Danny Says Released on Magnolia Pictures
“Documentary filmmaking is not for wimps and it’s nice to know that admiration and accolades are coming our way from audiences and critics.” – Brendan Toller
Brendan Toller wowed audiences last year with Danny Says, a documentary film chronicling the life and times of Danny Fields, an influential behind-the-scenes player in the music industry. The film made its world premiere at SXSW 2015 and was screened on opening night of the Lincoln Center’s Sound and Vision Festival last summer. In 2015, Danny Says won a Special Jury Prize at the Oak Cliff Film Festival, where it also received an Honorable Mention in the Documentary Feature category, was nominated for a Golden Athena for Music & Film at the Athens International Film Festival and for a Prism Award Feature Film at the Prism Awards. This fiscally sponsored project will be released on Magnolia Pictures on September 30, available on demand, iTunes and Amazon, and in theatres in major cities. From the NYFA Current archives, enjoy this 2015 interview with Director Brendan Toller originally published on July 16, 2015.
NYFA: Both your first feature-length film I Need That Record! and Danny Says investigate the music industry. In Danny Says you delve into the life of Danny Fields by utilizing his personal archive and hours of interviews. What learning experiences did you bring from I Need That Record! to Danny Says? How did your creative process change as a result of these lessons?
BT: There are a lot of stylistic similarities between I Need That Record! and Danny Says. Danny’s vivid stories opened up the visual tableau of the film and allowed us to go further down the animation rabbit hole with fabulous results. Animator Matt Newman returns from I Need That Record! with cut-out animations, Emily Hubley and Max Rosenthal provide more abstract and ethereal sequences and Johnny Woods and Sage Schmett have a signature, detailed and funny approach.
I conducted the Danny Says interviews the same way as I did for I Need That Record! Just me, a camera, a tripod, some microphones and natural lighting. I think the minimalist but essential production route puts subjects at ease for more intimate answers. This is a story about 20th century bohemia rising into the mainstream; it damned well better be gritty.
NYFA: I read that you think documentary filmmaking is “writing for the twenty-first century” and I am curious how this vision of narrative influences your creative process. What do you want your audience to take away from your investigations?
BT: The narratives of my films are constructed from a loose script of transcribed interviews. It’s easier for me to make writing edits than it is visual and I think the end result is rich, economical storytelling that moves.
In terms of what I’d like the audiences to get out of Danny Says? Maybe a few laughs or some inspiration. I think it’s inspiring to see Danny being guided by his brilliance; not by his peers, ivy institutions, or record moguls- he went with his gut. Danny also used his intellect to create context for the outré. If we somehow persuaded smart young ivies, app developers, or hedge fund managers to use their energy and brainpower for the creative good; that would be icing on the cake.
NYFA: What challenges do you face as a young filmmaker? Based on your experience, what tips can you give to other young directors?
BT: The same challenges scores of other filmmakers face: financing, understanding, time, energy. Tenacity is the only reason Danny Says exists. I was just too stubborn to give in and we’re extremely fortunate that the pendulum is swinging our way. I’m still learning on every end whether it’s directing, producing or filming. The old DIY cliché– you don’t know until you try.
NYFA: How has your relationship with NYFA helped to catalyze your career?
BT: NYFA was the first organization to support Danny Says and it’s been unwavering ever since. NYFA positioned us for key grants and fantastic opportunities to connect with other enthusiastic arts-minded people. What more could we ask for?
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– Interview conducted by Madeleine Cutrona, Program Assistant Fiscal Sponsorship & Finance
Image credits: Theatrical one-sheet for DANNY DAYS, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures; Brendan Toller, director of DANNY SAYS, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures; Iggy Pop and Danny Fields in DANNY SAYS, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.