No matter how many success stories you may read, achievement is a notion that is ultimately impossible to quantify. So how do some people’s circumstances end up more favorable than others? They don’t — it just appears that way. Take, for example, 25-year-old independent photographer and filmmaker Marcus Haney, whose have been featured in Rolling Stone, and his first documentary, “No Cameras Allowed,” was just aired by MTV.
“No Cameras Allowed” is an autobiographical account of how Haney’s schemes to sneak into music festivals eventually led to him becoming a professional music photographer and filmmaker. Given the film’s premise, it’s easy to scoff at Haney’s success and attribute it to luck. But while luck may have had a mysterious role in the way things turned out, the circumstances that unfolded for Haney are unique to his life and they way he responded.
When Haney sat down to discuss his journey with Indiewire earlier this summer, he demonstrated a keen awareness for the inconsistency of achievement. The below edited transcript breaks down the circumstances of Haney’s “success.”
What you get out of film school is a film.
So here’s what I have to say about USC: Loved the experience, gained some absolutely invaluable friends — the only girl I’ve been in love with, I met there. So many good things came out of it. But the film school is a pain in my ass. All of the red tape about where you can shoot, what you can shoot, who you can shoot, you can only use this camera, you can only do this, this and this; it’s like, we’re spending so much money, putting in so much effort, calling in so many favors, losing so much sleep and putting so much into a project, just to have its head cut off by these silly rules and turn it into something that isn’t worthwhile — to get a better grade.
I literally went in and said “Hey, here is the film — I’ll tell you up front so you’re not going to get pissed: I broke this rule, this rule, this rule and this rule, I understand it’s going to affect my grade, fine.” And I would go and break those rules because at the end of the day I’m going to have that film — that film is going to outweigh that grade for me. That film is what I’m going to show future employers. I don’t even have to say that I made it in a class.
Don’t worry so much about watching every film ever made. Just live.
Film in general, I’m so stunted. I’m so far behind all my peers in
consuming cinema. So many students in the film school spend every waking
hour watching, watching, watching, and they can spit the longest line
ever of reference after reference after reference; but when it comes
down to attaching those ideas to real life, attaching those emotions to
actual experiences, having a conversation that actually affects their
lives and not just their intellectual understanding of film, they can’t.
If I’ve got two hours, I could go watch a film, or I could go jump off
the pier with my buddies — I’ve always been opting for the latter.
Does a documentary need a starting point? Not necessarily.
I didn’t realize I was going to make [“No Cameras Allowed”] until just before Austin
City Limits, that last section of the film. I was like, well, I could
put it all together and do one epic trip to end it all. That’s when I
brought some other friends, some of my film school friends, friends who I
love to hang out with and friends who can shoot; that’s when there was a
lot more coverage. And then after that it was a matter of putting
together a film that was supposed to be a rock documentary, through the eyes of someone who
For me it’s always been
the struggle of me hating to be in it, hating to hear my voice, hating
to have my face in it. At the same time, taking a step back and looking
at it, it’s either a film about the music or it’s a film with a
coming-of-age story, that has these universal themes that people
outside the music world can connect to. Ultimately, I gave into being a
part of it because I wanted to get that story across to audiences who aren’t die-hard music fans.
It may seem impossible at first, but at some point, you will figure out what kind of movie you’re making.
It was me spilling out a lot of stuff. My editor, as a guy who wasn’t
there, helped cut down, cut down, cut down, cut down because we had a
three-hour cut of all the crazy adventures. It was hard for me because
some of the fun stuff that I wanted to put out there, didn’t advance the
personal story. Like when Barack Obama came and spoke at USC, I snuck
into the press area and then snuck into the VIP area with a big camera. I
wasn’t supposed to be there at all. There was Secret Service and all
this stuff. I ended up shaking the President’s hand. And that was in the
film [initially], but we ended up cutting that out because it really
had nothing to do with the story.
People get so ADD so quick.
Especially with music docs. In the film, the longest performance is
probably 30 seconds or something. That is the difference between a tour
film and this — we kept little pieces of all these performances, tons
of them, but we’re always moving on to the next thing. Because unless
you’re doing a film for the fans themselves, you lose people, because
live music doesn’t translate to screen. That is the reason live music is
so popular. If you can have the same experience at a stage, as you can
onscreen, no one would go to live music.
My goal isn’t to make you feel like you’re there because
that’s not going to happen. My goal is to help get people excited about
live music and have them go to live music themselves and have those
experiences on their own.
Filmmaking may require some uncomfortable self-reflection.
I hate admitting that I’m wrong. So in the film, to get the point where I could say, “Hey, I did fuck up, this wasn’t okay for me to do,” wasn’t easy. It was difficult. At the end of the day, [when you’re an artist] you are spending all your time on creating something ultimately for yourself. You’re spending time on yourself — even if you’re making music for the masses, even if you’re writing a book where the proceeds benefit this or that, at the end of the day it’s still you working on you. Even much more so, and plainly so, in this documentary. It’s a documentary about a certain part of my life. It’s very autobiographical and it doesn’t get more, in my mind, narcissistic. It’s the definition of narcissism in art: making a piece about yourself. I still cringe thinking about it.
Even when you do figure out what kind of movie you’re making, it’s still going to take a long time (and clearances).
been a long process. Coachella 2010 was the first festival [we covered], so that’s
just over four years. We started editing it about two years ago, chased
bands around for clearances for a year.
That was an insane procedure. We
hired a great person, I don’t know what her official title is, but big
films and TV shows hire her because she gets music cleared. But a lot of
it came from me chasing the bands personally. We found that most times,
going through their agents and going through their managers was just
no, no, no, no, until I took the film personally and got it in front of
the band, then the band would go back to the management and the labels
and say, yes, do it. Then they would turn those noes into yeses. So what
we did is a most favored nations agreement.
How we got everyone to
come in at such a low price is that we paid every single band,
regardless of how big their song was, or how big they are, the exact
same base rate. So that’s what we did and that’s how we were able to get
“Empire State of Mind” and Coldplay and Creedence Clearwater Revival
and Tiesto and Muse.
After you’ve finished, you still have to figure out what to do with the final product.
What I want to do is go from city to city to city and make it feel like more than a film. You get the film, you get a Q&A and then you got a concert and party after — make it a big event. Instead of doing it at theaters, do it at music venues and tour — basically, wherever festival culture is big.
And that is when you also start to worry about what comes next.
I’m still figuring it out. These past four years on the road and dropping out, I haven’t done straight narrative in a long time, so I’m really keen and excited to get back to that; get back to working with actors and turning my words into a film. But I think the experience of making documentaries and documentary-based narrative pieces will definitely influence how I direct in the future.
I’m not a huge mumblecore fan, but I love the idea of okay, here’s the world, here’s what we’re trying to accomplish, go. You’re shooting 360 and it’s a search, it’s an experiment, if it doesn’t work you’ve got to try again until it does, which is a producer’s nightmare. But finding a balance between here is the script, here are the lines, let’s work together to make it as— I fucking hate the word organic, but you know what I mean. Going into college, and what I still want to do, is to make films that do more than entertain. Films that, not necessarily have a message, but raise questions; not give people truth but maybe incite people to find the truth in their own terms. Those are the kinds of films I want to make — whether they be documentary or narrative.
You are only as strong of a storyteller as your experiences. Imagination is huge, but all of that imagination has to be rooted somewhere. You have to have the seed from somewhere, and those seeds are born from experience. I really do feel that content has to come from experience; not just “we’re going to go to Brazil and backpack,” but emotional experience, relationship experience. Choosing yes more than no, most of the time. That will give you more content and that will bolster your imagination. Don’t short yourself on experience. That is so key. Because at the end of the day it’s really the only thing you’ve got.
MTV premiered “No Cameras Allowed” on Friday, August 29. The film is currently available for rental and purchase on iTunes.