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Who Shot Rock & Roll: Merging Music, Photography and Video for Annenberg Center Documentary

On display at Los Angeles’ Annenberg Space for Photography in conjunction with the exhibit Who Shot Rock & Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present is a documentary film that celebrates the groundbreaking collaborations between the photographers and recording artists who came together to create some of the most enduring images in rock history. Who Shot Rock & Roll: The Film features photographs, interviews and behind-the scenes footage with exhibit photographers, as well as appearances by several musicians featured in the exhibit. Produced and directed by Steven Kochones and Arclight Productions exclusively for the Annenberg exhibit, the 36-minute documentary film is shown in 4K on two 14’ x 7’ screens. The exhibit runs through October 7.

Bruce Springsteen, New York, NY, 2007, shot by Mark Seliger

Who Shot Rock & Roll: The Film celebrates what its creators view as a “groundbreaking collaboration” between more than 100 photographers and recording artists who came together to create lasting images that, in some cases, might be as well remembered as the musicians who inspired them.

The 36-minute digital presentation begins with early photographs of Elvis Presley and other rock ’n’ roll pioneers from the early ’50s and continues through the present day with artists including Alice Cooper, Black Flag, Blondie, Def Leppard, The Doors, Ike & Tina Turner, KISS, Led Zeppelin, The Mamas & The Papas, The Pretenders, The Rolling Stones, The Sex Pistols and The Who.

“It’s almost like we’re one step removed from the music and it’s become a different piece, using a photographer’s lens to look into this era of rock and roll,” says Steven Kochones, the film’s producer/director and founder of Arclight Productions of Los Angeles. “We have these collective memories of rock and roll icons, but these [photographic] images have been placed into our brains as well.”

Jack White, shot by Mark Seliger

Kochones’ crew worked with several of the photographers featured in the accompanying Annenberg photo exhibit, including Edward Colver, Henry Diltz, Jill Furmanovsky, Lynn Goldsmith, Bob Gruen, Norman Seeff, Mark Seliger and Guy Webster. “One of the photographers in the film said, ‘We’re really the unknown quotient in the world of rock and roll,’ and that’s true,” Kochones says. “Photographers are the glue that ties all these different genres and sub-genres of rock and roll together.”

Kochones says he was motivated to use the sharpest images available for his film because it’s being shown alongside (literally) some of the most iconic and graphically mesmerizing photographs ever shot. “We had a lot of very different [archival] sources of still, film and video material that we had to bring together. We sometimes let the old archival content—including some really fuzzy VHS tape—speak for itself by being shown in its old format rather than trying to upgrade all of it to today’s level,” but some restorations were necessary, Kochones says. For one rare segment on Ike and Tina Turner, Arclight created a new transfer of 16mm footage that was filmed nearly 40 years ago.

As for the editorial content, “A still photograph doesn’t just take itself. Someone had to take that particular picture,” Kochones says. “And more often than not the guy or woman who captured that particular moment in time has something interesting to say about it.”

Interviews and new material in the documentary were filmed in 5K with a RED EPIC camera. The film is screened in 4K at 60 fps on two specially made 14’ x 7’ screens.

Florence and the Machine, 2007, shot by Jill Furmanovsky

James Pendorf, the film’s editor, familiarized himself with the still photographs in the exhibit before considering any other material, including the biographies of the photographers. “My basic goal was to capture the essence of their amazing photographs while also creating a compelling film,” Pendorf says. “I wanted to make this [documentary] fun and interesting and vibrant—apart from simply putting up a slide show—by using all this rich archival material to tell the photographers’ stories.”

Pendorf’s editing weapon of choice was Apple Final Cut Pro 7 running on a Mac Pro (12-core). He converted the footage to ProRes 422 (LT) for editing. Pendorf notes of the editing process, “We had to be careful because we couldn’t use the entire frame since the aspect ratio is different—it’s 2:1 in the [Annenberg] space. We had to make certain the picture wasn’t accidentally cropped,” Pendorf says.

He conformed and color corrected the film using Assimilate Scratch at workstations custom-built for Arclight. Pendorf edited segments both at Arclight and on site at the Annenberg Space.

“Our approach allowed us to be really creative, letting these great photographs and other archival material—including a lot of great music—enhance the narrative. I let the music guide some of the pace of the film, using well known musical cues to help propel some of our best scenes,” adds Pendorf.