This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
This interview was conducted with the one and only Dr. Chris Minz, an eclectic mastermind of many talents. For our speculative audience today, we have cooked up an artist interview which shows that a large variety of interests does not have to mean losing one’s style. If anything, Mr. Minz has a uniquely fantastical perspective in all his works, which go beyond painting and cartoons to music and film making, all done with a cosmic flare. There’s the added plus of caffeine addiction, which we both share—nay, delight in.
Without further ado, I would like to thank Chris Minz, our native Torontonian, for agreeing to be interviewed by The Spectatorial. Onwards!
What started the madness? What was the first time you picked up an artistic project up and started to create
I’ll try to answer that literally, “PROJECT” may imply something of size and that would have been my first band, DR. MINZ AND THE CHRONIC HARMONIC. That was 20 years ago, but we were instantly compared to Max Webster and Frank Zappa. And yes, I was living that freaky dream as a band. Two dense CDs later… you realize how tough a reality that is and there were many other distractions. Animation being the big one. But the music was madness indeed because it was all about obtuse energy and excessive weirdness. Like Lord God King Boofoo FZ, we didn’t have boundaries. However, being a student of animation provided another world of seemingly no boundaries. Well, the art form anyhow—I work in the biz making tepid children cartoons for dull imaginations. Well, often enough to feel the confines of that. But I also direct Music videos for Adrian Belew, Kevin Hearn or Trey Gunn.
Can you give us a few examples of inspiration that works for you? In what universe is your magical well of creative juice located?
A strange moment of inspiration was definitely hearing MONSTERS ANONYMOUS for the first time. KEVIN HEARN played it live and you could tell it was such a fun song, but when you hear the VOICE RECORDING… You know it just has to be animated, and Kevin’s loopy doodle-style drawings were unlike anything else. TOO UNIQUE, EVERY BIT OF IT. I remembered recently that I was a fan of H.R. GIGER before ALIEN came out. Wow. I knew of him as a 14-year-old. So when I heard he designed a movie I was all in!! And the movie, ALIEN, to this day still fries your mind. GIGER made a massive impression on me, as did TODD RUNDGREN and DONALD ROLLER WILSON.
But as far as filmmaking goes, I was so thrilled when VIDEO allowed anyone to make a movie. So I did. AND WITH VIDEO anyone could make MUSIC VIDEOS. Cheap, but suddenly you could do it yourself. And when I bought my first laptop in the late 90s. IT’S A STUDIO IN A BOX!!! Suddenly I could ANIMATE an entire cartoon and be unrestricted. And I had to embrace that fully.
BUT inspirations are probably obvious: the excessive experimental music of the 70s, maybe the sinister stuff of HITCHCOCK movies. And DALI—all watches should melt, right? That might sound old school, so how about THE COEN BROS, THE FLAMING LIPS, or RON ENGLISH… Those guys go for it. I just love seeing any artist operate without restraint.
Do you have a process you go through before you start a project?
There is no consistent process. It’s always different. Or I should say, there are many processes. With THE AMORPHOUS MIND POLICE FACTOR, it was all about inventing and shooting all the stuff you normally suppress or that the actors never get to do. They went for it, and madness does ensue. It became pretty normal to shoot what I was calling WTF scenes. Every week we shot something kind of daring, and then thought, okay, what’s next? No big deal. I only had one or two actors that got a little uptight. Not bad, not bad at all. A few that had NO BOUNDRIES. And I like that.
You have so many different art projects. Painting, cartoons, installation art photography, music, movies! How, if at all, do these differ from one another in terms of creation?
Something like my cartoon book, THE SUBCONSCIOUS JUNGLE, was free form drawing. Sometimes they were jokes. I started dong one drawing a day for FACEBOOK and spent seven minutes on them. Sometimes eleven minutes. It was loosening up the cartoonery tightened up by the OCD CONTROL FREAKISMS of the animation business. The caffeinated paintings are cartoon-influenced and that’s okay. I’ve done a bit of realism and its boring to me, unless its DONALD ROLLER WILSON, man that guy can paint a watermelon like nobody else on earth.
You’ve reminded me that I was a photographer as a kid. I had a really nice camera, and the dough to get pictures processed and would keep trying to make inventive shots, or strange scenarios. So shooting a movie now seems like a no brainer. I love it. Not so much the tech stuff, but the composition and direction of shooting. I think that’s what I like the most—shooting. By the time we are in a location, I feel like I’ve written stuff out, I’ve talked with the actors, got the props, we’ve all put our “fun pants and silly shoes” on and now, just let me shoot it. I kind of want them to take over at that point. And really, the actors and how they do what they do, I have been finding fascinating, ESPECIALLY in THE AMORPHOUS MIND POLICE FACTOR. There are twelve actors and all have a very, very different approach, and a couple non-actors too…
It was really a strange challenge to work with everyone pretty differently to get good stuff on screen. Two that stand out off the top of my head are TIMOTHY PAUL Mc CARTHY—he plays the cowboy in AMORPHOUS—and DAMON WHITE. They would read the script in bits and pieces, and we’d talk about it and I could tell they were liking it. However, when it was time to act, suddenly all this other stuff would come out, a weird energy… And I was totally surprised and the moments were elevated in weird unpredictable ways. Now when I watch it, they are so natural I can’t remember what was written and what they made up. And NOW, the main actor I’m shooting with, JEFF LEARD, new to Toronto, is a funky curiosity every time. He so goes there and NAILS IT. It’s strangely impressive to watch cause we don’t talk about it as much as I usually like to. He’s simply the right guy and a crazy real talent.
Which art type is your favourite? If you only had to pick one thing you could do forever, what would it be?
ALL OF THE ABOVE. But really, movies and maybe animation more so, because they encompasses it all—WRITING, DRAWING, PHOTOGRAPHY, MUSIC, ETC. However, one thing I’m surprised by was that only one piece of my own music was used for THE AMORPHOUS MIND POLICE FACTOR. An old friend, who is a kook and a bona fide composer-type musician, F.TYLER SHAW, scored it, and I was lucky to have access to a ton of TREY GUNN of king crimson alumni music, too. So those guys were the best for it and it was a rich, rich result. You know… NOW, it feels strange to be collecting bits and pieces of my music for an album of mine. I sooooo don’t consider myself a musician anymore… But… Seems like I have a pile of it that’s been stockpiling for years. How odd.
Your movie, The Amorphous Mind Police Factor, was recently featured and shown in Toronto. What’s that all about? Where did the idea come from? What was the creation of this huge enterprise like?
It really is a grand actor experiment. I’d met many curious actors/performers and wanted to dive into the excess of the diversity. It was going to be a fake-u-drama parody of an art film. Then over a year and a half of shooting stuff… It took on a life of its own and totally distracted me from finishing the first movie I had just shot for three or so months.TAMPF was just too much fun to shoot. And so difficult to finish. Really, it’s got too many ideas in it but it’s kind of nuts and epic in its scale. Mission accomplished. It didn’t have much of an agenda beyond that. And somehow, it seems right to show it at Reg HARTT’s cineforum. The last remaining underground theatre in the city. Somehow I like the notoriety he has. So I had to try it out there, of course. But it’s great projection and sound there. People don’t expect that in his place.
If you had to define “speculative”, how would you do so?
I’ve never defined it. I’ve liked trying to guess what art of mine people will like. I usually don’t care. So every now and then I wrote a song that was supposed to be a “crowd pleaser”, and it was fun to see it work. Or in THE AMORPHOUS MIND POLICE FACTOR, I could tell what scenes were interesting, or funny, and were getting the results… Otherwise it’s a lot of strange glue about a mysterious social study. The peeps in the movie don’t know what’s happening. I didn’t explain it all and that was intentional ambiguity. In the future… like TOMORROW, my movies have no ambiguity. So I will “speculate” that they are hence more satisfying stories. Time will tell.
Find out more about Chris Minz and his art at http://drminz.com/
-contributed by Magdalena Wolak