AN INTERVIEW WITH ROHIN BROWN, DIRECTOR, PRODUCER & WRITER OF "MR. CORNELIUS"
Grand Winner 2022: Best New Wave/Post Modern Film
Hello Rohin, thank you for this superb piece of art. Can you tell us a little about your journey as a musician, from the start?
My pleasure, I am truly honoured to share this piece of art with you guys. I started playing guitar when I was 10 years old, and I was in and out of bands in high school. I studied Music and English Literature at the University of Wollongong, Australia and have dedicated the past 10 years of my life to producing and performing psychedelic rock and roll music.
‘The Walking Who’ is a stage name for my project under which I have released 2 EP’s and 2 albums to date.
I came to Prague at the start of 2020 to complete the third TWW album, during which time Covid happened. I was both locked down in Prague and locked out of Australia. When local Czech studio owner/musical eccentric Faust Mader, of Studio Faust Record,’ heard about my struggles, he offered me 24/7 studio access for as long as the lockdown lasted.
The studio is one of the coolest and most interesting creative palaces I have ever had the privilege of recording in. From rare soviet era Russian synthesisers designed by military scientists, to a giant spring reverb unit installed directly under the 1978 analogue SSL console. 18 months went quickly, and I have no doubt that the 25 songs I created in that time are my most realised work. The whole situation was destiny, and completely absurd at the same time. It became clear to me a few months into the pandemic that the whole performance art side surrounding the making of this album would need to be treated with the same dexterity as the music. The environment did the talking for the most part, I just facilitated the capture of it.
How did the idea of making "Mr Cornelius" form itself?
As I sunk into lockdown life in Prague, I sunk into a deep creative trance. This was largely due to the fact that I couldn’t speak the language. As a result, I spent a lot of time in a binary between the notoriously mystical city steeped in centuries of fractured fairy tales, and my own thoughts. This introduced a highly proactive visual state, and so the ideas for making ‘Mr Cornelius’ flew fast.
After giving up surfing, I needed a creative distancing activity to manage myself, so I found a pirate gym & started training in Muay Thai. Between that and spending endless days with my Russian girlfriend at the time, my cultural diet couldn’t have been more contrasting to Byron Bay —a small hippy surf town on the Australian east coast where I was living only a couple of months beforehand. As life went on, I found myself as a source of entertainment for my friends and family back home who were also in lockdown and were more than happy to validate the absurdness of my life at the time. Their interest in my adventures in Prague made me want to capture it I’d say.
When I met British Cinematographer Henry Hodge through a studio contact, I had already started to form the concepts of Mr Cornelius in my head. The working theory was that of point and shoot/let my environment do the talking. It was quite exciting because Henry was also able to share this cultural disposition with me. The film was made up of 15-20 days over an 18-month period, and all the people and scenes in the film were either those in my life or figures of my imagination.
Did you edit the film all by yourself? How did you make your choices?
Yes, I had no experience editing or working with film prior to 2020. However, the creative decisions and processes you take in music composition are not to dissimilar to that of film. I was lucky in many ways because of the limited diet of activities available in the lockdowns. The extra time subsequently allowed me a few more hours in the day, which over time allowed me to learn something as ambitious as film editing.
I made my choices in the edit by throwing a bunch of paint at the canvas and seeing what stuck. It was a ruthless process of trial and error —I would often spend a couple of days making 1-2-minute sub edits of music and then combine it with field recordings, and basic sound design. I watched a masterclass with Hans Zimmer where he shared the profound wisdom to just “let it play.” In short, this means to just drop some out of context audio in the moving picture and look sharply for a happy accident (which frequently occurs when you know what you’re looking for). I think I made about 15 x1- to 2-minute sections this way. As the structure took shape, I then went through a rigorous process of adding and subtracting before it became engaging enough to want and keep watching (at least for me, and a small group of trusted devils advocates I was sending the process edits to.)
Your film is an expression of the deep bond between film and music in the history of contemporary Underground culture. Along that line, do you have any favourite and/or referential pieces?
I haven’t seen many, if any, musicians/bands make a short film representing the process and lifestyle of music production outside of the documentary format. Perhaps there is, but I spent a whole day looking into it and couldn’t find anything like Mr Cornelius. I think that’s why I saw promise in the idea, because it was authentic, underground and naturally surreal.
My biggest take away from Mr Cornelius is that it wouldn’t have worked in an Australian context, or probably any western country because the element of cultural disposition, and polarity would be removed. With that said, I was a film appreciator before I was a film maker, and after studying the philosophy and literature of Camus, Freud and Jung at University I have always been drawn to filmmakers who were inspired by psychological models from the above authors. David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick are two individuals in my opinion with authentic processes that I find fascinating in this regard.
Some inspirations were: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Mulholland Drive and A Clockwork Orange. In the 18 months I was working on the film, I played the classics over and over again to see what I could pick up. I think I was also inspired to read about the two filmmakers’ close monitoring of every stage of the filmmaking process; most notably —music and sound design.
What did you learn from the experience of being an illegal alien?
As a whole, my illegal alien status forced me to practice a positive and disciplined mindset each day. I feel like the legal circus surrounding the issue really taught me on a deeper level to do the things within my control and not worry about the things I couldn’t control.
The illegal alien situation was very real, and my inability to return to Australia was a hard pill to swallow some days. For the most part it was a process I had to be patient with. The difference between feeling overwhelmed and weak was a strict physical routine and a quota of quality creative time in the studio each day. The balanced and disciplined routine definitely brought me some mental toughness for whatever challenges I face next.
How do you feel about some governments —not to mention Australia's - turning their own citizens into illegal aliens of sorts, based on health issues?
It was crazy, and a really wild thing for the governments to do in a collective sense, particularly the Australian Government. With that said, when the measures became my reality, I just tried to forget about it and appreciate the opportunity I was given by Faust and the studio. I feel like there’s never any prize for complaining about one’s limitations because, if time in the arts has taught me anything, it’s that bad luck can easily turn good —and that’s often where the magic happens.
Some days I felt stuck, but most days it was a strange cathartic novelty to wake up in one of the most incredible studios I have ever created in and to think to myself things like “Maybe today I’ll try and plug that KGB tape machine into my vocal mic…”
Where are you now, and what projects are you currently working on?
I travelled to Sydney on Christmas Eve for the first time in 2 years to see my friends and family. I got back to Prague a few weeks ago and I am feeling completely refreshed. 2022 is shaping up to be a busy year. I just picked up my 2-year arts/culture visa in the Czech Republic, and I am really excited about the next musical/artistic phase in Prague after a well-deserved reset on home soil.
The plan this year is to release the film and travel to some cool festivals in its support, I am also excited to cross-pollinate the new The Walking Who’s’ EP because the music plays the soundtrack to the film, and that was released on March 11, 2022, so it’s perfect timing. If travel and venues open up again without constraints, I’ll hit up the band and start rehearsing a tour for later in the year.
Since I got back from Australia, I have been super content to just sit down and be creative in the Prague studio again, so I’ll probably just do that until the future reveals itself.
Short statement describing your vision of the post-covid cinema
I like to think that I wasn’t the only one out there looking at creativity differently after such a crazy couple of years. In that way, I expect post covid cinema to host a new space for some unusual perspectives like mine- perspectives that probably wouldn’t exist if the Pandemic didn’t happen. For me passion stems from action, so I think that the true creative people will find a way to be creative around the newly adopted constraints. I saw that firsthand when I travelled to art Basil in Miami in December 2021- I think web 3 and the NFT space are going to be big opportunities this year in the music and film industry. Actually, I am in the process of collaborating with a few friends so that I can mint ‘Mr Cornelius’ after the premiere.
DIRECTOR, PRODUCER & WRITER
I am an Australian singer/producer/first time filmmaker, currently living in Prague, Czech Republic.
I have been making psychedelic rock music and touring it for the past 10 years under my stage name "The Walking Who".
I was both locked out of Australia and locked down in Prague in the Global Pandemic during which time I dedicated my life to bridging the gap between the worlds of audio and visual.
Mr Cornelius is the first film of many more to come, I hope.