Anything worth pursuing is meant to be pursued head-on. That mantra has become almost a daily routine for director and photographer, James Marcus Haney–or Marcus, as he prefers to be acknowledged. Marcus Haney has never strayed away from undertaking and tackling projects that may land him in hot water. Because of this drive and charming recklessness, he has been able to be a part of — and capture — moments that have landed him in priceless positions and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that many dream to experience firsthand.
There is something about Haney’s story, which has been chronicled in his self-directed, MTV-distributed documentary, “No Cameras Allowed,” that makes his origin story feel completely surreal. This film’s narrative is put into drive with a single photo of Jay-Z at Coachella in 2010. A single photo, taken while a young Haney sneaks in and doubles as professional photographer in order to finally experience the energy and excitement of his first music festival, and spontaneously connect with his love-interest-turned-girlfriend. To be able to successfully sneak–and eventually waltz– into some of the most highly secured music events in the world multiple times; Coachella, Glastonbury, Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, and Ultra, can and have been considered nothing short of a miracle. This phenomenal feat includes Haney working and planning for days at a time on infiltration tactics for missions executed by only him, or a group of up to 14 close friends. These strategies include using wristbands or skillfully recreated press and patron badges, mapping out and surpassing vulnerable entryways, and just using his natural charisma and communication skills to befriend security and festival officials as if he was just a peer doing his job.
These details are painted as so wondrous, one can conspire the validity of Haney’s story. This is the case for many of those who have reviewed the film; who’s more critical analysis have focused on Haney’s actions as a moral violation and deeming his venture into the world of music festivals as something inspired by fairy tales. To have a channel like MTV, whose non-music based programs center on arguably hyperbolic content meant for teens and young adults, as the film’s distributor only adds fuel to a skeptic’s fire.
The truth of the matter is whether or not one approves or believes, Haney actually represents a proportion of society that we can all recognize. Each one of us has at least one friend or has met someone who is, to some degree, a Marcus Haney. They are risk-takers, they go against the set grains that we have acknowledged exists and we abide by. They choose to do what the rest of or the majority of us wish we could do, which is to live a fearless life as a rebel and flourish from it. Haney has been able to find a career whilst being a rebel, and while many shake their heads, there are those who are whisked into the worlds and stories he has illustrated through his motion and motionless pieces.
Haney’s interest in film started like many others do: getting inspired in front of a television screen. Watching films were initially a treat he only could experience at his grandparents’ house. From there, he got to divulge into Rogers and Hammerstein musicals, the original series “CHiPs,” and his “all time favorite,” “Our Gang,” the silver screen precursor to “The Little Rascals.” Haney’s father began nurturing his son’s early interests in filmmaking by providing and teaching him how to use his first home camera. Getting used to the basics, Haney immediately proceeded making home videos, taking pictures, and implementing his sense of creativity into his early school life. He even learned how to edit his projects, only using his VCR player and a blank tape. The older he got, he was able to branch into filming different genres, or using different filming techniques and styles like stop-motion.
Just like the characters from his favorite program, Haney’s adventures in the world of film as a kid meant creative experimentation, and resulting in “Rascal”-like situations, “I did a spoof commercial for the Aflac duck, and I almost burnt my middle school down.” Haney has an attraction to high-energy-high-cost ventures, which makes his passion and consistent drive for improving his filmmaking skills a no-brainer. When asked what other occupations he wanted to go into if not film, he lists Olympic archer and Chemist as his picks.
By the time he began college, Haney had enough amateur cinematic experience to land him in more impressive situations, and some problematic ones as well. In an attempt to create a pitch reel for a travel show, he was faced with condemnation from Israel when they found out he and his crew had crossed the Palestinian border to film footage:
“[They] wouldn’t let us fly out the country with our hard drives and cameras…we could come back after two weeks to pick it up after they basically erased everything we shot in Palestine.”
Using a fake visa and with the assistance of a new acquaintance, he was successful in exiting the country to Egypt. This experience added onto the long running path that would eventually result to his now-infamous endeavors into the music festival scene.
Haney’s works of rebellion eventually caught the eye of his favorite band, Grammy-winning Mumford & Sons. The band became an essential element of connection between him and his girlfriend, Kelly. After being invited–and subsequently kicked out of– Bonnaroo, Haney realized he was also falling in love with music festivals as well. He went on to combine elements of both the romances in his life and edit footage from his adventures to share with his friends and loved ones; one of them being the game-changing project, “Connaroo: How broke kids do Bonnaroo.” He decided to present “Connaroo” to Mumford and Sons, who received the footage with acclaim. He was able to finally meet and befriend the members at Coachella, which led to a prosperous, yet polarizing opportunity. Haney was offered the chance to document footage from the “Railroad Revival Tour,” which included Mumford and Sons, as well as other talented acts. The problem was he had to choose between a once-in-a-lifetime chance or finishing undergrad at the University of Southern California; as the tour landed at the same time as his finals, and he could not make up the time potentially lost. Even stuck between such a life-altering decision, he knew he had to take the chance to live out his passions for film and music with his favorite artists.
Haney’s projects between high school and college began what his audience now see today as his directorial style. His work ethic and the content he produces fit the artist himself, as he is an individual whose work relies on kinetic energy. From his hypothetical occupations, along with his first job as a mall magician, he creatively operates with the process of transferring energy from one form of matter to another. The very first music video he directed, “Until We Must,” set the tone and overlapping theme of living in and fully appreciating the moment that is implemented in his work. Just as he created compilations like “Connaroo”, Haney’s prominent drive is to share experiences with his audience:
“My purpose is to document these photos and films…stories, and what not. Stories that kind of, in some way, in any way possible push humanity forward. It feels amazing when that purpose feels like it’s being fulfilled.” This concrete, valuable sense of purpose acquired favorable circumstances after Haney’s stint with “Railroad Revival” and Mumford and Sons. His first professional music video gig came from the alternative-rock group, Young the Giant, for their hit single “Apartment” in 2012; and he continued to receive attention and offers for new projects since. He has gone on to shoot photography, engaging docu-vlogs, and direct music videos for artists like Mumford and Sons (“The Wolf”), The Ruminaters (“Bad Bad Things”) and Coldplay (“A Head full of Dreams,” “Birds”).
Haney’s ambitious tendencies of “attending” exclusive events did not go away once he gained attention for his professional work. He even pokes the bear by reminding the public of his expert-level trespassing skills in “No Cameras Allowed” by ending the film with footage of him slyly attending the 2013 Grammy Awards at the Staples Center without an official pass on him (and with the help of his pals from Mumford and Sons). That occurrence came back to haunt him when beginning work with Elton John shortly after the film’s release; Staples Center security recognized him right away. “I [got] jumped,” explains Haney. “They [were] like, ‘We got him! We got him! We got the kid!” He goes on to explain that the security’s bubbles burst once they found that he had the credentials to be in the facility and work with John; which despite he calls the project his most difficult, to date: “I would do it again in a heartbeat because of the experience.”
Marcus Haney is a storyteller first and foremost. Whether one looks at his choices and past actions as deplorable shenanigans, he is honing his craft in order to present some of the most breathtaking, awe-encompassing pieces of art in the realm of film and photography. With each project he takes on, he’s pushing the boundaries of what he has already accomplished: “I never feel like I’m doing enough, I feel like I need to be doing more and more and more…”
When defining “craft”, Haney goes on to explain, “[it is] where labor meets art.” Intent on focusing on improving and expanding his already-impressive work catalog, it will surely be thrilling to see another magnetic piece of work.
Written By: Traci Ann Thomas | Interviewed By: Julian Hollinger
Photos Courtesy of: James Marcus Haney
Bonus: Check out some of Marcus’ dynamic ‘Motionless’ pieces below.