Coffee Talk is a monthly informal chat between Washington Filmworks staff and local film industry professionals and arts organizations to better understand what it is they do, how our work and missions intersect, and what we can do to support like-minded projects moving forward.
Film works with many industries and sectors to tell stories, but one of the most fascinating and cohesive intersections is with music. And no one is a better expert than Kirt Debique, founder of Brick Lane Records who has partnered with the Northwest Film Forum to form the film-music hybrid Cue Northwest.
Debique’s Brick Lane Records is a local record label that’s found much success in both Seattle and around the world. It not only focuses on artistic expression, says Debique, but also “a community of people that music helps connect – that’s where the passion really lies.” The mission of Brick Lane Records is to act as a collective that’s artist friendly that also gives back to the musical community. “The more artists work together and are patient about reaching success, the more engaged they are with the business and, thus, there’s a more long-term and sustainable platform we have created.”
Debique’s emphasis on not only the artist but the surrounding community clicked well with Film Forum Artistic Director Courtney Sheehan, who has a similar belief when it comes to the film world. Thus, their organizations formed Cue Northwest – a cross-pollinating initiative to bring both artistic communities together. The idea of the partnership is for filmmakers to listen to a record that has a narrative and story arc (through the music and lyrics); then the question is raised: what would inspire the content creators in terms of visuals? Cue Northwest commissions filmmakers to make a short film influenced (and featuring) the music of the record. Debique challenges filmmakers to move beyond the standard music video, however he hesitates to specify more so he doesn’t stifle any creativity. “It’s really about what they bring to the table.”
Another brainchild of his partnership with the Northwest Film Forum is the Puget Soundtrack series, which is an idea “to engage the community further,” according to Debique. For this project, Debique and the Forum allow the community to pick feature films and solicit concepts for alternate musical scores. Once they pick the local musician for the new score, the experience will be created live with an audience and a screening at the Forum. It’s yet another way to coalesce and galvanize the community through film and music, and Debique hopes to partner with additional organizations about further prospects.
But what Debique finds most fascinating are the correlations between the film and music industries – film has to keep up with shifts in technology, distribution, and accessibility, and music is no different. “Everyone is still trying to figure out where the dollars are going,” he explains, “the disruption that’s happened in the industry, while difficult, creates new opportunities to do things differently with artists. They begin to expect different terms and we can work with artists to give them maximum flexibility while creating a viable business deal.” It’s akin to how the film industry takes advantage of booming technology to create and share content in new and exciting ways, thus engaging more filmmakers in the process. “It’s essentially DIY (Do It Yourself) distribution and helps connect artists with other people; technology has lowered the barrier to entry to being a maker. But, also, there’s a signal to the noise issue – thus, curation is becoming more and more important again with music and, as an artist, you have to find ways to really distinguish yourself in this digital environment.”
How do artists, like filmmakers, emerge with recognition? Debique has a theory: “artists should think of themselves as small businesses and what we our doing as an industry is investing in them. We need to steer their career together, and they must be savvy and passionate at the same time. They must be able to step back and think about the choices they make before they make them.”
Debique clearly has an eye and understanding for the music industry, and knows it needs to work in tandem with other organizations and fields to fully embrace and energize the artistic community. Washington Filmworks thanks Kirt Debique for coming in and sharing his insight – you can find out more about Cue Northwest here.