Danny Novak — The Intersection of Cinema & Punk

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Danny Novak is one exemplum of how the evolution of Mass Culture over the previous decades has allowed him to use popular music, technology, industry, and socio-political context, to carve out a unique career in the entertainment industry and successfully influenced others of his, and subsequent generations, with his unique take on the narrative of popular culture and effect it has on our modern society.

“1, 2, 3, 4…!” — Danny Novak.

Having grown up with a Hi-8 camera in hand during his teens, Danny had created over twelve short horror films in high school. At the tender age of 18, he won an award for a two minute short film which caught the attention of a judge who worked as a Professor of Film at Simon Fraser University (SFU). Due to his ability with making films, he was started straight into second year film school at SFU in 1978, where he learned to hone his skills through further development and classes in history of cinema. It was during this period in university where he met many different people with a variety of viewpoints that allowed him to explore politics, extreme art, and opened his mind to questioning authority. This all happened under the auspices of the exploding Punk Rock movement taking place in Vancouver, British Columbia.

DANNY NOVAK — The PUNK

His band, the SPORES, clawed their way through the music scene in 1983, during the second generation punk movement in Vancouver. Novak, along with his bandmates created furious yet melodic singles that were compared to the likes of other local punk bands, the DAMNED and STIFF LITTLE FINGERS. The Spores had a rabid following that allowed them to have near constant sold out shows. Using his skill set as a cinematographer, Danny created music videos for the band which allowed him to gain professional practice experience while starting to apply his cinematography education and use his band as a platform for protest with songs such as “Meat By-Product,” and “Up the Boss”. During this time, Novak created music videos for other local bands as well.

DANNY NOVAK — The CINEMATOGRAPHER

Novak had always said to himself that “cinematography comes first” and that the band was just for fun and a “thrill.” Due to the obligations of the band, there would be times that he would have to turn down short film projects because the gigs were booked weeks, and sometimes months, in advance. There were many times in his early career that he would have to leave a film set as the Director of Photography in order to be on stage for a Spores performance. The conflict of schedules, the lack of energy, as well as a difference between the professionalism of being a cinematographer in comparison to that of a stage performer, forced Novak to make a decision that would eventually force the band to break up.

The punk movement was very political, avant-garde, and a violent expression of creativity and anti-art of what had come before it. It was a huge reaction to what had happened, and what was happening. As Novak states: “[there is] an ongoing cycle of reactions of the art world”; and the punk resurgence at the time allowed him to be apart of the socio-political movement and say what he wanted to the crowd of followers before him. Novak, at the time, used the Spores and the stage as his platform for discussion for the things he wanted to say. It was about substance.

His love for making films, eventually won out, but the overlap of the two different lives Novak lived was influential not only in the short term, but the long term as well. Novak mentions that the process of making a film is never fully realized until you are finally on set with the stage, lighting, the actors in costume, etc., which has been in the planning stage for weeks or months, but it’s not until you see everything in front of you that it begins to crystallize and take shape, and what you have planned for, starts coming together in the final moments before shooting. 

DANNY NOVAK — The Intersection of Cinema and Punk

Danny Novak is a great example of an individual who was at the intersection of both the influence of the Vancouver punk rock scene and cinematography, both of which became very important in the look and feel of the film Hard Core Logo. 

Hard Core Logo was shot over 18 days in November 1995, and was based on the book by Micheal Turner. Bruce MacDonald was the Director, and Novak remembers being very insistent on being part of the project, even though MacDonald already had someone for the job of Cinematographer. To Novak’s delight, that individual was not able to take part in the production and he received a call from MacDonald asking if he was still interested in the film.

“Hard Core Logo was a great intersection of my film career and my music background.” — Danny Novak.

Novak believed that he was the guy meant to shoot the film and that everything in his life up to this point was preparing him for the 18 day shoot of this iconic Canadian film.

It was not about the band, but about three people who come together to make a movie about a band: Bruce, the director; Danny, the Cameraman; and Joe, the Sound-man. You hardly see any of these characters, but when you do, it reminds the audience that it is a movie within a movie. The Hard Core Logo was purposefully made to look rough and also like a documentary. The band in question is a former punk band that broke up during their peak, and has recently reformed to go on a short tour starting in Vancouver, British Columbia, and ending in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The film follows what takes place on the long trips between cities while on tour. This movie had a striking parallel with Novak’s band, the Spores.

Novak’s background in shooting music videos was paramount to the look and feel of Hard Core Logo. His previous experience was a huge help, especially shooting live on a stage. “You had to know the songs and learn to shoot with your ears open,” says Novak, “so that you know when to pull the camera to the singer or someone else for emphasis.” Novak lived it personally, and stated that he was comfortable and “felt at home” during the filming of Hard Core Logo. This was due in part to his years of being on stage as the singer and filming music videos for other local Vancouver bands.

Danny Novak was a pleasure to listen to during the Forum Talk and it was interesting to see how his life long influences have allowed him to influence others over his career as a singer in his very own punk band, and as a cinematographer for movies that I’ve seen, especially “Hard Core Logo”, “the Big Hit”, “Romeo Must Die”, as well as serial TV such as “Nikita”, “Twitch City”, and “the Outer Limits”. The Intersection of Punk and Cinematography had influenced Novak in ways that he would have never guessed as a young man. As an adult, the projects that he was involved in the creative development has inspired later generations with the images and words he was behind. Danny Novak is classic punk, both with inspirational visuals from his years as a cinematographer, and that of someone who was wanting to talk/sing about the socio-political issues of his youth. His talk was fascinating and inspirational.

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