INTERVIEW WITH FLORIAN GAAG, DIRECTOR OF “WHOLETRAIN” | CLOUT EXCLUSIVE

It’s been a while since a fictional film about graff has been out. The film “Wholetrain” was recently released along with a completely original soundtrack and we had the opportunity to interview the director of the film, Florian Gaag AKA AERO One where he gives us a behind the scenes look at the making of the film as well as shares his background in writing with us. Check out the interview after the cut.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oNKTp3Ta_Oc

First off, congratulations on the recent release of “Wholetrain”.
Thank you! It was quite a hustle…

When did the vision for the film first come about? Did you imagine it manifesting into what it is now?
I was researching for a documentary about the pioneers of the New York writing movement back in the late nineties. Unfortunately i never was able to shoot it since I couldn´t get the funding. I thought, why not try to make a feature film instead? There hasn´t been a fictional film dealing with writing culture since the early eighties so I was determined to do it.
With “Wholetrain“ I always wanted to tell kind of a universal story, a story anyone who was ever involved with the culture in a serious way can relate to. But to see now how well it is actually received all over the globe is truly beautiful and I wouldn´t have dared to imagine that.

As your first full length film, what made you decide to feature graffiti writing as the backbone of the story?
My personal history as a writer and my lifelong appreciation for writing culture were the main reasons why I picked the subject. And the fact that I thought, there was a decent fictional film missing.
Also, in most movies and TV films graffiti-writing is usually nothing more than a hip, colorful background or even worse, being shown as some stupid hobby dumb urban kids do or as a “quality of life crime“, so I wanted to paint a different picture with “Wholetrain“.

What are some of your earliest memories of graffiti? How did you start writing?
Where you are from in Germany, what was the graffiti scene like growing up back then and what is it like now?

The first time I ever consciously saw graffiti was in the late seventies when my father (he is a musician) returned from a tour of the United States and showed us slides he had taken in the New York Subway. He was fascinated by the painted subway cars and so was I. Of course I was still a kid, but I was hooked from then on.
I later started scribbling funny stuff, comics etc. on walls and in elevators, but it wasn´t until seeing the iconic films of the eighties, “Style Wars“ and “Wild Style“, before I really started getting up. For me, like for most first generation writers in Europe, these films opened up a whole new world and we started to grasp the scope of this culture.
I started writing in 1984 in Munich, which was the first German city that had a serious train writing movement. It kind of slowed down over the years, also due to heavy surveillance, a relentless anti-graffiti task force and strict laws and the whole vibe has gotten much more tense, not as open as it used to be. But people are still bombing trains, as a matter of fact I just saw an end to end today before I sat down to answer these questions.

What have you learned from writing that has helped you in other areas of life?

A lot. Especially when it comes to film-making. There you also have to come up with a master plan, a strategy how to deal with unforeseen difficulties. And, most importantly, you have to find a way how to protect the soul of the project against all kinds of forces that are trying to interfere with your initial vision. So keeping on doing what you´re doing against all odds is definitely a lesson that I learned during my writing-years.


In Europe the number of graffiti publications and graffiti based companies outnumber the U.S. Why do you think this is so? What graffiti videos and magazines, if any, were you exposed to early on? What publications are you now a fan of?

Of course I saw all the classics, memorized every single piece in “Subway Art“ and saw most of the mags that started to appear around the late eighties, early nineties in Europe. I guess the first American mag I ever saw was a copy of IGTimes.
I really don´t know why there are more European publications and graffiti-based companies. Maybe because people (at least the ones working in publishing, art and everything related to these things) were a little more open to recognize writing as an art form at first. But that´s just a guess…

I haven´t checked out too many of the new mags. From Here to Fame is constantly releasing great stuff, like the SENTO and the PART ONE books, and of course Dokument Press in Sweden.

Where did you study film? Which filmmakers influence you?

I studied film at New York University, Tisch School of the Arts. There are too many filmmakers that have inspired me to name them all. But as a reference for “Wholetrain“ I would name films like “Kids“ by Larry Clark, “La Haine“ by Mathieu Kassovitz and the work of French filmmaker Siegfried.

Now onto the film, with the subject matter I could imagine the extra difficulties you’d encounter. What challenges and obstacles did you experience during the making of the film?

There were really nothing but challenges and obstacles, right from the start. Producers and funders were very suspicious, they didn´t want to get burned by investing in a project that deals with graffiti-writing, a subject matter still regarded by general society as being controversial.

Once I had production partners and the funding together it was almost impossible to get shooting permission. The German railway company refused to collaborate and informed all other European railway companies about the project so the film would be blocked. This was an odyssey of almost three years. And when we had finally finished the film, theater owners refused to show it because they were scared their theaters might get wrecked by writers.

Everyone is probably wondering how and where you acquired a train to paint on. Please let us know how this came about.

It was a lucky coincidence. We had tried almost everything when a friend of mine from Warsaw recommended a Polish production company to me which had great connections to the Polish railway officials. So we joined forces and they managed to change the minds of these officials even though we had been turned down by them before.

What do you know now after completing the film that would’ve been useful to know in the beginning?

A little more about the politics behind the international distribution of a film (see below).

Can you please tell us about any memorable moments that stood out during shooting of the film?

There were nothing but memorable moments, but the one I still dream about sometimes is seeing the freshly painted Wholetrain running by for the first time. That´s when I knew all those years I put into the project were well invested.

Which graffiti artists were involved in the film and how were they involved?

Three of the guys involved I knew from back in the days, NEON, CEMNOZ and WON ABC. The others I met through them: two younger writers, CIEL and MONS and PURE TFP, an old school writer from New York who lived in Munich at the time. I sat down with NEON and we decided which writer will do the pieces for which character in the movie. So they basically did all the train and wall pieces in “Wholetrain“.

The above par acting in the film definitely lends to its authenticity. During casting, what were you looking for specifically in the actors?

Initially I wanted to cast real writers, but the ones I saw in the casting sessions we had all over Germany didn´t have the acting skills I was looking for. So I decided to work with non-trained actors who had some prior acting experience. Since most of them hadn´t touched a spray can before we organized graffiti-writing workshops for them. They learned to sketch, tag, do pieces etc. We even went to the yards with them so they would get a feeling fort he real thing.

How long did it take for the actors to learn the basics of writing?

They were taught every day after acting rehearsals for one month straight. Some of them were a little more talented, others had difficulties. But after we wrapped filming “Wholetrain“, familiar tags that I had first seen in the workshop started to appear in the city…


Wholetrain really captured the writing culture and lifestyle. What other factors would you say contributed to the film’s authenticity?

The cinematographic style. We used only a handheld camera to give the impression as if we were running around with the protagonists. The choice of locations, the acting and I guess the music.

Do hardware stores in Europe carry Belton and other graffiti based spray paint brands like in the film?

Some of them actually do, it´s a little unusual though. But I decided to have that little bit of fictional freedom in the film.

Like the chase scenes in the film, do you have any chase stories or run-ins with the law of your own?

Unfortunately, yes. I was chased a couple of times but always got away. When I was busted it was because my crew partner was a little too careless and had some pics lying around when his apartment got raided. The judge’s sentence in the beginning of “Wholetrain“ is actually pretty close to the one I got back then.

The original soundtrack for Wholetrain is a big accomplishment on its own, especially with you producing it yourself and featuring recognizable names in the hip hop world being a big plus. For those new to the film, what artists did you work with? What was the process of producing the soundtrack like?

Making the soundtrack for “Wholetrain“ was almost like making another movie in terms of the effort and time invested. I wanted to work with people who have love for graffiti culture or have even been active as writers themselves, like for example Tame One of the Artifacts. Other artists I worked with: KRS-One, Planet Asia, Afu-Ra, O.C., Freddie Foxxx, Akrobatik, El Da Sensei, Grand Agent and Reef The Lost Cauze.
I produced the beats, sent them the files, the according scene from the film and some thoughts and ideas I wanted them to address in their lyrics. Then we organized the recording sessions which took place in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles and Munich. It was tricky because I had to pretty much control everything from Germany.


What kind of response have you been receiving on the film and soundtrack so far?

Great responses from all over the globe. I´m really happy to see that the story in “Wholetrain“ has that universal quality. I travelled the world with this film and met so many great people along the way. That´s probably one of the most fulfilling and enriching experiences.

I’m sure that the many languages the film is subtitled in is definitely appreciated and helped gain a wider audience for the film. Did you initially intend to subtitle the film in that many languages? What was the process for subtitling the film like?

I actually wanted to subtitle it right after I had made it since I never saw this as being an exclusively German film. But film politics – as it often happens – have made things a little difficult. The production company had sold the international rights to a world distribution company who had no idea how to sell or market a film like “Wholetrain“. So instead of giving me at least some freedom to work out something they shelved the film, stubbornly sticking to what they know. It took me about three years to convince them that it would actually be a good idea to release “Wholetrain“ internationally. And everything that had to be done, getting and producing the subtitles, finding a distribution company with international partners, production of the DVD and promotion I had to do myself. A very, very unpleasant, yet revealing experience…

What was the first thing you did after the final completion of the film?

I think I slept for a couple of days.

How did it feel to see Wholetrain on the big screen for the first time?

Overwhelming. It was hard to believe that it´s there now. And to this day I´m still surprised sometimes that we managed to pull it off.

In your opinion, what makes a successful film?

Not necessarily a good run at the box office. A successful film – in my opinion – is a film that touches people´s souls.

What advice would you give to young filmmakers and those starting out?

Be persistent, be patient and don´t fake the funk!

You’ve made a lot of fans with this film. What should we be expecting from you in the future?

I started pre-production for a new film that I´ll be shooting late summer 2011. It will be very different from “Wholetrain“ though, not only in terms of the subject but also regarding the cinematographic style and the overall visual aesthetics. Genre-wise it´s a drama with horror and thriller elements.

Lastly, please tell our readers how they can find a copy of Wholetrain.

In the USA you can get it at amazon.com, fatbeats.com, ughh.com, barnesandnoble.com etc.. Here´s a link with stores that are carrying the “Wholetrain“-DVD  and the Original Soundtrack (CD and Vinyl) that will be updated regularly: http://wholetrain.com/storelinks.htm

Any last words or shout outs?

Shout outs to all writers all across the globe.

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