WATCH: Cloud Cult “The Seeker” Film Preview
Story by Kristy Benjamin
Cloud Cult goes above and beyond the limits of what you think a band is in the general sense. Having formed in 1995, their resume is impressive and diverse. They have repeatedly pushed their boundaries as musicians and artists, as well as humanitarians. In a time where the future of our planet is a heated topic, this band has been doing everything they can to minimize their footprint for years. Having created Earthology Records in response to lack of releasing albums in an environmentally friendly way, they have made huge strides in this on all fronts, from merch and touring to their 100% solar powered recording studio.
Today we are bringing you an exclusive first look of THE SEEKER, Cloud Cult’s newest album and film. The film stars Josh Radnor & Alex McKenna and is entirely without dialogue. The whole movie is scored by the band and the film is directed by Jeff D. Johnson. This visually and musically stunning film’s full digital release is tomorrow and today we are honored to give you a first look of the film with the premiere of the chapter “The Pilgrimage” Below is an amazing interview with Cloud Cult founding member Craig Minowa & Director Jeff D. Johnson. Enjoy!
WOW! So reading everything you have done as a band is extremely impressive. For fans who have been long term it would probably not be a surprise you would decide to make a feature length film. To our readers who might be just finding out about you, can you tell us how this came about?
CM: Since the first Cloud Cult album back in 2000, we have had a dream of making an album and narrative feature film. We’ve never had the means until now, but the past Cloud Cult albums have been written in storyline fashion as well, particularly Light Chasers and Who Killed Puck. We have a very strong visual element on stage with two live painters and back screen video, so the idea of creating a performance where that video tells a story throughout the set has been a goal for a long time.
JJ: Since I have been a part of the organization since 2007, when Craig discovered a potential narrative that could look like a film, he reached out. At that point we had also produced the “Cloud Cult’s Stories from the Road” series and the “Unplug” live concert film together. He has also always written with such a cinematic style and sensibility, it was really a dream project for us both.
What was the process like making this project were you writing the movie alongside the album or did one come first?
CM: The album had been coming together for about a year and a half before I started realizing there was a storyline emerging in it. From there I took the basic storyline to Jeff, who we’ve worked with on films in the past, like our “Unplug” movie and our series of short films “Stories from the Road.”
JJ: Though it wasn’t fully mixed or mastered, the album was 95% done at the time of going into the screenwriting process. We did end up changing the order of some songs, but there is one song that came about because of a need for the film. “Days to Remember” was (co-screenwriter) Chad Amour and I saying to Craig that we needed more time with the Father and Grace together as a character building vehicle. Craig and I talked back and forth about what that really needed and ultimately we came back to the remembering of those moments in time where you feel the intrinsic value while you are in them – like an important birthday or wedding – and you try SO hard to appreciate the moment as best you can. That was the spirit of the song, then a day later I received a beautiful draft of “Days to Remember.” It was a pretty cool process.
How long was this total process?
CM: From the start of beginning work on the album until the end of completing the film, the process was about 3 years.
JJ: The film was first talked about in May of 2015 and we wrapped shooting early September that year, and had it edited 8 weeks later. Then we went into color grading and VFX. Ultimately it was fully done January of 2016.
Was there any inspiration or real life experience that led to the storyline?
CM: Part of it was inspired by the loss of our two year old son a few years back and the ongoing longing to find his energy again. Because of this, Cloud Cult also has a long history of addressing issues of mortality and big picture questions about purpose and the hereafter. But for this particular project the life inspiration on my end came from the fact that my dad is in the late stages of a terminal illness that is a genetic disorder running in my family which currently has no cure. At the time of starting the album I was grieving the loss of my dad while at the same time wondering how soon the disease might take me from my own wife and kids.
JJ: The story was first developed by Craig, but during and after the filming there was a lot of personal connection with it. For instance, the day my wife told me she was pregnant was the day I finished editing the first scene – which is basically this abstract forming of the universe and all things into a child being born – so I went upstairs and re-watched the edit with tears flowing down my face. Then, my wife’s father passed away young and unexpectedly and this film has become a way for the family to process that loss.
As a director how challenging was it to make a full movie without dialogue?
JJ: It was a really cool experience! Others have asked that question, and I never really thought of it as a challenge as much as it was just what needed to happen for this picture. Hindsight, I think that the lack of dialog provided the actors and audience to interpret the meaning of the scenes quite broadly, and in that way, I see the movie as a success. I’m a huge music fan, and music is this wonderful companion in your life that is there with you in every range of emotion and life phase. It molds itself to you because we all invest in it and make it our own, and I wanted a similar experience out of a movie.
What was the casting process like? How did Josh Radnor and Alex McKenna land the roles?
CM: Josh is a fellow seeker, so he and I started exchanging emails a few years back about philosophy and religion. In 2013 we had discussions about the possibility of creating a film together on those topics, but our schedules didn’t allow that to manifest at the time. When the idea for this film came about, I shot him an email to see if he would be available for one of the lead roles. At the time, he was down in Peru on a spiritual exploration, and he shot back a “yes” pretty quickly. He reached out to Alex McKenna, who was a friend of his, to see if she would be interested in the lead role. She had recently lost her father, so the storyline really hit home for her, and it shows in her acting. Jeff had a pretty elaborate system for casting the other roles.
JJ: Because we didn’t have any lines to read, one of the things we did with both Alex and Josie was to ask them to listen to an unreleased song (i.e., a song they’ve never head) and then free-write their thoughts on it. Once they did that, we asked them read that writing back to us in a sort of monologue way. Then we just had a lot of conversation.
As musicians, what was it like to start to see the film unfold to the music? What was it like seeing the final version for the first time?
CM: I felt honored and humbled, as Jeff, the actors and the whole film crew created a partner to the music that was beyond what I had imagined . I was blown away by the cinematography that Jeff pulled off and the acting continues to get me weepy and inspired, even though I’ve seen it dozens of times now.
Were the songs played during the actual filming or was there a different process to get the cast & crew into the mindset of the songs & story each day?
JJ: Mostly the answer was yes, except when it wasn’t possible. For instance, we didn’t bring tunes along while filming on Lake Superior. There was one exception where we actually chose a song that wasn’t Cloud Cult’s to set the mood of the space. The scene where the Father and Mother get a bit amorous in the kitchen needed something slightly different but sort of sway-able. “Humble Me” by Norah Jones was the song for that scene. Beyond that, most of the songs were a strong part of the filming and you can see it in the rhythm of the actors’ movements.
We see there are upcoming screenings that you will perform the score live as the film plays. What is that feeling like? It must be so interesting to look out and see the audience’s reactions to the film!
CM: It’s a dream come true. We’ve wanted to do something like this as a band for over a decade, but it always felt like a pie in the sky kind of idea. To be on stage with such talented musicians, nailing down the score of the film while the crowd watches this film feels like a really special form of entertainment that we’re lucky to be able to bring around the US. There’s a lot of pressure, because there are so many possible things that can go wrong in a performance like that, yet, at the same time, there’s a lot of presence, because you recognize that once we do this run of shows, we will likely never be doing this kind of thing again.
JJ: I have to chime in on this one and say how much of a dream that experience is for a film maker. Because I also tour manage and run sound for Cloud Cult, I get to see all of these screenings and I’ve had multiple moments of being overwhelmed that the movie we all made together gets that sort of intentional display.
How rewarding has it been to have so much critical acclaim and to have won several festival awards?
JJ: I remember getting done with our first edit and having lived “in” this movie so long I had no idea if it was good or not! So, in that way, it is sort of affirming, but that – in my experience – is a dangerous place for a creative person. The second that becomes any sort of focus is the exact moment I feel like I’m playing someone else’s game and lose the heart of the project. Most every film is a massive team effort and as a director you want the film to be seen, engaged with, and you want to honor the investment of all the people who believed in the vision and came onboard to make it happen. So, I love that those people’s work is being lauded and celebrated.
What is next?!
CM: After the digital release of the the film and the tour, it’ll be a matter of getting back to the land and spending time in the woods waiting for direction on the next Cloud Cult project. I’ve also done film composing for other projects for many years, and I’ve got a couple of films I’m scoring the music for in the latter part of 2017. Jeff also has a number of films he’ll be producing with his Motion 117 film company.
JJ: My film production company Motion 117 Productions is working on a bunch of projects in both the narrative feature space and more commercial space, which keeps the lights on and keeps us busy. There are a few features that are in the think tank that are being formed, but mostly we like to tell stories that drill down to the heart of humanity and human experience, so we’re always interested in telling those stories. Also, I have now 1 year-old twins that are the best use of my time, so getting away with my wife and them is the most inspiring thing I do.
And lastly, could you please tell us a bit about Earthology Records?
CM: We created Earthology Records with the release of our first album back in 2000. At the time, there weren’t many options for releasing an album in an environmentally friendly way, so we created Earthology to fill that void. We helped develop the first 100% post consumer recycled paperboard CD packaging and run the whole business with staunch environmental ethics as our guide. Our recording studio is 100% solar powered, we have planted thousands of trees over the years and we continue to look for ways to minimize our environmental impact with our products and touring. The Seeker is the first project where we were able to work with a manufacturer to use recycled vinyl, and we are continuing to search for a way to release vinyl records in a way that maintains the high fidelity without producing carcinogens. We also created our own environmental nonprofit Earthology Institute which is a charity focused on environmental sustainability.
The Seeker Tour Dates : Cloud Cult performing live score to Film
June 23: New York City – Music Hall of Williamsburg Tickets
June 26: Boston – Sinclair Tickets
June 27: Philadelphia – World Cafe Live Tickets
August 3: Portland – Aladdin Tickets
August 4: Seattle – Neptune Tickets