Artist Spotlight: Shaun Scott

I once heard that in the 1950s, when television was first popular, cities’ water levels were higher on the half-hours. Many people couldn’t turn away from the TV programs long enough to use the bathroom, so they waited until the break between the shows. Another point for TiVo.

Since the mass-production of TV sets, most homes can boast at least one, and — as sports fans may attest – the bigger and clearer the image, the better. But these big boxes are more than a status symbol; they’re a source of information.

“The TV was always on in my household, but it was on things like CNN or PBS,” said Shaun Scott, a UW alummus and local historian/filmmaker. “Moments that, in retrospect, we think of as historical moments … [they] are always being funneled into households through television. Seeing [the World Trade Organization Riots] in 1999 and 9/11 in 2001, that’s our generation’s, like, ‘this is actually happening,’ but it happened on TV, as far as most people are concerned.”

He hopes to see some of his projects end up on television one day, but Scott has developed his craft in historical films in and out of school.

Some of Scott’s documentaries are a unique part of a local-history project spearheaded by UW professor James Gregory. The Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project compiles oral histories, essays, photographs and documentaries that investigate the civil-rights movements of the many minorities who were marginalized in Seattle’s heavily segregated history.

Scott worked with Gregory to create short documentaries about the Asian- and African-American communities.

“He very quickly impressed me with his considerable talent as a filmmaker and a historian,” Gregory said.

A multimedia companion disc is given to classrooms around the area for free, and Gregory said teachers often report the documentaries as some of the favorite pieces in that package.

Scott’s latest project, Seat of Empire: Seattle Since 1909, sponsored by the Seattle Mayor’s Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, is an in-depth look at Seattle’s growth as a major U.S. city in the past 100 years. The film looks at such issues as military development, housing projects, segregation and prejudice, and the environmentalist movement and how each helped shape the city.

“He doesn’t simplify the issues, which is usually required of filmmakers,” Gregory said. “He brings a lot of complexity to what he puts on film. His ability to write a narrative … is quite striking. It’s often poetic.”

Scott spent more than a year researching and compiling information to put this project together, and the resulting three-hour film runs through the century, using music as the connecting thread.

“He might be the first local artist to fully and successfully integrate the art of DJing with the art of filmmaking,” Charles Mudede, the associate editor of The Stranger, wrote in a review. “His use of music — which is mostly by the Josh Rawlings Trio, Pocket Change, and the Teaching — and his blending of the footage he gathered from the Seattle Municipal Archives, the University of Washington Special Collections, and the Museum of History & Industry is often mesmerizing.”

Scott and Mudede are scheduled to have a “conversation about race, film and American History,” according to a press release, at the Duwamish Longhouse on May 22. Scott plans to show clips of the film and answer questions from Mudede and the audience.

Scott is already thinking about the next step, and the step after that, and the one after that. First up, though, is a follow-up feature-length to Empire.

“You can use Seattle as a particular case study for things that go on globally and nationally,” he said. He wants to look at Seattle’s views regarding consumerism and how sustainability and environmentalism can be used in a business model.

Looking further ahead than that, Scott said he wants to step into the realm of music videos.

“I had the idea of doing a series of music videos with a documentary feel,” Scott said, “because there are so many parallels between how you shoot a music video and a documentary.”

And then, eventually, he would like to produce more feature pieces and see his work on TV.

“I don’t want to give too much of it away, but I just have to say my favorite genre of film were Westerns,” Scott said about an upcoming piece. “Once you get a camera, you want to do it all.”

Reach reporter Ashleen Aguilar at weekender@dailyuw.com.

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