Marcus Haney has made a career as one of the most sought-after photographers in music. His story has become infamous with his now cult film – No Cameras Allowed. This November Jack Daniel’s Future Legends will exclusively screen the film in Australia and host Q+As with Marcus himself. Our reporter John Goodridge caught up with Marcus to ask a few questions about the film.
How has your life changed since the release of the film?
My life’s been pretty wild since the film’s come out. I’ve been on tour with a bunch of bands and I’ve got to travel all over the world screening it in places, which has been amazing.
Was the impact as big or more than you were expecting?
I was never expecting even to make a film. The fact that it’s been seen all over the world and has had this long running life is amazing. When I finally got around to thinking of making a feature film, I definitely didn’t expect to sell it to a major outlet and didn’t expect it to be seen over and over, so I couldn’t be happier with how it’s gone.
At what point when you were shooting festivals did you decide that you could make a movie out of it?
It was just before Austin City Limits in 2011. I had made a lot of short films just for fun and I had an idea if I could string them all together I could make a feature film. At that point I thought that we need to go out with a bang, one more epic festival, so I called up all my friends and some of my family, my girlfriend and I said, “hey, lets get some old crappy cheap RVs and drive across the country and all sneak into this music festival.” It ended up being definitely the final tour to add on for sure.
So you obviously had people there to help you film.
Yeah I invited along all my old film school buddies, so it was friends that I’d bring anyway. They’re all really good shooters because we met and got close in film school, so there wasn’t any outside crew. At that point there wasn’t any MTV, just me and friends with their own cameras or borrowed cameras from school, just running around, shooting for fun. We got some amazing footage because me and my friends went to film school together.
One of your comments about the movie is to take the unusual route. Why do you think that people don’t follow their dreams?
In a lot of ways people are dreaming bigger and bigger dreams these days, but are acting less and less on those dreams. The bigger the dream is, the scarier it is to make that jump. You’re taught your whole life that your supposed to do this at this age, get this job at this age, marry this person at this age, and you see that going back for generations and generations. The scary thing is to deviate from that and the older you get, the harder it is to make that jump. The older you get, the more in the groove of society you become and society kinda latches onto you via bills and debt and mortgages etc. The longer you wait to jump; it’s definitely the longer to fall.
It’s an interesting time, because you see on Instagram everyone seemingly living their dream lives, which is obviously a bunch of horse shit – people not really going after what they dream of in the real world, not just in the on-line persona. I feel like a lot more people could really make that jump. That’s not saying leave your family behind and go on the road and do what I did, because everyone has a specific dream. Whether that dream is becoming a doctor and for some reason you’re doing something else, something wild and what people think is glamorous.
Did you ever have any doubts about what you were doing?
Oh sure. The good thing was that for the majority of the film I was just shooting to have fun, using the camera as a prop. So there was no pressure during production: “Oh we have to make sure we get this shot” “To make this scene work we have to make sure we get this sound bite” there was none of that; there was no delivery. It was just “Hey, let’s go have the wildest time possible, by any means possible and crack this festival and watch some bands play.” So the self-doubts were more along the lines of physically getting in. Are we gonna get arrested? Are we gonna get the shit beaten out of us? That was more of the self-doubt and I think that freedom in shooting helped us and hurt us.
A lot of the footage I would never have thought to go out and get for a straight documentary. The whole game changes when you’re out there shooting for a specific agenda. At times a lot of stuff, especially early on, that we didn’t shoot, because we were too busy sneaking in, so we had this amazing animation artist to fill in those times that we didn’t have footage and it really ended up helping the film. It tells the story through his perspective because no camera can tell the story of sneaking into Coachella while on acid the same way animation can.
With cameras become so much more ubiquitous these days, how do you stand out from the crowd? What makes your movie or photos different to the rest?
That’s a great question. Now that everyone has access to everything, everyone calls themselves a photographer, everyone has access to amazing gear, and gets great results rather inexpensively, so on the one had it’s opened up the playing field and given tools to people who didn’t have them before, but it’s also given those tools to a lot of people that shouldn’t have those tools. So it’s a double-edged sword, that whole cameras for everyone thing. It’s really diluted the word photographer and photography as a whole. But there’s a flip-side to everything and I think especially in shooting films; anyone can make a film beautiful, anybody can take a pretty picture, now that everyone’s making beautiful images, and extremely beautiful video, it saturates the market so everyone becomes really used to that and that becomes the norm.
It forces filmmakers to present the content, it forces filmmakers to go after the story, and it forces filmmakers to go beyond pretty. That’s really important, because a lot of films a decade ago got a lot of recognition on how pretty they were. A lot of landscape photos went a lot further than what they did ten years ago. Now anybody can take pretty photos because you have nice equipment, easy to get and a sunset so you get a pretty photo. It’s forcing people to really dig deeper for content. I think that’s where I focus, getting to places where other people aren’t getting to.
The story from the perspective that isn’t being told. Going deeper and further as much as I can, to certain access, to certain people or certain musicians, that others aren’t getting or he perspective that’s not the usual perspective. It’s not about how pretty something is anymore; content has to go deeper than that. Especially now where there is a gazillion gigabytes of content uploaded every minute, to wade through that sea of mediocrity, you really have to put something forward. Substance is becoming more important these days, which is a good thing.
I noticed that you do a lot of polaroid and instant camera photography, do you find that more interesting in the sense that you only get one shot at it?
Absolutely! I shoot on cinematic film way more than I should be; I would be even a lot better if I didn’t shoot film, that’s for sure. It’s a curse financially, it’s a curse ergonomically, running around with a shitload of film, going through airports having to get hand checks, not knowing what you’re getting, developing it; none of it makes sense. You don’t get the photos back, you can’t deliver them, and none of it makes sense, except that you get something with personality. The same shot you take at the same time with the same camera with the same lens still comes out differently because there’s a chemical reaction happening versus just pixels and I love that about film. There’s the unknown element to it, and the more that you shoot film photos the more that you can anticipate how things are going to react, how different stocks are going to react.
Some of my favorite photos ever are because I made a mistake and it came out cool or something just happened. There’s something timeless about film, which is hard to put into words. I love digital because it’s so easy to use and inexpensive and makes sense all the way round. Each has it own role, but when everyone has the same camera bodies, everyone’s using the same two or three sets of lenses, you have literally forty pit photographers in the photos pit shooting the first three songs of the same band, what’s the point?
Having shot the cover photo for the Mumford and Sons album Babel, which is a bigger thrill? Seeing your photo on a cover like that or shooting the festival experience?
They’re kinda hard to compare. Shooting festivals when I was sneaking in was such a rush. First of all we’re not supposed to be there and second I’m documenting this and it’s either gonna work against me or for me but was just a load of fun. I didn’t know bands back then, so it was a huge thing to step behind stage. The biggest thrill for me was Jónsi from Sigur Rós coming over to me when I had a 15mm camera that I’d stolen from school, asking about the camera. So it was the first time crossing and going behind the curtain and seeing bands off stage and it was extremely exciting seeing that.
The Mumford Babel cover happened after I’d gotten in with those guys, I’d toured with them a couple of times and that was taking a step further with the band artistically. They came to me with the idea, then Ross Stirling the designer, went out and we had so much fun renting all those props, casting all of our friends and putting together the shoot in the location that they tore down pretty much straight after so it will never be shot again. So it was a fun thing that the band and I and Ross all collaborated with together and make something – that image will be around for a very long time.
My whole thing is to take a few images that will last rather than a ton of images on socials; people see them, devour them, poop them out then they’re gone. It’s a very temporary thing. When I shoot live, I shoot a lot in film and I shoot images that are gonna last and it drives managers mad or whoever’s in charge of social media, because the turnaround time is way after they want it. They want to post immediately, don’t care what it is, and just give me content. I’m like slow down, if I develop this one right and print this one right it’s gonna be an amazing shot.
Going back to the Babel cover, in No Cameras Allowed, Grim Grim is like a 65 year old man from Wales, who picked me up when I was hitchhiking to Glastonbury, and he had a big white beard and we got close on that drive to Glastonbury. He told me how he’d snuck into Glastonbury thirty years prior and we really connected. He ends up playing a really big role in the film, we took him on that crazy Austin trip.
I messaged him on Facebook literally two days in advance, and said hey on Monday we’re leaving for Austin and if you can be in LA come on a trip with us. The dude shows up from Wales, and comes with us on this wild trip. Well you’ll see – when you watch the film Grim Grim’s a cool icon now and if you actually look at the Babelalbum cover, in the background, with all the people partying, in the middle is a man with a big white beard dancing around and that’s Grim Grim. So I was able to sneak him into the background of the Babel album cover. It’s a little Easter Egg that not many people know.
So what’s your future for sneaking into festivals, or are those days past now?
I don’t really sneak into them much anymore. I still go to tons of festivals, just working with bands, some festivals will get in touch and say let us know how many passes you need. Ellie Goulding challenged me on Twitter to sneak into this private island concert in the Bermuda Triangle. I could have made the call and gotten into that, but she challenged so I couldn’t turn that down, so dusted off the old tricks and snuck into that. Dressed up as Ellie Goulding, which was pretty funny.
Advance screenings of the movie by Jack Daniels:
Wed 4th Nov: Chauvel Cinemas, Paddington
Thurs 5th Nov: New Farm Cinemas, Brisbane
Wed 11th Nov: Cinema Nova, Melbourne
#JDFutureLegends, supporting original and unique stories in music.
You can find out more about James Marcus Haney here:http://www.jamesmarcushaney.com/