It’s not uncommon for artists to wear many hats as they seek to expand their creative horizons, make art that challenges themselves (and others) in new and innovative ways, and experiment with new approaches. And oftentimes, different artistic practices and mediums (like music and film) flow so well together, it’s a natural progression in an artist’s career when they embrace other ways of creating. Such is the case with Ian Foster and his new album and film project, “Close to the Bone.”
Foster is no stranger to the film and music scene. As a composer and filmmaker, the St. John’s artist has had his work screened at events such as the Nickel Independent Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), and the Calgary International Film Festival. And as a musician, with multiple awards and co-writes to his credit (in addition to producing albums for other artists), he has performed around the world.
With his latest project, Foster has brought his two passions together, resulting in a work that’s as heart-breaking as it is beautiful. The video for his latest single “Pre-Existing Condition” was released in February and is just one chapter of the five-chapter film “Close to the Bone,” which examines the theme of identity through the lens of one family as they cope with chronic illness and the passage of time through various spaces. Both the film and album were released on March 29.
“A lot of it is about what your life is at one point versus another, reckoning with that. That’s sort of what all the characters in the film are reckoning with at different stages,” Foster days.
For this project (which he started in late 2018/early 2019), Foster grabbed some inspiration from the band The National and their short film “I Am Easy to Find,” which features different arrangements of songs from the album of the same name.
“I’d actually listened to that record for that entire year…and then discovered this film afterwards,” Foster says.
“It was just such a beautiful back and forth of the music, the film, the film informed the music. And so right from the beginning of writing that record, I kind of set myself this challenge of ‘Maybe I could do my version of that,’” he adds, noting that he was also inspired by The Lumineers’ short film “The Ballad of Cleopatra,” which ties together several different music videos (which were originally released separately and out of order).
Part of the challenge of the hybrid project, Foster says, was finding the right balance and striking the right chord, so to speak.
“I didn’t want to pursue one thing primarily over the other…if I had pursued the film part first, then basically I’m just soundtracking a film, which is something I’ve done more and more over the last few years, which is part of bringing these worlds together – but it still would be another soundtrack. And if I had made the album first and then thought about the film, then it would be like making a music video,” he says.
“So to me, the excitement of the project was like, how much can one inform the other if it literally is like a tennis game, they’re just sort of going back and forth against each other.”
Many hands were involved in pulling all the threads of this challenging project together, Foster says, including his album co-producer Mark Turner and film producer Justin Simms. Another key collaborator is Andrya Duff, who choreographed the dance sequence with actor Bridget Wareham (who portrays the role of the mother in the film).
Viewed on its own, the video for “Pre-Existing Condition,” which shows Wareham’s character dancing in a church basement, captures attention with its beautiful cinematography and choreography. But in the context of the complete film, it’s one small piece of the puzzle. Foster says the dance sequence essentially tells the back story of the character, “who used to be a dancer and now she’s basically restricted by this sort of unnamed chronic illness as she gets older and she’s reckoning with the past…so a couple of layers there.”
For the overall film, Foster was also inspired by his mom who, in her late teens, helped care for her own mother who was coping with rheumatoid arthritis.
“That image in particular, of the child carrying the parent, instead of the other way around, was one of the earliest images from the film…and so that was some of the personal element, and it’s referenced in lyrics within the music as well,” he says.
While her role was to ultimately support Foster’s vision, Duff says, “he had a really lovely balance of knowing what he wanted, but having the parameters open enough that it really allowed not only for me, but for Bridget, to really bring her own essence to the work.”
“I was so delighted that we seemed quite aligned,” she adds. (Their collaboration was so successful that Foster and Duff are working on more projects together.)
While “Close to the Bone” was screened at several festivals last year (and also at events like CB Nuit in Corner Brook, where portions of the film were projected onto different surfaces and spaces, creating an immersive experience), Foster says it’s a great feeling to have it out in the wider world.
“You kind of find and lose the thread a lot of times over the course of years working on something,” Foster says “and in a way the reward is getting to the finish line…with the help of all these people.”