In Part One (of this interview, we talked to Colorado-based Tattoo Nation director Eric Schwartz about his transition from still photography to film, finding his heavily-inked subjects, and the intimate yet exclusive culture of tattoo.
Today we wrap up the conversation with a Danny Trejo anecdote and a discussion of the current state of film distribution.
(MovieMaker Magazine) MM: Now, with all those drop-dead gorgeous, set-piece tattoos for subjects, was there anything cinematographically that you were specifically trying to achieve? In a way, they do speak for themselves – you probably didn’t need to doctor them too much.
ES: Oh no, as a matter of fact, we could’ve made them look really dramatic and 3-D and stuff like that. Instead we stuck to making it look like the tattoo itself. We didn’t want to give any false impressions of what could be achieved by mechanical craft. If there was enhancement, there was enhancement because the camera didn’t capture the fidelity as we felt it should.
MM: I think a lot of tattoo fans would respect that. That said, there is a bit of animation in the film [a brief segment that shows in detail the variations in needles used].
ES: We felt that was important to show because it was the inventiveness of Charlie [Cartwright] and Jack [Rudy] to come up with a single needle machine, which allowed that fine-line prison style of illustration. There are very few artists today who use single needle anymore. They’ll use it on occasion, but there was a while when a lot of artists were using single needle almost religously. That time has passed, but there are several people, Mark Mahoney being the most notable one, who will strictly use a single needle. That’s type of work that Mark is famous for.
MM: Right. He’s a character!
ES: He’s the tattooist of the stars.
MM: He definitely looks it. Speaking of stars, how did you get Danny Trejo involved in the project? He must’ve been great.
ES: Danny certainly was a welcome addition. The most famous tattoo in the world, I think, is his chest piece. He was a friend of a friend, and quite honestly, I’m amazed that he did it, because who the hell am I? Here’s this guy who is outrageously busy. He’s one of the hardest working people you’ll ever meet, and hell of a nice guy, by the way.
MM: He seems like it!
ES: He is. We had a radio show where we were talking about the film, and about Danny’s participation, and there were some men who found out that Danny Trejo was being interviewed at this station. They started asking him for autographs. He was so gracious – he talked to them for a while, signed photos, asked people how they were doing and spoke to them for about five minutes, which is a lot of Danny Trejo’s time. When I saw that, I said, “Danny, that’s really nice.” He said, “I’m grateful for these people. These are the people that made me.”
MM: What a great attitude.
ES: Yeah, he had a great attitude. I’m thrilled that he agreed to do the film.
MM: I think that his own history – Danny Trejo as a cinematic icon –really parallels the trajectory of Black and Gray tattoo in your film, too: moving from the margins of society to become a central figure, a full-out phenomenon.
ES: Yes – we were very fortunate.
MM: The last thing I want to touch on is [Tattoo Nation VOD distributor] Yekra. MovieMaker is partnering with Yekra on your film, and our readers are always very interested in DIY distribution. Taking a different path than the traditional, studio-mandated method of production and distribution is so important to us and to a lot of young filmmakers. I wanted to hear your thoughts on how you came to make the decision to go with Yekra for VOD.
ES: John Corry, the film’s producer, was the one who approached me suggesting Yekra, and we realized that where Yekra is going is very interesting. They’re on to something, and we wanted to be part of it.
MM: It’s about community – getting people who actually love the film to promote it.
ES: Yes, and community is key with Tattoo Nation. It’s about stepping up to people who are interested in a particular topic, be it tattoos, UFOs, or the environment. I think it’s where filmmaking is going and I think that Yekra’s on the cutting edge of that. It’s a very smart approach. It’s an important part of the marketing mix – directors and producers are going to have to deal with each film in a different way.
MM: There’s no formula anymore. It’s exciting.
ES: Welcome to the Wild West!
MM: Do you think there’s a very large world-wide tattoo community that going to be able to tap into your film through VOD distribution? Have you already had feedback from people that you didn’t expect?
ES: Oh, yes. Immediately. Comments on Facebook were asking, “When’s it going to open in Finland?” I didn’t even know there was a tattoo community in Finland! And we had two showings in South Africa.
MM: Was there an actual traditional theatrical release at all?
ES: It was a limited theatrical engagement. We would open in different theaters for various nights, and a lot of times we would have people involved in the tattoo community promoting it. We had several clothing companies host, in essence, screenings. It was open for a week at the ArcLight on Sunset Boulevard, and it had a good run.
MM: So, it wasn’t very traditional then.
ES: No, it wasn’t at all. I think the most successful theatrical engagements involve some traditional and some new media promotion. We took out ads in the newspaper and did radio interviews, too.
MM: The worlds are colliding and enhancing each other.
ES: Yeah, and will it ever become 100% internet? No, I personally don’t think so. But will exhibition and promotion be more digital? Yes.
MM: Last question. You’re returning to still photography, but do you have any more endeavors in cinema planned?
ES: I probably will, because I found this so fascinating. Maybe shorter pieces, but I don’t know. I’d like to exhale for a little bit for now.
MM: Making movies can certainly be exhausting.
ES: It can, but there is nothing more challenging and I don’t think, once it comes together, that there’s anything more rewarding.
Watch Tattoo Nation for yourself right here.