity here to do something special by booking successful regional bands and pairing them with local openers. His productions created opportunity for bands like mine to play with inspiring and talented musicians. He created openings for local bands to build their reputation and get their name out to regional audiences.
It was invaluable work that didn’t go unnoticed.
If you follow my column you know that Cash was a frequent contributor. I interviewed him at least seven times on a variety of topics. Each and every time Cash was a joy to speak with. His entire face would light up with excitement as we would talk about his upcoming projects.
Cash loved music and he understood on a deeper level the real joy it brings to people. Music is about connecting with loved ones and sharing special moments.
“My favorite thing about Radio Daze is that we get to have all these things at once with our friends,” Cash said in an August 8, 2014, interview about KAFM’s Radio Daze fundraiser.
“Yes, the perks of the 300 Watt Ale, the (car raffle), and the music are great, but what I really enjoy is that we get to share the experience with our friends and have a fun and festive time together.”
Cash loved our local music scene and was such a jovial spirit. He went to every show, supported every band, and would do anything to help it succeed. He was a great advocate for the community, but an even a better friend. Though no longer with us, his overwhelming positivity and support will live on forever.
When Apple announced the iPhone 7 would not have a 3.5 mm headphone jack, my immediate reaction, much like yours, was WTF? I stream music off my phone more than I do on any device, often through a pair of chunky, traditional, over-the-ear studio headphones. How could the company that revolutionized the way people consume music literally cut the chord between users and their devices?
As it turns out, there are smarter ways to stream audio.
A 3.5 mm headphone jack serves very little purpose other than sending out audio. Headphone jacks take up a lot of space, you can’t send power through it, you can’t connect other devices through it, you can’t operate the phone through it, and you can’t waterproof it. In other words, in the eyes of the world’s most innovative tech company, 3.5 mm jacks are obsolete.
One of the biggest consumer complaints that come with any new device like the iPhone 7 is that upgrading often forces you to update your companion devices as well. After spending hundreds of dollars on a new phone you must also upgrade your chargers, cases and headphones in order to take advantage of the new device’s technology. That’s a luxury that many people struggle to afford, but if you are able to do it, the new wave of wireless artificially intelligent audio headphones available to consumers is nothing short of a revelation.
First, let’s start with Apple’s AirPods, the wireless companion earbuds to the iPhone 7. It’s clear from Apple’s new line of products that they firmly believe in a wireless future and also a future where multiple devices sync and communicate with each other.
Yes, the AirPods are earbuds, but they do much more than just playback audio. AirPods recognize the user’s voice, allowing you to talk to Siri, Apple’s built-in, AI assistant, without taking your phone out of your pocket or fidgeting with the Apple Watch. With AirPods you can make calls, launch a music playlist, adjust the volume and get directions all through the sound of your voice.
Third-party hardware developers are also brining AI headphone systems to the market with some very cool features. Bragi Dash wireless earbuds will learn your body’s gestures and respond accordingly. For example, nod yes to accept a call, shake your head no to decline it. They are also waterproof and can track your activity level, making them a nice accessory for athletes.
Most impressive is Doppler Labs’ Here One headphone system. At face value Here One gives users much of the same function as Apple’s AirPods. Users can make calls, talk to a device’s AI assistant and stream audio, but the big differences are that Here One can sync with a variety of operating systems and, most importantly, it allow users to tune the audio world around them.
What does that mean exactly? Well, think about the last time you were on an airplane. How badly did you want to tune out the overwhelming white noise of air travel and the crying baby one row back? Using Here One’s accompanying app you can literally choose what you want to hear. Remove the chaos around you with a quick adjustment and focus solely on your streaming music. It’s noise cancelation done smartly.
Here One also allows users to EQ the world around them. For example, if you were at a loud concert and felt the snare hits from the drum kit were too loud, using their app you could EQ that frequency out and make a personal audio mix much more tolerable and enjoyable to listen to.
These new wireless headphones are meant to be functional, wearable technology that allows us to interface and fine-tune our relationship with technology in a very personal way. As someone who spends the bulk of their day streaming audio, often on the go, shaping sound to fit my needs is enticing. If this kind of technology is available now, I can only image what advancements we will see in the near future.
Regardless, useful wearable technology is here and the way we interact with audio will never be the same.
A couple weeks ago I found myself in Detroit touring one of America’s great music destinations, the Motown Museum.
The home of Motown from 1959 to 1972, Hitsville is a must visit for any music fan. Essentially a two-story home converted into a recording studio and administrative office, the overall impression of the building is not that impressive. The music created inside, however, is a completely different story.
The guided tour starts off with a quick history of the label and founder Berry Gordy. After writing a number of hit singles for other R&B artists in the late 1950s, Gordy, a former boxer, founded Motown with the encouragement of Smokey Robinson, his business partner and lead singer of the Miracles, and a small $800 loan from his family in 1959.
A seemingly endless stream of hits followed from the Supremes, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and the Jackson 5.
In just a few short years Gordy built up a recording empire in the heart of the Motor City so adept at topping the pop charts it became known as Hitsville U.S.A.
The tour continues with a walk through the second-floor Gordy apartment and, finally, the original recording studio, Studio A. The interior of Hitsville is original to the 1960s heyday. The desk that Martha Reeves answered phones at looks untouched, as does the couch Marvin Gaye slept on and the candy machine young Stevie Wonder frequented.
What will stick with me the most though is how Gordy was able to build a community through music that crossed racial and political lines, not only within Detroit, but with the entire world.
The initial Motown roster included artists that grew up in and around Detroit’s public housing projects. For example, the founding members of the Supremes all grew up in the Brewster-Douglass housing project with Smokey Robinson. The greatest feat Gordy ever achieved was taking the best talent out of Detroit’s poorest neighborhoods and packaging it for mass audiences worldwide.
Initially that packaging meant omitting pictures of the artists on their own records because Gordy wanted people to judge the music by its quality and not the color of the artists’ skin. It also meant Motown’s songwriters had to start writing music based on universal themes so all audiences could relate.
“I wanted songs for the whites, blacks, the Jews, Gentiles, the cops and the robbers. I wanted everybody to enjoy my music,” Gordy said.
Motown’s catalog, more than 180 worldwide No. 1 hits, speaks volumes to Gordy’s legacy. Lined with nothing but classic hit records, Gordy’s ability to connect all walks of people through music during a time of extreme tension is as impressive as any piece of memorabilia hanging on the walls of the museum.
Motown defined the sound of 1960s young America, but those records are still as fresh today as they ever were. I hope there’s still Motown magic left for us to draw on. Gordy’s vision of uniting the world around a simple pop song is as relevant today as it was in the 1960s.