Westlake Studios is the iconic home of 1800 seconds, a new album by 10 unsigned artists, curated by Pusha T
18th November 2019 by Will Stewart
Westlake Studios is a legendary recording studio that was built in the 1970’s, and has since been the home of albums created by some of the biggest stars in a generation; Donna Summer, Van Halen, Frank Ocean, and of course the legendary but now disgraced Michael Jackson. When Pusha T decided to curate and album from ten unsigned artists, he chose the iconic studios and called on documentary film maker Andrew Litten to tell the story. This is 1800 seconds.
MadeGood – I featured a film of yours previously, but that was a while ago. What have you been up to since then?
Andrew – This year has been filled with a healthy balance of personal and commercial work, to say the least! Toward the beginning of 2019, I was feeling pretty uninspired toward doc projects and was really yearning to open my world up a bit. My inspirations have always stemmed from experimental narratives or photography, so I decided to pursue work in that space for most of the year. I’m fortunate to say that I now have quite a few narrative projects under my belt, and the balance of documentary and narrative is exactly where I hoped it would be.
MadeGood – How did you come across this album, and Westlake Studios? And how did you come to make a film about it?
Andrew – I was contacted by the agency long before the album was made and before Pusha T was even involved. They had this amazing idea to search for talented musicians across the US, and get them into Westlake Studios with a legendary artist. More importantly, 1800 wanted to document the whole process with a completely new approach. There’s so much “branded content” out there that simply looks good and doesn’t tell a story, which led to lots of long conversations about this in the beginning. I realised this couldn’t just be a documentary about the album, it needed to be about making it as a musician in our current society. The sacrifices, the long hours and the commitment needed to succeed.
MadeGood – There are a lot of contributors in this film. How did you approach it, and manage to get it all to fit together? You must have had a lot of interview footage to edit!
Andrew – There were 10 unsigned artists on the album that all deserve shine, plus we wanted to establish the legendary aspect of Pusha T’s career. None of this would have been possible if we hadn’t had established a through-line early on, which was this idea of seeing what a rap career looks like once you’ve pulled back the curtain. Beyond the money and fame, what keeps the torch lit? This formulated a common bond between the artists and Pusha during the making of the album, and it’s definitely the undercurrent of the documentary.
Aside from establishing themes, there was an extensive amount of research that went into the documentary. We conducted 2-3 rounds of pre-interviews before shooting, meaning that we could create unique interview questions for each of the 10 artists and establish who we wanted to see more of on screen. Once we identified the three artists we would follow, everything sort of fell into place.
MadeGood – For a short film, there’s quite a big crew involved. What was the working dynamic like on set? Are you used to working with such a big crew?
Andrew – I typically work with a larger crew than what’s considered normal in the doc world, but this crew was particularly large since we were filming in two different cities. I’m big on incorporating abstract ideas into the stories I’m telling, and most of the time this means adding on a gaffer, grip and/or steadicam to achieve a heightened sense of reality in our images. I have to give a lot of praise here to our DP, Ben Mullen, who relentlessly chased our themes and expanded upon them in the imagery.
We broke the story down into three different formats- each used to tell a different part of the story. We used film and digital to differentiate between the past and present- the past being shot in black and white on S16, and the present being shot in colour on an Alexa. The third format was mini DV- which we used to capture the moments a large crew couldn’t have gotten. Our big crew was only in Westlake Studios for 4 days, so a lot of the time I would show up at the studio with my 5 mini-dv cameras and just let moments unfold naturally. We would also hand out mini-dv cameras to artists and let them capture their own magic in the studio!
MadeGood – What are you working on next?
Andrew – There’s so many potential projects that I’m really excited about right now, most of which are in the high-concept space. I just released a short film/music video for Ukrainian composer turned solo artist, Vonavi (who also did the score on St. Louis Rises). Lately, I’ve just been excited about dreaming bigger and learning more. That’s what keeps the wheels turning!
MadeGood – Thanks so much for letting us feature your work again, Andrew, and for answering my questions. Keep dreaming big, I’m looking forward to what it may bring!