• Slhero

    Tomas Leach: Saul Leiter

Photography

Exclusive: Tomas Leach explains the effort behind his new documentary about New York street photographer Saul Leiter

Posted by Rob Alderson,

Creative endeavour is famously said to be 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. Never perhaps has that phrase been more true than when applied to filmmaker Tomas Leach’s upcoming documentary about legendary New York street photographer Saul Leiter – made possible only after a three-year wooing of Saul and his gallery.

In No Great Hurry: 13 Life Lessons with Saul Leiter is not only a beautifully-shot tribute to this unique talent, his work documenting life in the same area of Manhattan for decades and his outlook on the world, it is also testament to Tomas’ tenacity and vision. Released here for the first time, the trailer should be enough to convince you that the film was worth the wait and we spoke to Tomas about this intense labour of love.

The idea first came to him after he found himself returning time and again to Saul’s book: “I decided to read up on him but at that time there was almost nothing about him, no films, not even many good representations of his pictures online. He has never been into publicity, he just took the photos.

After contacting the gallery which represents Saul in New York they eventually agreed to show the photographer some of Tomas’ old work and eventually Saul said he would meet him for a coffee.

“So I flew to NY for a coffee. I rang his bell and he opened the door and just said, ‘Why do people always want things from me?’ and he walked back inside leaving the door open. I followed him upstairs and he started telling me about other people I should be making films about rather than him.”

Welcomed into Saul’s apartment and amid a “mountain of stuff,” Tomas finally got to speak face-to-face with the man he had been chasing for so long. “He questioned me a lot, asked me about girlfriends about money about life, asked me if I was happy.”

It was a sign of things to come and the two men would go on to develop a personal relationship which formed the basis for much of what ended up on film (the pictures shown here were taken by Tomas during his time with Saul), but there were still obstacles in the way. Saul got “cold feet” as Tomas tried to find finance and he kept his idol onside by sending him “lots of postcards from different places” reaffirming his intentions and reassuring his potential subject.

“I realised that if I wanted to make this film I needed to make some kind of gesture so I wrote an agreement that said it would only be me filming, he would get to see some stuff along the way, I would pay for everything and if either of us was not really enjoying it we would stop whatever stage we were at. I am sure any lawyer would tear it apart but it seemed to work.”

Tomas describes Saul as “a quote machine” and you get that sense even in the two minute trailer that almost his every utterance carries aphoristic overtones. Although he has a distinguished career for directing commercials and a cult following for his creative sketchbooks’ videos curated on Little Scraps of Paper, the chance to film Saul Leiter was clearly much more than just another job.

“Saul’s work is magical to me because it manages to be enigmatic and aesthetically incredibly beautiful, whilst still being incredibly human and touching. That’s a great reflection of him – he’s curious and caring whilst taking great pleasure in the beauty you can find in life.

“Saul’s work is magical to me because it manages to be enigmatic and aesthetically incredibly beautiful, whilst still being incredibly human and touching.”

Tomas Leach

“I started off just thinking someone’s got to film a little interview with him but it became something else. I would bring him coffee in the morning and we would chat for a bit while I set up. Then we’d look through some photos or maybe take a walk, go to his printers, then we’d have lunch and chat some more and maybe do some filming if neither of us wasn’t too tired.”

Not pushing the 89-year-old too hard was a constant concern for Tomas but at the same time he had limited opportunities to head over to New York.

“Between each trip I would have it all transcribed so I could read it like a book. I had been floating the idea for a while that it needed some kind of external structure because he talks in massive long circles. The point was to make it work as a film rather than a collection of interviews. I wanted something that someone who has no interest in photography can engage with and that’s why there’s more of my relationship with him in the film than maybe I had originally planned, him teasing me and that kind of thing.”

In the end the idea of 13 Life Lessons seemed to fit both with Tomas’ professional ambition for the project and his personal engagement with a hero who had become a friend, and during our interview he describes the whole undertaking as “cathartic.”

With the help of an editing team here in london he finally cut all the footage down to 75 minutes and although distribution is still under discussion, more than anything he is just keen it is seen by as many people as possible.

And after all that work, Tomas is clearly energised by working in this longer format. “I think documentaries should be beautiful and cinematic but they can still be personal and quirky. The joy of capturing a long narrative is all-consuming but it’s awesome – I love that process thinking about when to leave it silent or when to cut out my laughter so the audience can laugh.”

A longtime in the making it may have been, but Tomas’ mission has more than lived up to his expectations and the final piece should secure him, and Saul, a whole new following.

  • Sl1

    Tomas Leach: Saul Leiter

  • Sl3

    Tomas Leach: Saul Leiter

  • Sl5

    Tomas Leach: Saul Leiter

  • Sl6

    Tomas Leach: Saul Leiter

  • Sl8

    Tomas Leach: Saul Leiter

Ra

Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.

Most Recent: Film View Archive

  1. List

    It’s fair to say that at some point towards the end of last year we reached peak process video, subsumed by a wave of formulaic offerings that were neither interesting nor exciting. So when we came across this new film from Aesop, slightly pompously called The Guild of Artisans it didn’t quicken our pulses. But in actual fact beyond the title, this is a rare example of a process film that’s well worth a watch. The promo “pay respects to materials frequently employed in Aesop spaces” and although there’s one or two things we’ve seen before, the moody imagery is brilliantly shot and there’s a few moments which set the teeth on edge. Anyone planning a craft process film in the near future take note; this is how it should be done!

  2. Main15

    This year, before the fire at the Glasgow School of Art, Frieze travelled up to the city to speak to some its most integral artists and curators about the nature of Glaswegian creativity. From the community “come one, come all” vibes of the 1970s, to the work inspired by the flattening of the tenements to make way for high-rise blocks, these wise talking heads portray a tough city of freedom and spontaneity, underlined with a brutal sadness from times when things weren’t too great. They speak of the time Allen Ginsberg came to town, the wonder of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the gallery boom of the 1990s, and the appeal of the grand buildings in Glasgow with their sweeping staircases and enormous, trademark bay windows providing such beautiful white, Scottish light.

  3. Main

    Remember that incredible Action Bronson music video that saw him tearing down a highway in the style of Easy Rider? Well the director, Tom Gould, is back with some more sound and vision to get you going today. For his latest piece, Tom ventured into a well-known strip club in New Zealand called LAS VEGAS, which happens to be the oldest in the country. Rather than making a run-of-the-mill gritty doc about an old club in decay, Tom decided to concentrate on a curious story within the establishment by way of Adrian, the DJ at the nightclub who has worked there for over 40 years. The clincher? Adrian strictly refers to himself as the “Sound & Lighting Technician,” and is something of an eccentric, wizened old man with a good story to tell. Intrigued? See for yourself.

  4. Main2

    “Family is like a soup, everyone adds an extra scoop, mix an ounce of smiles so sweet, a dash of cool to add the heat and you’ve got….too many cooks!” So goes the lyrics for a theme-tune to what looks like a 1980s/90s family sitcom à la Third Rock From The Sun or Home Improvement. It’s actually the latest work of the lords of online comedy, Adult Swim. This insane new infomercial is a homage to the opening credits of yore, featuring smiling children and chino-donning dads smiling and tossing baseballs at a seemingly unexpected camera.

  5. List-screen-shot-2014-11-07-at-14.52.17

    Describing himself as a ‘stuffmaker’, Mac Premo is a Washington DC-born, trilby-sporting collagist, animator, commercial director and carpenter. For a man with a name that sounds a bit like a burger chain ice-cream sundae, he’s really not done too badly. His fascinating, genre-spanning practice and semblance as an all-round good guy has now been brought to life in a charming film by Bas Berkhout, which is so beautifully shot that every frame could stand alone as a documentary snap of Mac’s life.

  6. List-gihpy

    Just when Dark Igloo had surpassed all of our expectations with Bored Game, a parody of every Christmas board game advert ever made combined into one super film presented by a creepy wizard, they’ve come back with This is GIPHY, an of-the-moment news report about the state of the online world. The only way to enjoy it is to allow yourself to be completely bamboozled by a talking dog with a penchant for basketball, a man wearing a pizza going over the weather report (which is actually a report on the state of the Giphy homepage) and a rapid exchange of GIFs so prolific and so great that you’ve probably already emailed them to a workmate at some point or other. Those Dark Igloo guys are completely and utterly nuts, and we love, LOVE them for it.

  7. Main

    London’s a little greyer now one of our favourite illustrators Jean Jullien is trying out a new life across the pond in New York. Luckily for us his agent Handsome Frank grabbed him for a little while before he scooted off and made this lovely little film about his work. It seems we always talk about Jean, but to see him draw and actually speak honestly about his practice is a true joy.

  8. Main

    Hardly anyone’s been on an uphill-climb as fast as Tyrone Lebon. One day he plopped into our lives with his photographs and films, and then the next minute he’s everywhere – shooting people all over the world and being talked about by countless magazines and websites. Just to reassure us that he’s no flash in the pan he’s just created this fantastic, informed collage of a film.

  9. Main

    If you’re slightly unhappy in your day-to-day job and secretly feel that perhaps you should be doing something a tad more creative, look away now. This film leads you up whitewashed stairs to a gargantuan, high-ceilinged New York studio, inhabited by two well-known artists, Ana Kras and Devendra Banhart. We’ve featured Ana’s work a few times on the site for her beautiful, simplistic, friendly furniture design and works on paper.

  10. List-3

    I’m happy to admit that after watching all three minutes and 47 seconds of Stevie Gee’s new music video for Archie Bronson Outfit, my computer desktop is littered with so many screenshots of boobs, beers and motorbikes in psychedelic hues that I can scarcely find anything else. And the thing is I don’t even mind.

  11. Main

    This is nuts. When you thought OK GO couldn’t do any better in one take than their last, famed effort then think again. The foursome are back with one of the most staggering efforts in the history of music videos, this time set in some sort of airport where the gang ride around on electronic unicycles popping umbrellas with about 1000 extras to form kaleidoscopic patterns when shot from above. The jaw dropping first few minutes is totally trumped in the last minute where the whole formation quadruples in size leaving you with your jaw resting on the desk in front of you. Unreal.

  12. List

    There are moments in life when Abba really seem to speak to us. Not just in how the band really seems to get how it feels to be seeing the winner smugly taking it all, or to be terribly grateful for the music, but in the literal sense that they’re actually talking to us. This nonsense is all now a reality thanks to the superb video for beatboxer Roy Kafri’s single Mayokero that’s been doing the internet rounds for a few days.

  13. List

    Some writers create page-turners; masters of narrative and plot that compel you to keep on reading. In some ways Joan Didion is the opposite, although her writing is no less compelling. When reading her work, its brilliance stops me dead over and over again, such is her ability to analyse a person, a place or a concept and then articulate her thoughts.