Interview, Magazin

Chris and Nick Libbey on their short »Steel and Air«

»We think of the film as an opportunity to add a new perspective to the poem, not to reflect the original meaning.«

Chris and Nick Libbeys short STEEL AND AIR is our FILM OF THE MONTH JULY 2016. They kindly answered some questions via E-mail. 

Poetryfilmkanal: Can you tell us about the funding process of STEEL AND AIR?

Chris and Nick Libbey: We had no external funding for STEEL AND AIR – all costs were paid out of pocket.

How did you come across Motionpoems? 

We had previously been contracted by Motionpoems to create a microdocumentary for a public projection project of theirs.* We were later invited by Todd Boss, the founder of Motionpoems, to create a motion poem for John Ashbery’s untitled poem seen in STEEL AND AIR. We immediately accepted and got to work!

Is STEEL AND AIR your first short film that is based on a poem?  

Yes it is. In fact it was our first scripted short film as Sparky Stories. Neither of us have much of a background in poetry so it was a bit of a challenge.

Why did you chose a poem of John Ashbury?

We didn’t choose the poem actually. Todd Boss specifically invited us to make a film for that poem and we went for it.

The passing of time is an important aspect of the poem »Steel and Air«. It is the core of the film medium itself, which often tends to become invisible once the audience dives into the action of a film. How did you make this aspect feasable?

We decided to show time’s elusive passing not in 3rd person but instead within the memory of the old man. By focusing on his memories and jumping from memories as a child to old age and back again we hoped to reflect our lack of control over time and the beautiful mess that accumulates as we get older.

Can you tell us more about how you developed the aesthetics for STEEL AND AIR?

We were very much inspired by the idea of a vending machine representing life’s experiences – at first all before you and eventually, one by one, they come and then pass. To make this vending machine of life work we decided it needed to be in a deep empty space so as to remove it from any relatable location. After that – we attemped to find a variety of simple, true experiences and capture them with the patterns on the objects in the candy machines. Much of the world aesthetics were determined by our experience of what the world looks like to us in daily life. Most of the locations are places we spend our personal time.

The edit is a very interesting aspect of this film. Did you have any particular film or films in mind when you developed the concept for the edit?

Thanks! We try not to look to any specific examples when we are editing so as to avoid distracting from the unique story we are trying to tell.

Since how long are you working together as a team?

We’ve made videos together as long as we’ve been able to hold a camera. Professionally, we have been a team for 3 years.

Are you developing your ideas together or do you split the tasks?

Most of the ideas/tasks are done together but typically Chris leans toward decisions of form (cinematography, color, soft touch stuff) and Nick focuses more on content (story structure, producing, big picture stuff).

You are running the film company »Sparky Stories«. When did you found it and what kind of projects are you usually working on?

We founded Sparky Stories in 2013. We are involved in anything from advertising for broadcast to feature length documentaries to comedic short films.

Is there a documentary aspect to the film STEEL AND AIR?

Absolutely. Given that documentary is our main focus it always seems to seep into our films – no matter the form. In this case, most of our footage of the actors in the real world was captured as they carried out their daily life. We came in with activities in mind but we kept it pretty hands off, run-and-gun style so as to keep things natural and real.

Which way do you think is the best to relate text and visuals in a poetry film?

We think of the film as an opportunity to add a new perspective to the poem, not to reflect the original meaning. Even if the poem was straight forward (it’s not), there is no way we could fully capture the original message in the poet’s head because we haven’t lived his life. Therefore, we believe the only truth we can bring to the story is attempting to capture our own understanding and pair it with the original text. If all goes well, hopefully something new and meaningful comes out of it.

How important do you consider the voice-over and sound-design?

We took extreme care in recording the voiceover as it is the audience’s peak inside the brain of the narrator. Sound design is very important but I’ll admit – it’s not our forté. But we’re working on it!

* See:

About the artists


Nick and Chris Libbey are brothers and filmmakers from Minneapolis, Minnesota and currently residing in Brooklyn, New York. They are the co-directors/ co-owners of the advertising and film production company, Sparky Stories.

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Film des Monats Juli 2016: Steel and Air