Over at digitalfaun, Alex Sinclair asked me a handful of great questions and I tried my best to come off as clever, sympathetic, humble, and relatable to a marketable demo. So far, it’s tracking pretty well on Facebook.
A N I N T E R V I E W W I T H A D A M L I S A G O R
When I began my first year in college, we were required solely to use black and white 35mm. For this we had to process and print it all by hand. There were a lot of long days spent in the darkroom and on top of a 90 minute commute to and from college each day, the spare time piled up. I tried audiobooks with moderate success but the attention span just wasn’t there for me. Then I discovered podcasts and with that, my obsession with a show called You Look Nice Today was born. I say ‘obsession’ and some of you may question how accurate that actually is but the playcount on several episodes has reached over 80.
So then, in the years since first discovering the podcast, I began to learn more and more about the three gentlemen behind the it all. Scott Simpson is a former iTunes employee turned stand-up comedian. Merlin Mann is a man who isn’t sure what he does, but knows he wants to do it efficiently. And lastly, there’s Adam Lisagor, founder of Sandwich Video, a rising production company based in downtown Los Angeles. Adam is perhaps the straight man of the group, or maybe the younger brother, that’s the role he generally gets cast in but it’s his combination of unpolished wry wit and goofy off-timing that really got to me.
Sandwich Video specialises in short explanatory style advertisements. This is Lisagor’s ace in the hole. He manages to create a body of work that encompasses other people’s products with his own ideas of representation. There isn’t anything elitist or pretentious about Lisagor’s productions. The videos are simply an extension of himself. A collection of short clips explaining how Adam sees individual pieces of the world.
How did starting your own company, Sandwich Video, affect your creative freedom? Surely the business side of things must play a part in the decision making process along the line.
When you operate a business, you’re beholden to things outside of yourself. But the dichotomy of being a designer of sorts is that your business thrives on your creativity. Most often hopefully, and crucially, the business springs from the creativity and not the other way around. The way my business got started, the way I found out I even had a business to begin with, is that I was my own first client, and I was serving a business need without knowing it. So what sprang from that was unbridled creativity and the need to communicate effectively while imbuing the communication heavily with my own personality. But then, the funny thing that happened was that business entities outside myself started requesting my services, having identified what was unique to my previous work—the character—as the salable element. So without having premeditated it, I’d built a business around my creativity.
One danger of being known for a certain style or voice is that all future business assumes repeatability of that voice, and so the threat is that future work constrains you to what you’ve been known for in the past. The easiest way around this threat is to break away from the repeatability, other than the mark of your quality and taste, and experiment as soon and as often as possible, so that you become known for dexterity and range rather than for doing a great imitation of yourself.
When you can trade on creativity, and all future work relies on the promise of creativity, you’re in a good place. I’ve found that the important thing is not to get too far ahead of myself—to grow the business slowly so that I don’t find myself having to sacrifice the values that are important to me in order to keep the business running.
Your video work seems to be a translation of your personality a lot of the time. Maybe it’s more present in the videos which you also feature in but in the majority of them you really get the sense that this is something you’re excited about doing. It’s really relatable to the viewer when they get that feeling. For example, the Warby Parker spot you did with Noah Kalina. Kalina in that video was his usual understated self but it still seemed like a version of you from some of the other videos. There’s a real Woody Allen subjectivity thing going on.
That’s a tremendous compliment, but you don’t have to print this part. Just pretend like I didn’t even acknowledge it, like I’m a real dick who just expects such high praise as a matter of course. I think the part of myself that translates the most strongly to my video work is the way I express a concept, really. There have been times in my life where I’ve been tremendously, painfully awkward and shy in a social situation. And there have been times where I’m around people who are quick-witted and self-assured and I think I could never live up to their expectations of social company, so I’ve had a policy of keeping my mouth shut and having people interpret that as thoughtfulness. But what I’ve found is that I’m most eloquent when I’m explaining a concept to someone, in any size group. When it’s something that I have an intuitive understanding of, I like to watch myself figure out how to think like a person who doesn’t have the intuitive understanding of that thing, and put together the pieces of understanding one by one in the right order and with the right subjective presence to make it possible for other people to suddenly understand.
Part of this process is pace and knowing when different pieces of a concept can be introduced. Knowing what a person’s expectations are, and understanding where they have to be in order to receive the next pieces of a concept. I enjoy that type of communication and it comes naturally to me because my mom is a great teacher and that’s how she always explained things to me. I suppose that good writing comes from that, and good joke telling, to a certain extent, is knowing where an audience is at each stage of your story—having the empathy to project a lack of knowledge and then a knowledge, in that order. And knowing what the reaction will be to each stage of knowledge.
So that’s how my personality comes through in my videos. There’s a measured, careful sharing present in each of them. My videos aren’t blatantly goofy or overly expressive because I’m not that way in person. That doesn’t mean I don’t value the goofy or stupid or overt or ridiculous. I value those things sometimes because I don’t know how to be them. But I surround myself with people who maintain an even temper, and that’s what I would consider the Sandwich house style, so to speak.
Do you still make personal projects?
I just recently started making the most personal, most important project of my life, if you can get ready to hold back your barf literally with your fingers as it threatens to break through your closed lips and dribble onto your shirt. I and my partner Roxana had our first child, a little boy named Linus a couple weeks ago. There was a moment about three months into the pregnancy where I had an epiphany—that once this child is born, I no longer matter, biologically speaking. It’s an incredibly freeing thing to no longer be the center of the world and oh my god I just realized you were asking about video projects, I’m so sorry.
Are there people in life who taught you to actually direct or does that just come naturally when you have a vision for a project?
This is a great question. I did go to film school at the highly reputable NYU Collegiate Academy for Cinemasophic Studies for the Advancement of Screen and Celluloid, but they didn’t teach me shit about directing. Or rather, if they did, I wasn’t listening or I skipped class that day which was not unusual. Before I ever showed up on set, some ten years after graduating, to direct for money for the first time, really, I’d been terrified of the idea. Does directing mean having a huge ego? Does directing mean talking about motivation or instinctively, almost telepathically knowing how to reach into an actor’s psyche and extract from him the one event of his life whose exploitation could work to manipulate him emotionally for the benefit of the camera? Does it mean making a frame with your fingers and yelling at a lot of people at once, or just wearing jodhpurs and saying yes no no yes no yes yes no as quickly as possible? Does it mean going “Say it like this” to a guy and then saying it how you want the guy to say the thing? I had no idea, and no way of knowing. The only way of knowing is to actually start telling people what to do. The old adage “fake it til you make it” applies so forcefully to directing that I can stop answerng right now but I won’t. At first, you show up and you wonder why all these people around you are going to listen to anything you say since you’re such a fraud and they know it. But then you slowly start to realize that they can successfully do their jobs because you tell them what you like and what you don’t like. And the more confidence you have in telling them what you like and don’t like, the more they’ll trust you, the more you’ll trust yourself, the easier the process will be and the sooner you’ll all go home.
Directing is two things, that I can think of right now. Number one is seeing in your head with as much clarity how you’d like something to go, be it the color of an actress’s skirt or the amount of haze in the frame or the exact pitch of an actor’s voice on a certain word or the blocking of scene 29 being parallel with the blocking of scene 2 and then correcting what actually happens until it gets closest to what you see in your head and number two is answering questions as quickly as possible. The big part of number one is that clarity of vision, and usually that vision is influenced in parts from all of what you’ve seen before you—be it the work of directors you’ve admired, or experiences in your life, or your imagination. But it’s a clarity that tells you with some certainty that there’s a way that things should go. And then, once everything turns out completely different from how you’d envisioned it, trying to compensate as best you can for the disparity and convincing yourself that it all happened intentionally.
How much of a role does the editing play in the final product for each You Look Nice Today episode? To me, half of the humour comes from the timing. Not even necessarily down to it always being the right timing but more the efficiency of it. I don’t think there’s anything in life that only lasts 30 to 45 minutes that can make me laugh that much.
Well, the easy formula for the show is that every 45-minute episode took 90 minutes to record and about 8 hours to edit. That’s a surprisingly consistent formula. My biggest source of inspiration for the feel and pace of the show was Dr. Katz, the animated squigglevision show by Loren Bouchard on Comedy Central in the 90s. The audio on that show was edited so tightly from mostly unscripted, improvised dialogue, and they could get away with it because, duh, it was animated. Arrested Development used some of those same pacing techniques with live action, where no joke has time to live longer than it’s supposed to, and everything is punchy. So I liked to think of YLNT as a cartoon without the animation, and it offered a lot of possibility for play, for experimentation. Of course, I got burned out on editing it, so the show went away for some time, until an intern I had hired, Claude Zeins, asked if he could take a crack at editing some uncut episodes of the show, and he proved to be great at it, so the show lived on for another year. Now, it seems we’re on a bit of an extended hiatus again, possibly for a decade or more.
In YLNT, there is an episode, ‘Truck Spank’, where the three of you discuss the best possible name to say for your coffee cup. As a send-off could you come up with a new one for readers here?
An alternate Truck Spank for the new millennium. I’m horrible at coming up with these on the spot. I think the one I came up with after that episode was Scott Lacrosserape, which isn’t at all funny. I swear, if I’m at Starbucks, and on a dare someone says, “You should come up with a fake name for them to write on the cup,” I’ll choke and stand there for six seconds and go, “My name is Adam. Shoot.” If really pressured, I’d probably go with Chambrayson Geeseflaps, who was one of my professors at NYU, where I went to film school to study film.
Here’s a fun game to exercise your silly name muscles: you play it with a partner. You go, “One, two, three” and then after three, you both have to say a fake song name by a fake band name, at the same time. And you end up mostly blurting out the thing that comes to you and you don’t even listen to the other person’s until a few seconds later when you play it back in you head and it’s ridiculous and you both laugh and then you start all over again. And everybody wins.
One two three—Temples at Marveltron by Josué Pilsner and the Chambrayson Geeseflaps.
Adam Lisagor currently resides in Los Angeles and can be found online at the following:
Own Site | Sandwich Video | You Look Nice Today | Tumblr | Twitter
Photo Credits: Noe Montes, Adam Lisagor, Katie Spence
Me and Linus
We’ve taken all kinds of sweet pictures together in the 12 days since he joined us, but this might be my favorite.
(Source: si7, via 2087)
3D is antithetical to storytelling, where immersion in character is the goal. It constantly reminds you you’re watching a screen - and it completely prevents emotional involvement. Natural human vision bears no resemblance to 3D in the cinema. —
Fuck this noise. You don’t get 3D? Wrong. You don’t get 3D yet.
(Source: mappeal, via parislemon)
You know how we have cameras in our pockets all the time? How our bodies are tripods and our arms essentially jibs?
What happens when our eyes are the lens and our head the tripod? How do we “frame up”? Do we bend at the knees to get low angle and awkwardly crane our neck to come around to just the right light?
And what does a selfie look like in the age of Google Glass? Presumably, just like a selfie now, except we’re in the bathroom, wearing stupid headgear. Can’t wait for the future.