Todd Cole for Whitewall
When he discusses his collaboration with Rodarte’s Kate and Laura Mulleavy, the Los Angeles-based photographer and filmmaker Todd Cole counts Crazy Horse, Robert Irwin, and space exploration among his inspirations. It’s a range of influences in keeping with Cole’s own trajectory from University of Texas football player to fashion filmmaker. In addition to having shot editorials for the likes of T Magazine and Self Service, videos for Charlotte Gainsbourg and Kurt Vile (filmed entirely on his phone, “Baby’s Arms” was voted one of Pitchfork’s top music videos of 2011), as well as campaigns for Martin Margiela and Comme des Garçons, Cole has finished two critically acclaimed films with Rodarte and is now working on their third installment. With that in mind, Whitewall sat down with this self-taught director to discuss the state of the art.
WHITEWALL: First, what led you from the Texas gridiron to the Paris catwalk?
TODD COLE: I was born in California but grew up in Houston, and it’s a cliche but it’s true that football’s a very big deal in Texas. That said, at six-one, I wasn’t big enough to keep playing guys who were six-six, and it stopped being fun. So I quite after two years and I moved to L.A., started working on films, and eventually temped at Virgin Records, where I went into the video vault, discovering music videos that I didn’t know existed. I thought, “This si great! I can direct videos for bands I love.” So I started teaching myself photography and making music videos, but digital photography wasn’t an option and any idea I had cost $20,000. So I started taking more pictures, and finally I put a book together an dwent to Paris and London.
WW: So were fashion films a natural progression?
TC: A few years ago, my agent said, “Listen, there are these films that brands want, fashion films, and you need to do not.”I said, “I have no desire to direct—no thanks,” and he said, “Don’t be an idiot, you’ve already done it.” He was right: I stated looking around at what he was talking about and thought, “This stuff’s awful, I’ll do something better than this.”
WW: How did Rodarte becom involved?
TC: I met them shooting Liz Goldwyn for Rodarte for Purple in 2006, 2007, and we hit it off, coming from a similar place: We love California, we love the West, we love space and the occult—there were so many things we were orbiting around together. It’s an American perspective, an an unashamed American perspective, we share.
WW: So what is the goal of a fashion film?
TC: I think what’s amazing about these fashion films and why I enjoy doing them is because it’s a unique moment in the history of filmmaking. It’s not a major moment, per se, but it’s a moment like that point with music videos in the eighties—it’s a new medium. In the way music videos fit into that period with the rise of cable, fashion films now fill that role on the Internet. It’s kind of like the fashion films now fill that role on the Internet. It’s kind of like the Wild West, because no one knows quite what they’re doing; there are no rules yet, even though there are getting to be more rules.
WW: On that note, how did the sci-fi/horror hybrid of your first film, Aanteni, come about?
TC: The idea came about from sitting around, talking with Laura and Kate, and in 20 minutes we had a film sketched out, based on the book Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons. I wanted to do something visceral and emotional, tapping into primal fear. We wanted to make something we could screen in an art gallery taht would withstand a critical eye.
WW: What did you want to do differently, casting Elle Fanning for your second film, The Curve of Forgotten Things?
TC: The beautiful thing about working with Rodarte is that their clothes are so fantastic. They don’t fit into normal settings—there’s another world they exist in, touching on teh magical realism that I’m into. With that film, I wanted to do something softer, more linear, a different emotion.
WW: And what can you share about the third film in this trilogy?
TC: I want to take it somewhere we haven’t been before, a different part of the American West, something with dialogue and a dramatic narrative and multiple characters. I’ve written a script that we’re raising money for, so that we can have a film with scale and a real story. Hopefully, ten years from now, people will have a DVD with a collection fo these three films that show not only our evolution as filmmakers, but also a quality document of this particular moment. Because it’s going to be something else five years from now.