Arts & Life, Music

Hands that set it all in motion

Through the simple charm of stop-motion animation, singer-songwriter JP Hoe’s new video is a study in the rhythms of a half-forgotten prairie life: the trains that snake past grain elevators, the largely vanished drive-in screens that once straddled the line between field and night sky.

It’s all beautiful, and charming, and could be one of the best music videos to come out of the prairies this year. But the brothers that made these rustic landscapes come alive are not, necessarily, the most likely filmmakers you’ll meet. Consider this video, then, just the latest exploration of two lives spent in constant creation.

With backgrounds in sculpting, collage work, commercial art, music production, clothing design, silk screening, sketching, typography, painting, tattooing, pyrotechnics, doll making and a bunch of other hands-on type design work, Sean and Christian Procter are no strangers to being entrepreneurs.

Indeed, the two brothers ran a streetwear clothing store called Avenues & Alleyways in the late ’90s, threw electronic music events in the fledgling days of the Winnipeg rave scene, curated art openings, had two t-shirt lines (Audiophile and Loaded) that were distributed internationally and have always embraced Winnipeg’s D.I.Y. spirit.

But it was Christian’s involvement in NDP MLA Kevin Chief’s political campaign that was the genesis of their new video, animation and design company, Procter Bros. Industries. “I was working on the campaign for Kevin, going door to door. He found out that I was an artist and he wanted me to do an illustration of him and all his connections to the neighbourhood,” explains Christian from their office on Selkirk Avenue. “ I felt a video would be better than an illustration. He really didn’t know me, I was just a volunteer on the campaign, he probably didn’t think anything would come of it.”

What the overly ambitious artist did create was an engaging and well received stop-motion animation video that was developed from a six foot long drawing that was shot frame-by-frame in the campaign office after everyone had left for the night.

Taking over six hours just to shoot and countless hours to draw and edit, the five minute long video was made up from over 3500 still photographs and was Christian’s first real attempt at video work. Sean came into the fold when it was decided that the piece needed music to go with it, even though the project was nearly complete. The video, From Burrows & McKenzie, quickly found an audience and attracted attention from national advertising firms who wanted to commission more work from the brothers.

“We had a golden opportunity after the Kevin Chief video because we were contacted by a few organizations to do stuff for them and also NOW Communications, which is a national advertising agency, contacted us to do a commercial for television. How crazy is that?” says Christian.  “We have never done this stuff before and all of a sudden someone wants you to do something for TV? We had ten days to make a commercial. We didn’t really have time to think about it, it was just really exciting. I had never done anything like that before in my life, I just thought I could do it. So I did it.”

That D.I.Y. mentality isn’t just from growing up in Winnipeg and having to hustle and make ends meet during times of recession, it’s something that is in their blood. “I think we get a lot of that from our Dad,” suggests Sean. “Our Dad has always been just the kind of guy that felt that ‘if somebody else can do it, why shouldn’t I be able to do it?’ He just tackled everything himself, with varying degrees of success. He really instilled this thing in us that you should at least try to do it.”

While timing, opportunity and disillusionment with where they were both at with their careers,  along with a desire to continue to engage in the creative process lead the two brothers to start up another company, it maybe isn’t so strange that they are both working in video development now.

“I look at myself as being creative. The nice thing about the film stuff is there is an opportunity to use a lot of that stuff. If you look at the JP Hoe video, there are elements of sculpting, sewing and typography, all that stuff gets in there. Everything I have done up to this point has built to this,” contends Christian. “This feels like the most natural medium for me because I get an opportunity to do a lot of different things. It’s all those skills, plus there is a ton of problem solving that I also really enjoy.”

While family businesses can tear apart relationships, both Procter brothers see the value and the limitations of working together. “It’s 99 per cent smooth sailing” says Sean. “In any creative place, there are times when it isn’t smooth sailing, but it has nothing to do with us being siblings” adds Christian, almost finishing his brother’s sentence. “The good thing is that we have been doing stuff together for our whole lives.”

“The other thing is, because we are brothers, when things get chaotic, crazy or whatever you want to call it, I might go through that same situation with a coworker and I would quit my job,” suggests Sean. “But because we are brothers, there is so much more to it than us just being coworkers.”

“I couldn’t do this without Sean,” adds Christian. “I’d be pretty lost. We have good complementary skills sets. We grew up with the same work ethic, so if we have to do here for 24 hours to finish something, I know he is going to be here with me.”

For their video for Winnipeg singer/songwriter JP Hoe, they spent over five weeks in development, handcrafting over 250 props, which took them over 500 hours to create.

Although this is their first music video, it has has an instantly warm, recognizable and nostalgic style, but is still very unique, engaging and dynamic. It doesn’t look like anything else on YouTube and  that’s where its real strength lies. “I assume we aren’t making films or doing animation like anyone else, because we didn’t learn it from anybody” explains Christian. “We are just doing it our way and figuring it out on our own. There are successes and failures. I think part of our skills are knowing when something is working or not.”

“I like looking at things and trying to figure out how to use something in a successful way that it was never intended for,” adds Sean.

That experimentation and openness to new ideas or willingness to challenging old ones is a theme that has run through everything the two life long Winnipeggers have been involved with. “We haven’t built up some list of rules for ourselves,” Sean says. “It’s all kind of open to what we want or what works at that moment.”

Working out of an old dentist office on Selkirk Avenue, the duo, along with account manager Aaron Brager, hope that the values and history of the neighbourhood are reflected back in the type of work that they do, even if it isn’t instantly apparent.

“One thing that is really prevalent in Winnipeg is that artists will take cores of truth about Winnipeg and then like you said, really mythologize it. There is almost more truth in the twisting of the story. It becomes more truthful than the real story” said Christian. “There are myths about Winnipeg that we repeat to each other that have no basis in reality I’m sure, but because of that they are so much more real. It says so much about the city in that incarnation than if it was just the facts.”

Never shy about taking risks or putting themselves in situations that challenge themselves as artists, brothers and entrepreneurs, the past ten months have been both validating and extremely exciting.

“When I turned 40, I really felt like I had to make this year count,” explains Christian, who is three years older than his brother. “I have been all over the place, I’ve been pretty scattered for most of my life. I have done a lot of interesting things, but it was time for me to take all that and make something happen. In 10 months, to be doing the kind of work we are doing and to have the type of clients that we are working for, is pretty incredible. I am really proud of what my brother and I have done.”


JP Hoe on the Procter Bros., prairie myths and his new video

With rookie filmmakers tackling his first video, Winnipeg’s JP Hoe may have been taking a bit of a risk working with Procter Bros. Industries, but you would never know it after watching it.  The charming, handcrafted stop-motion piece for his single, “Nothing’s Gonna Harm You,” may be the best music video to come out of the province this year.

This is your first official video. How important in the YouTube era is it for artists to have not only a mixture of live performance clips, but to also have more artistically driven work available on the web?

I think it’s incredibly important. From a pragmatic point of view, people want to connect with what they saw live. The live performance clips try to fill that need, and hopefully foster it into a long term fan/artist relationship. The artistic videos are crucial because it sheds light onto the personality of the artist on a visceral level. If I put out a Bon Jovi bad relationship acting music video, my belief is that people would see it and draw some shallow conclusions, no offense Bon. However, I’m hoping that when people see this video, they’ll understand that depth and creativity are entwined in the music too. Ultimately encouraging another listen, and then checking out more songs etc etc. Both videos have different paths same goal, connect and grow.

How did you come to the decision to work with Procter Bros. Industries?

I wanted animation. I wanted to offer suggestions, but mainly wanted someone else’s ability to shine. I reached out to some local filmmakers and they pointed me in the direction of the Procter Bros.. I saw some footage online, and pulled the trigger. The process took about a day.

What were you hoping for in connecting with people’s memories of the Western Canada/ the prairies and Winnipeg?

I have serious respect for the Bros. picking up on how I feel about our home. I feel so incredibly lucky to live in Canada, Winnipeg in particular (from -20C and above). With my year spent enjoying lightning quick visits to other places, the Bros. picked up on my affection for the town I always return to. They managed to marry the chugging beat of the song, with my touring lifestyle, and love of home without being obvious or precious. I believe it’s a wild interpretation that people around the world should see; a fun social studies class of Western Canada if you will.

How do you feel the directors interpreted your work?

I think they nailed it, in that they took the sentiment of the song and gave a face to it. The actual song’s story is different from the video, but that’s not important to me. It really has just become another reality of the song. There’s the real meaning, the Procter Bros.’ western Canadian meaning and the listener’s own personal meaning. I remember when I started listening to Dylan in my teens, I drew my own conclusions about the songs, and made them work for me. I want my music to be interpreted any which way anyone wants, and the Bros.’ vision is a ‘beaut’.

As a Winnipegger and a musician, how do you feel this video fits into the mythologization of Winnipeg by people like Noam Gonick, Guy Maddin and The Weakerthans?

I think it lends itself well. There’s plenty of past and present winks and nods throughout, and paints a reasonably accurate picture of this place. We’re a nice little gritty city with a rich history that’s interesting enough to remember, and small enough to feel a connection to. We need those moments, otherwise we forget and fall to our default position of hating on ourselves. There’s enough of those remarks on the road, I’d prefer to limit them at home.