Screen Habits: Amrit Singh On Vine, Anthony Bourdain & 'The East'
Amrit Singh swims in several media pools. He's the Executive Editor of Stereogum, the must-read website for alternative music; he's a regular guest on various NPR programs; and he even made a Vine at an R. Kelly show that went viral. Now, he's also a filmmaker. Dosa Hunt, Singh's short doc about musicians seeking the perfect version of a legendary South Asian dish, is currently making the festival circuit.
Tribeca: You're both a filmmaker and the editor of a website, so screens are a constant part of your life. How do you use them in your personal life?
Amrit Singh: I omnivorously consume media on every gadget at my disposal, which is an iPhone, an iPad, a laptop, Apple TV with a Netflix subscription, and a DirectTV subscription.
I find myself watching shorts on my iPhone while sitting on one end of the couch because the remote is too far away or because the laptop is closed.
TF: Do you have a favorite?
I can't even say that in my apartment I prefer one screen. It really comes down to where I am in the room. I was watching Charlie Rose the other night, and he had on (Bob Bowman), the head of Major League Baseball's internet arm. It's a really forward-thinking operation, and it's far and away the most advanced internet-based sports affiliate. And he was talking about how everything is moving toward mobile.
Depending on where you are in the apartment and what you're doing, you might be on your iPad, or you might be moving between rooms and consuming content. I find myself watching shorts on my iPhone while sitting on one end of the couch because the remote is too far away or because the laptop is closed.
And if we're talking about longer-form content, of course people probably aren't circulating around their apartment watching a 90-minute narrative feature on their iPhone. But there's so much great art and content being created specifically to embrace those attention spans.
TF: Are you thinking of short-form video platforms like Vine or Video on Instagram?
I've seen some people utilize those platforms in an artistic way in a manner that fully embraces whatever the parameters are. With Vine, there's the looping aspect, there's the six-second aspect, and there's this guy named Nicholas Megalis. I just discovered him over the 4th of July holiday, and my family and I spent 45 minutes watching his Vines.
TF: 45 minutes! That's a lot of six-second videos.
He just tapped this formula. In six seconds he gets across a sense of character. There's always a joke to the premise, and he usually does it with some kind of musical component. When all of those things play out in a six-second snippet that gets looped, they can almost be viewed in perpetuity, because of the musical aspect of it. I haven't waded too deep into that ecosystem, but he gets views and likes on his Vines that are far beyond any other Vine user that I've seen.
Now, we almost respond better to these messages when they're coming at us sideways.
TF: Let's talk about longer films for a second. You have a lot of personal screens, but do you ever see movies in a theater?
The last film that I saw in a theater was The East. It was directed by Zal Batmanglij and co-written by Zal and Brit Marling. [Batmanglij's brother Rostam, from the band Vampire Weekend, appears in Dosa Hunt.]
TF: What did you think?
That film is so modern, particularly with respect to the way that social media anarchists, for lack of a better word, operate. It feels very true to the way this new generation is coming of age. The way they think about things and the way they interact and the way they feel they can get their voices heard.
I love the way that he and Brit have found to discuss themes and issues that matter. In this case, it's the rampant excesses of this callous, corporate overlord class that has no regard for the environment it's poisoning with the offshoots of whatever products it's producing. The film works purely as entertainment, but it's also grappling with important issues.
TF: So it's both a meaningful film and an escapist movie.
That's sort of what I was hoping to do with Dosa Hunt: To communicate this idea of culture and identity in a way that wasn't pretentious and wasn't ponderous and wasn't overt. I think there's something about the way we're used to consuming media where now, we almost respond better to these messages when they're coming at us sideways.
TF: Who else would you say is working like that?
Anthony Bourdain's doing his new CNN show Parts Unknown. I watched the one recently that was in Koreatown, and he does this beautiful job. Obviously, he's still talking about food, but he's using that show as a vehicle to talk about the Immigration Act of 1965, the riots in L.A. and how they affected Koreatown. That degree of authority he has [as a chef] becomes the vehicle by which he can take a broader look at culture.
TF: And like you said, you're trying to do something similar with your film.
It was a quest for this authentic dish with this multicultural cast, which naturally elicited conversations that I wanted to have. But I didn't want to sit on camera with a mike and shove it in someone's face and say, "Hey… so how do you feel about being brown in the arts in the new millennium?"
(Photo by Bek Andersen.)