Neil Frances, Emmy Pickett and Harrison Schaaf
Los Angeles is the City of Dreams. Like so many other dream-chasers, we too were lured here by the hopeful promise that this place would help make these dreams a reality. But the hard truth for a lot of us is that the dream is always just a bit out of reach and Los Angeles leaves a lot of people without. You can find yourself pursuing one dream while another dream drips over you reminding you of what you’re really missing. Loving L.A. means embracing the beauty along with the heartbreak.
I’m tellin you the truth mista
I saw my sista
And I kissed her
And now I see the kids
Norah and luke
Is this a fluke
But then I hear da da da
And to my left just like voila
Baby mae mae is on the hill
My pops and alannah
Sitting on a wooden bench
And playing rah rah rah
Trot trot to Camelot
My heart starts to stop
It’s like a stoned fantasy
But i’m not smoking pot
You told me once about it and… now… I cannot,
Clear the air, what we share, is better than a cloud
I’m Breathing in the mist it’s like
I’m kissed and blissed with your dream
What can I say It must be LA,
A fantasy land
Where you get your tan,
A 10 out of 10,
But tell me who’s rating?
The sin’s underground and everyone
Debating and hating berating and
Coming together’s quite literally
Harder now more than ever
And I am no better at fusing the dream,
I’m given the milk but can’t rise like the cream
I try to grab hold but it’s fake, it’s the cake, i can’t shake the feeling that the Longer I wait, I will realize
That love is a lie, and that when i die, I won’t go to the sky
There can’t be a heaven,
It sits on eleven but i’m below seven
So why am I trippin? Life’s got me so
Flippant, I keep walking through a
Reality dripping with your dreams
Making music can be a solitary endeavor with long hours in the studio or hunched over a laptop leading down a rabbit-hole of endlessly tweaking beats and obsessing over the pitch of a counter-harmony. Sometimes a creative foil is necessary to see things with fresh eyes and help lead the music where it naturally wants to go.
Indeed, after devoting years to their own projects, Marc Gilfry and Jordan Feller finally came together as Neil Frances in 2016 and realized they were never better than when they were working together.
Neil Frances is also hard at work on more new music, building on the creative interplay that has already taken them to unexpected places. “Before Jordan hit me up, I was kind of wallowing, trying to make tunes on my own. I couldn’t see my way out of what was good and what wasn’t,” says Gilfry. Adds Feller, “I was a producer first and musician/songwriter second, so I can often see when Marc’s head has exploded and then take that idea to the next step. The most fun stuff is when there are surprises and accidents. There’s a lot of benefit for both of us in that working relationship.”
Emmanuelle (Emmy) Pickett is an L.A. based director and film photographer. She received a full-ride scholarship from Yale University. In 2011, Emmy was chosen from over 80,000 directors to be featured in Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald and Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking feature-length documentary Life in a Day.
Since then, her films and music videos have headlined film festivals including Outfest, the largest LGBTQ+ festival in the world, and have been featured on Nowness, Rollingstone, MTV, Vice, Pitchfork and Billboard. After Emmy’s acclaimed short film Endings, Inc premiered on Nowness, she sold the hour-long drama series to Sony Pictures with Doug Robinson Productions and 3 Arts Entertainment.
She is known as a frequent creative collaborator with Caroline Vreeland and recently directed the Bacchanalian music video for Caroline’s stunning Stay Drunk With Me. During quarantine, she created a series of film portraits in collaboration with Quarantine Gallery titled Who We Were featuring Los Angeles creatives shot at a distance, framed behind their home gates and windows.
Harrison Schaaf is Los Angeles born director/DP focused on telling immersive visual stories from around the globe. He’s shot for clients and personal projects in Shanghai, Beijing, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Singapore and New York. His career as a filmmaker began while he was living and traveling in China and Southeast Asia after college. Harrison speaks fluent Mandarin and considers himself a part of a group of filmmakers working across borders in the West and in Asia.
Harrison is a passionate environmentalist and outdoorsman. Surfing, skiing, aviation, and creating images that hint at a deeper truth about our relationship to the planet we live on all deeply inform the choices Harrison makes behind the lens. Today, Harrison is deeply compelled by the idea that being an ever-ready witness with a camera is part of his duty as a citizen of the world, and that bearing witness to and cataloguing important moments during uncertain but unique times has a value that we cannot know today.
How do you think the work you've created reflects the time we're in?
Harrison Schaaf: So many of the images in this project came out of simply acting on the idea that something important might be happening somewhere and going there with a camera...I’ve done this on my own for many years living near downtown, whenever it feels like something worth documenting might be happening. I do this because I’m driven by the idea that creating some kind of library or catalog of moving images about L.A. that can be drawn on for a project like this might have some unknown value in the future. But right now, you can go outside and see and feel the hoops that people are having to jump through just to survive and roll with everything happening nationally, globally, and in L.A. over the past five months. People are having the card table flipped on their entire lives like never before and it is all around us, but there is so much resilience and adaptation happening as well. An image of an empty schoolyard means a very different thing now than it did a year ago.
Emmy Pickett: Right now, we’re living through a time that already feels written in the history books. I started shooting film portraits of creatives during quarantine, and as I would drive across the city, I’d pass all my favorite movie theaters that were closed for the foreseeable future. I noticed that all their marquees had inspirational messages like “stay safe Los Angeles, we miss you” or “this too shall pass.” These really moved me and cemented this feeling that history is happening right this second. The other day I drove by the theater that had “this too shall pass” on the sign and it was already back to normal programming. If I hadn’t captured that moment, maybe that powerful act of community would be forgotten.
What places in Los Angeles most inspire you?
EP: I’m always revived and inspired after a day at the beach.
HS: The L.A. River has always done it for me. I also love my neighborhood in Filipinotown; it’s home, it’s where Marc and Emmy and I started working together, and it’s between Elysian Park, Downtown, Chinatown, all these places that still feel straight out of Heat or Training Day, which are both movies that changed how I saw my home city.
How would you describe yourselves these days?
HS: I would describe myself as a filmmaker or an athlete or some combination of the two, but also as a documentarian. Someone who is interested in being present for interesting or challenging moments with a camera on my shoulder. Normally, I travel half of the year to places outside the U.S. to shoot and make a living, but that is obviously not happening these days, so I’m finding myself traveling around L.A. instead.
What does "For the Love of L.A." mean to you?
EP: Los Angeles is the City of Dreams. I was attracted to the promise of being able to make movies. But the hard truth for a lot of us is that the dream is always just a bit out of reach and Los Angeles leaves a lot of people without. For me, loving L.A. means embracing the beauty along with the heartbreak.
HS: I grew up in L.A. and I remember my dad driving me to elementary school through the middle of Hollywood and seeing all kinds of characters and maniacs on the street at 7 a.m., still at it from the night before. I always found myself wondering what their story was. L.A. was a crazy place then, and still is. I remember my dad taking me through downtown and skid row and eating at taco trucks in East L.A. when I was eight years old and remember all of it feeling so out of control, but then realizing that this was what made L.A. so special.
You could see and get up close to so much stuff so fast, and so much of it was this beautiful and authentic culture and food that people brought here from all over the world and wove deep into the fabric of this place. Still, it wasn’t until after college and living in places like China that I felt like I had a full picture of what this place meant; like when you put all the neighborhoods, all the cultures, all the weirdos and characters together and held them in your mind all at once. But to know and love that image of L.A., whatever yours is, is what it’s all about.
How did you get to know one another? And how has your relationship developed throughout this collaboration?
EP: Harrison and I met my first week in L.A. at a pool party. We became fast friends after realizing we both loved to surf and had a really similar photographic eye. When Harrison moved back from China, we shot a short film together in L.A. that ended up touring all over the world at LGBTQ film festivals. We had a pretty fast and loose style of working that we developed together and found that working together led to some really cool moments. So, we kept making films and music videos and during our second film Harrison was living in a house in Filipinotown that he and a friend were doing a very DIY renovation on, and that friend was Marc from Neil Frances. Harrison and I would be working and editing our films in the back of the house, while Marc was writing and recording in the front. Marc was working on what would eventually become Neil Frances with Jordan.
HS: Lots of plaster dust in the editing bay back then.
What do you think the future looks like? And how do you see the arts contributing to it?
EP: I see a real shift in what we will continue to prioritize in our lives—our health, and our relationships.
Do you have any future projects that you'd like to share with us?
EP: During the beginning of quarantine, I was offered a deal to direct my first feature film—something that I’ve dreamt about ever since I discovered my love for filmmaking.
HS: A project about ocean plastic pollution in Indonesia, told through the lens of surfing. The first episode/pilot is done, but I believe the project needs to continue in other parts of the world.