Interview with Sean Pecknold

Sean Pecknold is a film director and stop-motion artist who has created music videos and commercials for the likes of Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, BBC and the New York Times. He explores existential conundrums in his work, often using mystical or surreal imagery and stop-motion and mixed-media animation. On the road is where he feels the most at home. He grew up in Seattle, spent some time living in New York, and now lives in Los Angeles. He runs Sing-Sing studio in Los Angeles with Adi Goodrich.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I haven't done 23 & Me, but I know my heritage is at least Norwegian, Irish, French, Canadian, and English. I enjoy long bike rides in cold cities. I'm a Pisces and my birthday is on St. Patrick's Day. As a kid I was obsessed with the show Mathnet, a serial Dragnet spoof featuring mathematicians, and just recently went to get my taxes done in Burbank, CA and the actor who played the main detective was working as an accountant there. That was a celebrity sighting I was excited about.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in and around Seattle, Washington: Port Townsend, Ravenna, Kirk- land, and Capitol Hill.

Why and when did you move to Los Angeles?

I moved to Los Angeles on Halloween of 2012 from Portland, Oregon. I had always wondered what it was like to live there, at the time I only knew a few people, Portland was beautiful and clean, but there weren't enough work opportunities in film there, and I wanted the challenge of a big city. I had lived in NYC for a few years and missed the energy, and figured LA would be the next best place to try.

What initially inspired you to pursue a career in filmmaking?

RES Magazine & RES DVD from the Mid-2000's was a big reason, seeing so many radical shorts, music videos, and animations, and also the Director's Label DVDs with Michel Gondry, etc. My dad was a video editor in the 90's so I was turned onto the craft side of film very early.

How would you describe your creative process?

I start with an image or a mood or a certain visual that I can't get out of my mind. Then I do a lot of sketching and storyboarding to flesh out the idea and sometimes do a test video to help me test or explore what I'm going to make. It can be messy but I've tried to get more structured with my process over the years.

Does your city and surroundings influence you as a creative and individual?

Of course, I think your environment has a huge effect on what you make for better or worse, hopefully better. My work in the Northwest was a darker, moodier, it sort of mimicked the grey skies and epic landscapes and forests. Since moving to Los Angeles I've gotten deeper into live-action filmmaking, working with crews, other nice humans, etc. I don't really consider myself a Los Angeles inspired artist. More-so I would say I'm inspired by the parts of California that are outside of the city. The last couple music films I've made are both exercises in finding a unique visual that felt to me like the animation worlds I had created over the years. It's very helpful to be a few hours drive from a vast amount of locations, deserts, mountains, forests, oceans, it makes sense why so many movies were shot around here for so long.

What do you struggle with the most in terms of working and living in a city like Los Angeles?

The city has a strange effect on the mind, it can be like you are trapped in a sort of spell, this can be good and bad. The car and the streets are the biggest drag, and if you don't have a workspace then you can spend a lot of time sitting at home unmotivated to do anything, with the weather the exact same everyday. As strange as it sounds, I think the combination of sunshine and driving is the biggest struggle for me. Sometimes I imagine the sun as my arch-nemesis, and everyday he is trying to destroy me, so I have to hide from him after saying hello to him in the morning when he hasn't reached full power, then I can emerge later when he is saying goodbye for the day. In the northern cities the sun isn't as powerful, but here it really beats down on all the asphalt like a giant laser. Walking, and hiking, and keeping your body moving outside of a car is the real key to finding a sort of healthy balance here. Luckily there are a lot of options for that as well.

The responsibility of the council in every city is to provide a solid foundation of design, art and cultural facilities, is that evident in Los Angeles?

For such a large sprawling city, seeking out cultural events can be the thing that makes you feel part of the community, that's very important here. I've recently enjoyed a Jim Henson Retrospective at Skirball, the LA30 - Los Angeles artist show at the Hammer, and the LA Design Festival had some great panel discussions and events. There's a lack of independent arthouse cinemas, which is strange for such a movie-town. I also think the city council could do a better job of getting the word out there about the art goings-ons in every neighborhood. Often you live in Hollywood or Lincoln Heights but don't know what's happen- ing in Pasadena or Long Beach or vice versa. The sprawl can make it feel like all things are out of reach. There could be a better Social Media presence for information about the events and facilities, and also art or media grants that exist. The ForYourArt newsletter has a nice list of recommend events in LA. Also 5everyday App is great for knowing what's happening. But we need more panel discussions, and experimental happenings, more events that brings the city together to think and learn and enjoy the culture that we have to offer.

Do you think it is also the responsibility of the designer/creative to improve the quality of peoples lives in their city?

Yes for sure, every designer or creative working in this city should affect it for the better. Adi and I run Sing-Sing, our creative studio in Cypress Park, and this fall started a seasonal workshop series called Saturday-School as a way to improve the community here and teach people who are starting out in their careers, or looking for a break from their normal pursuits. We've done a Color Theory class, a Stop-Motion Animation class, a Live-Drawing class, and an Experimental Typography class. It's been a really great way to meet other creatives in the city, and for them to network with each other and learn something new.

Can you tell us about any current or future projects that you are particularly excited about?

Currently developing a feature film that I'm really excited about. Also, our studio Sing-Sing is releasing a beautifully simple list-app that we're pretty excited about called Superfocus. Saturday-School has been really nice as well, hoping to get more great classes planned for 2019.

What is the one thing you can’t live without in Los Angeles?


If you could add or change something about Los Angeles, what would that be?

I talk about this all the time. For me it's transportation, I really think they should create a bike highway system, converting some underused streets to be bike and pedestrian only, to connect major neighborhoods and encourage more people to bike instead of drive. Often people are only driving a few miles to get to work, but if they felt safer biking they would. And if they biked, they would interact with their neighborhoods more, meet more people here, smell more smells, and just be more connected to everything. It's much easier to stop in a new shop or restaurant when you're on a bike.

Describe the perfect day for you in Los Angeles.

Breakfast & coffee, a morning hike in Griffith Park, a movie, making some work at the studio, then splitting early to catch a show at the Hammer with my partner Adi, then Hackey Sack (it's back) with friends and a BBQ, then an evening bike ride around the streets of Glendale.

If you could choose any artist/creative to collaborate with, who would that be and why?

Adi Goodrich. She makes me want to get up in the morning and do great things.

What do you do to switch off?

I leave my iPhone in a drawer, and go for a long walk or bike ride. Anything that keeps my eyes in front of me or up instead of looking down. I highly suggest leaving your phone in a drawer. You won't miss anything and it won't miss you.

Sometimes people relate a specific smell to the city they live in or the place they grew up, does Los Angeles evoke a personal smell to you?

Yes. I love the smell of Eucalyptus trees in Griffith Park. It's such a sweet smell, I wish there was more of it here like in the Bay Area, but when I find it here, it makes me feel good.

What is your favourite time of the day?

Breakfast time and night. Night has always been the easiest time of day to focus on art or thinking, from about 8pm till whenever, it's quiet and the world of communication calms down.

If you weren’t living in Los Angeles and could choose any city to live in where would that be, and why?

It's funny I did a short PSA about this a few years ago called Geo Angst. I and many people I knew were suffering from constant city comparison for a while, "maybe my life would be better if I lived in ______". But that's calmed for me lately and I've started to see the good in Los Angeles and the people who live here right now. It's up to us all to make it better than it is. I really love Copenhagen and Berlin, everyone is biking there all seasons, and there is a nice energy in both those places because of it. Someday it would be nice to be able to live in a place like that. Also Montreal, Lisbon, New York, and Big Bear are other contenders too.

los angeles by sean pecknold

A selection of places in Los Angeles - recommended by film director Sean Pecknold. See all of Sean's favourite places here

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