With a cast that includes Ghostface Killah's son and the Major Lazer dance team, a soundtrack by Alex Epton, and a story like Saturday Night Fever for the vogue-tumblr generation, Gang has the makings of a dance film classic. Produced by Jefferson Projects and directed by NY-based filmmaker Clayton Vomero, we follow a day in the manic lives of Infinite, Mela and Denasia, over the tracks and into the subway. The three rail against their psychological confinement through the malls from the streets of Staten Island. Look out for much more from the movie in the next few days on Dazed. Read our interview with Clayton by clicking below.
What was it that drew you to this strand of youth culture?
Clayton Vomero: It was really accidental. I wanted to make a film with some real NYC kids who grew up like I did and just happened to be introduced to Mela through a friend, and we just hit it off right away. There’s something so real, and genuine about her that I was really struggling to find in other people and as soon as we met I was like “done.” There’s no facade of bullshit in front of who she is. She’s very raw and open and just immediately took to acting, even though she’d probably tell you to fuck yourself if you called her an actor. But the culture she’s a part of in regard to voguing is just fucking electric in NY. It’s developed so much over the decades but it’s everywhere in all incarnations. You’re just as likely to go to a random bar and see some 50 year old fat man voguing his ass off as much as if you went to a real ball. People of all ages in New York know it as a style and it’s one of those things that we can really say “that’s New York as fuck.” But I never wanted some label to be associated with the film. All of that stuff is just something to do and identify with as a kid when you don’t have much in New York, and that’s the feeling I really wanted to capture. I wanted to make a song that kids without privilege could sing and be proud of. I wanted to let them speak beyond stereotypes and the usual bullshit that’s attached to labels like “trap” “ghetto” “thug” etc. It’s all so cynical, as if those terms can encapsulate an entire world of people.
How do you think these characters got into voguing, and what does it mean for them?
Clayton Vomero: It’s a story about people, it’s not about being gay, or black, or poor or dancing. It’s just about being a person and looking for other people like you. The beautiful thing about Mel, Inf, and D’s friendship is that they help each other to be their most confident selves. They don’t look to each other for approval, they encourage each other to be who they are. I think voguing is just an expression of confidence for them. It’s about being a certain way rather than affording a lifestyle. You can wear anything, be anyone, it’s all what you create for yourself. And I think coming from the world that we come from, we really shared that feeling of “Fuck it. We can do anything if we believe in ourselves.” We grew up in a culture of neglect and a certain kind of creativity comes from not having any money to pay for shit. You start making things work with what’s around you. It’s the same thought process as going to a store to rack a new jacket. There’s no way to get the money so you figure out a way to steal it. And growing up with that mentality has crept in to how i make films. i can’t wait around for people to say “ok well that’s a good idea, so i’ll give you money or a permit or let you film here.” I just have to go out and make it. You know there are certain shots that you want and you can ask the property manager if you can film in an apartment building or you can slide some dude $100 to shoot in his living room for an hour. One path is definitely quicker than the other. Sometimes the best way to get things done is by going through the back door and I think that’s a very New York way of thinking. This by any means necessary attitude. And that permeates all things in NY. Finance and politics, as much as music / voguing. You can create your own world in this city and it’s really beaitufil. That’s why GANG has such a strong meaning to us. Together we can do whatever we want in this city, and there’s a certain grit to the way that we do it.
How did you approach the filming process?
Clayton Vomero: I tend to approach things pretty raw. I don’t like a lot of people standing around, so I hire as few as I can get away with and for the most part the only people around while we’re shooting are me, camera, sound, and the cast. I just made everyone else wait in the van. And even though that’s just my style, it was also really specific to the subject matter. These stories too often get told from the outside looking in which results in people getting caught up with the generalities and cliches and stereotypes. But I wanted to say something from the inside looking out, because it’s my world: it’s where I come from. A graffiti mural, dancing, drugs – it’s not so curious to me. they’re just the details. i wanted to tell a real story about NY without the usual cliches and bullshit that outsiders get stuck on. We’re real people, with real feelings, living real lives and our approach to making art is different.
Did you come across any bumps along the way?
Clayton Vomero: Everything was smooth to the point of us all feeling blessed to have found each other. There was a bond in making this film that I’ve never experienced with anything before. From the music, to Stuart’s camerawork, to the moments that we captured, to the moments that were more scripted, we all felt like someone was watching over us from day one. We’d shoot on the weekends then regroup during the week to rewrite scenes, rehearse, and think of other things to do. It was an amazing experience to just breathe and adjust and focus on making something honest.
What have you got planned for 2015?
Clayton Vomero: Gang unintentionally turned into this living breathing project that keeps morphing into other things which has been really crazy. Mela, Infinite, Alex, and myself started working on music that has somehow led us into mobile hotel room studios with Richard Russell and out to the Wu Mansion to write stuff with Infinite’s uncle, the RZA. So that’s a really exciting thing to keep us busy this year. We’re also developing GANG into a longer piece of film, which is amazing to start imagining. But, the cool thing is I think something crazy happened. We all really loved working with each other so much and just have this curiosity to see what else we can do as a unit cuz it’s fun. And it’s honest. And I think for all of us we feel like it’s the closest we’ve come to expressing who we really are as people. And we’d all want some kid who sees this somewhere to feel like they’re getting a big hug.