The Golden Age is a feature length musical rock/mockumentary about a pop star named Maya O’Malley, who gets dropped from his major record label for his outspoken comments on religion and corporate greed. We follow his journey towards redemption through the gorgeous and idiosyncratic music he created.
Justin Connor, a New England native, is most known for his work as an actor and musician on numerous films, TV shows and commercials over the last decade or so. He released his full length debut album, Kaliyuga, to rave reviews for it’s spacy, sonic tones and Beatles-esque pop songs. His latest project, entitled The Golden Age, is a feature length musical rockumentary and album about a musician who gets dropped from his label, set to be released in late 2013.
Bijan Tehrani: What motivated you to become a filmmaker?
Justin Connor: Initially I started out as an actor, doing theatre, and booking roles on tv shows and commercials, but always knew in the back of my mind that eventually I wanted to make my own films. I put it off as long as I could, since acting’s always where I felt most comfortable, but once technology began affording artists to have more control in their career, I knew it was time to get out of my comfort zone and make things happen. In this day and age, as an actor especially, there’s really no excuse to not be producing, writing, or directing on some level, so I just decided to jump in and use whatever I’ve been fortunate to have learned by being on set throughout the years.
BT: Please tell us about your project.
JC: The Golden Age is a musical mock/doc/rockumentary about a musician named Maya who gets dropped from his label for some controversial remarks he makes about religion, corporate greed, amongst others, which gets him into hot water with the media and his label. So the film begins with an interview many years after sharing what went down, with the story shifting between the past and the present.
With so much down time between auditions and acting gigs, I started playing piano and writing songs a few years back, which eventually led to my first album entitled, Kaliyuga. So when I started some demos for the second album, I was wondering if there was a way to incorporate songs with a script, as the story is partly told through the songs which convey the trajectory of the character.
More than anything, I became fascinated with rock/documentaries about musician’s lives, and whether I could do the same about a fictitious one in a similar, compelling way. I’m far too close to it to have any kind of opinion on whether I am pulling it off or not, but I definitely think there’s something interesting happening with it for sure. Luckily, being in Los Angeles, I had so many talented musicians and actors to choose from in order to help carry this out. As the story progresses, Maya turns to Hinduism/Vedic religion in a spiritual quest towards finding some solace to ease his once aggressive past, which led us to shooting in Northern India.
In all honesty, I’m surprised we made it out of there alive. Between potential car crashes on the hectic streets of Jaipur, India, cows almost eating one of our cameras, and fake sadhus/priests trying to rob us blind, it was all beyond surreal, but such an important visual and lyrical backdrop to the film.
BT: How challenging is making this film?
JC: It’s probably the most challenging endeavor I’ve ever decided to take on – writing, producing, directing, acting, and recording an album that I wrote for the film itself, and then performing the songs themselves in the film as a storytelling device. It’s been challenging wearing so many hats, but as back breaking as it’s often been thus far, and I’m sure will continue to be – I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’m just having so much fun, really – so grateful for the whole experience that it’s hard to even articulate how many lessons I’ve learned along the way.
BT: How did you go about casting your film?
JC: I had met so many great actors throughout the years in films/tv, plays, workshops – and always jotted down people’s info along the way for whenever the time came to make a film. There’s so many wildly talented people in this town, which has made it that much more rewarding for me to be able call them in on this. Same goes for all the musicians involved – it’s just staggering how many passionate and talented people there are here in Los Angeles. I think that’s what keeps me here more than anything these days.
BT: Are you a believer in rehearsals or you just goes with your actors on the set to shoot?
JC: It varies, but overall – I love rehearsals. Once we get a good gist of the scene locked down, I like to push for small tweaks/ideas, with various combinations of improve to boot. Often times the scene dictates how much gray area or leg room we have to explore. Some scenes really need to be word for word, while others are much looser, and call for more experimentation. There’s far more discussion on character and achieving a sense of realism than anything else.
BT: Do you write your own screenplays?
JC: Yes, which I’ve come to learn is quite a lonely and laborious process. Writing an album in conjunction with that has proven to be a whole other beast. But again, I just love it all so much. I wish I could sing songs and shoot scenes every day. I’m an avowed and admitted workaholic, so I could do this stuff forever.
BT: How do you see the future of your project?
JC: I hope to distribute the film and album through a variety of traditional and alternative distributive modes. It seems like the game keeps changing in that regard every month or two, so I’m just focusing on executing the film the best I can and letting the chips fall where they may on that end.
BT: Are their filmmakers that have influenced you as a filmmaker?
JC: Sure – but more than anything, I’m just a big fan of all artists – whether it’s actors, directors, musicians, painters, writers, etc. Being an artist for the long term takes an intestinal fortitude that I’ll always admire and revere. The inescapable drive that defines what we do – I’m moved more by that collective spirit than any one particular person, per se. That being said, I could watch the films of Malick, Kubrick, Herzog, Lynch, P.T Anderson all day long – and musically, I can’t imagine where I would be without the Beatles, Dylan, Neil
Young, Pink Floyd. I could talk musicians forever – Scott Walker, Harry Nilsson, George
Harrison – it’s endless.
BT: What are your plans for the future?
JC: Hopefully more films and albums – definitely more projects including performance, images and music. This project has really opened my eyes to the potential of engaging the senses more acutely in this technological age, where there’s a wider landscape to the typical storytelling vehicles and distributive outlets that have preceded us thus far. I recently saw Roger Waters do The Wall here in Los Angeles. Man, it just blew me away – performance, song, story, images. It was just so staggeringly cohesive and poignant on so many levels. I want to challenge myself to comprise more projects in that vein more then anything else. If I could write and record a song like Atom Heart Mother Suite or the White Album, or do a film like Malick’s Tree of Life, I could die a happy man. No easy feat, but that’s the goal for now.
At the end of the day though, I feel most comfortable as an actor, and doing comedy, really – this project was a bit too heavy for me at times. So getting back to the acting world specifically
intrigues me the most, and then maybe doing some touring of the albums outside of that. I’m just much more comfortable in the hands of a director, trying to serve whatever it is they need from me — and after doing this film, I feel far more connected to that process now than I ever have before.
More than anything, I’m just wildly excited to share The Golden Age with people and see how they respond to it. Regardless of whatever happens with it through – the experience itself has been truly epic. When I look back on this project down the road, I hope that’s what resonates the most.