For our item ‘I love Icelandic music because…’, ROK had the opportunity to interview the video award-winning Bowen Staines, a longtime friend of Icelandic music and Iceland. He just finished the video for Valdimar’s song Út úr þögninni’ (‘Out of Silence’), from Valdimar’s highly acclaimed new album, ‘Batnar útsýnið’.
Please introduce yourself Bowen.
My name is Bowen Staines, and I’m an American filmmaker from New Hampshire. I specialize in music videos and documentaries, with a focus on the Icelandic music scene. I studied film & television at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, and I knew pretty much immediately after I graduated that I wanted to pursue a career in Iceland, making videos and trying to help the scene as much as I could. In my spare time, I’m also a sponsored skateboarder, painter, and a musician.
When did you come the first time to Iceland?
I first visited Iceland in 2006. I knew literally nothing about Iceland at the time, except that I remembered seeing Ingólfstorg in several early 90’s skate videos. So at first, my only solid reason for visiting was just because I wanted to skate at Ingólfstorg. Suddenly, I was meeting people all over the place, and that was basically that. It sounds strange now, but that’s pretty much how it all started.
When did you start Don’t panic films and why this name?
I started Don’t Panic Films back in 2001. I had a basic Sony HandyCam that ran on those huge Hi8 cassettes, and I took it pretty much everywhere with me. Since I was making skateboard movies with my friends at the time, I wanted a cool name to tie all the projects together. I was at our town’s local skatepark one afternoon, and I remember someone had written the words “DON’T PANIC!!” in what looked like blood on the bottom of one of the ramps. I thought that was pretty rad, so when I got home, I wrote “DON’T PANIC FILMS” on the shoebox I kept all the Hi8 tapes in, and that was that.
I like to do videos for songs with melodies that genuinely move me. When I listen to a song and get goosebumps, my brain automatically races to put images to it, just anything that pops into my head. Before I know it, I can already see the cuts I’m going to make during particular sections sprawled out in front of me. When these things happen, I generally write the band shortly thereafter, and see if they’re interested in a video.
In a way, absolutely. As I said, I started off making skateboard videos, and that particular style has definitely carried over to my music videos. I like making music videos for the people out there who hate watching music videos, and my editing reflects that. The Internet has given us a shorter attention span, and that’s just how it is. People are less willing to sit through things, especially if a video is over 3 minutes, so it’s important to keep things moving and varied. Just like skateboard videos, my editing style is fairly fast-paced, and frequently cuts to the beat of the song, rather than to emotion. This works well in some cases, and not so well in others. Much of my earlier stuff is cut a lot more quickly, but after Sólstafir’s ‘Fjara’ video, I began to tone it down a notch, instead of just going apeshit every time there was a cool downbeat.
You made a lot of award winning Icelandic music videos. Congratulations. Do you want to tell us your secret?
There’s no secret, really. I have been blessed to work with a whole lot of very talented people, so I really can’t take too much credit there. It’s inspiring to be around inspired people, and that’s easy to come by in Iceland! Co-directors, producers, cast and crew – there’s too many amazing people to even list, and there’s no way I could’ve done these videos without their help and their vision.
Can you name some of your favorite Icelandic bands, albums and songs?
Most of the music I listen to is Icelandic, and my iPod is pretty much entirely Icelandic and Scandinavian bands. If we’re talking strictly Icelandic here, some of my favorite artists include Mammút, Agent Fresco, Muck, The Vintage Caravan, Úlfur Úlfur, Sólstafir, Skálmöld, Svartidauði, Sinmara, … I could go on and on.
What are in your eyes the best Icelandic music videos and tell us why?
I think the video Mínus did for “The Long Face” is one of my favorite, if not my favorite, Icelandic video I’ve seen. The colors are so rich, and the camerawork and editing were both really solid. I also really like the one Gunnar B. Guðbjörnsson made for Sólstafir’s “Love Is The Devil”, and the video Mangús Leifsson recently did for Úlfur Úlfur’s “Tarantúlur”.
What brings the future for Don’t panic films and for Bowen Staines?
Well, we’re about to start working on a video for the Icelandic band, Kontinuum, for their new song, “Breathe”. I’ve got everything written, and we’re almost finished with casting, hopefully starting to shoot it within the next month or so. The idea is pretty wild, and the video will be very, very dark. Aside from work, my fiancé and I are about to move into a house in a small seaside town right near Boston, and she’s letting me pour a cement skatepark in the backyard! I’m going to fly some friends over from Iceland to help me design and build it sometime later this summer – really looking forward to that!
Looking forward to see your next videos, bro.
- Wim Van Hooste
Here’s a selection of Bowen’s work: