An Interview with Jenny of the 8mm Sessions
Less than a year ago, we noticed quite a buzz coming from Astoria, Queens when our dear friend Jenny Gnirke began working hard to document musicians from across the NYC music scene. In a quaint little room, musicians gather to bare their souls before the camera, leaving only a series of rustic and raw videos as evidence of their emotive spillings. We here at Porch Stomp clearly wanted to know more...
So where did the idea for the 8mm Sessions come from?
Jenny Gnirke: I'll give you the long version.... So, about 8 months ago I decided I wanted to start doing some fun side projects outside of my day job as a television producer. I became interested in the accessibility of filming on your iPhone so I started researching different films that were shot partially or entirely on an iPhone. That's when I came across an article about the film "Searching for Sugar Man" and how the filmmaker used an 8mm app for iPhone to film parts of the movie after he ran out of money for actual film stock. Apparently no one noticed the difference! So, I downloaded the app and I wanted to start playing with it. My boyfriend Cole Rotante (of Cole Quest and the City Pickers) and I had just moved in together and in our office we set up a wall of instruments so I thought that could be a good background for a video of him just playing a song. We filmed the first video one night just playing around and I posted it on YouTube under the 8mm Sessions name. The video got such a positive response from the New York music community that I thought I should make it a weekly series like "NPR's Tiny Desk". Soon a bunch of musicians were coming over and we were making videos! We've since stepped up our technology, Cole is our sound mixer, I use multiple apps and sometimes a camera to film and we've also hosted our first live 8mm Sessions event at LIC bar.
And what is your musical background? What drove you to start documenting live music in the first place?
JG: I grew up in Florida where there's not a lot of exposure to music outside the pop landscape. When I moved to New York at 17 to go to film school I was suddenly exposed to a lot of great indie music, which had a huge influence on my writing and film making at the time. But I really became immersed in the New York music scene when I started going to concerts with my two best friends from my bar job. They were older than me and loved music so they took me to all different clubs, exposed me to different forms of music, and then we traveled to go to shows and festivals such as SXSW.
I was driven to documenting musicians because I've seen a general decline in the music scene in New York. It used to be a lot easier to stumble into a club and discover a great artist and now I feel like I only find new music if they're on the bill with someone I already know. So, I wanted 8mm Sessions to be a place for people to discover indie musicians without having to leave their couch. I would also add I've been lucky enough in my travels to see a couple bands play that were right on the verge of blowing up in popularity, and there's definitely a magical feeling in the air when you're seeing an artist that is right on the edge of becoming hugely successful. I'd like to capture that one day, if at all possible.
This is clearly a big undertaking... what is the biggest challenge you've come to face so far?
JG: Honestly, I started this because I wanted it to be fun and enjoyable and I sort of made a promise to myself that if it stopped being easy I would just stop doing it which has taken a lot of the pressure off. But some of the challenging aspects have been dealing with the technology. Shooting on an IPhone has a lot of issues which is why professionals don't do it. But through a series of Apps and editing programs we've been able to increase sound and video quality while keeping our signature 8mm look.
Where do you see the 8mm sessions going in the future?
JG: Right now we've been on sort of an informal hiatus. I've been producing and directing my first independent short film so I've been focusing all my energy on that project. However, I'm looking to restart the series in the next month or so and I'm looking for a great roster of artists to kick off "Season 2"!
How do you find the artists you choose to put in front of the camera? Can any old musician just reach out to get involved?
JG: At first we mostly just reached out to friends, then it expanded to friends of friends. I've also been out to shows and discovered people I loved and just reached out to them cold. I saw Joseph King play at the Living Room and I thought he was amazing. I reached out to him and sent him a couple of videos and he agreed to come out to Astoria and be in our series. I learned when he came over he used to be the front man for "Deadbeat Darlings" (See Below) and he's toured all over the world so I thought it was really cool that he was willing to be in our series without even knowing us. But in general all the artists who've come through have had really unique songs and interesting life stories so we just love getting to know people and being part of their art.
Like I said we are looking for artists for our next round of videos so anyone who's interested can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And obviously watch our old videos at https://www.youtube.com/c/jennygnirke.
So, tell us more about yourself- what are your other passions? Are you an active artist outside of your work with 8mm?
JG: By day I'm a television producer for various docu/reality shows. I've worked on shows such as MTV's 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom 1, 2 & 3, Made, and now I'm story producing on the Travel Channel Show Hotel Impossible. I love my job because every day is different and I enjoy watching hours of footage to craft a compelling story. After a long day I like to come home crash and watch some TV so I like to make shows for people like me who just want to escape their life for an hour and dive into someone else's.
Otherwise, I studied screenwriting in film school. I still write scripts, poems, short stories and I just directed a short film that I wrote which should be finished in the next couple months!
Finally, the question we've all been waiting for.... what was your first CD?
JG: Honestly, it was probably Spice World. I loved that album, I'm not ashamed to admit that. I am ashamed to admit I was Posh Spice in a talent show.