Gunnar B. Guðbjörnsson - Sound & VisionJuly 09, 2010 at 3:23pm
Gunnar B. Guðbjörnsson started his film career at the age of 21 as an editor at a well established advertising agency, learning the ropes working on various big and small name adverts. He soon ventured forth to shoot and direct his own and eventually found himself in film school, where he finished top of his class and won the graduation award for Best Film with the "musically infused" Ólafur Arnalds documentary "The Sky May Be Falling...But The Stars Look Good On You".
Gunnar - or Gussi as his friends call him - now runs Sleepless In Reykjavík a small production company with big plans. The company focuses on music related documentaries, TV programmes and online material. This month he has launched the first Webcast of Sleepless In Reykjavík and is busy working on a documentary on Iceland Airwaves...
Your background seems to be in film more than music - where, what and when did you study?
I finished a multimedia degree a few years back (2005-2006) and started working at a fairly big advertising company as multimedia designer/director/editor. After working there for almost two years I felt I was losing my mind and started the first version of my webisode as an creative outlet basically. We had done a couple of TV shows at the advertising company and I was really getting into that instead of the adverts. I was having sleep issues (hence the name of the project) and just had to do something about it. One night I put together some kind of logo and animated it for some kind of an intro and that was that. The morning after I called a band and set up an interview, everything kind of clicked after that and when the project started taking off I quickly quit my job and started freelancing and working on my own projects. Somehow I ended up in filmschool later that year.
What made you start covering music?
Music videos were what first sparked my interest. When I was young I had a big collection of VHS tapes full of my favourite music videos that I taped from TV, and when I was 16 I bought my first video camera and went out and started making my first music video. It took about a year to make because I didn't have a clue how to shoot or direct, or even edit. Later on, when I saw the Metallica documentary I knew that this would be my dream job and when I finally saw the documentary on HAM, the first documentary of an Icelandic band I'd seen, it finally gave me the confidence to decide that this was what I was going to do.
Did or do you dabble in music also?
I did, but I was terrible.
Where did the idea for Sleepless In Reykjavik come from?
I don't know exactly but at the time I was very involved with the metal scene here in Iceland and always wanted to find my way to contributing to the scene. It was either this or starting a zine, but it probably would never have happend if l hadn't needed an outlet from the mindlessly content void adverts I felt we were making at the advertising company.
How has SIR developed since you began?
When it started it was totally a one man army kind of thing. I shot the camera, asked the questions, recorded the sound, did the animation and graphics, edited, color corrected - everything. And I only covered metal, hardcore and punk stuff. Now I'll cover any type of music, just as long as it's interesting. I usually have my brother (the sound and music genius in the family) doing the sound. I'll sometimes have someone with me doing lights, sometimes I'll even have a second camera man. But I still do most of the work myself. I don't have sponsors or any income from the show so I can't pay people for their work, so it's hard to get help sometimes.
What can viewers expect from the initial programs?
The show focuses on all kinds of Icelandic music, no specific genre or style - just interesting bands doing interesting things and I'll make a story out of it. I also want to feature the people and services behind the music, like the gogoyoko team, the people behind the festivals etc. Style-wise I'm always trying to give the show a very high production value, both with the filming and editing. A lot of Icelandic television doesn't look very exciting, it looks "safe" and dull. I don't want things to be safe, I want thinks to "pop".
And your Airwaves project - "Where's the Snow" - where did that idea spring from?
Bowen Staines, a friend of mine and co-director of the Airwaves project got in touch with me a couple years back on MySpace and for a few years we just talked once a month over emails, you know, just keeping in touch sharing ideas and showing our work. He'd been to Iceland a couple of times but I'd never met him until last year. So when he said he was going to be coming for Airwaves to film something I asked if we should team up and do something. We didn't want to plan things out too much, we wanted to bump into people and discover bands. We both had cameras and my brother did the audio - and that was it.
Do you think there's a lack of good music film-making in Iceland?
I did, for a long time. But now we have Árni Sveinsson with Backyard, We have Heima, the Sigur Rós film, Ragnar Bragason with the Who is Barði mockumentary, Bjarni Grímsson with the Hjálmar documentary and a few more. So the competition is growing...but that's good. I wanna see more music films here. I still can't understand why there isn't a music television show like the Sleepless In Reykjavík show on television (*hint* *hint*).
Is it hard to get the budget, or easy because there are so many creatives to get involved etc?
It used to be hard but now it's almost impossible. Everything changed after the financial crash. I have been planning this show's comeback for a long time but gave up looking for sponsors. I just scaled it down a bit and went ahead with it anyway. My new stragedy is to make a strong product to sell and I'm hoping that will sell better than just a good idea. Also I started a funding site where we raised 460$ which is not too bad, but I'm also selling T-shirts at our website and we'll have DVD's once this season ends in December (the new season starts in February). So we are trying out new ideas on how to fund future projects... As for the Airwaves project, it's completly funded by ourselves. A couple of television stations abroad have showed interest in the film and we've already signed with one so we are very happy. At least we can now fund the next film we do together...
What are your plans for your music projects at the moment?
Right now I'm focusing on finishing "Where's The Snow" with Bowen and Don't Panic Films. It should be finished by the end of this month. I'm working on making the Sleepless In Reykjavik WebTv series bigger and better, and I'm hoping that next year the show will be bi-weekly. A few bands have been in contact and want me to do a film on them but nothing has been nailed down, mostly because it's hard to find the money. I'm being hired a lot to do these short promos for bands and I really enjoy that kind of work, but I'm looking for a bigger project.
What are the most exciting aspects of the Iceland music scene today?
I don't know what's the most excting aspect, I just love it all, there are so many things happening at the same time and it's all so different. I love that. I don't think I could do this webshow anywhere else in the world, not in this format. Maybe Airwaves is the biggest thing for sure, Icelandic bands are at their peak performance-wise when it's Airwaves time. You'll really see that in the film. But I really like the smaller festivals too, they're more intimate.
Which bands do you personally rate as your faves?
My favorite Icelandic band is and will allways be I Adapt. Their very last album Chainlike Burden is too good. I also love Kimono, they don't play a lot though. Myra is a band most people don't know yet, if their album ever comes out it will blow your mind. Ólafur Arnalds is definately a favourite of mine; Köld from Sólstafir is a really good album. Mugison is great, can't wait to hear more from him, the last album was awesome. This is a hard question!
Which three bands can we expect to blow up a bit in the second half of the year?
Maybe Sólstafir? They played Roskilde this year, and are doing Wacken next and San Air later this summer, and a few more big music festivals actually. They deserve more attention. Ólafur Arnalds is getting more attention these days, at home and abroad. I'm happy with that though I actually like his older stuff more than his newest album. The project he did with the ballet in London was amazing. I want to see him score a film soundtrack - asap. Maybe the band Of Monsters and Men will do something. They won this years Battle of the Bands here and were by far the best band at the show.