(Illustration: Rob Goodman)
Tim Nackashi studied painting in college, a choice he jokes he made by selecting the hardest profession to make a living from. These days, Tim is pursuing a path just as elusive but is thriving as a filmmaker and music video director. Now he cracks jokes from music videos sets of OK GO, Death Cab for Cutie, Craig Wedren, TV on the Radio, Neon Indian, and more of today’s biggest artists.
Tim didn’t necessarily have big Hollywood dreams as a kid but was always enamored with the fantastical, good-humored science fiction movies of his youth, such as Back to the Future. You can see echoes of triumphant ’80s action heroes and ’90s cyberpunk aesthetic in Tim’s work but his brand of experimental, visually enrapturing filmmaking is distinctly his own. During our conversation for Making Ways, a podcast all about the unexpected paths to a creative career, Tim and I chatted about his journey to making films and working as a commercial and music video director, behind the scenes stories, and advice for emerging filmmakers. Check out a snapshot of Tim’s work, from his perspective, below.
Listen to Making Ways podcast featuring Tim Nackashi
No Film School, No Problem
For someone who has had a relatively long-standing career as a director, you might assume Tim’s story begins with a degree from a film school, but that’s not the case at all. It wasn’t until the end of school that he began cooking up his first film with collaborator and co-director David Sampliner. The film, Dirty Work, about three people who have gross jobs and love them, went on to be executive-produced by Edward Norton and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Tim considers diving in and making a film on his own his education as a filmmaker, saying, “A buddy and I started making a fledgling documentary project that got some steam, and we actually completed it after a lot of work and effort…basically teaching ourselves to shoot, edit it, and learn Final Cut Pro at the time. I did the music for it as well.” That experience kick-started his film career. So if you are waiting for someone to give you permission (or a degree) to be something, do something, or pursue the track that you feel compelled toward—don’t. Just get started, find the support systems you need to get it done (both people and programs), and get dirty.
Getting Going With OK GO
While having Edward Norton associated with your film may seem like a direct ticket to Hollywood, Tim’s own ambitions were, at the time, more focused on parlaying his résumé into editing work. He got a bunch of gigs editing behind-the-scenes footage for movies, but it wasn’t long before he was bit by the movie-making bug again. One of Tim’s first big breaks happened when, as he tells it, he nearly ran over one of the members of OK Go at Pinkberry. “I was driving in Silverlake, and I pulled into a parking lot and literally almost hit Tim Nordwind, the bassist for OK Go. We had met before through a friend of a friend, and I volunteered to do some editing on this web series he starred in (side note: Doing free work can really pay off, here’s an example)…and was telling him about a Gnarls Barkley shoot I had recently done.” Nordwind suggested that Tim pitch OK Go some stuff. And it was only a couple of weeks later that Tim and OK Go were shooting a video. Tim went all in with a treatment that had him capturing 24 frames per second of the band’s movement, leaving behind every choreographing image on-screen to create a visual of repeating and overlapping colors and shapes like none other. Tim’s advice for emerging filmmakers out there today? Take big risks, especially when you’re early enough in your career that not too many people are looking.
Going Live With Death Cab
Tim’s career so far has been marked by a willingness to stretch the bounds of what’s been done, both narratively and from a technical production standpoint. Tim’s mini-music movies have included one of the first 360-degree panoramic videos for former Shudder to Think frontman Craig Wedren’s song “Are We,” a statement on celebrity with Maroon 5’s “Never Gonna Leave This Bed,” and the cyberpunk odyssey of Neon Indian’s “Polish Girl.” Tim’s work ethic and philosophy is perhaps best exemplified by his video for Death Cab for Cutie’s “You Are a Tourist” — the first music video shot live, with multiple cameras, in one continuous take and broadcast simultaneously around the world online.
Though the band had little worry about this feat of filming, which was part spectacle and part music video, Tim found the experience both incredible rewarding and nerve-wracking. He gave me some background about the shoot: “We didn’t have tons of days of prep. We came up with a bunch of scenarios. Had a day to rehearse the camera, the people, the lighting…We basically had one shot at it, with two rehearsals beforehand that didn’t go well. So during the shoot, I was calling out the camera shots while also calling out the edit live. And then at certain points, I actually made a few mistakes in there, which is kind of funny now. But it was probably one of the most stressful days of my life.”
Films With Humanity
Tim has also been continuously moving closer to his dream of big-screen movie making by directing short films that touch on some of today’s hottest-button issues. Through the Wall follows an undocumented young woman and her son as they visit with her son’s father, communicating from either side of the wall separating the US from Mexico. “Long before the recent rhetoric, probably four years ago, I think I stumbled on New York Times article that talked about the families meeting at the border wall at the fence around the southern end of San Diego,” Tim said. It had a couple of photos, and it sort of talked about like very casually about this day when people were connecting through it, and it sort of always stuck with me.”
Just after the election, Tim collaborated with Aya Tanimura on Is History Repeating Itself?, a public service announcement supported by Katy Perry, in which a woman recounts her internment in the US during the forced relocation and incarceration of people of Japanese descent during World War II, only to later reveal herself to be wearing a Mission Impossible-style mask, obscuring her true identity as a Muslim. She asks Americans to look in the mirror and into the past and determine if history is indeed repeating itself—and if so, whether this is the country we want. “I think it was simple and compelling. And it was ironic that it was perceived as being very political, because there’s really nothing political about the statement. And two years ago, you would have thought, ‘Why did you make this?’ But now we see that the idea of selecting a group of people based solely on religion or something like that is not what we think of as our American values. It’s against everything we stand for.”
Making Movie Moves
While Tim has achieved the kind of success an emerging filmmaker and music video maker might only dream of, he’s only just starting on his true calling as a motion picture director. When I asked Tim to expand upon those ’80s movies he loved so much and explain what’s at the heart of the stories he wants to tell, he shared: “My girlfriend did this cool thing where she asked me some of my favorite movies and then she basically psychoanalyzed me and what I like about movies. I realized. . .I like movies (like E.T. and Back to the Future and Fight Club) where there’s an antihero, an unsuspecting kind of savior who only another innocent person probably can discover and understand their point of view, and they sort of help them to know…That is the kind of movie I want to make. I’m working on something right now that pulls from some of my music video visual aesthetic. If somebody said this reminds them of a Spike Jonze-Charlie Kaufman type of movie, I would definitely take that as a compliment.”
Right here in the Bay Area, you can discover resources to get your maker mind moving. Check out the Grotto, Scary Cow, CCSF, or try the 48 Hour Film Project, meetup groups, or larger organizations like SFFILM.