Illuminating “UNDER THE ELECTRIC SKY”

By • February 15, 2014

“Everyone’s connected but no one’s connecting,” laments UNDER THE ELECTRIC SKY’s filmmaker Dan Cutforth (PROJECT RUNWAY, KATY PERRY: PART OF ME, TOP CHEF, PROJECT GREENLIGHT, LAST COMIC STANDING).

Pressed with countless festival obligations, Film Music Magazine briefly sat with UTES’s graciously generous Mr. Cutforth and his filmmaking partner, Jane Lipsitz, as well as the project’s Music Supervisor, Jason Bentley, host of LA’s seminal KCRW’s Metropolis in the ASCAP Cafe’s backstage green room to explore their creative collaboration process.

“We really wanted to create a film about what it’s like to be at a festival like EDC (Electric Daisy Carnival, and specifically what it’s like to be at EDC fest, so that was always the intention, to tell the story from the fan’s point of view.”

From the first frame and subsequent opening montage, UNDER THE ELECTRIC SKY’s filmmakers captivate viewers with a stunning array of sweeping, alluring shots that dazzle with aural and visual vibrancy sure to pull forward to the edge of their seats even the most uninitiated EDM (Electronic Dance Music) scene audiences. The “I-gotta-be-there” heat is only enhanced by the immediacy afforded by the latest top-shelf 3-D technology. Simply put, UNDER THE ELECTRIC SKY is sure to find it’s intended hardcore audience demographic (15 – 40 year old DJ EDM fans), yet also, due to a conscious character-driven narrative structure, will surely win over viscerally-appreciative viewers outside of and unfamiliar with the EDM culture.

Backing up to begin at the beginning, Ms. Lipsitz sheds insight into the origins of their documentation journey for the world’s most behemoth EDM beast on earth. “Dan and I have a television production company, with TOP CHEF but we got our start with BANDS ON THE RUN, which was in the music business, we produced the Justin Bieber film (NEVER SAY NEVER) and directed the Katy Perry movie (KATY PERRY: PART OF ME), which is how Pasquale (Rotella, founder of EDC) found us … he had seen that, his wife dragged him to it, he likes to say, and from there, he approached us, we had been looking to do something in the electronic dance space, so it was the worlds colliding, kismet, the timing of how it all came together.”

Mr. Cutforth advances, “We had done movies that were focused on big stars, and for us to do something where the music was the star in one way, and also real people, and the way that music changes people’s lives and the way that they react to it on a day to day basis we thought was really exciting, and the opportunity to tell a story about a dance music festival, could be focused on what it feels like to be at an event like that, that’s what we set out to create.”

Film Music Magazine’s Bureau Chief, Michael Rogers: “EDM has evolved out the source stems of many various other genres, musically, culturally, stylistically – from the Moog synthesizer to early synth-centric acts like Tangerine Dream, Bauhaus, Kraftwerk, pioneers Einsturzende Neubauten, Talking Heads, Genesis, Yes, and even early computer game soundscapes and tracks like the original Tron – then, when 70′s era disco and 80′s electronic dance folding into the textural bouillabaisse, the seeds of EDM germinated into our current artists’ craft, replacing the raw post punk/alternative sound of the 90′s. What seems significant to how EDM is certainly a viscerally emotional, even spiritually intimate art craft, is how the “journey” its track structure follows is informed by the emotional connection threads of screenwriting and old school storytelling. That is, the sounds and often lyrics of EDM tracks resonate through its rabid fans’ collective consciousness with a sort of “we’re so blissed out ’cause we’re all vibing simultaneously to this gorgeous three-act journey together with a beginning, middle, and end that expresses the architecture of Life itself, feel me?”

Ms. Lipsitz: “It’s definitely feel-good music, easy to listen to and a lot of it is very catchy.”

Mr. Cutforth: “When we were there shooting it, we’d be shooting all night and suddenly the music would stop and everyone would just sort of droop and deflate because the music had unconsciously been keeping us going. And the other thing that people talk about, and this is true, is that you really feel – in the song that Kaskade wrote for the movie, there’s a line about “that you can feel the sound,” and there is a physical component to it. And we’re trying to capture that a little bit in the theatrical experience as well, where sometimes the bass is so heavy that you actually feel it in your chest. But people talk a lot about the fact that when they’re at an event like this that they feel the beat so physically that it feels like their heart’s beating in time to the music and then they feel everyone’s heart beating in time. There’s this kind of shared experience that people have that is part of what makes it different and so exciting and so moving to people.”

Iconically “eclectic” LA radio station KCRW’s Jason Bentley (Metropolis) served as the picture’s Music Supervisor, and has similarly served on films such as the MATRIX series, TRON: LEGACY, and GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS.

Mr. Bentley: “What I really liked straight away about their ideas and approach is in using their experiences and skill set in finding characters and storyline to support the experience we were looking at. It wasn’t the music documentary that’s heavy on tons of performance and then panning shots of the crowds. You were finding the people and their stories and how they got there to this transformative experience. I have a long-standing relationship with that (EDM) scene, which was really my British invasion, my punk rock, something I identify with very strongly. Our job wasn’t to tell the complete history of rave and electronic music, but to capture the scene on that weekend at that festival only.”

MR: “Would you please say more about the unique relationship between you, the filmmakers and Jason?”

Mr. Cutforth: “Well, I felt like right from the very beginning, we were on the same page. As Jason said, it was really important to us for this to be a document, a snapshot in time of what this moment was the culture of dance music.”

Mr. Bentley: “The first time we met was a week or two before EDC and they were gearing up for this monumental shoot, and it was then initially a let’s see what happens, to see what the festival was going to provide.”

Mr. Cutforth: “Jason was brilliant in asking, ‘who are you planning on shooting?’ because there are about 150 artists performing, and he suggested, ‘well, you might want to think about a few not-obvious choices – Dylan Francis (http://dillonfrancis.com) and Jaime Jones (http://www.edmsauce.com/2013/11/05/jamie-jones-ep-hot-creations/) – and I really like both those sequences and they were both suggestions that Jason had because they both represent different things that are going on now, so he was really helpful in steering us in the right direction, in the middle of all that who can kind of guide us to represent the culture in the right way, though there were some people who weren’t interested in being part of the movie, and aren’t in it, and that’s okay.”

MR: “It seemed, there was a sort of inspiration in you film from the Woodstock film. Was there a direct line for you as filmmakers between the Woodstock experience and film, and this EDC experience and film?”

Mr. Cutforth: “There definitely was. Jane cut her teeth as a TV Producer Woodstock in 1994 – she still has a pair of muddy boots in our office in a glass case, a testament to that experience – and we went back and looked at that movie again when we started this project, and funny, when I saw it, I realized so much of what we wanted to see in our movie had come directly from Woodstock. There’s a genuine and also cynical, communal sense of love, peace, and mutual appreciation that’s tangible and real, not a sort of fad, what they feel and you feel it as a participant. That’s the connective tissue.”

MR: “To pull off the monumental task of gear and crew, you said you had roving teams of spotters – “the care bears?”

Mr. Cutforth: “We had 21 different stories. Each of those stories had one to six people attached that we found in our outreach though may have turned into something. So we had to run the thing kind of like a news operation where we had cameras at the ready to deploy in different strategic places. We had these people called care bears, who, if we didn’t have cameras with people, they would hang out with them and keep an eye on them and report what was going on. We had three 3-D cameras, based at the Main Stage, but also one that could move around to the other stages as well, so we had an enormous amount of footage to make the movie.”

Mr. Bentley: “Yah, the music side, this was a beast, wall-to-wall music. What excited me, was giving Kaskade the opportunity to score his first film. I had the sense based on his last album that he was interested in score. You can hear some orchestral elements in his work, and this was a situation where he could stay in his comfort zone with his connection to EDC specifically and electronic dance music and give him a chance to explore, and he did a terrific job. I we (Music Supervisors) do our job right, music is an extremely important layer but you don’t want to notice it all the time. It’s just supposed to reinforce what the directors are trying to do. There are roughly 80 cues in the film, and roughly half of those are licensed tracks, so those licensing days were long.”

MR: “Well, thank you all so much for carving this window to explore the music process in your picture, and I’m sure it will find it’s audience and become an iconic film in the EDM world.”

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