Alan Palomo, Musician and Filmmaker
by Jesy Odio
Give a musician a camera, and you will end up with the visual expression of their aural landscape. Watching the music video for Neon Indian’s “Slumlord Rising,” it’s obvious that both music and filmmaking come from the same head: Alan Palomo, whose mind is a reservoir of mid-80s synth tones and neon lights reflected in cathode ray television screens. It came as no surprise that after directing the music videos for “Annie” and “Slumlord Rising” Alan decided he was finished with VEGA INTL. Night School and ready to graduate to cinema, focusing his creative energy on directing and composing film scores.
Born in Monterrey, Mexico, Alan Palomo grew up in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas, the son of Mexican pop singer Jorge Palomo. Like so many Brooklyn-based musicians, Alan currently resides in Los Angeles. His most recent creative endeavor was composing the score for Peter Oh and Andrea Sisson’s forthcoming sci-fi indie flick, Everything Beautiful Is Far Away, which premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival this year. Last year, he completed a short film 86’d, which has yet to be released to the general public.
I met with Alan to muse about his experience composing the film score for Everything Beautiful, directing his first short, and his experience with screenwriting vs. songwriting. A pioneer in the chillwave music genre, I have no doubt Alan will continue to explore new frontiers on his cinematic journey.
JO: How does screenwriting compare to songwriting?
AP: Film has always informed my music. It was perhaps a more prominent feature of this last record in particular. However, the main shift in focus that my songwriting has undergone in the last few years is how narrative the songs have become. At some point, I realized I didn’t want to write any more sad boy love songs—recanting romantic exploits and treating my art like a sort of emotional “purging.” One of the bigger takeaways from my 20s is that you can’t write a song to make someone fall in love with you.
I think that’s when I became more interested in growing as an artist and gearing my focuses into universe building around the albums. Write narrative arcs that all seem to spume from the same world. Consider every song and how it serves the overall album. Screenwriting in many ways can be like that. Small choices in individual scenes almost invariably affect the overall picture. Consistency is maybe the hardest part. You don’t always know how it all stacks up until you experience the entire thing all at once.
JO: So now you’re writing a feature?
AP: I think whatever I’m working on is maybe too embryonic to talk about. I can say, however, that one of the main things I’ve been learning through this process is scaling ideas. I’ve written things where I think, “And then the house is on fire! And then there’s a helicopter!” without any indication of how I could possibly go about making something like that. I’ve been more excited about working within confines and embracing the intimate.
JO: What did you learn directing music videos for “Annie” and “Slumlord Rising”?
AP: There’s definitely some validity in faking it ‘til you make it. “Slumlord” was an insanely tall order for the first go around. We had about 15 characters and 50 extras. We had a shot list comprised of 28 shots and a long, elaborate 5 minute oner. Had it not been for my very dope co-director Tim Nackashi and producer Jefferis [Gray], a lot of those ideas could never have materialized. We just kept throwing in all these things that could have gone horribly wrong and yet never did. It also seemed like kismet that we had the opportunity to shoot in Jewel’s Catch One the literal night before it was closed, gutted and renovated into Union. It wound up being a cool little time capsule. With filmmaking, you will never hit the mark, but you will beautifully miss and that’s exciting.
“Annie” was almost the opposite. I shot it with an old panasonic VHS camera over the span of an entire Neon Indian tour in Asia. I knew I would have kicked myself if I didn’t bring along a camera so I just shot it run-and-gun, amending a narrative as I went along. Eventually, I brought the footage back to New York and shot all the pick-ups with Leanne [Macomber] and the rest of the cast. I had nothing but time. It was so long after the single I knew I wouldn’t put it out until it was entirely there.
JO: So is today a music day or a film day for you?
AP: Compartmentalizing is difficult. As I get older, I prioritize my social life less and less. It’s just a question of sitting down and doing the work. When you have an idea that you really want to do it’s almost like hearing a nagging voice, and the longer it goes unvalidated the more it drives you insane. And if you neglect it long enough, eventually you’ll have all these ideas demanding attention, that you won’t know where to start. Eventually, external forces hopefully put you in a particular lane, and you have to just dive right in.
For the moment, all I can say is I’m in a studio surrounded by instruments and plugging away at something I’ll be very excited to share in the near future.
This story was originally published in Issue Magazine.