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“He filmed himself constantly, from every angle possible,” Amato says, “making faces, learning how he looked from different angles. He practiced a lot of shit on me because I was his video-chat buddy when he was making his coffee at work. He probably did the Alexander technique [a movement method for removing physical and mental stress] a dozen times in front of my face on video chat, where he would morph into the Joker.”
Younce recalls a party on South Orange a few days after Ledger first read the script for Dark Knight. “He acted out a scene that scared the fuck out of me,” Younce says. “He was just going through this scenario, and I remember he was being really candid and funny about it. I think this was before they had even created the makeup or anything, and I was really freaked out.”
Ledger was also determined to experience film from the other side of the lens, and started focusing — like many others learning the craft — on making music videos. His total output is six clips: two for the Australian rapper N’fa (Ledger and N'fa had known each other since they were 6 years old), two for Ben Harper (one was more of an exercise than an official release), one for young Australian chanteuse Grace Woodroofe (a beautiful cover of David Bowie’s “Quicksand”), and one for the late British folk singer Nick Drake. There’s also an unfinished animated Modest Mouse clip, sinister looking, on which he collaborated with Auber. In it, whales in a boat go fishing for humans in the ocean, harpoon them, and then turn them into food they give to their offspring.
All told, it’s maybe 20 minutes of concentrated work. The video for N’fa’s “Seduction Is Evil” features a big cast, with a stylized 1920s speakeasy feel. It’s not great, the obvious product of a first-timer, but by the second and more abstract “Cause and Effect,” Ledger was finding a voice, and captured the spirit of N’fa’s delivery.
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“It was very easy being directed by him,” the rapper says, “getting direction on what he was feeling, and on things that he could see in my [song] that I couldn’t see myself. It was a really cool process. Heath was a whirlwind, you know? ‘Go and go, shoot this and that.’”
“What he liked about [the video process] was that it did kind of exist outside of the system,” Cline says. “It didn’t put that type of pressure on him or raise his profile to a degree he wasn’t comfortable with, or give people too much access to him.”
Ledger, who passionately sought to help musicians, also wanted the Masses to have a music label. (Ultimately, the Masses’ music company has signed two acts: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and Grace Woodroofe.) But everyone started to realize that for the Masses to succeed, it needed a structure. So Cline hired Jessica Slagle as an associate producer. Ramos came on as the creative director. Soon, the masthead grew, with actors Billy Zane and Ann Magnuson coming aboard, then Brady Corbet and the amazing Shannon Woodward, who co-stars with Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver in The Riches. There were also music composers and designers and other artists, all working not for money (well, four were on payroll) but for the creative energy.
Tristan Bayer, with his lifetime of nature-photography experience (he spent years traveling the world with his father, wildlife cinematographer Wolfgang Bayer, before producing, directing and starring in his Animal Planet series), was brought on soon after Ledger finished shooting Brokeback Mountain, with the intent of producing a documentary on controversial whaling conservationist Paul Watson and his Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. He remembers: “After Batman, [Heath] was down for being out there. He wanted to be on the boat with the video camera in his hand, ramming the Japanese boats, swimming with the whales. He wanted to be part of the crew.”
By February 2007, Woodroofe was in L.A. recording for the Masses’ record label with Dublab producer Carlos Niño. Ledger and Amato had begun editing Amato’s script for The Makings of You, a love story based in Brooklyn, which they believed would be Amato’s feature directorial debut. Ledger was also making plans to direct an adaptation of Walter Tevis’ coming-of-age chess novel, The Queen’s Gambit — a project he chose with daughter Matilda in mind. “It was all about Matilda and her future,” Amato says, “making smart things for intelligent young women.”
Amato adds, “I definitely think the Masses was probably the most positive, safest place in his life at the time.”
Younce remembers watching Ledger work with Amato on the video for Ben Harper’s “Morning Yearning.” Shot in Los Angeles, the video moves from foggy images of dancers swaying and awakening to close-ups of a bow moving across a violin, of fingers opening like fans, and hands moving across space. It’s a piece about movement and grace and hope — a gentle little film for a lovely song.
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