Word spread rapidly throughout the interwebs last year about an upcoming six part documentary miniseries featuring Joell Ortiz, G-Dep, other members of Ruff Ryders, and ordinary New Yorkers called New York Minute. The documentary miniseries was shot by Portuguese filmmaker Nico Venancio and his side kick Mathieu Rochet, with the edits for each episode coming courtesy of uber talented Motion & Graphic Designer Cumulus Collectif.
Riding the success of the miniseries, the two-headed directing team recently sat down with Noire Digerati for an exclusive interview to discuss the New York Minute miniseries, how they got started as filmmakers, among other gems touched on in the interview below.
Michael Lang: Introduce yourselves!
Nico Venancio: My name is Nico Venancio. I was born June 5th like Mark Walhberg in ’79 like the first Hip-Hop banger « Rapper’s Delight. » My name doesn’t sound French because I’m Portuguese descent like Katy Perry!
Mathieu Rochet: My name is Mathieu Rochet, class of ’79 as well, old like « Alien ».
ML: What’s your background in film/directing?
NV: Nothing serious. I made a short film in High School called « Rugged Life. » It’s a homemade film. We have mad stunts like Steve Mc Queen in « Bullit. » It was cool because no one had a driving license at this particular time.
MR: Not even one short for me. In High School my ambition was to open a video store, or play in the NBA. I failed both. I can book hotels as Kevin Love, though!
ML: Are you guys self taught or trained filmmakers?
NV: Self taught. I learned how to film like I learned how to play ball, by myself. I used to try Tim Hardaway tricks (Chi-Town!). Now I watch movies instead of « NBA Superstars » VHS. I’m an eternal student.
MR: Self taught!
ML: Okay. Let’s transition into the miniseries.. Where did the title « New York Minute » come from?
NV: Mr Complex’s « New York Minute » was the first time I’ve heard about this expression. Then I heard about the meaning of it.. « Everything can change in a New York minute. » It sounded like a perfect match to name our stories.
ML: Where did the idea/inspiration for New York Minute come from?
NV: New York is very inspirational. I don’t know who’s the cousin of death.. but when I’m in New York, it’s like I always have something more interesting to do than sleeping.
MR: This city works on you even when you’re away.. even before you first come here.. When I wanna impress girls, I say we’ve been preparing this for 30 years!
ML: What are your goals for the miniseries?
NV: To let our audience know that even underdogs can give you life lessons.
MR: To shoot the stories we’ve watched. A lot of documentaries have been showing us the gesture of what comes last in Hip-Hop — people dancing, doing cuts, holding mics, and just that. A movie about Scratch would be called Scratch, one about Freestyle would be called Freestyle, and so on. We never really got to see what was around, how people were living, what they did when they were not raping, breaking, scratching, etc.
ML: I noticed you guys received support for the miniseries from CNC and Canon. What steps did you guys take to garner support for the miniseries?
NV: A few years ago me and my partner created Gasface Magazine, a bonified reference in France. When we approached Canon with our ideas they had already heard of us. Anthony Cheylan, the director of the New Media department was down with our vision and he gave us two Canon 7D’s and lenses. CNC is a part of the French cultural administration. They select few projects every year and bless them with money. It’s like the NBA draft, we were among the chosen few!
ML: What part does Hip-Hop culture play in each episode?
NV: That’s our glasses.. We see the city, the New Yorkers through Hip-Hop culture. It’s always there.. in the background.
MR: Back in the magazine days, we covered rap, soul, movies, politics, sports.. it was 360, but rap was the foundation because as kids that’s what led us to soul music, books, kung-fu flicks, etc. New York Minute kind of does that.. using Hip-Hop as a way in. You can smell it, even without hearing a single beat. Some people at the network wanted more rap and we had to argue about that.. not playing rap at all during a whole episode. I’m glad we could maintain that.
ML: Do you think more documentary miniseries that document life in urban centers are needed?
MR: More documentaries period are needed. It’s more about the stories than the media. The classic linear narrative we see in movies is one of the best thing man has ever come up with so far. The interactive book, video game, and documentary where you can choose to go left or right.. Not so great!
ML: I agree with you that we need to see more documentaries being produced. With that said, why do you feel we aren’t seeing more positive documentaries in theatres or on the web?
NV: It’s always easier to give the audience what they expect. Producers want something efficient and the audience loves to see what they already know.
ML: Tell us about the process you went through in creating each episode..
NV: The main thing was to find the right rhythm for the episode. Each story got its own rhythm, it’s like independent planets in a New York Minute galaxy. Every segment starts and ends with voice-over on a black screen.. we open and close windows on the city.
MR: There was no pattern to start with. The Joell Ortiz episode was probably the most prepared one because we first met him and his team years ago, so we already had the angle and the characters. Also, we had to detail our stories and treatment to get the movie financed and chose that episode to do it. Finally, we shot 10% of what we planned; the story brought us where it wanted. But basically, it didn’t change. Stories like Lost Generation and Land of Dream, we had a general idea in mind, but the people we met made it grow into something else. We didn’t know about the Junkyard, for instance. Nor the boxing gym in Park Hill.
ML: The visuals in each episode are impressive. Who is responsible for the visual aesthetics of each episode?
MR: Edward A. Roberts was our cinematographer. We’ve been lucky enough to have our first choice Director of Photography (DP) work with us. Instead of bringing a French guy with us, we contacted him. He shared the same work ethic, so it was an easy match. Same thing with our editor, Thomas Vernay. Gifted enough to do what you need, and humble enough to do what you ask.
ML: What do you want people to walk away with from each episode?
NV: I want them to keep our New Yorkers in mind!
ML: Any advice to emerging filmmakers who want to create their own documentary miniseries?
NV: Do your thing! Be confident.
MR: Most producers are older folks who don’t know much about the Internet.. Act convincingly even when you’re over your head.. talk with your hands!
ML: How should they fund it?
NV: Do your thing on your own and let people know you have skills. Actions speak louder than words. Let people know that your stuff is consistent..
MR: Money could be coming from all types of places. In addition to networks, advertisers and brands are also relevant.
ML: Last question, any new miniseries in the works?
NV: Of course! You and your readers will hear of it first. —ndm
Interview by: Michael Lang
Noire Digerati ©