Danny Clinch: The TFT Interview

by John Reynolds , Kathy Davis , Jessica Letkemann on September 27, 2007

Immagine In Cornice

Immagine in Cornice

If you’ve been to a Pearl Jam show in the last five years or so, there’s a one-in-ten chance you’ve seen a stealthy, camera-laden guy in a fedora creeping around the stage taking photos long after the regular photo-pass photographers in the gully between front row and stage have been whisked away after their three songs.

This man is Danny Clinch, celebrated rock photographer (Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young) and music documentarian (Pleasure and Pain / Ben Harper, Live From Bonnaroo 2004). And just from his ubiquity at New York rock shows – after taking copious photos, he even hopped on stage for a harmonica solo at a surprise Foo Fighters club show last week – it’s clear that music isn’t just a job for Clinch: it’s a passion.

Taking a lunch break from shooting Bruce Springsteen in iconic Asbury Park, New Jersey, Clinch, who has just directed the detailed, beautifully shot Pearl Jam concert film Immagine in Cornice, chatted by phone with TwoFeetThick’s John Reynolds, Jessica Letkemann, and Kathy Davis about shooting the movie in Italy, getting hired by PJ back in the day because of Neil Young, and how getting an in-studio preview of Pearl Jam‘s tunes with a pile of Ed’s handwritten lyric sheets was “heaven.”

JR: We wanted to know about your first touch points with Pearl Jam. What was the first time you heard PJ, the first time you saw PJ, and the first time you shot them?

Danny’s first session with Ed

You know, I can’t remember the first time I heard them. Certainly the first time I saw them was Lollapalooza at Waterloo Village when I took that [Spin Magazine, see right] photo. I had heard them before that but I had never seen them before. I shot that picture because a friend of mine was interviewing Eddie for the Surfrider Foundation. He said, “Why don’t you come along, I’m interviewing Eddie Vedder. You should come and bring your camera.” All I had… I brought my Nikon and this old Rolleiflex twin lens and I shot him with that.

JR: That was my first Pearl Jam show. Neat.

So, there you go. And interestingly enough, I photographed Ed with my friend Tim Donnelly who was doing the Surfrider interview and I remember I loved the band, like, “Man, this band is great. I’ve got a feeling they’re going to be around for a long time.” And I started to snoop around. They had Lance Mercer, who’s actually a friend of mine. Lance was their guy, and Pearl Jam is very much a band that if something’s working, they’re going to stick to it. They had a certain allegiance to him like they do with a lot of people on their crew. So, basically I couldn’t really find my way in the door to Pearl Jam. It took awhile.

I feel like one of the turning points was that they met Neil Young, and they toured with him. Even then, I was like, “Oh my God!” I’m a huge Neil fan. I was trying to see them with Neil Young. I was trying to get in to shoot some pictures in my lame kind of way and I never got anywhere. And one time, I got hired by Neil, I started to get a relationship with Neil. I got hired by [Neil's manager] Elliot Roberts to go shoot a Neil Young show at the Gorge. At that point, I had met Ed on several occasions. And I had always said to him, “Hey, if you ever need anybody…” And he was like, “Yeah, okay. Whatever.” [all laugh] So I show up at the show at the Gorge and I’m walking through the parking lot and there’s Ed. He said, “Oh, Danny, how are you?” It was a little small talk. “What are you doing?” I said, “Oh, I’m here to shoot this Neil Young show. They hired me to shoot for this record they’re doing called Road Rock.” It was filmed at Red Rocks actually, I believe, and they didn’t have anybody shooting it, so I came out to shoot at the Gorge. So I said, “Yeah, Neil and Elliot hired me to come out and shoot the show.” He was like, “Oh, wow!” And I think, in his mind, he was… Lance had gone off to do other things, and in my eyes, I was like, cool, at least he knows that Neil hired me. I must be ok.

JESSICA: Sounds like the ultimate job reference.

[laughs] Yeah. Like, ok, if Neil hired him we should try him out. I don’t remember exactly how I ended up doing my first shoot with them. I had become friends with [their publicist] Nicole Vandenberg. You know, I was just always around and I met Eddie at the Tibetan Freedom Concerts and that was before the Neil Young thing. But anyway, I ended up shooting them and it went well. I started to get to know the band.

Riot Act sessions

I’m trying to think of how many sessions I’ve done with them. Well, the last record before Pearl Jam, [Riot Act] I did the photographs for press and all that. I was really psyched. It was really my first full-on session with the band. You know, they don’t love doing photo shoots. I remember what happened was they [said] “we’ll give you a couple hours, three or four hours”. Ok great. Well, that all turned into an hour-and-a-half. So, I was in Seattle, I scouted some locations. We had an hour-and-a-half and I just went for it, as I usually do. And I ended up getting a lot of pictures in a short amount of time, which I feel I’m good at. They ended up really liking the pictures, so the next time around for Pearl Jam I got a call from Nicole. She made a point to tell me that the band had never really hired the same photographer twice in a row to do the publicity for their records.

JESSICA: That’s absolutely true. Anton Corbijn did Yield and Glen E. Friedman did Binaural.

eah. She said, “I have to tell you, they’ve never asked for the same guy twice, so this is a rarity.” I was like, “Wow, that’s cool.” [In addition to] photography and interviews, I had started to make films. I started with my Ben Harper film. I made a Bonnaroo film. So I was called in to photograph the meeting of everybody for the “Vote For Change” concert[s which took place] in New York. They said, “they all trust you, so come down. They’re all people you know.” Dave Matthews. Bruce. Ed. Elliot Roberts and all these people. So I went and did that and I also did the interviews. I interviewed a lot of the bands for the Vote for Change thing. I filmed it and I shot stills. I guess [PJ] were remembering that and she said, “Why don’t you come down and make a short film that we can put out as well. What we’ll do is the band will play and we’ll set a day aside to do a photo shoot and we’ll set another day aside to film them in the studio playing some of the songs and you can interview the band.” I suggested filming while we were doing the photo shoot and stuff like that too to create a cool little short film to promote the record. I was really psyched about that.

PJ Out on the town

I brought my crew down and we did the first day of photos. Funnily enough, when we went out we shot photos for like four or five hours solid and everybody was just having a great time. We went here, we went there. We went to this little restaurant and the guy said we could shoot in there. We went up to Ed’s place and shot over there. We shot all that stuff and it was great, so Ed said I want to take you back to the studio so you can hear some of the tunes for tomorrow. So I was like, “Gee, I don’t know. Well, ok” [all laugh] So I go over there and Stone’s there and Ed’s there and they’re playing me the music and I’m in heaven. I’m just kicking back. So, Ed stops and he’s like, “Wait a minute.” He runs over and goes into the studio, I can see him in the window. And he’s on the floor picking up all these pieces of paper that were scattered all over the floor. He picks them all up and he comes in to the room and he’s got all the lyrics to the songs in his own handwriting. He’s like, “here, here. Take the lyrics. You gotta read the lyrics while you’re listening to the music.” He puts this pile of lyrics in front of me. [laughs]

KATHY: Oh my God.

Basically, we sat there and we listened to the music and Stone’s listening too. We finish listening to the record, which was obviously amazing. And I’ll preface this by saying that Stone is the least of the lovers of the photo session. Everybody else doesn’t like it, Stone really doesn’t. There’s never any attitude, it’s just that he’s not that interested. He’s always talking while I’m trying to shoot pictures, talking about other things. A lot of the pictures will come back and he’ll be talking and everybody else will be paying attention. [laughs]

So, after listening to the record, we started to make plans for the next day and Stone says, “I was thinking, we could go out to my place in the morning or we could go to Ed’s place and we could shoot some more pictures because it would give us a lot more to use and send out for this record.” I looked at Ed and said, “What did he say?!” [laughs] “What do you mean you want to go take some more pictures?” And we did. The next day before we did all the filming stuff, we went somewhere else and shot another two hours worth of pictures. It was great. We made the film the following day and that went really well. In the end, Ed said to me how much the band loved this short film and how much he thought it was one of the coolest things filmwise that they had ever done. We were obviously really jazzed about that, being a young company on the film side and getting to work with a band like Pearl Jam that I really truly admire and have them be really happy with it was really cool.

Pearl Jam promotional video, by Danny Clinch

JESSICA: By “we,” do you mean your production company Three on the Tree?

DVD Snapshot: Boom plays
century-old keys

Yeah. The little collective of people I have at Three on the Tree is really cool. Everybody’s bringing something to the table. It makes it a really great experience for everyone. Lindha Narvaez, who is my producer, and Paul Greenhouse/Pablo Casaverde. Paul is my editor, he’s a shooter, he helps produce. He’s an all-around great guy and super talented. And we all shoot. Linda picks up the camera. So [PJ] loved it and I was with [PJ manager] Kelly Curtis shortly thereafter and he was like, “the band really loved that film. They thought it was just fantastic.” So I said, “You know, Kelly. I would love to film a Pearl Jam concert and shoot a bunch of Super-8 and whatever. I’d be really excited to do that.” I can’t remember if it was a couple hours later or the next day, but he came straight back to me and said, “Hey, why don’t you guys come out to Europe with us? What about going to Italy?” Of course I was like, “Are you kidding me?” [all laugh] He said, “Nope. The fans are great there and this would be fantastic.” That is how the whole thing came together. Kelly went out and cut a deal with Rhino and off we went to Italy.

KATHY: Did the band offer any input about the style or content of how and what you shot or did you have free-reign?

They pretty much said just do what you do. I wrote a treatment up, which was basically explaining my style, which they already know, and what I had hoped to do. And, if any of the band members were available, the idea of trying to do something [more.] Have you guys seen the film?

JR: We’ve watched it about 20 or 30 times already.

DVD Snapshot: Fans singing…

DVD Snapshot: … Fans dancing!

DVD Snapshot: Faces in the crowd

Wow. I wanted to get some of the things that nobody really had gotten to see from Pearl Jam: backstage access, being able to hang out with the band before they went on and between sets when they’re doing their setlist and they’re changing the setlist. I wanted to do a vignette on the fans. I wanted to try and get Jeff to a skate park out there, which we did. That whole thing with Mike. We did a whole other thing with Mike where we took this crazy journey up this mountain to a church at the top. That was cool too, it’s just that things have to end up on the editing room floor.

JESSICA: Yeah, that was one of my questions. What did you have to leave out that you just loved?

There’s a lot more music that I love and I would hope at some point that it will come out. It’s too good not to. But the idea in the end was the band just really loved the ninety-minute film that we made. And they were like, “This is what should go out. We don’t want to take away from it. We want people to focus on this because it’s really cool.” Then we put in those little extras, which is those three songs just to give people a little something extra.

JR: Like a regular movie, the footage does have a storyline. If it’s too long, it’s great for some of the hardcore fans, but you lose the central path of the story.

Exactly. We could have put the whole ping pong game in there. We could have put Mike walking to the top of this mountain in… In terms of making the movie longer, or putting extras in. I just think Pearl Jam, they’re different, those guys. I think collectively the band sat there and, this is what I was told, the band said this film is what we want people to see and that’s what we’re going for. Yeah, we did this great track with My Morning Jacket, let’s put that in there. We got Ed doing a solo song, so we’ll put three songs down there just as a little extra treat, but we don’t want to dilute it with other stuff. Which I can understand.

JR: I was just going to say that the three extras are the extras in a “normal” show. Ed will usually appear with an opening band, that’s an extra. Ed will come on by himself before the set, that’s an extra. And “Yellow Ledbetter” is a staple as a closer, so as bonus sections, they fit right in.

That’s interesting. I never thought of that. That’s cool.

KATHY: The quality of the film stock and the way it looks is absolutely stunning. I don’t have a High-Definition TV, but I did feel like it when I was watching this film. What kind of film stock did you use? Super 8? Mini DV?

DVD Snapshot: Mike takes a solo

DVD Snapshot: Ed in High Definition

There was no mini-DV, it was all Hi-Def and Super 8. All the cameras were Hi-Def. Now, the one that I shot a lot of the backstage stuff on… I chose not to bring a sound person with me. I chose not to send another cameraman back there, but I basically went on my own with one small camera and hung out backstage. I just didn’t want to disturb what was going on. I didn’t want to go in there with a big crew and have a sound person attached to me holding a boom overtop of everybody. So, in a sense, I might’ve sacrificed better sound quality in those moments, which I think was fine anyway, but it also just kept it really intimate. They know me so well that I don’t feel I interrupted the flow of what was going on or changed anything that they were doing. Those were shot on these Sony P2 cameras that have a little chip in them and they’re really small. And all the concert stuff was shot on the big HD cameras. The Super 8 was done with just these two Super 8 cameras that I have. We just used the Kodak Super 8 film, and some of it’s real grainy, and some of it’s not but it just has that feeling, that instant classic feeling.

KATHY: The camera angles are also remarkable, between the amps on stage, between people’s legs out in the house. How did you decide where to place the cameras? You had 11 people filming?

DVD Snapshot: Spotting fans

DVD Snapshot: Had a smoke in a tree

DVD Snapshot: Ed reflecting

DVD Snapshot: Reflecting Ed reflecting

DVD Snapshot: Shadows

I think we had 12 cameras total. The main cameras had their positions. One of the things we do that I think is a little different is that instead of having just one live camera locked off on a wide and say ok, if we want to shoot the whole crowd we’ll cut to the live — we had the dolly there for that and that was usually a cut of a moving wide so it keeps it interesting — but what we also do is we send a guy out that is basically a floater. It’s usually a guy I’ve worked with before and knows that I like that kind of stuff. I like to shoot through things, I like to feel like you’re in the crowd. And he goes way to the back, to the very top, and he’ll shoot some of that and he come down and he’ll get right in the middle of the crowd and shoot there. He’ll shoot people dancing. He’ll shoot little vignettes on the venue. And those things are all things that help the experience of the film and make you feel like you’re getting the whole picture. Instead of having ten cameras locked off somewhere with a long lens trying to zoom in on everybody. It keeps it moving. We mounted a camera in the lighting truss everyday and had that done by remote control. What a great shot for the drummer. Sweetness.

JESSICA: And you know, that’s one of the secret things about fans is that we like to watch Matt play, specifically. They had a camera on him on one of the other DVDs, that’s one of the most popular special features. The “Matt cam”.

So people just watch Matt the whole time?

JR: Yeah. And in talking with other fans, fans go to shows over and over and over, and a lot of times seats that open up the day of the show are side stage and fans jump on them because that side stage view or behind the stage… it’s a perspective you have to have at least once a tour. It rounds the whole picture for you.

Yeah! And I loved that show where they played the whole record straight through in one night. I think it was in Torino. And Matt came backstage, and that’s in the film, and he says, “Woo, man. I forgot how much I played. How much I sang.”

JR: His voice was getting hoarse and Ed looked at him with that look “you try singing for three hours!”

It’s great for me to hear what you guys as fans think of it and what all the little things that I don’t notice that you notice are.

JR: A lot of our favorite parts of Immagine in Cornice are half-a-second long, like when Ed’s reflecting the spotlight off his guitar, one of your camera guys got a shot of him doing that on the reflection of a puddle on the stage with dripping raindrops. I just paused it and stared at it for a while. It stands out. And there are so many of those points.

JESSICA: I can guarantee that for a long time to come, people are going to be dissecting every little bit. You can count on that.

JR: You also had the members of the Pearl Jam video crew filming, didn’t you? They kinda know what the “money shots” of certain songs are. What was it like working with them?

It was fantastic. We had Kevin Shuss doing cameras in the front, he was manning our camera that was in front of Mike. He was the guy that we counted on to know when Mike was going to jump up in the air and where he was going to go. The collaboration we had with the crew was really solid. We also had Steve Gordon, who would come back and stand with me and Paul. Paul was the one doing the cutting and I was the one talking to the camera men. He basically sketched everything out, like, “ok, I know during this song that Ed might walk out into the crowd.” He just had seen so many shows. It’s important to note there’s still so much spontaneity you never really know exactly what’s going to happen, but to have someone on your side that has seen a couple hundred shows there whispering in your ear, “And Mike takes a solo here” or “There’s a great drum fill here coming up” or “Matt does something cool over here usually.” It’s unbeatable really.

JESSICA: I actually think you might be selling yourself a little short. I’ve been to a number of shows, as has Kathy. JR has been to his share as well. You know, I personally have seen you sort of lurking around in the photo pit or on the side of the stage or just trying to be not in the way but getting lots of shots at completely random shows in completely random places from Seattle to Lollapalooza, all over the place. I feel like I’ve seen you a zillion times. I think every time I’ve seen you I’ve wondered if you were on the clock or there just for fun.

I would say probably 75% of the time I’m not on the clock. I’m just there for fun.

JESSICA: That’s awesome!

I’ll come out to see the show and they’re like “you don’t have to shoot, Danny” And I’m always like, “no, no, no … if I’m going to come and enjoy myself, I have to have a camera.” [laughs] I have to be out shooting pictures or I’m going to be stressed. I won’t be able to be relaxed and enjoy the show. That’s kinda of funny.

JESSICA: Since around maybe 2002, I feel like I’ve seen you at a bunch of shows always maybe starting on the side watching and then within a few minutes, shooting.

[laughs] I can’t help it. And on the other hand I probably end up having the best seat in the house, especially if I can sit behind the drum kit, behind Matt, and shoot from back there. And then I wander over by Mike, and then I wander over on Stone’s side, and I go over to the front for a little bit. [laughs] I usually like to end up behind the kit at the end of the show when the fans are going crazy and you can see all the arms up in the air. You can put the band in front of that backdrop.

KATHY: Yeah, in fact that’s the only framed photograph I have of the band is one that you shot in Madison Square Garden behind the kit when they’re all in the embrace.

KATHY: Did you do all the editing on the film or did you work with Paul on that?

I worked with him on it, but he and I have been working together for a long time. He definitely brings a lot to the table. He’s very experimental and I encourage that.

KATHY: Notable areas for the editing … the blend of the fans singing “Porch” in the street right into “Even Flow”. Incredible. There was the 5-city “World Wide Suicide” montage, and the other thing is at the end when you show, during “Rockin’ in the Free World”, all of the different endings to the concerts. That is a brilliant idea. Was that yours?

DVD Snapshot: World Wide Suicide

Actually what happened was we had cut the ending. We had a certain ending going on there, and there was discussion about do we end it with “Rockin’ in the Free World” or do we end it how we ended it, which is with Ed walking up the stairs and doing “Picture in a Frame” and that whole thing. Obviously, you know how we felt. We ended up with “Picture in a Frame”. But there was a certain point at the end of “Rockin’ In The Free World” where we ended the film, we ended “Rockin’ In The Free World” and the crowd went up. It was crazy, it was great. It was kind of mellow. The band left the stage and so I was talking with Ed and Ed said, “I’d like to explore a different ending to ‘Rockin in the Free World’.” And we started talking about how we open it with wide angles and we go to all different venues. And Ed called me and said, “let’s mess around with that ending a little bit more.” So we started to mess around with it and we decided that it would be cool to have multiple endings from every different show and different sounds. We were even very particular that every time it ended, it would hit a different note. It’s musical. We showed it to Ed and he loved it. He said “There’s one sound there that I’m not really feeling that I think could be different.” So we picked at it and said, “you know, he’s right.”

DVD Snapshot: Spotting the lens

I think the whole thing overall was a great opportunity to collaborate with people. I like to be collaborative and I think everybody had their own thing. Having Ed and I go back and forth on things like that. Jeff is very creative, for just general conversations about the project. I called Mike, and I said would you consider cutting some music for us for the film because we need some things to use during our segues, that we could use during a documentary moment that needs a musical bed. Mike was so into it. He was like “Oh yeah man! I would do that in a second.” A week later, two weeks later, he had gone into the studio and he made all these beautiful sounds on guitar. You’ll see it in the credits. Like “Whale Song” and all this stuff. He went and made all this stuff. He said “what do you want?”. And I said, “give me something really frenetic, something that’s got a lot of energy. Give me something really languid. Something that’s really flowing and kind of spacey”. He was like “ok!” and he went in and did all that kind of stuff. To me, what a joy to be able to do that, to talk to Mike McCready and having him go in and doing that stuff. And then Ed gave me other music. Well, the band, not just Ed. I don’t want to just credit him. The whole band decided that they would give me some music that they had from the last record that they hadn’t used. Instrumental.

JR: Pearl Jam is the first record that hasn’t had a b-side so we’ve wondered where are some of these extra cuts.

And there’s more to that story that I’m not going to tell you. There’s also though, I’ll tell you, have you guys seen the new Sean Penn movie?

JESSICA: We haven’t seen it, it’s not out yet.

One of these great pieces of music that Ed gave us I’m assuming came from the session that he did for the Sean Penn thing. You know the vocalizing bit at the end, the open and kinda warbly thing? There’s something like that in the Sean Penn movie.

JESSICA: It’s a song called “The Wolf” I think. The record is out.

I have it. It’s good. It’s really good.

JESSICA: It’s really good. It kinda blew my mind.

What I think is important for me is to how important my crew is to me. How much both Linda and Paul bring to the table. I’m the director, so it all filters through me, it’s nice to have great support from people like that.

Do you have any other important questions, because I have a date with “the Boss”?

JESSICA: Oh, literally! [All laugh]

–>KATHY: How did the title of the DVD come about?

Ed and I were having a conversation about the title and we talked about “Picture in a Frame” and we sort of just said “Picture in a Frame” is a great metaphor for the film. He was like, “Yeah, I like that.” I said, ok, who’s going to call Tom [Waits] and ask him if we can use it. [all laugh] He said, “I will”. I said “ok.”

DVD Snapshot: Four-frame credits roll

JESSICA: We’re raving and raving about the closing credits. We’re going to take it apart and watch it in freeze-frame.

Oh yeah, the ending credit bit with all the little vignettes?

JR: Yeah! Because essentially, it’s five minutes long and it’s four different screens, so we get to watch it four times.

That’s what I was thinking. All the fans are gonna sit there and they’re going to zero in on one screen and just watch that screen.

KATHY: I was watching Stone win the ping pong game.

[laughs] That’s so funny.

JESSICA: It’s like crack. So thank you.

I know Pearl Jam fans are nobody’s fool and they’re going to be picking it apart and stuff, and I’m ready to take my lumps.

JESSICA: I think everyone is going to love it.

Clinch’s PJ Photo Chronology

  • 1992: Lolla Spin shoot.
  • 1995: PJ toured with neil and DC tried to go.
  • 1996: Danny chats with/shoots Ed and Mike at TFC
  • 1997: Danny and Ed at TFC
  • 1998: Danny and Ed at TFC
  • 1999: Danny shoots Ed and C Average at TFC
  • 2000: Road Rock Red Rocks show were DVD is shot.
  • 2000: Neil at the Gorge. Danny, shooting for Road Rock, runs into EV
  • 2002: Hired for Riot Act Press photos
  • 2003: MSG poster Shot.
  • 2004: Danny shoots Bruce, EV et al for Vote For Change
  • 2005: Fleet Center poster shot.
  • 2006: Avocado press photos
John Reynolds ( Twitter: @jjjrrr )
A New Jersey based programmer, John handles TFT’s programming and technical aspects. He also conceives and writes his share of TFT’s articles and sections. John’s first Pearl Jam show was at Lollapalooza on August 12, 1992.
Kathy Davis ( Twitter: @CrookedArm23 )
A Bay-Area based entrepreneur, co-editor Kathy conceives and writes her share of TFT’s articles and sections. She was co-editor/co-founder of one of the first Pearl Jam fanzines "Footsteps" (1992-1997). Kathy’s first Pearl Jam show was at the Bridge School Benefit on November 1, 1992.
Jessica Letkemann ( Twitter: @Letkemann )
TFT co-editor Jessica Letkemann is a New York based digital music journalist & editor. She's currently VP & Editor-In-Chief of Digital at Fuse Media (Fuse.tv) and was previously managing editor of Billboard.com. She has also been on staff at Spin and Premiere magazines. Her first Pearl Jam show was at Lollapalooza on August 2, 1992.

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