A torrid afternoon slid me like a sweat-puck through the difficult-to-navigate-while-driving-a-Chevy-Silverado hillsides of Los Angeles to engage with probably one of the most insultingly badass people in the world, Scott Caan. Famous for pretty much everything he does, Scott’s hunger for all things creative has taken him on a wild ride from neighborhood troublemaker, to rapper, to actor, to writer, to director, to father, and a lot more. His refreshing honesty and bluntness was a culture-shock for me, a fringe-raised burb-zombie incubated by buffer-zones and tiny bubbles of “You’re great,” speckled with, “Who the fuck are you, and why are you at my party?“
Intelligent and soft-spoken as he is alarmingly seasoned and rugged (his office looked and smelled like a Pendleton ad), Scott is pretty much an infinity-threat, easy to be jealous of, but really difficult not to like. In anticipation of the upcoming release of his new book Vanity, I anxiously slugged up to his dwellings to snatch knowledge on his creative passions, and the motivations that have driven them.
MAC: It seems you’ve always been guided by passions. Talk a little bit about your time in Whooliganz.
SCOTT: Well, look, I hated school. I really, really, really, really, really did not like going to school, and I didn’t want to do anything that further schooling could lead me to. The idea of graduating and going to college – there wasn’t a future there for me. So, when I was 13, when I was in 9th grade, even 8th grade, I was sort of subconsciously getting my creative mind working. Because I realized if I can’t figure out a way to be creative I’m going to have to do this other shit that I really don’t want to do.
I was always obsessed with graffiti and always obsessed with anything B-boy and I was into rap music from an early age. It was kind of the first music that really turned me out, the first thing that I heard and went, “Whoa, what is this?” And I feel like my generation was the first generation that was really turned out by hip-hop. Obviously, hip-hop goes back to the ‘70s, but to me that lifestyle and everything about it was the first thing that really made me go, “Oh, I want to be a part of this.” Like punk music was to the generation before me, hip-hop was to me. Graffiti, breakdancing, I liked everything to do with it.
I always fancied myself – I don’t want to say poetry and sound like a goof – but when I was a kid I used to write shit and that style turned into writing rhymes. I remember my mother had this singing machine, and you’d put one tape in one side and you could press record and put a tape on the other side and it had a microphone. You could record yourself doing karaoke, and I remember taking tapes – this is how goofy I was – and recording 8 bars or 4 bars at a time, then rewinding, and pressing record again trying to make a tape loop that stayed on beat; which is nearly impossible. And just remember spitting rhymes on my mom’s karaoke machine.
How old were you when you were doing that?
12. I was in 7th grade, and then my first year of high school I kept doing it and started – there wasn’t a ton of kids into hip-hop at the time. I was in this one school and this one kid I knew was kind of into writing rhymes too, and we would get together and kind of write songs together. Then I met Alchemist in 9th grade.
How was Alchemist as an MC in 9th grade?
He was nicer then than he is now. Quote me. He’s still nice, but he was my favorite MC back then, he was fucking with everybody back then, I think. Ill man. I felt like I should just be the hype-man. He started writing rhymes and I was like, “Yo, this dude.”
And, you met him at Beverly Hills High School?
No, I met him before high school. Me and my friends used to hang out between Westwood and Century City, like West LA was where we all hung out. He had his crew of people that he hung out with and I remember meeting him – behind Century City there were these grates that everyone used to go and smoke weed and cigarettes and drink and these dudes would go and spit rhymes and have these little MC cyphers and shit. I used to go over there and I met him.
This dude was a bass player from – my mother was in AA and – I can’t give peoples’ names because then I’ll be blowing people up on their sobriety and shit – this dude who she knew from the program was like, “Yo, come to the house, I have a studio, let’s cut a record.” I was like 13 years old at the time and I invited Alchemist to come with me like, “Yo, let’s go make a record together.” Long story short we made a record and it was terrible.
Evidence from Dilated Peoples was living in Venice and he was living next door to Quincy Jones Jr. and they were making a demo tape, and we met Quincy and Quincy liked us and said, “Let’s make a demo,” and over the next year I made a demo with Quincy. Then we met B-Real and those guys.
It was the first time there was something I wanted to do, and had to bust my ass to get it done and had to work hard to get it done and it didn’t come super easy. It wasn’t like, “Oh, we can rap,” and it’s not like we had to pay dues for 15 years before we got a record deal, but it spoiled me in a good way. In the sense of, “Oh, if you bust your ass and really try hard at something, you’re going to have a better chance than if you don’t.”
And it’s impacted me in the sense that, “Yo, if I’m going to shoot photographs, in the best of my ability I’ve got to go out there and try to really go shoot photographs. And if I want to act I gotta go be that dude; I’ve got to be serious about it.” There’s nothing more fowl to me than somebody who has talent and doesn’t bust their ass. It’s the biggest sin in the world because there’s lots of people who don’t have talent, that bust their assses, and get somewhere.
You have the advantage.
Yeah man! So, rap music in general and my involvement in that: A. influenced my work ethic, and B. it’s something that I never lost. I never lost that, I still have my ear to what’s hot and what’s not and I still fuck with Alchemist and I still go make an album with him every 6 months or every two years.
What took you from rapping to acting?
I was doing a show at the Santa Monica Civic Center, Whooliganz was doing a show with House of Pain, it was the end of our tour. And there was this director, this guy named Mitch Marcus, and my aunt, who was an aunt by marriage, was a manager for actors. She calls me the following Monday and said, “This guy Mitch came to your show, he saw you, and he wants to know if you’re interested in auditioning for a movie.”
I was like, “Hell no.” She was like, “Well, can I send you the script?” I was like, “Yeah.” I read it, it’s about this kid that gets out of juvenile hall, shoots somebody, goes on the run with some chick, and – there’s no classy way to say this – fucks her in a bathroom, it was like this badass little James Dean kid. I was like, “Yeah, I’ll check this out.” So, I went, met him, and auditioned; I had never acted before. Long story short, they gave me the part.
I was like, “Oh, this oughtta be cool, I get to go play a badass.” At 18 I was trying to embody this character in life anyway. So I went and did this movie and when I did that movie that’s when I was like, “Oh, this is my shit.” I pretty much from that point on left music. I felt like with music – I can say this now – I always felt, not that I was fronting, but I was always trying to do something that maybe wasn’t 100% natural for me.
Overcompensating a little bit?
A little bit. I even see video of myself when I was a kid and I’m like, “Oh my god.” But you’re a kid, you’re searching for your identity and I remember at that time I was like – like I said – not fronting because I was about it 100%, but something in me wasn’t like – when I was on that movie set I was like, “Now, this is it.” And at the time I didn’t know if it was, “I’m going to shoot the movie or act in the movie or carry the fucking craft service trays,” all I knew was I was like, “This whole vibe, this creative cypher is the right place for me.”
Then I left that movie and immediately went right to the Playhouse West and got into it and acting became interesting to me and writing became interesting to me. And I remember at the time there were a lot of young actors that were like, “No, I don’t do class,” and god bless them and respected that but for me I was like, “I want craft.” So I stayed in the theater ten years, I’m still in right now, I still go back.
How do you take time to be a photographer with everything else you have going on?
I don’t know man. I feel like I get more opportunities than – a lot of the photographers that I dig and respect, they’ll dedicate their lives to going on trips or taking trips. And I’m lucky enough that people send me on trips. Obviously, I don’t spend as much time, like the books or collections of photographs where people spend three, four, five years with a family or document a town; that’s not something I’d be able to do.
So my version of it is I get to move around, I’m somewhere for three months, I run around and I shoot photos. The next movie I’m around somewhere for three months, I run around and shoot photos. I got a month off? All right, let’s go to Central America. It’s an advantage in that sense and I guess a disadvantage because I don’t get to spend too much time in one place.
So I might be somewhere for a week and get two photos that I dig as opposed to being somewhere for six months where I’ll get 20 or 30 photos that I dig. A lot of these photos [from Vanity] are from a road trip. I drove across country and did a big triple W, and would stop somewhere for only two days and would just shoot what I saw and mess around. And I think in my photographs you can see that it is scattered, it is all over the place.
Can you give us some background on Vanity?
Well, I did my first book about five years ago and I liked the book a lot, and I was super proud, but they sort of – the people that agreed to publish the book sort of pushed it in a certain direction. I showed them the photos that Howard Nourmand and I gathered and wanted the book to be. And they said, “We want to gear it more towards these nude women and celebrities for selling point,” or whatever.
And I was just kind of excited to have someone putting a book out for me so I just said, “Yeah, all right. Let’s just do your version of this book.” It’s not like they destroyed it, they just kind of tailor made it for how they saw that they could sell it. I didn’t put up a ton of fight, and said okay let’s do it. And that’s why we called the book Volume 1 because we were like, “No, there’s more that we wanted to do with this.”
It was cool, and I’m super happy with the book, but I always really wanted to do a show or a collection of photographs that were just photographs that I liked. Ones that were just my picks and photographs that I wanted to show people and that I wanted to put into a book. And that’s really what Vanity, that’s what this is about.
But the idea of Vanity – Vanity also comes from every time I do anything like a play or a small movie I try to make everyone’s like, “Oh, it’s a vanity project,” and I’m always confused like, “What the fuck does that mean? What does vanity mean?” I end up having to look up the word. This is stuff that I like, that I dig, and that I’m going to put out without a ton of opinions.” This book was put together between me and a buddy of mine, Howard Nourmand the editor, and basically the people at Real Art Press kind of let us do what we want to do. Obviously they had suggestions and things that they thought should be in and out of the edit, but it was kind of like –
I’ve said this a bunch of times, but photography, to me, is the one thing that I generally don’t have to answer to people. Writing or acting or movies to TV or whatever – it’s such a collaboration, but this isn’t.
It’s raw you.
Kind of yeah! I never took photos for any other reason than I dug doing it.
Can you tell us a little bit about the front photo?
Yeah, it’s kind of the opposite of what’s in the book, and for the title with the book it’s – it’s not a trick, but this photograph is, as far as vanity goes, it’s sort of the vanity photo. And, I guess you would look at this book and be like, “Wow, I bet this a bunch of celebrities.” And it’s not that at all.
You know Tony Nourmand from Rat Press, he basically said, “I’ve heard that nobody has ever been able to take a photo down up there, no paparazzi are allowed to be up there.” And I just had a Leica with me and was on my way to the screening of Ocean’s 13 at Cannes, and I was with my friend, Scott Oster, and I was like, “Should I bring my camera?” And he was like, “Ehh, why not?” I was like, “All right, fuck I’ll bring my camera.” And I ended up getting some of my favorite pictures.
Did you prompt them to pull their cameras out?
No man, I’m standing next to Brad Pitt and George Clooney and all these dudes so they’re all shooting all these – if it was just me I don’t think there would be anybody shooting photos [laughs] but they had all those dudes lined up when we were sitting there, and I ended up just kind of snapping it.
What’s your favorite photo to take? What moment do you like to capture most?
I don’t know, it varies. I do like finding something not funny but beautiful in a fucked up setting; I really dig. I used to really be into going into kind of heavy places, not to get heavy photographs, but to find –
What was the first photo you took that made you realize you liked photography?
Well, I was doing my first movie and I had shot pictures before, that’s sort of a romantic version of how I got into photography. I had taken pictures, I had had cameras – I was always the dude who had stacks and stacks of photographs from stupid little film cameras. I had four by sixes in my storage so I always liked to take pictures.
But the first time I shot with a real camera, like I said, I was doing that movie Dallas 362, Phil Parmet was the DP. When we were done with the movie I had learned so much about light and how to take a photo, it was almost like a photography lesson for five months making that movie with this dude and then coincidentally enough, got this camera. Just started having it with me all the time, it wasn’t necessarily one picture I took that made me go, “Oh, I like this.” It was just having my camera and shooting and playing around with that that really got me into it.
I remember my first roll developed was the director of Mercy. I went and met Patrick Hoelck and this girl that he was dating and they were having this lunch somewhere and the light was nice and I shot a whole roll of film of them just talking. That was like the first proof sheet that I had. I just remember everything about it, I think that’s why I dig film so much. I love taking the thing to the place, I love the idea that there’s chemicals going on, and I don’t get to take 150 photographs [said to The Hundreds photographer]. No disrespect.
I don’t get to take 1,000 photos and go okay, there’s the one. When you shoot film you go out there and you get to travel and wonder if you got it and wonder if you overexposed it or underexposed it or fucked it all up. That whole part of it is something about photography that I really like.
You mentioned your close relationship with the cinematographer of the movies you direct, Phil Parmet. How has working with him influenced your photography?
When I did my first movie with him I hadn’t shot any photos at all, and he’s a fantastic photographer. He actually just has a book that I went through and I spent two and half hours looking page to page of his new book and it’s, like, 30 years of photographs. It’s unbelievable man, we’re going to try to find out a way to get it published.
Yeah, he influenced me so much. I went from not really understanding shooting at all. My first movie I hired him because I liked the way he made things look, I liked him as a photographer and a cinematographer and by the end of the movie I learned so much from him that I got a camera and I started shooting. The next movie we shot I was basically trying to shoot it myself.
Going back, like I’ve said, my intention was to hire him and deal with the actors and the material and get the best performances out and trust him for the look. And by the end of the film I was obsessed with every aspect of getting the film to look the way we wanted it to. So yeah, he was a huge influence.
The last of much analog in the world, there’s something authentic about film photography.
Yeah, there are people that are extremely talented and that were extremely gifted when it comes to film and shooting and their eye was amazing and they’re saying, “Fuck celluloid, fuck film all together. Fuck making movies on film.” I don’t have an argument for why it’s better, I just like it; I like the whole process. I dig the idea of not knowing what I got and hoping it’s good. I got 36 chances with a roll.
If I’m out and about running and shooting on the street, if I get one picture out of that I’m like, “I got something. We got a good photograph.” That whole thing is rewarding.
You’re capturing a real moment in the moment.
Yeah, you’re going to shoot and if I take three or four pictures of something, I’m like, “All right, I got a lot of fucking pictures of that.” I only got 36 pictures on this roll and I’m not going to run around with 70 rolls of film. I got one roll in my back pocket, one in my front pocket, and my camera. So I got 100 photos to take that day.
What’s your next big step in photo? Are you going to do another book in the future?
I don’t know, I feel like this book was something that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time and it’s not a ton of new, new, new stuff. I haven’t been shooting a ton so I feel like if I do a book I want it to be a little more focused and I want to have the time to do it right because the way I was shooting when I shot all of these photos, I’m not even shooting like that anymore; I’m doing other things right now.
The less time I get free, the less photos I shoot. I’m doing [Hawaii 5-0] 9 months out of the year, there’s really nothing that has inspired me to shoot a photo on that show. I haven’t shot but a roll in Hawaii in four years. Maybe a couple rolls tops.
Hawaii 5-0 is continuing to succeed, right?
Yeah, I think so.
I think it was 10 million viewership. Pretty insane for four years.
Yeah, but I don’t – when I’m inspired to shoot something, I’m lucky that’s now how I make a living so I can kind of –
It’s not a vanity project.
It’s not a vanity project.
Pre-order your copy of Vanity by Scott Caan HERE.
Be sure to catch Scott Caan’s Vanity solo-exhibition on display now until September 13th:
Martha Otero Gallery
820 North Fairfax Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90046