'No Cameras Allowed' Filmmaker on Music Festival Break-Ins, Branding and Unstable Future (Video)
James Marcus Haney is a USC dropout who has snuck into nearly fifty music festivals over the past four years by hitching rides via Craiglist, recreating tech-equipped wristbands and walking in through press entrances while covered in countless cameras. Thankfully, he always kept the Canon 5D around his neck on "record" so he could collect footage of his favorite acts like Mumford & Sons, JayZ and Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros — and the lengths he'd go to see them.
PHOTOS The Scene at Coachella 2014
It's all strategically compiled into No Cameras Allowed, the documentary Haney has created that's set to air on MTV on Aug. 29, but he warns viewers to adjust their expectations. "People are expecting a music festival break-in 101, but it's not that," he says of the film, which is free of reenactments and sprinkled with animation, psychedelic effects and head-tripping cuts to emulate each festival's distinct vibe. "It's a film that everybody, regardless of your age of musical tastes, can relate to. There are universal points that connect to your core rather than just your musical sensibilities."
Still, it's a scene that might have an expiration date: "Every year, they get bigger. This generation is definitely the peaking point of the festival."
Watch the trailer below, followed by Haney's chat with The Hollywood Reporter about creating more than just a rock doc, falling in love with music festivals and predicting the overexposed scene's unexplored future:
What do you hope people take away from the film?
People are expecting a music festival break-in 101, but it's not that. It's more a coming-of-age story. I want people to learn to say yes to everything; don't always listen to what society tells you. It's so relevant now — people go into debt for life, almost, to get their college degree, which is now worth less now than before. It's so much harder to get a job with a degree than in our parents' generation. So you see of generation of a lot of people looking outside the box, going into the tech world especially, and tons of young kids drop out of college and realize their dreams. That doesn't mean college isn't the answer for everyone — for a lot of people, it's the way to go. But in a more macro perspective, don't take everything you heard growing up blindly. Question everything, and figure out your own path.
Did you always want to take a more narrative approach to the documentary?
It was quite an evolution in editorial with my editor, John-Michael Powell. I originally wanted to make a rock doc about musicians and performances, and we got a pretty cool rough cut, but it was only as cool as any straight tour doc, and would basically only appeal to fans of those bands. We put in some of the sneaking-in elements, and people wanted more of that. But to tell that story in depth, I had to put my voice in it, which I hated. The more that happened, the more the personal things started etching in, and people really responded to the personal element. It took a while for me to come around, man up and put that personal perspective in there. Once we did, it took off and got to where it is now, because it's a film that everybody, regardless of your age of musical tastes, can relate to. There are universal points that connect to your core rather than just your musical sensibilities.
This film has a lot of interesting animation/visual effects.
The film sources all live footage, but I realized you have to be sparse with it; we never have a full song. And that's because you can't replicate what it's actually like to be at a live concert, no matter how good your technology is. Instead of trying to create the live experience like you're actually there — you're never gonna get that connected feeling sitting in a theater, or at home, or your bed with an iPad — I wanted to create something visually and aurally that motivated people to go and experience it live for themselves.
The animation was more from the necessity to tell a story; this documentary has a lot of holes, but there are no reenactments. That really had us lean on Chris' perspective, because we could glorify that psychedelic-ness. For the Ultra section, we have a ton of very quick repeat cuts, and that complements that type of head-trip musical world of dance music, such an amazing experience that you can't translate to film. And the Running of the Bulls, those blackouts were what I was physically going through.
What's the most intoxicating thing about music festivals that kept you going back for more?
Honestly, it's gotta be a split between being onstage with my really good friends who are absolutely altering tens of thousands of people's experiences at once — seeing that crowd all unified to the sounds coming out these instruments and voices, and it's so cliché to say that everyone is like one, I hate that, but it really is true, everyone feels really together in a sea of strangers. To watch that from a removed perspective — the rafters or underneath the drum set risers — is incredible. On the flip side, just as intoxicating is being in that crowd and completely letting yourself go to that live music experience, that moment.
Music festivals aren't what they used to be — it's not just flooded with music acts, but also product samples, fashion ambassadors, etc. that some say are inauthenticating the experience.
It's a good conversation that I have a lot: these festivals that are grounded in music are being infiltrated and overrun by branding — creative branding, but branding nonetheless. But I can still love Coachella just as much each year because you have to accept that the branding is there. Even SXSW, which started off as something else, is now just one huge Doritos billboard, but you go there, accept what it's gonna be. And just like every other day, you tune out the ads and the noise around you. I still have just as much fun, despite the horrendous amount of branding they shove in your face, because no branding is gonna supersede the experience you have with your friends. If you're there with the people you love and the music you love, that's what you're focused on.
PHOTOS The Scene at SXSW 2014
Branding is gonna go in that direction — instead of forcing people, they're gonna start learning to give people experiences. Take Red Bull — they're giving amazing experiences to people. It's just a matter of time until a brand's gonna say, "We're gonna pay for everyone's tickets to this festival." They don't need to plaster everything. Brands at festivals are getting smarter and more clever, instead of sneakier; they're figuring out how to add to your day instead of taking away from it. It's something we're never gonna get rid of, and maybe both sides can be winners — I don't know if that's possible, but it's exciting to think about.
Will festival-goers ever get sick of the scene?
I don't know. I feel like every year, they get bigger, and this generation is definitely the peaking point of the festival. But it's making room for people to discover smaller festivals. In England, you have Glastonbury, one of my favorite of all time and it's huge, but at the same time, there's the End of the Road festival, out in the woods in England. It's tiny, amazing bands play there and the vibe is great. You've got Coachella, and then you have Outside Lands in San Francisco that has done a really good job of keeping that small festival vibe, even while bringing in Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder. More and more are popping up. But people who are saying, "Coachella is over, it's so big," fuck off. As long as we're there for the right reasons, we're having a good time. Anything that gets big gets backlash. Look at how the indie blogs turned on Mumford & Sons!
Do you think you'll ever finish college?
Umm, for me to go back and get my degree requires me stopping life for a semester, paying a lot of money, driving in traffic across town, dealing with the same professors I had trouble with, and for what? To get a degree and go get a job? I'm sure it will enhance [my career], but the time away from work will negatively affect it, so it doesn't seem like the right option at this point. That may change down the road, but in my immediate future, I probably won't be in South Central L.A. too much.
I'm gonna keep on working in the music world, in both photography and film. Loads of photo projects and two other feature films. One that's just finishing up is Austin to Boston, a tour doc about four bands that tour across the country five old-school Volkswagen camper vans. We shot it a couple years back with the bands Ben Howard, Nathaniel Rateliff, The Staves and Bear's Den. Ben Lovett of Mumford & Sons was on tour with us, it's a cool little tour doc of the deep parts of America, seen through the eyes of Brits in camper vans. Then I'm excited to get outside music and get back into narrative work, some doc work that involves more human issues.
No Cameras Allowed is available on iTunes beginning Aug. 12 and airs Aug. 29 on MTV.