Since arriving in our sunny state in 2003, Matthew Arnold has built a career on his creativity, doing everything from photographing musicians to creating an award-winning documentary. According to Arnold, the only art form he doesn’t attempt is the creation of music, but he’s found a way to even get involved in that. His Legends of La La documentary-style web series features artists trying to make a career out of music from the entertainment industry epicenter: Hollywood. Since its inception, the series has highlighted such artists as Lissie, Mason Reed, Dan Bern, D Henry Fenton, Elle King, Jay Nash and many more local talents. LA Music Blog recently talked to Matthew Arnold about the web series, his entre into the music industry, and taking La La from the monitor to the big screen.
Can you fill our readers in on your background?
I started out doing a lot of photography, especially with rock and roll people and musicians. A lot of it was just shooting live shows and posters and all the marketing stuff that went with it. I also did a lot of the graphic design, so a lot of the posters that those guys have had for years, I did. It’s kind of fun and cool because there’s such a synergy. The only real art form that I don’t do is music, and a lot of those guys, the only thing they do do is music. So there’s a nice connection. We all have a real similar philosophy on life, so it works out really well.
You also did a film called The Long Green Line, which has just won several awards and been recognized on the ESPN top list of sports films. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got involved with that project and why you decided to create that type of film?
Well, I did a short documentary about female HIV about seven years ago, and we were getting done with that, and my editor on that project is a guy that I went to high school with. We were talking about how we’d like to do a feature about somebody, but we had to find an inspiring central character who was charismatic and engaging and had something interesting to say about the world. Then we realized we had known that guy like our whole lives. I actually went to York High School, which is the school that the film is about, and Coach Joe Newton was my high school gym teacher. We reached out to him and said, “We’d love to do this movie about you.” He was like, “Sure,” so we did.
We filmed interviews for a year, and then we realized it would be a much better film if we actually shot a whole season and showed the process of going for the state title. We went for it and shot one season. A lot of the stars lined up for us. A lot of really interesting characters arose. There was an interesting conflict that came into the season, and we did it all completely independently financed. We just put it on our credit card, took a leap of faith with it, and then ended up doing completely independent distribution.
Now we’ve sold, I think like almost 6,500 DVDs. You can watch it for free on Hulu.com. You can download it from Amazon.com. You can rent it on Netflix, and we’ve done this all independently. A lot of the lessons I learned as an independent filmmaker, I’m now infusing into the story for Legends of La La and what independent musicians can do for themselves, just like I did for myself as a filmmaker.
What brought you into the world of wanting to work with musicians?
Musicians and especially singer-songwriters are what we feature in the show the most. To me, they’re the storytellers of our generation. They’re the guys and the girls who stand up and really have something to say, and they have a really unique form to tell their stories in. They stand in front of a crowd with a guitar and a microphone, and they just unleash their soul. They totally wear their heart on their sleeve.
People like Bob Dylan and Jack Kerouac had something to say about their generation too, and that’s what appealed to me about these guys. There’s always stories about love and heartbreak and falling in love and all that kind of stuff, and that’s just so important to young people anywhere really because that’s what everyone’s going through in their 20s. You know, finding love, falling in love, falling out of love, breaking hearts—all that stuff is such a part of the human experience. To me, that is one of the most important parts of our culture.
How did you come up with the idea and the format for Legends of La La?
When you see a songwriter play, they very often will have a bit of a banter between the songs. They’ll give you the shorthand version of what the song’s about before you hear the song. It’s always so interesting ’cause it’s the narrative that the songwriter shares about themselves. That backstory always becomes such a big part of who they are.
We’re currently turning the Legends of La La web series into a feature film. Two and three years ago when we first started working on this, there was real interest in financing web content, and all of those companies that were producing web content have pretty much disappeared. First of all, I think they were going about it the wrong way. They were putting too much money into too little amount of content, and they just didn’t fully understand how to work within a niche audience. They were trying to use the television model of content creation for the internet, which is completely narrow in its task instead of being broad like broadcasting.
The musicians that are a part of this seem to be really shown in the true light of who they are.
Yeah. Musicians, when they’re on stage, are often self-deprecating. They have a sense of humor. They’ve got all these different things that make them so entertaining. They’ve got a charisma that comes out not only when the song is playing, but in between the songs. I really wanted to showcase that. To me, it’s almost like a live version of the music video. Music videos always drive me nuts when people lip sync. I just think that’s the fakest form ever.
I think with all the social networking that we have now, we are creating these really dynamic cultural worlds. We’re totally in control, and we’re all sharing each other’s work with the world. It’s a really nice time to be creating stuff. It’s not a nice time financially, but I think creatively, it’s incredibly creatively lucrative.
What do you hope to accomplish with the Legends of La La project?
I just want to tell the stories of independent artists. Hopefully shed light on the ups and downs of being an artist and encourage people to keep on doing it. It’s really possible to just surrender to a desk job these days now that record labels aren’t giving million dollar deals like they used to. Surrender to a desk job or to a bottle of Jack Daniels.
What do you look for in an artist to work with for this project?
I originally wrote out a set of archetypes that I originally was hoping for, like a Joni Mitchell type, a Janis Joplin type, a Bob Dylan type, a Woody Guthrie type—all these different types of people that have something to say about the world. That’s what it started out as, and then as we went along, it became, if someone can sing and can write a killer song, that’s pretty much the prerequisite.
What other projects do you have in the works besides the Legends of La La?
We’re working on remaking The Long Green Line as a fictional film. We’re trying to get a name older actor to play the part of the coach and make it like a Karate Kid of cross-country running kind of story. There’s a science fiction project we’re working on that we’re trying to get to the right studio, and I’m starting to play around more in photography. We’re starting to do some stop-motion animation that’s gonna be kind of what the Legends of La La movie is gonna look like, but for the next three or four months, I’m full time on Legends of La La.
For more on Legends of La La check out: