“You know, I’m very into the potency of work. It’s almost like when you hear somebody else singing a Dylan song and wonder why the song you’re hearing in the background is so powerful by an artist you don’t know, and the reason is because it’s coming from such an incredible pulse. The source is power.”
Introduction by Adria Leeper-Sullivan
Interview & Photograph by Theo Constantinou
Robert Lopuski is a master of creative cinema and it is his passion to sculpt human perception. The collaboration between Robert, Kanye, and Jay Z before the release of ‘Watch the Throne’ was a surprise, but it is clear from Robert’s consistent stamina that his ethics were best for the challenge. Using the bare minimum, and being restricted artistically, he had to find innovative ways to show the true, hidden characters of these icons. While speaking to Robert we not only got the experience of how he earned the respect of these legendary musicians, but the deeper developments of being an artist in the evolving world of film. Robert is a man who believes in the power of a person’s own mind to actualize ideas, and he believes that “life is a series of chance encounters with yourself.”
I was in Madrid on another gig when I got the call. I had to drop everything to fly out to Sydney. I didn’t have any equipment with me. So I asked Kanye’s team if it was cool to put in a rental order– like, could you guys get some stuff down there for me? I wrote up a list: I need a camera, a mic, a stand, the simple abc’s, and they said don’t worry, we got it.
A few days later, I show up and none of it is there. So I went on a crazy four-hour tear around Sydney, finding whatever pieces of equipment I could get my hands on.
When I started filming, there were issues with exposure. I didn’t have the tools to properly capture Kanye and Jay in a candlelit studio. The equipment I had at the time couldn’t handle such low light. I would say to the handlers that there were certain things that I needed to do: turn on lights, get slightly better access, possibly stage a better setup photographically.
They said ‘no, we can’t do that.’ Could I sit down? Could I put lavs on them? I know you guys are recording the album, but could I record their conversations? ‘No, you can’t do that.’ Can I set mics up in the room to record the room? ‘No.’ Do you think while I’m here, I can do sit-down interviews with them…maybe get something that I can at least use audio wise? ‘No. They don’t feel like doing interviews.’
The job was challenging professionally because you’re thrust immediately into the inner circle yet not allowed to capture the inner workings properly.
This was in the mansion in Sydney?
Yeah, it was such a small, intimate space. They basically converted the living room into a recording studio and there was literally only like 6-7 people in the room – Jay, Kanye, Beyonce, two engineers, myself, a producer, Don C (Kanye’s manager).
I’d be literally at arms length from Jay and Kanye as they were talking. But I’m the newest member in the room, and you don’t just pull out a camera rig when you think something special is happening.
So you find alternate methods. For instance, I knew they didn’t want to do traditional interviews, so I’d turn on the audio recorder on my cell phone, and at the dinner table, put it on my knee and be like, so Jay… and then record a quick interview that way. There had to be a little subterfuge. Of course with the best intentions!
So much was happening, in such an off-the-cuff kind of way, that I found myself using whatever tools was available. Many times, I would use my cell phone if I had to. There was a lot of use of flip video, iPhone and piece of shit little cameras in that piece. I’d get access without the equipment, and so, once I was inside and they felt comfortable, I used whatever tool I could, which was usually little consumer-grade cameras.
It wasn’t until Kanye and I built a rapport on the side that I think he started becoming interested in having me around. I basically spoke freely and challenged what was being made and why.
Do you think these conversations were the catalyst that allowed that to be?
Absolutely. One of the reasons I think I took the job, aside from of the adventure of it, was that I am very much a fan of what Jay and Kanye are doing. So as a fan, I had very specific feelings about what I wanted to make and what I could find satisfying — something that had not been seen before, which was this quiet, intimate affair. On top of that, I had a lot of opinions as to what they were up to and how I could, or could not fit into this.
In the world of hip-hop, anybody who does something different is a genius, anybody who does something successful is making history; you know it all becomes these exaggerated, bombastic endeavors. And so, for me, I was not interested in that; I was more interested in the smaller moments. The quiet power of talent.
It was definitely captured. When I first saw it, I was like wow this is fuckin’ raw. Just hearing you talk about it, it’s crazy Jay Z, Kanye West, Beyonce, Russell Crowe, the whole thing. It’s pretty unreal for anybody to be able to be there and record those moments.
It was definitely exciting. I kept saying to my girlfriend, it felt a little bit like I was seeing the blogs in real form. What I mean is, every now and then, you’ll see a post of someone working in a studio and it feels alive and intimate. You feel like you’ve been given a glimpse of something really special. But when you’re actually there and your role is to capture that lens through which other people will see it, you kind of feel like you’re looking at your camera as a blog. Haha, you know what I mean?
But once you pass through that you return into the seat of a filmmaker. And then it’s your responsibility to retain that power and bring what you bring from that point forward.
How did all of this come about?
I’ll tell you a story and you don’t even have to believe this. In June of last summer, I was working at a post-production house as an editor. One day something felt very off and I end up leaving work early. As I’m walking, I’m just in my own meditative space, in my own mind, when all of a sudden somebody literally almost collides with me. Like one of those New York moments when, you’re walking and you’re like, wtf. I look up and the person that almost collided with me is Kanye.
We both look at each other, and immediately, I get this strong feeling that he and I will work together. He hops into his car, and there’s nobody inside, it’s just him. So I’m standing there, and we’re like ten feet away, and he’s sitting in his car… And I wonder, do I approach him? Even though he’s already posted my work a number of times on his blog, it doesn’t make sense to go up to him and be like hey you like my stuff.
So he’s in his car and I walk a block away and sit on a park bench. I meditate and just focus on this moment – as it was quite a curious collision of sorts. In meditation I send out these feelings of us working together. How strong that felt when we almost collided.
I walk home knowing that was actually very effective. Within twelve hours, I get a phone call from a producer to work on the Power video. That ultimately led to being hired in Australia.
You don’t have to believe that story, but our working together was very much in the cards, in a very curious way.
I believe all of it. I’m very much into this idea as well; I’ve always been very fascinated with the mind, even for myself taking this step to doing what I’m doing … it’s that, I’m twenty-five now, and I kind of stayed dormant. I read a lot, but I was very dormant in what I was actually doing every day with my brain. I very much have focused on the idea of solitude, and the temper and nature of things and just figuring out what’s going on in here first, trying to figure out how I interact with the world, and the experiences and these conversations, and what the magazine is for.
Yeah, you know, so much started happening when I was younger, to the point where you almost have to just allow your instincts to take over. It was a specific time in my life, where I was like okay, I’m really breaking off into my own and I’m pursuing something that nobody in my family has done before. You’re kind of following a feeling into an ether of sorts.
As you get older, these feelings become almost like trusted collaborators.
You mentioned previously that the piece was never going to be finished …
The experience of finishing it was so difficult, because the experience in making it was so challenging and difficult. I had to realize that finishing that piece was not only effective and important for them, but also for me.
I’m glad you did ‘cause I wouldn’t have seen your work otherwise.
Cool, I appreciate that. I actually was very happy with it. When it released, the response was overwhelmingly positive. It had a power at that time to completely sway how people felt about those two guys and the upcoming WTT album.
It just hit at the right time and I know it helped. There were comments on blogs where people said: I wasn’t even interested in their project, and after watching this piece, I just pre-ordered the album! Haha.
It was the same way with me, because I was semi-interested in it. At that point, for me, Kanye had kind of run his course and Jay was just a glorified businessman. I saw that video and thought to myself, damn this shit’s raw. I mean, when they were talking about Michael Jackson’s Thriller … it was the way it looked and the way it was done. It piqued my interest in the album totally, a hundred and ten percent.
It was very powerful.
There’s all kinds of interesting imagery in the piece. Castles on fire, wild mountain beasts, old cemeteries, smoke filled forests. Was all of this shot in Australia?
I felt like the piece needed to be elevated. It needed more imagery that expressed a gothic, almost king-like perspective on what the album was going for and what it meant.
All of those images were something I created after my time with them. The castle and open terrains were all shot in Scotland. I was there on another job and I literally stayed overseas for a few extra days traveling around the country and shooting whatever felt grand and expansive.
Back home I woke up super early one day and filmed a snow-filled forest with white smoke. All of this additional footage became part of the greater myth of the piece. It allowed for more alchemy between the moments they were having and for what I felt was needed to give the piece a deeper curiosity.
That reminds me of that one Picasso painting, I forget the name of it, but he did it and didn’t show it to anybody for about two years. He said the world wasn’t ready for it. The only person he showed it to was Matisse. It’s just what you were kind of talking about, raw power, and he didn’t let anybody fuck with it, it was just in the back of his studio turned around.
Interesting. You know, I’m very into the potency of work. It’s almost like when you hear somebody else singing a Dylan song and wonder why the song you’re hearing in the background is so powerful by an artist you don’t know, and the reason is because it’s coming from such an incredible pulse. The source is power.
And all of that power comes from within. I believe that if you see it in here, you can create it in this world.
Exactly. You create it first. And then the opportunity finds you.
Thank you man.
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Watch the Throne is currently making its European run of the tour.
To see more, the following short, “Church” was made by Robert at the tail end of the US tour.
You can follow Robert on twitter at: @forgottnsundays