Artifact, a fascinating new documentary directed by actor and 30 Seconds to Mars front man Jared Leto (under the pseudonym Bartholomew Cubbins) made its US premiere at the Doc NYC Fest last night in Chelsea. Focusing on 30 Seconds to Mars’ desire to leave its label, corporate behemoth EMI, the film reveals how the band discovered the seven-year contract termination choice loophole in its contract and the record label’s plans to sue them—for thirty million dollars.
What was meant to be a documentary about the creative process of recording their next album turned into something else entirely: a David-and-Goliath toe-to-toe with Terra Firma, a huge conglomerate owned by billionaire Guy Hands, who had recently taken over EMI with plans to revive the label’s legendary, but crumbling, debt-ridden legacy. It’s also a fascinating look into what is now a very soon–to-be-defunct platform—the record label—and includes commentary from some of the music industry’s leading corporate players and insiders.
Aside from being a gifted actor and musician, Leto also seems to have a definitive career ahead of him as a filmmaker. The film itself is beautifully shot and full of very clean, tender moments between band mates Leto, his brother, drummer Shannon Leto, and guitarist TomoMiličević. Chronicling the recording process with legendary producer Flood as the band hastily hacks a studio in Leto’s spare Hollywood Hills home, the film is filled with insane antic moments and bolts of inspiration as they struggle to create their next album (the aptly named This Is War) amidst raging financial and legal pressures.
Kindly granting me time before introducing the film last night, the charming and utterly sincere Leto told me a bit about where he thinks the record industry is going, his advice to the young musician, and making Artifact, which won the audience award for Best Documentary at the Toronto International Film Festival this year.
“Artifact is a really special, DIY project,” Leto said. “It was made by just a handful of people. And we made it because we believed in telling this story. We believe it’ s important for artists and for audiences around the world to know the way things works, so that they can be better informed, and make decisions about how [they] interact with and support artists.”
When I told him my niece and nephew are already clamoring for guitar lessons, I asked him what his advice would be for the aspiring rock star. “I’d tell them to wait as long as possible before they would ever sign a deal,” he admitted. “They’re so many tools now to share your music. You don’t have to be reliant on your record company to share your music. You can make an album, an album that sounds very good, and you can do it very cheaply. Times have changed since I signed our record deal in 1998. But I would tell a young person to wait as long as they can, organically as long as possible, and focus on your craft, your art, and your dreams. The deal will come. But I wouldn’t rush it.”
Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For A Dream made Leto not only an indie film icon; it also proved what extreme levels he would go to for his art. (He lost nearly 30 pounds for the role.) It seems that he was really born, though, to make music. “Well, I haven’t made a movie in five years, so, the answer is probably right there,” he says. “But I think the main reason that I haven’t made a film is that I’ve probably been too busy. Part of the success with 30 Seconds to Mars is that you have less time to do some of the other things in life, even the good things.” Leto seems particularly happy with his busy life. “None of us ever expected that it would turn out the way that it has,” he explained. “We’re about to finish our fourth album right now, and that’ll be out sometime next year.”
Asked if he would start his own label, but revealed that he owns and operates an Internet platform that is worthy of a burgeoning media mogul. “I probably wouldn’t [start a label],” he admitted, and revealed he finds it more important for artists to share their work directed with their audiences. “I actually have done this, with three companies that I started on the tech side, to impart solutions for artists,” he explained. “One is a company that does social media management for marketing and commerce, another is a ticketing company, and the third is a social theatre where people can create live experiences and share them with audiences without advertising or sponsorships. These are solutions we’ve developed so artists can really share their work.”
Artifactalso highlights the creative challenges of making art in a way that many documentaries often aspire to, but rarely achieve: “We all shared a part of our lives that we’ve never shared on-screen before, a very intimate and personal part of our lives,” he said. “We take you inside the laboratory! Inside the studio, and in our hearts, and in our minds, to share how difficult this point is in our lives—just battling this massive corporation, and fighting for what we believe in. The record company [guys] are not bad people. They just happen to work in a business that has a lot of challenges.”