Set to premiere at the Venice Film Festival on August 31st, Tim Sutton’s stunning new film Memphis enters off the heat of praise from his debut feature Pavilion, which premiered last summer. With a filmmaking style that captures the ineffable beauty in the smallest of moments and the hypnotic power of melding image and sound, Memphis was developed through the Venice Biennale Cinema College over the past year.
The thing that most defined the filmmaking process, even more so with Memphis than even Pavilion, was the idea of designed creative autonomy. I would set the day—scene by scene—which included a minimalist storyboard and often would leave plenty of room for the story to multiply or divide. Then the cast and crew would have a great deal of autonomy to inhabit and capture the spaces as they felt most natural—from Willis to Chris Dapkins (our DP) and also Bart Mangrum (production designer) and my other collaborators. Everyone was asked to take a certain amount of control, as long as it served the world we were creating. This form of collaboration works even more so with Caspar, who really has carte blanche as far as how to approach typography, still image, and overall design for print, site, and titles/credits. John Baker, our producer, and I asked that the first round of posters be focused on Willis within the mythic world of Memphis the film lives in. Then Caspar does what Caspar does.
When we were first asked to work on Pavilion the film was basically done and Tim was already pretty keen on certain shots as being representative of the film. So I riffed off of those, really embedding into them a concept we’d agreed upon about Max, the main character, slowly disappearing in front of our eyes. The urgency of the bold, italic type treatment just felt right, as did the colour in terms of the vibrant, fearlessness of these kids.What isn’t on the page however is the relationship that formed between Tim and us based on an understanding of why making the kinds of films he does is important. As with anything what’s most crucial is the discussions that go on as you’re doing the work. Not long after I’d started working on Pavilion did I find myself getting drunk with Tim in a Manhattan hotel bar. He had just bellowed as loudly as was perhaps still polite that he felt Gaspar Noé’s film Enter The Void was "the Citizen Kane of our generation!" Now Pavilion didn’t scream that message of course, but there’s a sense in its very modern blurring of the lines between narrative and documentary that it understands, like Enter The Void, what needs to happen next with films.Fast forward to the Memphis shoot. I’d been invited to spend the last two weeks of the shoot on set. Stills camera in hand, I was invited to just be there and soak everything in. I didn’t know it yet but my candid photos were going to be the photos used in the posters for the film, not film stills or posed shots. What’s important about this is that my photos were often taken when the camera wasn’t rolling. I was there between takes, off book, capturing the actors just being in Memphis, dealing with the heat, figuring out the next scene and generally talking shit with the crew. This in and of itself once again blurs the line between what is the film and what is just reality in a way that’s true to everything Tim is trying to do as a filmmaker.There are of course other stories to tell, but for now I hope everyone enjoys the deeper insight into the making of Memphis that these two posters allow.