Please wait
Tagged with: Behind The Scenes, Interview, Whitney Stories Video

Behind the Whitney Stories Video Series

The Whitney Stories video series provides a look behind the scenes at the Whitney Museum. Each video focuses on an individual whose work is central to the Whitney as the institution looks toward the opening of its future home in the Meatpacking District in 2015. Installments from the fifteen-part video series will be released regularly over the next two years, shedding light on the Whitney’s plans through conversations with artists, Whitney staff, and integral members of the construction team. 

To create these videos, the Whitney Stories team is collaborating with Matt Wolf, a New York-based filmmaker who has produced short documentaries for other institutions including The New York Times and New York City Ballet, and whose recent feature-length documentary, Teenage, premiered at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival and will be released nationwide this spring. Matt sat down with Sarah Hromack, Director of Digital Media at the Whitney, and Elyse Mallouk, Digital Content Manager, to discuss the project’s goals and strategies as the video series launches its first installment.

Sarah Hromack: Matt, I first approached you about the possibility of working with the Museum after watching 30 Days, the series of artist profiles you directed and produced for the blog and event space of the same name. I was struck by the way you managed to craft a narrative around each artist’s practice while maintaining a sense of his or her character as an individual—not an easy feat, in a roughly two-minute video. As a documentary filmmaker, how do you approach the task of telling stories about people?

Matt Wolf: For the 30 Days project I profiled a cross-section of my artist friends, so it wasn’t too difficult to have a natural conversation. But in general, I’m always looking for a strong character to lead a short documentary. Over the years, I’ve interviewed all sorts of people, from artists, politicians, scientists, and actors to ordinary strangers. It’s really true that everybody has a story to tell. It’s just rare that somebody listens. I try to tap into my subjects’ wisdom when I interview them on film.

SH: For the Whitney Stories series, you’re developing a narrative around the Museum’s new building by telling the stories of various individuals who are closely tied to the Museum and the new building project. How are you negotiating between the institutional and the individual?  

MW: For this series, I wanted to show a broad spectrum of people who are integral to the Museum. Not just curators and artists, but museum guards, conservators, patrons, and other craftspeople and technicians who are working behind the scenes. Museums necessarily disappear into the background so that the artwork can remain the focus. But I think this series is an opportunity to look deeper into the culture of the Whitney, and to expand on this notion that the Museum isn’t just a building, but an idea. From my point of view, it’s also a community of thoughtful people.

Elyse Mallouk: You interview each subject on camera for an hour or more, but the final product is only three minutes long. How do you pare down a long and often wide-ranging conversation into a concise narrative? 

MW: It’s actually easier than it might seem to boil down to the essence of a conversation. I want to avoid “sound bites,” where people repeat rehearsed statements that they’ve said many times before. I’m trying to engage these subjects in an open-ended conversation. In that context, we all naturally summarize our thoughts. It’s those concise reflections that generally become the storyline for a short documentary.

EM: When we visited artist Fred Wilson’s studio, he allowed us to film inside a storage space that contained all kinds of raw material. What are the differences between filming subjects against seamless backdrops and shooting in personal spaces? How does each approach enable you to convey something essential about the individual and the story?

MW: I enjoy filming people in their home or work environments because those settings tell you a lot about a person. But for this series, I chose to film all of the subjects against a uniform texture. I wanted the disparate characters to share a common space. But I’m also interested in finding organic opportunities for portraiture, like filming an artist or craftsperson doing his or her work. That kind of observational material is very rich. It helps us access the visual world so many creative people inhabit.

SH: What kinds of challenges do you encounter when crafting a visual narrative around a building-in-progress that has already changed so much and will continue to do so over the course of the coming years? 

MW: Fortunately this video project continues until the launch of the new building. I love working on a project over a long period of time to accumulate a significant amount of material. This series isn’t just about the building project, though most people involved with the Whitney have a meaningful stake in it. So as we tell their stories, we’ll visit the construction site, and viewers will have an opportunity to track the progress. I think it’s more exciting to visit a major new building when you have a sense of what went into making it. Hopefully these videos will stoke people’s excitement and curiosity for their first visit to the downtown Whitney location.  

ALL STORIES

Closing Time Uptown: Snapshots from the Whitney’s Final Night on Madison Avenue
Closing Time Uptown: Snapshots from the Whitney’s Final Night on Madison Avenue
Whitney News
Pinch Points: Joshua Rosenblatt on Installing Art, Uptown and Downtown
Pinch Points: Joshua Rosenblatt on Installing Art, Uptown and Downtown
Behind the Scenes
Whitney Stories Video:<br>Jeff Koons
Whitney Stories Video:
Jeff Koons

Exhibitions
Scott Rothkopf on Planning Jeff Koons: A Retrospective
Scott Rothkopf on Planning Jeff Koons: A Retrospective
Exhibitions
Interview: Kassel Jaeger and Akira Rabelais
Interview: Kassel Jaeger and Akira Rabelais
Behind the Scenes
Whitney Stories Video:<br>Christine Sun Kim
Whitney Stories Video:
Christine Sun Kim

The New Whitney
American Legends: Common Threads across Generations
American Legends: Common Threads across Generations
Exhibitions
Whitney Stories Video:<br>Cory Arcangel
Whitney Stories Video:
Cory Arcangel

The New Whitney
Interview: Flawless Sabrina, Zackary Drucker, and Elisabeth Sherman
Interview: Flawless Sabrina, Zackary Drucker, and Elisabeth Sherman
Exhibitions
Tony Tasset Opens Up the Artist List
Tony Tasset Opens Up the Artist List
Exhibitions
Whitney Stories Video:<br>Carter Foster
Whitney Stories Video:
Carter Foster

The New Whitney
Spring at the New Building Site: Swimming in the City
Spring at the New Building Site: Swimming in the City
The New Whitney
Whitney Stories Video:</br>Vincent Punch
Whitney Stories Video:
Vincent Punch

The New Whitney
Q&AWith the 2014 Whitney Biennial Curators: Part Three
Q&AWith the 2014 Whitney Biennial Curators: Part Three
Exhibitions
Q&A With the 2014 Whitney Biennial Curators: Part Two
Q&A With the 2014 Whitney Biennial Curators: Part Two
Exhibitions
Two of the Whitney’s Hoppers Keep the President Company in the Oval Office
Two of the Whitney’s Hoppers Keep the President Company in the Oval Office
Whitney News
Whitney Stories Video:<br>Renzo Piano
Whitney Stories Video:
Renzo Piano

The New Whitney
Q&A with the 2014 Whitney Biennial Curators: Part One
Q&A with the 2014 Whitney Biennial Curators: Part One
Exhibitions
In Memory: <br>Cecil Weekes, 1956-2013
In Memory:
Cecil Weekes, 1956-2013

Behind the Scenes
Whitney Stories Video:</br>Larissa Gentile
Whitney Stories Video:
Larissa Gentile

The New Whitney
“Am I As Much As Being Seen?” Fred Wilson Collaborates with Whitney Teens
“Am I As Much As Being Seen?” Fred Wilson Collaborates with Whitney Teens
Behind the Scenes
Whitney Stories Video: Fred Wilson
Whitney Stories Video: Fred Wilson
The New Whitney
Construction Continues on the Future Whitney
Construction Continues on the Future Whitney
The New Whitney
Exploring the Legacy of the Meatpacking District
Exploring the Legacy of the Meatpacking District
The New Whitney
Raising Spirits
Raising Spirits
Behind the Scenes
A Space Without Walls: T.J. Wilcox’s Studio, Photographed by Marco Anelli
A Space Without Walls: T.J. Wilcox’s Studio, Photographed by Marco Anelli
Exhibitions

Behind the Whitney Stories Video Series
Behind the Scenes
Welcome to Whitney Stories
Welcome to Whitney Stories
Whitney News
The Future Whitney In Progress
The Future Whitney In Progress
The New Whitney
Whitney Stories Video: Carol Mancusi-Ungaro
Whitney Stories Video: Carol Mancusi-Ungaro
The New Whitney
Conserving Franz Kline’s Mahoning
Conserving Franz Kline’s Mahoning
Behind the Scenes
Vlogging About Art: The Whitney Video Blog Project
Vlogging About Art: The Whitney Video Blog Project
Whitney News
Words on Walls: A Conversation with Tom Black
Words on Walls: A Conversation with Tom Black
Behind the Scenes
Cubes and Anarchy: An Installation
Cubes and Anarchy: An Installation
Exhibitions
Picturing Progress: Building the Future Whitney
Picturing Progress: Building the Future Whitney
The New Whitney
The Whitney Does D.I.Y. With Desert Island Comics
The Whitney Does D.I.Y. With Desert Island Comics
Whitney News
Mapping the Whitney in New York City
Mapping the Whitney in New York City
Behind the Scenes
Breaking Ground
Breaking Ground
The New Whitney
Choreographing Community
Choreographing Community
Whitney News
Into the Future with <span class="caps">CHERYL</span>
Into the Future with CHERYL
Exhibitions
Cory Arcangel Re-Blogs the Internet
Cory Arcangel Re-Blogs the Internet
Behind the Scenes