Local Current Blog

Dave King pushes boundaries in film series, ‘Lights, Cameron, Jackson’

Dave King (Nate Ryan | MPR)

Minnesota-based musician Dave King is not afraid do something unconventional. Known for his work as a drummer in groups like the Bad Plus, Happy Apple and Halloween, Alaska, King pushes the boundaries of music and doesn’t stick to the status quo.

What King’s fans might not know so well is his work in film. On Friday, Sept. 14, King will be screening his series, Lights Cameron Jackson, a series of 14 short episodes that were released last summer. Taking place at the newly reopened Parkway Theater, the series will be screened publicly for the first time.

King’s work in video started with Rational Funk, a YouTube series he created for musicians that made fun of online music tutorials. While he was running the hit series, he started to have ideas for another one that was just as funny but in more of a surreal way. He reached out to filmmaker Noah Hutton — who had previously directed King for Two Days, a documentary on King’s work as a musician — and the two began working together to come up with characters and create and a story arc for Lights Cameron Jackson.

“It’s much more interesting to use those improvisational abilities that you use in jazz and that kind of high-level creative music,” King said. “To me this is just another extension of that style of thinking, and then it combines my interest in avant-garde art and all these other things. The goal isn’t to sell it to CBS and become The Big Bang Theory; the goal is to stay completely outside the realm of that type of entertainment.”

From writing to filming and editing, the production process for Lights Cameron Jackson took about five years. For the cast, King enlisted people from his extensive list of collaborators as well as friends and family he knew could play the part well. Although there is a storyline to the series, King specifically wrote the series with space for the actors to improvise within the script. 

“We tried to assemble a cast that could work with a storyline, a loose storyline,” King said. “I broke every scene down, worked every scene with everyone and then let people kind of — there were certain things that had to be done and lines that had to be said, and then there’s situations where they could improvise within.”

Lights Cameron Jackson is what King calls a “Twin Peaks of a comedy.” In the series, he himself stars as Cameron Jackson, the main character who has ambitious to change the world by remaking classic films like Footloose in an avant-garde way.

“(The characters) are much more with it than they seem. They seem very out of sorts, unorganized and ridiculous, and then they start to formulate this world that becomes this thing, this theory about why certain sitcoms or whatever are so popular. It’s because they’re creating a world you actually want to live in,” King said. “If it’s something like Friends or something like you know, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if you had all these incredible friends and everyone hangs out at the coffee shop.’ They’re creating some atmosphere. We did that on the idea of some high ideal and also abstract art and avant-garde art. So you start to realize these guys are creating a universe where the avant-garde and abstraction are very pop-level understandings.”

But even though Cameron Jackson and other characters in the series have all these ideas, something stops them from making their ideas become a reality every time. That’s something King can relate to seeing in other people he has known and in himself.

“So many people have very interesting ideas, and they just end up not doing anything with them. These guys are kind of that way. They flounder around trying to make the idea work, yet it just misses the mark constantly. There’s just something wrong with the idea. It seems like it’s funny, a good way to make money and get a message out there. That’s what Cam Jackson is trying to do,” King said. “He’s trying to have a larger impact using pop references and different normal channels, but his ideas are either way too avant-garde or confusing to actually happen, and that’s just sort of his frustration as he meanders around his existence, which is sort of this low-achieving theme. He’s not a slacker, he’s working on this stuff, but he’s not quite able to land anything.”

The screening of Lights Cameron Jackson at the Parkway Theater on Sept. 14, will be a “live binge watching” as King calls it, where the whole series will be shown at the theater in one night. The showing will be part of a two-day event where the band Halloween, Alaska will take the stage to preview their first new album since 2011. 

Simone Cazares is a student at Saint Paul College. Originally from Miami, Fla., she survives Minnesota’s cruel winters by immersing herself in the Twin Cities music scene.