If you’ve seen the music video for “Seasons” by Future Islands, or caught the Creative Time preview video of the Kara Walker installation at Domino Sugar factory, you’ve seen the work of Jay Buim, aka Beard Wizard.
We recently caught up to talk about “going pro”, VHS dork cliches, and podcasts.
Greenpointers: You’ve shot music videos for musicians like Motez and Future Islands but also shot commercials for Lean Cuisine and J. Crew… personally, I really like both categories of your work. But I wonder if it feels differently for you? I imagine the budgets are much different for independent bands versus corporate clients but does it feel differently to you, like, is one work and one passion or are you making films and videos, professionally, and is that all that really matters?
Jay Buim: Regardless of what the project is, I can’t commit myself to it if there isn’t an aspect that hooks me in. I seem to completely throw myself into whatever project I am working on, and all that focus and stress and work wouldn’t be worth it if there wasn’t something about it that made me feel like I had to make this, this story needs to be told and I think I am the person to do that. There is so much constant conflict and self doubt to get things made that the only thing to power through it is enthusiasm. If you don’t have that, you are just wasting time. An added bonus of doing commercial work is that it allows you to take on projects where lack of budget isn’t a roadblock.
Did you grow up making movies on VHS cameras in your backyard? Did you study filmmaking? How did you first come to make videos professionally?
Yes. I am a total cliche. As long as I can remember I was always shooting, making movies with my friends, always with a camera everywhere. I went to film school which was a great place to make mistakes and learn from those as well as the ones the people around you were also making. I didn’t leave college thinking I could direct professionally, it was more like how can I pay my rent by doing anything on set. I got saved and shown the light when I was hired to work on the documentary Beautiful Losers which after two years left me feeling like I had the ability to actually do it.
How did that project come about?
A friend put me in touch with the producers, I started out as their production assistant and started by helping to organize this massive cache of footage. After a year of going through everything, we hit a roadblock and took the project out to LA where after another year we were able to finish the film.
One of my favorite music videos of yours is for “I Miss You Beau Velasco” by The Death Set… to see so many people coming together to pay tribute to a late, great friend is very moving… what was that shooting process like? Did you have a shot list or just pick up footage with people when you could and then pieced it together?
That was a really tough one to make. Most importantly, I wanted to make sure it honored the legacy of Beau who was someone that touched so many people’s lives. Secondly, the idea was just really hard to just pull off, logistically, since I was trying to get footage from all over the world. Beau was this beautiful bright shining light and I wanted to show that by filming little scenes with all the planets that were in his orbit. From start to finish it took two years to complete. And it took me two years after that to be able to watch it.
What advice would you give to, say, a recent college graduate trying to make ends meet in NYC while pursuing her dream of making music videos and documentaries?
Just figure out a way where you can shoot as much as possible, whether that be a job where you are feeding the content monster everyday or a job that can subsidize that desire. Do you have friends in bands? Make videos for them. Do you have an idea for a documentary? Shoot it on your days off or in your free time. No one is going to pay you to make a documentary so you have to make it happen anyway you can.
But you’ve been paid to make documentaries, right? How does someone go from amateur to professional?
I have been paid to make documentaries, but it is a very rare occasion usually through grants or fellowships. The reason for giving that advice is more along the lines of don’t wait to get money to make a documentary, just start shooting it and figure the rest out after the train has already left the station. There is no one way to go from amateur to professional, you just keep making stuff because you need to and eventually you realize that you are being paid to tell the stories you want to tell.
You still are the host of the podcast “Oh Boy” on Man Repeller, which exclusively interviews and profiles women (and trans folks) … how did that come about? Your podcasts are great, the interviews are great…
I’d been listening to a lot of podcasts and the majority of them were just dudes interviewing other dudes. On the off chance that they would interview a woman, the conversation would take on this different tone that wasn’t there when it was two dudes talking shop and it got under my skin. There are a million podcasts out there and none of them were just a man and a woman having an honest conversation about their life and work so I thought I could create something to fill that void that I was missing. I had been making videos for Man Repeller for a while and I pitched the idea to them, they were into it and we have been doing it for over a year now. I’ve had so many amazing conversations so far and I look forward each interview I get to do.
You’ve been living in the neighborhood for years and years… what’s an ideal day in the ‘hood look like for you? Where do you go, what do you eat? Is it different than how it was a few years ago?
Pretty boring… wake up, make some breakfast. Then wake my dog up and take him out. Ride to my studio and force myself to answer emails, work on whatever project is currently in progress, put out whatever fires need to be put out. I try to watch at least two movies a day as well. The thing that has been the most different is that I seem to spend more time now writing treatments, trying to convince people to let me do what I do. The stakes are higher, the projects are more ambitious so the highs are higher and the lows are lower than before, which has taken some time to adjust to.
Are you worried about the L train? Or naaaaa because you got a whip and a house upstate…
Personally no, since I live and work in the neighborhood and if I do have to head to Manhattan I always ride my bike. But, I do worry for my friends that own businesses in the neighborhood because it could really hurt them and everything they’ve worked so hard to build in the past ten years. I just hope that they can figure something out that won’t hurt our neighborhood’s economy too bad. And if rents drop, that’d be cool too!
To see more of Jay Buim’s work, visit BeardWizard.com