The Edge: Jeff Durkin’s Architectural Films

July 22, 2014 5 min read

Jeffrey Durkin - JD_segal

Novedge: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do

Jeff Durkin: I am a commercial, documentary and architectural filmmaker. I work directly with architects, designers, contractors and planners to create videos, films, proposals and documentaries about their work and process.

Novedge: How does your background in architecture inform your work as a filmmaker?

Jeff Durkin: My background in architecture is what makes me stand out from other filmmakers who went to film school. I mix the rules of design with the art of storytelling by using composition, space, color and wide-angle lenses to communicate. At first it was just about people in urban environments, but now I shoot and edit to create a visual language that tells the story through images rather than dialogue and sound bytes. Since film is a visual medium first and foremost, I use image and music to connect with people emotionally. I also like to mix in a bit of humor. 

Jeffrey Durkin - cresta

Novedge: How do you collaborate with clients during the creative process?

Jeff Durkin: Collaborating is the fun part. When I make a film on a piece of architecture I try to visualize the essence of the building into a 3 minute video. It's just like my days in architecture studio where you had to describe your design concept in 2 words. Working with the client informs that process and listening to them talk about the project helps me pin down what is most important. Then I try to bring in a bit of the architect's personality into the video. For Jonathan Segal, it’s about his family and the relationships between them. For Rob Quigley it's about his whimsical style, and that means funky music and graphics. For Developer Greg Strangman, it's about making the old new again and recycling building, so that means a more vintage style of filmmaking and aesthetics.

Novedge: How did you first become interested in the work of Jonathan Segal?

Jeff Durkin: I've been working with Jonathan for 5 years now, and he was quick to realize the power of video as a communication/artistic tool for architecture. Our first project was a 13 min short film about his work which went on to win film festivals and play worldwide. That proved to be a new way to connect with the international audience, and we decided we needed a video for every project. It's been a great personal and professional relationship to be able to document his new process of doing architecture and to show the amazing amount of control he has over his buildings. As a filmmaker Jonathan is a perfect subject: he's got a big personality, he's not afraid to discuss the client/architect creative struggles because he doesn’t work with clients, his family is involved which adds a personal element, and best of all the buildings always turn out great, and I get full access to film them anyway I want, since he owns them.

Jeffrey Durkin - cresta2

Novedge: What is a recent project that you worked on?

Jeff Durkin: Speaking of Jonathan I just finished a new video on his house in La Jolla titled Cresta. It was a project 2 years in the making, filming the design process, construction and the final house. The essence of that house is pure form, concrete beauty, and connection to the Pacific Ocean, bluffs and sky. So my approach was to get a lot of non-architecture shots and natural sounds around the site to give it context. This was also the first project that Jonathan's son Matthew worked on with him so I was able to bring in a personal layer to the story. And the final chapter goes to the other extreme of home design/ construction- the suburbs. I always try to bring in social issues into the film that get away from the "object" of architecture and look at how architecture shapes culture. As a filmmaker it was a great experience because I got to test out some new gear- a drone, motion control slider and time-lapse software.

A look into the soul of a piece of architecture. This film explores the connection between architecture and nature, and how clean minimal design can save us from the suburbs. 

//player.vimeo.com/video/88696809?title=0&byline=0

CRESTA from BREADTRUCK TV on Vimeo.

I also just finished a new video on the 35 year struggle behind building a new library in downtown San Diego. Architect Rob Quigley had some great stuff to say about the political process and struggle behind making civic buildings. This film had a great backstory element that I was able to tell through old photos, archival footage and graphics, which was new for me.

//player.vimeo.com/video/92688383?title=0&byline=0

San Diego Central Library film from BREADTRUCK TV on Vimeo.  A short film exploring the 35 year struggle and triumph behind the San Diego Central Library with architect Rob Quigley. Produced and Directed by Jeff Durkin / Breadtruck films. 

I'm currently working on another video that proposes to build a park over the 101 freeway in an effort to re-connect downtown Los Angeles. Here's the teaser.

//player.vimeo.com/video/95098023

Park 101 / teaser from BREADTRUCK TV on Vimeo.

Novedge: What can architects learn from filmmakers and vice versa?

Jeff Durkin: I think architects can learn how to communicate their designs in a compact and engaging way from filmmakers. If you can't get the concept across in a 3 minute video online, then the essence of your ideas may be getting lost.

Filmmakers can always learn about filming urbanism from the design world. Filmmakers are always attracted to urban settings because of the interesting stories about humanity and culture that happen in the city, and if you study renderings, architectural photography, and planning documents you can use the city as a character in the story, and not just a backdrop. I always say- a filmmaker working with the architect has it pretty good because they don't have to be part of the creative struggle to get good architecture built. They just show up when the buildings done! 

Jeffrey Durkin - SD_library

Novedge: Do you have some advice for architects looking to hire a filmmaker for the first time?

Jeff Durkin: I would always look for a filmmaker with a background in design. Architecture films need to be high concept and high style to communicate the design in a concise way. Corporate, wedding, or film school grads just don't know how to keep the lines clean and straight when setting up the shots! Or feel free to contact me.

To see more of Jeff's work, head over to his website, Facebook page and Vimeo channel.

And don't forget to subscribe to the Novedge blog to keep up to date with all our interviewes and features.

Related articles

The Edge: Ryan Siemers, Telling the Story Behind the Architecture
The Edge: Gregory Cortez Photographs Architecture
How to Succeed in Architecture: Photography + Architecture
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