Adria Petty’s works (music videos, commercials, films, docs) are time machines; within them time modulates between soothingly smooth and hurriedly intricate. Her techniques, the contrast and color of her lighting, and the snazzy immediacy that pushes the momentum is akin to watching time-lapse projector films of stars exploding.
Adria Petty: Filmmaker
Adria Petty’s works (music videos, commercials, films, docs) are time machines; within them time modulates between soothingly smooth and hurriedly intricate. Her techniques, the contrast and color of her lighting, and the snazzy immediacy that pushes the momentum is akin to watching time-lapse projector films of stars exploding. There is an excitement in there, and a sentiment, like running to catch a drifting feather that slows and speeds, or like trying to get within the mini-whirlwind that catches a pile of leaves, races them into a spiral, yet by the time you get there it’s flattened back down to the sidewalk only to pick up another pile further down the sidewalk. There is a yearning to want to see them again, to find the trick,be impressed by how frail the pieces seem, and notice how quickly the time has gone.
Wise Elephant (WE): Why film/video? How did it come about that you make/shoot/direct?
Adria Petty (AP): I started out fascinated with the (photographer) George Hurrell and his portraits of 40’s screen sirens when I was in my early teens.
I worked in vintage clothing shops and art directed myself and my bedroom in pretty extreme ways.
Then felt connected to the surrealists Luis Buñuel, Dali and the french film makers jean renoir and goddard ( who I think are a bit surreal) etc. In college. And not to mention a MAJOR hitchcock, fritz lang addiction. This does not exclude my love for european vacation and adam sandler movies but they have been less directly influential on me artistically.
My dad kept buying me super 8 cameras and books on the history of film. So I got the hint and I think he saw something in me that I did not see yet. When I started college I took a film history lecture in college it was like hearing the Beatles for the first time only better because there were more complex layers and I was in love, obsessed and completely lost to movie making. I love early cinema as is evidenced in my stop motion work. And experimental cinema/ fine art as well ( Bill Viola and Pipilotti Rist are my favorites). I went to film school.
WE: What is your general creative process? (example: do you free-write, sketch out an idea, just go for it…) Or does each project have it’s own way?
AP: Most of it is magic and channeling. I get a lot of photo references. I do ( bad ) drawings. I have crazy dreams where I see them sometimes. And sometimes I work really hard on them and eek out every word into a treatment. Then work with the key crew members to develop stuff. So something really abstract I am feeling can be really easily communicated. It depends. I will rarely make a music video from someone else’s idea. That happened once and it was a huge disaster creatively for me. But I love doing commercials because there is little ambiguity.
I do really detailed excel spread sheets as shot lists breaking down every shot prop, camera and lighting change as well just so I can communicate with my crew properly and this is a big key to a successful shoot for me. I am a big thinker and I break it into small digestible bites in order to realize it. I test technique and effects as often as possible. I shoot some bullshit every week whether I am working or not.
WE: If “feel/gut” is on the left and “intellect/reason” on the right, where in the scope of things (generally) could you put yourself when defining what you like?
AP: Right in the middle. Gut is everything. I like things that ring true. Even in fantasy. You are the ship’s captain. You hold the barometer of truth, authenticity and storytelling. As well as the responsibilities for a big bag of someone else’s cash. So intellect and reason govern feel and production I guess. This is a technical art and I feel if you don’t do your homework on technique, stock, references, craft, then you will not get what you want on the screen.
A lot of my stuff works in extremes feel wise – it is really loose like the feature I did on Paris Hilton or the stuff I did with “The Crimea”, or really structured like Target spots or Mc Donald’s spots.
And in music video the stop motion live action combo pieces for Regina, the who, the ditty bops and stellastarr* are definitely very planned and pieces that were executed for very little money.
WE: Do you have an ideal audience in mind when you make your films/shoot?
AP: No. I want anyone to love what I am doing. I live in new york. I love diversity in age, shape, race etc. I want to reach everyone and give them a sense of suspense or just delight.
WE: How do you want your work to be perceived/ingested by the audience?
AP: Badass. Honest. Well made.
WE: Is there a larger picture? Do you feel by making your work you are working in a continuum, or is it a new go-it-alone experience each time you make something?
AP: Work begets works. Actions cause reactions. So yeah it is a continuum. I am always lonely when I look at an empty page and then lonely when a job is done. But never alone. There is a huge network of support around you if you are a working director and they keep you real and on your toes and grateful if you are lucky enough to realize it. All directors are self obsessed mother fuckers. So basically I am always trying to best my self. And put bread on the table.
WE: How do you define current creative culture? Is there a buzzword that captures it all or does it need a 500 word essay?
AP: The age of anxiety. The age of apathy and confusion. Culturally we are adrift in a strange moment where keeping it real is pretty hard. So as a response creatively I think the things that are great in art right now are keeping it surreal. Riffing on the extreme absurdity of the world climate. The gift we have in our current culture is the internet as a broadcaster. Allowing us to maximize our ability to virtually connect with one another even if we can not in person.
To learn more about Adria Petty please visit her website
Adria is also part of our self portrait series and you can see two of her videos here