Talk about a power couple. Nicholas Bruckman is a Sundance alum, a former Film Independent fellow and recipient of their Sloan Producer’s Grant, and the producer of the award-winning documentary La Americana, among others. Gingger Shankar was a composer on The Passion of the Christ, the composer for Circumstance, and has collaborated with Smashing Pumpkins, Cheap Trick and Trent Reznor, among many others. She’s a Sundance Composer’s Lab alum. The two came together recently to do a video for Shankar’s new song, a cover of the U2 classic, “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” They spoke to us recently about making the video.
Paste: Let’s talk about both of your backgrounds. Since I’ve got both of you here, I’ll have each of you brag on the other one. Nicholas, tell us about how awesome Gingger’s career has been.
Nicholas Bruckman: That’s hilarious; right before we got on this call, I said, “I want to get on the phone and tell Michael how awesome you are.” I met Gingger back in 2012, when I had a movie there and she was doing this amazing multimedia performance piece. And I already kind of knew who she was, and that she was someone I wanted to collaborate with in the future. So I made an approach right away to see what she was working on next, and to start a creative dialogue, even back then. We’ve done a couple of short film projects since.
But Gingger’s obviously an incredibly accomplished person across every medium, and has excelled at everything she’s done so far. In film, in opera, in rock and roll—I’m very much in awe of what she has managed to do across mediums. And I’m really interested in the multimedia project that she’s been developing, that combines film and music, and that’s the kind of thing we hope to collaborate more on in the future.
Gingger Shankar: It’s funny, I had actually met Musa, who he did Valley of the Saints with, because one of our friends thought that since we were both Indian, we should meet. Then I met Nick, and he was just really charming and really smart. And when I saw the film, I was completely blown away. Then I started checking into Nick’s other work that he had done. There was a film called La Americana that he directed, which is a documentary about immigration. It’s a really beautiful piece of work. I found out, too, that he had studied New Media, so I was very interested in collaborating with him. So this music video kind of came out of that—how can we combine everything we’ve done and create something really cool together?
Paste: What made you decide to tackle a song as iconic as “Sunday Bloody Sunday”? I mean, you’re both babies, so I don’t know if you understand for someone of advanced years like me, just what an iconic song that is. Especially for people of my age, and my temperament, and my artistic interests.
Shankar: We were rehearsing for a show last year, at the Largo in L.A. I was talking with one of the musicians I work with a lot. We were trying to figure out how to really make a statement, and we started talking about the song, and what it meant. It’s one of those songs that defies any timeline—the stuff they’re talking about in the song is going on now, it was going on twenty-five years ago, it was going on a hundred years ago. It’s kind of this timeless song. And we tried to figure out a way to put a new spin on it, to do something different. And it sort of became a no-brainer to make this the first video we wanted to debut. I think it was really important to everyone to really maintain what the song was about. It was a really hard song to cover.
Paste: I’m just a very amateur musician, but I have a short list of artists whose songs I will not cover, period. Because I feel like there’s no way for me to even come close to living up to what they did with it. As you approached the song as a vocalist, how do you try to have a different take on the vocal without just being different for its own sake?
Shankar: It was a no-brainer not to go anywhere near what he did with the song, because obviously you’re not going to top Bono. He’s an incredible singer. It was the idea of how to re-imagine the song. I’m not a rock singer, so we kind of made the arrangement very, very different. It starts very melodic and very soft. We also wanted to start it like an acoustic version, so that people would say, “What is that? I can’t figure out what that song is.” Then when you hit the chorus, you go, “Oh!” So we kind of wanted to mask it, in some ways. This is sort of an homage to the original. We’re definitely not trying to pretend like any of us are Bono, ha!
Paste: Nick, I would think that, as a director, it’s almost as intimidating. Given the visual iconography around U2 that they’ve had since the beginning, since they were just out of high school and already had an amazing sense of how to make a visual impact. And even with this specific song, with Bono at Red Rocks climbing the tower. Did you feel that artistic influence?
Bruckman: Yeah, totally. Some of the visuals we did in this video are an homage to them. Most of my film work is unabashedly political, and the artistry of the visuals is really saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same. And that’s both a homage to U2’s work, and the way we present those visuals, in combination with a modern, austere studio setting, as you sit in the piece you don’t know what time period you’re in. There are a lot of great artists that contributed, who are great filmmakers chronicling Vietnam and other times, and what we tried to achieve in using them is the continuity of that rebellion against what was going on then and against what’s going on. And so it’s an homage to them, and their work, and the spirit of their era. Which we need to get back to.
Paste: It’s one thing to collaborate; that can be hard on its own. And when a group is collaborating, that’s another level. But when two of the people in the group know each other personally at a level that the others don’t, does that create any new challenges?
Shankar: I’m actually curious whether Nick is going to answer that truthfully!
Bruckman: The only thing I can say to that is that’s been an amazing experience. This video totally was testing the waters, as far as working together, and we have some really interesting and creative projects planned. This was kind of dipping our toes in, learning about what our musical styles are like, learning about her instrument and thinking about ways to feature that. We’re talking about doing interactive content and working on longer-form films together, having her score projects. This was really fun to do something in her terms, and I want to do more projects where she’s involved in musical aspects of things that I’m doing, or things that we’re both leading creatively.
Shankar: Now I’m going to give you the honest answer. All that is absolutely true, but it was definitely interesting working with someone who you have a personal relationship with. It is sort of like, when are we friends? When are we co-workers? There were definitely a lot of waters tested on this project. And that was good. But his running joke was like, “Wait ‘til you’re composing on my film, and I’m telling you what to do.” I was very precious about the music part of it, and I think that drove him a little nuts. We had so many mixes of this song. It had to be good, because of the song it was. The violin mix had to be this, the vocals have to be this—there was a lot of that. And he had to kind of push, in a lot of ways, for us to just get it done. So it was good to be working on a deadline, and it definitely opened our eyes to a lot of other stuff we can do now. But it was challenging at first.
Paste: What’s the dream for this video?
Shankar: Well, the obvious ultimate goal would be to have Bono see it. We’re all huge fans of his, and we’re all trying to spread the message that he was spreading all those years ago, and we hope that it reaches more ears and new audiences.
Paste: My last question was actually going to be, if Bono reads this article, what do you want him to know? But I guess you just gave me the answer!
Shankar: Yes, and also thank you for inspiring a whole generation of musicians and filmmakers. That song is an anthem. It’s entrenched in so many of our souls.