Sunday Morning with Joshua Shoemaker
We're fortunate to have crossed paths with Nashville filmmaker, Joshua Shoemaker, who is lighting up the scene with his incredible art and cinematographic presence. Joshua has worked with some of our favorite musicians, including Ron Gallo, Erin Rae McKaskle, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Alabama Shakes, Jessica Lee Mayfield, Margo Price, and others. His art is inspiring and beautiful and we had to know more.
Read our interview with Joshua below on his passion for film, how he got started, fondness for color, favorite filmmakers, current projects, and the most important piece of clothing in his closet. We had a blast hanging out with him and photographer Emily Beaver in his East Nashville hangout. All photos by Emily Beaver. Styled by us.
Coffee or tea?
How do you like it?
I get up every morning and I go to Portland Brew and I get one cup of coffee. Cold brew, black. It’s how I start my day off.
That’s our ice breaker.
We’ll just start from your childhood. Where did you grow up?
I’m from Birmingham, Alabama, one of six kids, home-schooled. I don’t know if I put out that home-school vibe, but…
You did seem a little…
I’m a little home-schooly. From Birmingham, or right outside of Birmingham—Pleasant Grove, Alabama. But I moved here, like, five years ago.
What brought you here?
Just the work. I have always been working in music. I went to art school in Birmingham at UAB, thought I was going to be a photographer. Somebody begged me to come on set and help out and I immediately fell in love with [film] and forgot about photography, so I started working with some bands in Birmingham and, yeah, I came here.
I met Shakes early on and did one of their first live videos, and was kind of chummy with them. When they recorded their album here with Andrija, their label really wanted to film it, so they hit me up to film them. So, I came here. I guess it's been about six years. I fell in love with [Nashville]. I was here for a week, met a lot of the people I am still friends with and it was just friendly, really friendly. Coming from Birmingham is kind of—I was kind of nervous to work in a much larger scene, but everybody’s so kind and it’s such a collaborative thing! Film is a collaborative thing, anyway. That’s something that I enjoy about it. What I didn’t enjoy so much about photography, was that photography is kind of a singular entity and I like working with collaborative spirits.
I was just going to ask you—when you moved from photography to cinematography, there’s so much more movement. I guess you kind of answered that question, but I think it’s interesting.
I think it was movement, specifically, that I was loving about film. There’s a lot of roving shots that I do, one-shot videos, that requires movement. We’ve done stuff in vehicles, I really enjoy that. It’s something that was so different from photography. It was just overwhelmingly hard to wrap my mind around video coming from a photography background, but it’s a fun challenge to try to produce.
Was there a specific movie that made you fall in love with cinematography or even a photo that made you fall in love with photography?
The way that I got into film was, really, through music.
Did you watch a lot of music videos?
Yeah, I think music videos were probably the most influential thing. I was obsessed with Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry, and people during my childhood that were making really gimmicky videos. I say that about my work—that it’s real gimmicky, and not in a bad way. I like that about Jonze or Gondry where they’ll build this thing that’s kind of the whole point of the video and it’s a lot of production tricks, like backwards-forwards camera nerd stuff, that really spoke to me. It just seemed really magical. And the 90s music videos were just killers, you know?
Crazy, super colorful.
Yeah. David LaChapelle’s work too. I’m super into color and he was affecting me hardcore on his color palette. So, I was really influenced by music videos when I was younger. I just never put it together that it was something that I thought I could do. I just always wanted to be involved in music in some way. I don’t enjoy being on stage. I don’t like…
Being in front of the camera?
Yeah, being in front of the camera. I like to be a wallflower, so I thought photography would be a really great way to stay connected, and then it’s just evolved into film.
Do you think that music videos have gone away? Are they making a comeback? What’s your thought on that?
It depends on how you are thinking about it. There’s a need for so much content now that it dilutes [music videos]. Not that it’s always about money...but instead of producing one music video, they’re trying to produce several for an artist per album cycle. You can shoot something on a digital SLR and a lot of times a buddy of the band shoots the video. It’s like the videos are costing nothing. The videos don’t really recoup the money, anyway. I think, sometimes, it’s quantity over quality and nobody’s even bashful about saying that. But, that being said, I do enjoy that it not’s like it used to be.
Film used to be a hard game to get into if you didn’t have a bunch of upfront capital. You could push people around with your production quality. It’s not like that anymore. The production’s cheap. Now, you’re not going to get gigs just because of your production value, it’s really more about your intellectual property and what you’re writing, how good your concept is. So, if you’re good, you’re talented, blessed, you can get in and do the work, but it is kind of hard to navigate. I think it’s a hard thing to produce music videos just because they’re generally underfunded, they’re last minute. We don’t get a track come in until three weeks before they need the finished product. And you write it. So, I mean, it’s just like [snaps]. I used to be in twenty-four-hour film things in Birmingham, now life just feels like a twenty-four-hour film competition, you know what I mean? Really working quick—fast. It can be intense.
Because everyone wants it done now.
Yeah. And everybody’s expectations are really high, too. I mean, of course, they should be. So, if you can produce under those circumstances, I think it makes you a better producer.
How do you go about coming up with an idea?
I don’t do a lot of storyboarding. Like I said, the way we produce stuff, a lot of the times, it requires something being built. So, I’ll draw it out and design it for the people, or the person, that build my set stuff. But aside from that, I really just have to listen to a track a hundred times before I start to visualize it in my head. Once I can just get it there, I can watch it inside of my head, then it’s all just about getting it back out onto the screen that’s in front of me.
So it’s a lot of verbal?
Yes. I work with the same people over and over again. I definitely have developed an aesthetic that a lot of this is one shot and a lot of it is lit really wild, crazy colors. So, I have these little things about my videos that the people that work with me are used to what I am looking for. I just walk everybody around the set and I try not to direct—overly direct people. I usually only direct somebody when they’re not doing something right. A lot of times, somebody will do something that I’m not thinking of naturally. I really love setting up an environment with a pretty loose plan and then seeing what happens and making tweaks here-and-there. Like a gardener. I have a pretty good idea of what I want, but I would definitely want to leave room to be able to…
Break out other people’s ideas, because you said you would never think of some of them.
Right. Couple with the fact that you are shooting, like getting one day to shoot something. If something doesn’t go right, you need to make gut decisions and pivot, and other things. So if you are overly planned on everything, sometimes that can get you into trouble. You need to leave yourself some room to be able to make happy accidents.
How long have you been working with your team that you have?
Albert, the guy that builds everything, I’ve been working with him since before I left for Birmingham.
Did he come with you?
He didn’t. He used to be a train conductor for Norfolk Southern, a great job. Then he was down to work on some video stuff and was really the first person. Before that, it was just me and a camera just trying to figure it out. But, he is just so different and can really help me bring a vision to life, so we immediately cliqued. I was scooting off to Nashville and I was like, “Dude, I can’t promise you anything. I don’t know how it’s going to go, but if you come up here, you can do everything with me.” He came up here, quit his job.
So you have a team—
It’s still a small team. I have a camera operator, I have a DP that I work with. I come at it from the camera side, so ninety percent of my work is shot by me. Now it’s way better for me to just sit and look at a screen rather than be in front of the camera, because sometimes you don’t see something about a shot until editing it. I’m just wearing too many hats. I do much better just looking at a screen. So yes, I found a camera operator, a DP that’s been incredible, but a lot of times it’s just three or four people working on set.
Who would be your dream person to work with?
Like a musician?
Yes, or anyone, really anyone. Even an actor.
The work that I do has always been about finding somebody fresh and new, and doing their first look, because I love somebody to be truly a blank slate. It’s like when you have an artist that has a huge catalogue. Of course there’s going to be a collaborative effort that can happen that you bring something fresh to the table, but I think I’ve always just been looking for somebody fresh. That’s been my whole work, is mostly doing breaking bands. Ron Gallo is a huge example of that.
Do you think that clothing has a lot to do with cinematography? Do you like to get into the wardrobe part of it?
I think it’s a huge part of it. It’s something that I’m very interested in, but...I’m not a professional stylist. I’m very “black jeans, combat boots, camo shirt, black shirt, band shirt, jumpsuits.” That’s all it really is for me. I have an eye for color, and I always have a good idea of what my color palette is going to be for something, but that's one of those things that I just am so happy to defer to somebody because what they bring to the table. They just do a great job of it.
What is your favorite piece of clothing?
My grandfather was one of the old school NASCAR race car drivers, and I’ve got one of his racing suits. His name was Paddlefoot Wales.
That’s amazing. I love that name. From Alabama?
Yeah, he’s one of those old Alabama racers.
Do you wear it?
No, it’s super special to me. I don’t know if I can fit in it either. He was kind of tiny.
More like something you hang over your mantel?
Yeah, definitely. But, as far as my own clothing, I’m like a huge—if you’re from Alabama, you probably are obsessed with college football.
That’s all I know about it. That’s why I’m saying that. Everyone’s like, “Yeah!”
That is correct. I have a bunch of vintage ‘bama gear. I have 1992 National Championship sneakers, old cardigans, old shirts. Anything you can think of, I probably have some Alabama swag for it.
Do you watch every game?
Oh yeah. I don’t really shoot Saturdays during the season.
So, this is, I guess, a little more of a serious one but, what do you hope to leave behind with what you’re creating and what you’re doing?
I think something that is cool about what we do is we work with some of the first looks you get at an artist. And I think, in retrospect, those images become really powerful over time. I think our stuff gets good with age. You know, some of these artists that we work with are not going to be people that are blowing up in the charts but, in retrospect, they’re going to be people that are looked back on and they’re going to be a lot more important than they seem right now.
But, I think with footage like Heartworn Highways, specifically, you have a bunch of artists that are super prolific and were just not really recognized at that time. And I’m just really affected by that music documentary stuff. Those kinds of moments that I see that makes me feel the same—I would love for somebody to look at an old live performance of mine and feel the way that I feel about Heartworn Highways or The Last Waltz. For me, that’s like a top shelf desire, to just affect somebody the same way that I’ve been affected by people’s work before me.
Yeah, I get giddy when I watch those movies. Do you have any other upcoming projects?
I am really excited for Erin Rae. That’s what I wanted to say. That’s one of my favorite ones I’ve ever done. I think that most people would do something more traditional with her. I wanted to go complete high-concept with her and just do something that was way different. I’ve worked with her for a long time—super homies—and all she said was she wanted to use flowers and I was like, “Let’s get some flowers.” Carrie Crowell is the one who did all the flowers for that, which is psychotic. It’s so many flowers.
I’ve seen pictures. It looks awesome. When does it come out?
I think it’s coming out very soon.
I’m curious about who your favorite director is? Who are you inspired by?
I’m a huge Lynch fanboy. He has such a feminine quality to his work that I really love. His attention to detail and nuance is just something that I’m always inspired by. And I think there are some kind of Lynchy vibes that I give off in my work, but it’s more of the emotion that I feel from Lynch that I’m so drawn to. But Refn, the dude that did Bronson, and Drive, Only God Forgives—there’s a new one, Neon Demon, that’s about the fashion industry. It’s psychotic. I love it. His colors…
I was already getting into this Lisa Frank color scheme. I had seen Drive before, and Bronson, which really doesn’t highlight how crazy he went with color. Then I had just seen Neon Demon, and I saw Only God Forgives only a year or two ago, and it looks like we’re just pulling from the same inspiration. He has a lot of practical lighting, which I also think is really cool. His optics are right up my alley. Anything like garish is what I like. It’s just like teetering on bad taste. I really love pushing that color element, like I’m colorblind or something.
Any last words before we kill you? That’s how we end all of our interviews.
We should work together...
Thank you Joshua and Emily for your time and art!
Sunday Morning is an interview & photo series featuring artists who inspire us. All of the photoshoots are styled by us, Electric Thread. You can find previous editions of our Sunday Morning series, here. Browse outfits used in this shoot in our online shop, etsy.com/shop/electricthreadshop.