• 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

Rob joined It’s Nice That as Online Editor in July 2011 before becoming Editor-in-Chief and working across all editorial projects including itsnicethat.com, Printed Pages, Here and Nicer Tuesdays. Rob left It’s Nice That in June 2015.

Most Recent: Film View Archive

  1. John_dower_ronald_int_list

    In America, land of the free and home of the mascot, Ronald McDonald was and still is a revered flame-haired icon. Even in the UK, he’s a recognisable, albeit terrifying, beacon of our past where happy meals and smooth-bunned burgers were a rare Friday night treat.

  2. Yolanda-dominguez-itsnicethat-list

    Artist Yolanda Dominguez is not one to shy away from using her practice to expose the social inequalities which underpin contemporary society. In previous projects – 2013’s Fashion Victims and 2014’s Gallery for example, we’ve seen her respond to Bangladesh’s factory disaster, in which more than 1,000 textile workers were killed when their workshop collapsed, and question our invasion of online privacy in the digital age, respectively. She often uses “culture jamming” techniques, utilising a given medium to subvert its own discourse, and in doing so evokes visceral responses and stirs up critical conversation around these much debated topics.

  3. Canada-vogue-its-nice-that-list

    British Vogue has partnered with CANADA filmmaking collective to launch the first in a series of films for its Vogue Video offer. The film, called Ouch! That’s Big features model Anna Ewers and was styled by Vogue fashion editor Fran Burns. Shot in Barcelona, the short shows Anna having her foot tended to before probably my favourite song of 2013, Suuns’ 2020, kicks in as a fanfare to the stylish antics ahead. Weirdness, glamour, sumptuous architecture and a bump to the head ensue…

  4. Emoji-grid-itsnicethat-list

    Who needs a plot, a famous cast or a beautiful set when you have a loveable collection of ethnically diverse Emoji, a dancing lady and a smiling poo, eh? Not Sony Pictures Animation; the studio has just won a bidding battle to produce an animated movie based around the recognisable Apple-created characters who have come to communicate our every emotion, whim and fancy, Deadline announced today. The film is to be written by Anthony Leondis and Eric Siegel, who have yet to reveal how they intend to make a masterpiece out of our favourite funnies.

  5. Arcade-fire-itsnicethat-list

    We’ve already seen astounding interactive music videos, and live Spike Jonze-directed pieces performed and filmed at the YouTube Music Awards, so really a feature-length film is the last of the unchartered territory in Arcade Fire’s commingling of music and visuals.

  6. Jonny-woo---dressed-as-a-girl-(1)its-nice-that-list

    I still love east London. There, I’ve said it – I know after a decade here I should be saying its gentrification has become too much, that I’m bored of Superstore, that I’m jacking it in for Hastings or Berlin or Margate. But as it stands, I’m still clinging on to my love affair with that area of the capital, like a booze-soaked limpet hiding in the cider aisle of Broadway Market Costcutter. And while I’m as miffed as the rest of us by rent hikes and people who dare to have beards/bicycles/small dogs (insert your own Daily Mail hipster cliche here), the East End is still bloody great, and events like East End Film Festival offer a reminder of why.

  7. The-mercadantes-color-its-nice-that-list

    Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best ones, something which directorial duo (and married couple) The Mercadantes grasp perfectly. They describe themselves as making films that “celebrate life,” and their new film, Color, is no exception. The sweet little short takes us on a journey through the rainbow guided by a series of pieces of film and photography of objects linked by nothing but their hue, from an egg, to Yoda, to a toilet’s engaged sign and a big yellow taxi. The editing is sublime and a Mozart soundtrack is a great fit, all coming together to drive home the idea that beauty and colour can be found in even the most seemingly banal objects.

  8. Mr-bingo-stills-itsnicethat-list

    If you’ve been paying close attention you’ll remember that magical evening a few months back when illustrator Mr Bingo performed a rap about the wonders of stock imagery at our monthly Nicer Tuesdays event. If you don’t, I can happily announce that he’s back with a new one, and this time it comes with tighter rhymes, swaggy moves and extraordinarily high production values.

  9. Heavydreamers_itsnicethat_00

    Jeff from Booooooom got in touch with us at the end of last week to share their latest film profiling a number of creatives invited out to Hawaii for POW! WOW! festival. Held every February, the street art festival sees artists descend onto the island of Oahu to celebrate art, music and culture.

  10. Tom_geraedts_itsnicethat_list

    Tom Geraedts’ film for the Oasis of Matisse exhibition currently on show at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam is a beautiful tribute to the artist famed for his simple yet powerful cut-outs. It’s incredible how motion designer and director Tom has so seamlessly allowed nature to peel itself apart to reveal bright, tropical colours within; the floating, abstract shapes gliding weightlessly through the gallery past some of Matisse’s most famous works. With a portfolio full of brilliant creative work and clients including BBC World News, M&C Saatchi and ITV, Tom is definitely one to watch out for.

  11. Chaz-bundick-itsnicethat-list

    We’ve gushed plenty about Toro y Moi’s Chaz Bundick in the past: whether it’s his bookshelf, his orange jumper or the expertly dispersed dry ice in his music videos. Too much is never enough of Chaz, though, and this time around the musician, illustrator, designer and founder of Company Creative has gotten together with site Yours Truly to make a neat little film explaining about how graphics and illustration meet music in his work. From sketching up cool little dog-men to screen-printing them onto T-shirts and all of the other stages that come in-between, the site is featuring Chaz’s polaroids, sketchbooks and photographs all week. It’s a Chaz-fest, and we’re all over it. 

  12. Michael_raisch_jurassic_park_itsnicethat_list

    So many of our beloved movie franchises have been recycled into various remakes, sequels, and prequels. Jurassic Park is no exception with the fourth instalment, Jurassic World currently in a cinema near you. But within the ether of the internet we’ve stumbled across this incredible remake of the original film, videoed 20 years ago by two kids in their basement.

  13. Jacob_t_swinney_itsnicethat_list

    While this video has already made the rounds a couple of times, we keep finding ourselves going back to this film by Jacob T. Swinney. Using 55 films, Jacob brilliantly supercuts the first and final frames of each and places them side-by-side. It’s a fascinating insight into the filmmakers’ decisions and the themes that weave their way into the big, blockbuster features. Some of the opening and closing shots are bewitchingly similar, some show progression or misfortune, and others simply use stunning imagery to grab our attention. From Silver Linings Playbook to The Usual Suspects, Jacobs simultaneously captures the anticipation and resolution felt when watching a film beautifully by placing these two moments next to each other.