Finding the Frame Podcast: Jason Baum
Award-winning Producer/Director Jason Baum drops into the FA studio to talk about his career, most notably the epic Grammy win for his work on Kendrick Lamar’s HUMBLE and his experimental collaboration with Roman Coppola and his company on the feature film, The Seven Faces of Jane.
Jason has worked with visionary directors like Spike Jonze, Ava DuVernay, Joey Soloway, and Hiro Murai.
THE ORIGINS OF JASON BAUM
Over the last few years, Jason Baum enjoyed much success, particularly with three projects with Kendrick Lamar, including HUMBLE.
Just note this success was years in the making. Jason interned with Dave Meyers of Radical Media and as he gained notoriety as a producer, he kept in touch with the people there. Radical Media then began giving Jason some projects to try on his own. His success resulted in producing two Kendrick projects his old boss was directing.
It was a large project involving shooting two music videos simultaneously, so Jason shared the responsibilities with co-producer Nathan Scherrer. Not only were they dealing with a crazy workload but the turnaround was lightning-fast since they were trying to keep the song locked down. From start to finish, they completed the video in 10 days.
To shoot, cut, and finish a music video in 10 days is quite ambitious. At the bare minimum, Jason would typically have two weeks for prep, between one and three shoot days, and at least a month of post.
While Jason previously did some soft prep work like location research, once the trigger was pulled, it was a scramble to get everything permitted. It took them three days to shoot and they had the VFX and editorial teams on set to edit amidst shooting and temp VFX. Since it was such a short turnaround, they had to throw more money into expediting the music video.
While working on HUMBLE and LOVE., Jason met Kendrick and his manager, Dave Free. Then early last year, Jason received a call from producer Jamie Rabineau about doing The Heart Part 5 and Count Me Out. It was just what he needed to spark his career.
PRODUCING WITH AN ARTIST-DIRECTOR
What’s particularly interesting about The Heart Part 5 and Count Me Out is Kendrick’s close proximity to crafting them. Over the years, Jason worked with artists who direct many of their own videos, such as Sia, but he has also worked with first-time celebrity directors who require more hand-holding. Jason likens the experience to a mini-film school at times.
“I’ve worked with a range of different people that are coming into directing and producing. A lot of it is really kind of being a chameleon for the situation, and really adapting to what the needs might be.” —Jason Baum
Now, when it comes to Kendrick, he has a very long-standing relationship with Dave Meyers so their collaboration is a little more direct. In this situation, notes are passed on to Jason for him to execute.
There’s no question Kendrick is making some of the best music out there. What Jason finds interesting about The Heart Part 5 is its simplicity to produce with just Kendrick standing in front of a painted backdrop.
By comparison, Count Me Out is fairly large in scope and took a lot more to achieve. Pretty much every shot is a unique vignette so they had to find bases, anchors, and locations to work within their three shooting days. According to Jason, a lot of directors direct in a vignette kind of way, so it’s Jason’s job as a producer to support as much of the director’s vision as possible.
THE PURPOSE OF CELEBRITY CAMEOS IN MUSIC VIDEOS
For the role of the therapist in Count Me Out, they cast the great Helen Mirren. The reason they sought an A-List celebrity is they needed someone that could deliver gravitas to the role. The problem with music videos, however, is that there’s hardly enough time to develop a character.
For that reason, music videos rely on celebrity cameos because they need an actor who will either bring something from their past roles, or just their general persona will help elevate the project. If they cast an unknown actor, Jason reasons that it might not capture the attention of their audience as easily. So, they made a dream list and Helen was the one to accept.
TRANSITIONING FROM MUSIC VIDEOS TO FEATURE FILMS
The transition from producing music videos into feature films like The Seven Faces of Jane and Beastie Boys Story wasn’t easy. Like anyone else, filmmakers get pigeonholed or considered for only one kind of thing. For example, you might only be seen as a music video cinematographer or you might only be known for the horror genre, but you want to try something new.
Most people have diverse interests and want to do a lot of different things in their careers. For the longest time in building his own career, Jason only went after what he felt would lead to the next phase of his climb up the career ladder.
Once he got to the point where he established some credibility in the music video world, however, he wanted to move back to his original desire to make feature films. To plot this new course, Jason first reflected on himself and his career to affirm that he truly wanted to pursue films. It would take sacrifices like accepting fewer music video gigs and taking smaller gigs.
BUILDING CREDIBILITY WITH MUSIC
Jason’s transition kicked off on a film called Music, directed by Sia. He was hired as an associate producer and was ultimately a co-producer on the project. It was very unique that his music video client brought him into the feature space. Fortunately for Jason, he developed a close working relationship with Sia and her role as a director.
In fact, she was the one that insisted that he work on the film. Being a pop star and a celebrity, she could have leveled up and found anyone else to work with. But she’s a very kind soul and knew what Jason brought to the table.
That set him off into some other feature and narrative opportunities, which resulted in Jason working with Spike on the Beastie Boys Story. His time on Music led him to an associate producer role on the Transparent finale for Amazon. So, as much as Jason thought he needed to move completely away from music videos to make films, it really was his music video career that helped jumpstart his transition to other areas of the film industry.
THE SEVEN FACES OF JANE
With his music video and commercial background, Jason works regularly with The Director’s Bureau, Roman Coppola’s company. Through that relationship, he’s done a music video for Paul McCartney. Roman then brought Jason on to The Seven Faces of Jane. It wasn’t a large-budget project; in fact, only $2 million.
When Jason first signed on, there was no script. Just an interesting concept. Can we create an enjoyable film with these disparate elements? It was a challenge but most importantly an opportunity to produce a narrative feature film. He hadn’t been given an opportunity to produce a feature up until that point. So, the potential learning experience it promised appealed to him. It was also a huge plus to have the support and resources of Roman and his company.
The Seven Faces of Jane is based on the concept of Exquisite Corpse, a game that surrealist painters used to play. It’s also known as “Consequences” because it’s a collaborative art creation. So, the film explores that idea from a film context with a handful of directors directing one feature film.
They share one character named Jane, played by Gillian Jacobs, and we have eight directors that wrote or possibly co-wrote, depending on the person, different pieces of Jane’s journey. And then they constructed a feature film out of that. It’s not really an anthology of short films as it is really one film that just so happens to be directed by eight people.
EIGHT DIRECTORS ON ONE FEATURE FILM
When they were directing, the filmmakers had no idea what was coming before or after them. This creates a tapestry of genres and tones that function together as an interesting artistic experiment.
The way they managed eight directors and all their needs was by splitting them up into four and four between Jason and his co-producer Sarah Park. To be fair, each director shared the same constraint of two shooting days. On top of them, they had another producer, Allison Amon, overseeing Jason and Sarah.
Principle photography was very short — only 15 days in August of 2021. They pitched it as a game to the directors. They had about a month to conceive of an idea and prep. Over the course of the month, they worked at putting all the pieces together.
How exactly do eight directors fit into The Seven Faces of Jane? The star Gillian Jacobs got to direct the opening and the closing over the course of one day. They worked on it similar to a TV show in the sense that they edited while shooting it. So, it was a constant balancing act to meet everyone’s desires while keeping it on budget.
While the visions of the directors were all different, they anchored it all with the same DP (Andy Catarisano), production designer (Natalie Ziering), costume designer (Elise Velasco), and production crew. Then, they opened it up in post-production, allowing the directors to work with whomever they wanted.
This is only the first part of the entire interview with Jason Baum. To see the full picture of Jason’s experience working with Spike Jonze on the 5x Emmy-nominated documentary feature film, Beastie Boys Story, become an All Access member today!
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