Q&A with filmmaker/illustrator Joerg Steineck - new upcoming project is a film about jazz legend John Scofield

"Every musical generation has its own interesting peaks to offer."

Joerg Steineck: Art, Film & Music 

Joerg Steineck is a freelance filmmaker, graphic designer and illustrator based in Berlin, Germany. Over the last 10 plus years he has produced independent documentaries and fictional short films which have been well received by international audience. He has a strong audio-visual approach to storytelling and generating atmospheres within his films. Next to his film / video projects Steineck works as freelance director, video editor as well as graphic designer and illustrator. Joerg Steineck’s new project is a film with and about jazz legend John Scofield “INSIDE SCOFIELD” (aimed for mid-2020).

John Scofield is one of today’s greats jazz and fusion guitarists and composers, his unique style and sound are influencing musicians worldwide. He crossed paths with people like Miles, Mingus, Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker but kept himself grounded and fun. INSIDE SCOFIELD is a film that provides rare insight into the head of one of jazz’s finest and a subjective guideline to past, presence and future of modern jazz.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the music counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I wish I could safely say I’m more influenced by underground than by mainstream culture. But both are kind of hard to define, because the boundaries are blurred. It's definitely more than just a matter of sales figures. Besides I also get inspired on a regular basis by what most people would call mainstream - it’s just hard not to- everything popular becomes mainstream after a while. The first record I’ve bought was Elvis, and I still like his music even if I went through this whole underground thing including psychedelic, jazz, electronica, folk, techno, even death metal. It’s not a big issue to me. If the term counterculture implies the change, which is deeply embedded in our DNA and therefore part of whatever we do - then that’s actually what influences me the most.

I grew up during a period of change when Grunge became a figurehead for anti-mainstream for the masses, with its angry but also lethargic, sometimes very self-destructive attitude that would even picture Punk as a movement of constructive positivism. During that same era techno and electronica became a huge underground and mainstream movement, too. And I think what really shaped this whole time period for me was a general feel that it’s okay to accept ambiguities. It’s okay to like completely opposite things, like musical genres or even mass compatible music… if it’s good.

That’s probably why I’m interested in very different topics. My last film Lo Sound Desert is a documentary about the punk and psychedelic music scene in the Californian desert, before that I made a film about migration issues in Tijuana, Mexico, a mockumentary about a Swedish desert rock band, a bunch of weird experimental short films and animations and now a film about jazz legend John Scofield. It sounds weird and makes total sense to me at the same time.

"I grew up during a period of change when Grunge became a figurehead for anti-mainstream for the masses, with its angry but also lethargic, sometimes very self-destructive attitude that would even picture Punk as a movement of constructive positivism. During that same era techno and electronica became a huge underground and mainstream movement, too. And I think what really shaped this whole time period for me was a general feel that it’s okay to accept ambiguities. It’s okay to like completely opposite things, like musical genres or even mass compatible music… if it’s good." (Artwork by Joerg Steineck "Hunter S. calling")

What were the reasons that you started the researches as filmmaker and artist? What is the hardest part of making a film?

I guess I always considered myself a painter because the brush was the first tool that I’ve picked up when I was really young. But I get easily bored, especially when I feel I’m repeating myself. So I cultivate creative chaos to keep it fresh and unforeseeable, which also means to change the tools from time to time. Therefore I figured painting alone couldn’t be the only outlet. During my most productive phases I end up writing treatments and scripts in the morning, painting pictures during the day and editing films or making music at night. I really value variety and love to combine different media, maybe that’s why I feel fascinated and inspired by people who go similar ways. Making music documentaries is kind of a natural extension to what I do on a regular basis and also a way to connect to soulmates. I mean meeting your heroes and peeping into their world for a second is of course the exciting part in the beginning. But then it’s all about transferring this experience into your own work.

The hardest part for every filmmaker is to get the project financed. Especially when you work on a character portrayal about a musician from a different country. It’s tough to get state sponsorship for a project that hasn’t any direct cultural reference - so crowdfunding plays an important part because it basically decides whether the project is going to happen or not, even if it’s already self-financed and pre-produced. Because the real work starts after filming and collection the footage.

For Inside Scofield I will have to initiate a Kickstarter funding campaign, too, but I hope and believe there’s not just me who wants to see this film being made.

Finding out about artistic differences between you and the main protagonist by the time when everything is finished is also a tough thing. Exactly that happened with American Dirge, a half documentary, half fictional film on which I’ve worked meticulously for almost four years. It’s about a troubled Folk/Americana singer/songwriter who travels around the country and experiences some sort of catharsis. Although it’s very sad it’s a good film I think, but since the main protagonist hates it because "it’s not fucked up enough" I still couldn’t get over myself to release it. Not sure if I ever will.

"I’d love to be around the pulsating and decadent Berlin music scene of the early 20ies, that was heavily influenced by American Jazz during that time - or be around Memphis in 1954 when Elvis recorded his first album, or Seattle during the late 80ies when Nirvana played small venues. I’d definitely try to collect as much footage as I could and leave back to the future without a trace." (Photo: "American Dirge")

How do you describe your philosophy? Where does your creative drive come from? How do you want it to affect people?

Artists normally try to make you believe it’s all in their art and there’s nothing more to learn aside from it. And of course - it’s important to protect the integrity of the art. But to portray someone you’ve got to show their most private side as well to complete the picture, I believe, otherwise it gets random and less authentic. On the other hand, I think it’s wrong and inappropriate to decode or explain the art logically, especially when logic plays no important role during the creational process.

That’s where I can see the biggest ambivalence and challenge in my work as a documentary filmmaker and artist. I try to summarize the artists’ statement to the most open, accompanying format because nothing is more unjust than to reduce someone’s creative entirety to a specific minimum.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Never go the easiest way, a friend of mine told me once, and I think I really did a good job. I still don’t know if that was good advice at all. Don’t do it for the money was another advice I have clearly internalized.

What touched (emotionally) you from John Scofield? Are there any memories which you’d like to share with us?

I became aware of John’s career and musical range a couple of years ago when I’ve got hooked instantly on one of his records after finding it in the collection of my father who is a huge Jazz fan. Since I love Jazz my entire life, I always wanted to make a Jazz related film, so things just happened. It took a good amount of persuasion and a personal meeting to actually convince John. Then the filming process really started on his West Coast tour with Combo 66 in 2018. Personally, that was an intense experience with lots of great memories and insights into the touring life of music professionals. John is super easy-going, devoted to his art but doesn’t take himself too seriously, which is a quality I really like about people in general but kind of a rare thing for musicians of his class. The film will hopefully prove it.

"The hardest part for every filmmaker is to get the project financed. Especially when you work on a character portrayal about a musician from a different country. It’s tough to get state sponsorship for a project that hasn’t any direct cultural reference - so crowdfunding plays an important part because it basically decides whether the project is going to happen or not, even if it’s already self-financed and pre-produced. Because the real work starts after filming and collection the footage. For Inside Scofield I will have to initiate a Kickstarter funding campaign, too, but I hope and believe there’s not just me who wants to see this film being made." (Photo: “INSIDE SCOFIELD” aimed for mid-2020)

Do you consider the Jazz a specific music genre and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?

I was asked the same question about punk music when I was working on “Lo Sound Desert”. Is punk just a genre or a state of mind? And - how do you fit in as a filmmaker? -It’s both of course. Jazz to me means playful improvisation, reaching the state of expressionist freedom that allows you to become true part of the moment. But improvisation is a big part of punk, too, - think about the whole DIY culture. Combine jazz with an anarchistic attitude and you might get punk out of it. I would consider Miles Davis some kind of jazz punk, too, since he broke with so many jazz traditions. Regarding my own work I can see parallels, too: There’s a loose plan but I always try to leave things open. As an independent filmmaker and allrounder I definitely have more creative freedom than people who are tied up to some company or specialize on one tool only. Both ways certainly have their pros and cons, but being able to improvise as a director and cinematographer and maybe not follow the rules - that’s the freedom I need to feel comfortable.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What is the impact of music to the socio-cultural implications?

I don’t think so much about what I miss nowadays, I like music of all genres and generations. Every musical generation has its own interesting peaks to offer. When I feel like being in the mood to listen to 30ies or 40ies Jazz… I just listen to it. I don’t complain about specific things I like that should stay forever, as I said I accept and like changes and I think it’s unhealthy to force something to stay. That’s where it starts to become unauthentic and affected. There will always be both - good and bad music, and both will always play an important role to shape the socio-cultural habitus of each generation.

If you could change one thing in the world/people and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Be more responsible for what/who comes after you, I guess.

"I was asked the same question about punk music when I was working on “Lo Sound Desert”. Is punk just a genre or a state of mind? And - how do you fit in as a filmmaker? -It’s both of course. Jazz to me means playful improvisation, reaching the state of expressionist freedom that allows you to become true part of the moment. But improvisation is a big part of punk, too, - think about the whole DIY culture."

(Artwork by Joerg Steineck)

Where would you really want to go with time machine and what memorabilia (albums, films) you would put in?

I’d love to be around the pulsating and decadent Berlin music scene of the early 20ies, that was heavily influenced by American Jazz during that time - or be around Memphis in 1954 when Elvis recorded his first album, or Seattle during the late 80ies when Nirvana played small venues. I’d definitely try to collect as much footage as I could and leave back to the future without a trace.

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