Poser was the film that Loose Films founder Ori Segev and creative director Noah Dixon always wanted to make. In 2014, when both were 22 years old and new graduates of Denison University — a liberal arts college 30 minutes east of Columbus, Ohio — Segev and Dixon took to Columbus to relish in the city’s arts culture. Absorbing hole-in-the-wall music venues and a myriad of genres from folk to rap, the two cozied up to local musicians as budding filmmakers, quietly planning to give the underground music scene in the aptly named Discovery City its mainstream debut.
Segev and Dixon’s artsy film follows Lennon Gates, a young woman who finds herself fascinated with Columbus music, awkwardly establishing relationships with local artists as a nascent podcaster. Upon meeting Bobbi Kitten, frontwoman of real-life duo Damn the Witch Siren, Gates becomes immersed in Kitten’s allure, an obsession that veers into a dark turn. The two women bond over their love of music, visual and performance art and, of course, Columbus, nearly becoming shadows of each other as Gates idealizes Kitten’s punkcore edge. Initially premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2021, Poser was released to select theaters in June of this year to long-overdue national praise. The film even boasts a limited-edition vinyl soundtrack (it’s pink!) with Ohio artists WYD and Joey Aich, along with Poser stars Damn the Witch Siren and Sylvie Mix encapsulating Columbus’ indie soundscapes.
Segev and Dixon spoke with SPIN about Poser over video chat from their new Loose Films digs in Columbus. Both seated in different rooms during the interview, the two remain collaborative as friends and co-captains guiding the helm of their inaugural film.
After years of directing music videos through Loose Films, what led you both to making a full-length feature?
Noah: It’s something that we both dreamt of doing for many years. We went to school together and that’s always been a shared goal of ours and our producers. We’ve basically spent years practicing — working on music videos and short films and commercial work all to one day make our feature. When it came time to decide what our feature would be, I pitched our team on doing a film based on the Columbus music scene. We had met so many incredible, talented musicians over the years and worked on so many great music videos and thought it would be fun to create a narrative based around these real bands and musicians that we work with. As soon as I pitched that, our old team was like “Hell yeah, let’s do it.” We were all excited.
Ori: Noah had the font of the word ‘poser’ just like the way it is in the movie and I was like “I’m 100% in. I don’t even know what this is about.”
I’m from Columbus, so seeing Old North on the big screen was resonating; it felt interactive and I was able to recognize the neighborhood instantly. Can you both describe some impactful concerts or events that you attended in that area of town?
Ori: There’s definitely a lot of them. We’ve been to many shows at Ace of Cups and Spacebar, but I think one of the big inspirations for the movie was this gallery called MINT Collective.
Noah: It used to be by the Buckeye Donuts on South High Street.
Ori: Our friends would have concerts at night and performance art during the day. It felt like it was a really special place. It was only around for a couple years, but it felt like a very formative time for us as artists.
Noah: As soon as Ori and I moved to Columbus, we met a bunch of friends so we’d be going to [their] shows. Ori lived on the North side by Ace of Cups and I lived near German Village so we’d go to the MINT gallery there.
When writing the script for Poser, Bobbi Kitten of Damn the Witch Siren was the first real-life musician that was written into the script. What was it about Bobbi that made her the focus of the film?
Noah: It was a number of things. We wanted to make a film with friends and people that we knew we’d be able to work well with. We had worked with her on a music video we did years before working on Poser and really enjoyed it. She was so charismatic and amazing to work with. Beyond that, I think her and Z Wolf of Damn the Witch Siren feel like they should be movie characters — they’re such eccentric, interesting people with the wolf mask. Their music is so unique and unlike anything else in Columbus, and that’s the energy we wanted to bring to the film.
The wolf mask was a very prominent symbol throughout the film. Was there anything more to the mask or was it because Z Wolf wore it in the film?
Ori: He doesn’t wear the wolf mask all the time, we exaggerated a little bit just for the universe of the movie. I think it’s just good symbolism. Wearing a mask and not saying anything for the whole movie [was] a vibe and tool for Lennon’s story, because towards the end she puts the wolf mask on. All of that adds to the meaning behind Poser. It also just looks cool and I think sometimes we like to come up with visuals. We had seen [the mask] before but we sort of knew that would be a really strong visual for the film. We don’t always talk about ‘This has this meaning” [but] “Do we think this would be thought-provoking as a visual?” then just go from there and let the audience decide.
If you had the perspective of Lennon Gates, what do you think intrigues her about the Columbus music scene?
Noah: I feel like everybody — whether it’s the creative identity or just identity in general — likes the idea of standing out, having the bold voice or something unique to say. When you’re younger, whether in your high school or college or in your 20s, that’s something a lot of people struggle with. I think for the character of Lennon who is more insecure and quiet, that to me seems like an intriguing thing.
When you go to these concerts and you see people being super bold and bringing their unique energy to the stage, to their music or their art, being young and seeing artists do their thing can be really inspiring and captivating. Through the eyes of an insecure person, an interesting dichotomy is there.
When I think of the character of Lennon, I would liken her to William from Almost Famous. Were there any films that you looked to as guides for Poser?
Noah: Yeah, we talked about Almost Famous a lot, but as I was writing Poser, I watched The Talented Mr. Ripley. It focuses on Matt Damon’s character [Tom Ripley] being obsessed with this charismatic character [Dickie Greenleaf]. That was a film I remember watching a bunch while I was writing and working on Poser, just kind of channeling that relationship for Bobbi and Lennon. Beyond that, we just watched a bunch of music videos and pulled inspiration from lots of different things.
Ori: I’d say The Daniels music videos are huge inspirations for us. [They directed] the Joywave music video for “Tongues” which is one of the coolest concepts I’ve ever seen, and just a lot of really good filmmaking. Honestly, this is more of a stretch, but Baby Driver. I think we talked a lot about planning stuff to music, like writing in a lot of the tracks early into the script and knowing “Alright, we’re gonna cut this scene to this song.” Baby Driver does it really, really well.
The soundtrack for Poser is multifaceted, including a range of genres from indie rock to rap. What was the intentionality behind which songs to feature?
Ori: Mostly these are just all of our friends. We were definitely like, “Which tracks of our friends’ music do we really love and what part of the story would they fit?” Joey Aich’s song “Rope Break” — I think as soon as we were thinking of songs, we were like, “That would be the perfect friendship montage song, because it’s got such an energy.” We could imagine walking to a venue to that song then cutting away.
It’s sort of a mix of what works for what scene, but I think that’s a testament to the culture of the Columbus music scene. It’s small so there’s a lot of cross-collaboration from artists from different genres, either playing the same show or promoting each other’s shows. It’s all over the place in a really cool way. I think the movie utilizes that and all the different types of music we have.
How do you hope that Poser speaks to the Columbus music scene?
Ori: I wish that we could’ve fit every band [in Poser]’ there are so many awesome bands and music in Columbus that’s not in the movie. I’d love [for] people to show the bands love, stream their music, share it, support them, because they put in a lot of their time and effort into the film and just letting us use their music has been an amazing thing.
Noah: One thing I learned about the arts and music scene as we’ve immersed ourselves in the music scene over the years, is that because it’s a smaller community, there’s just a lot of support. You see a lot of the same people shouting people out and supporting each other’s things and that’s been extended to this film. We’ve been grateful for it as we’ve rolled out this film, we’ve just seen so much support through all these bands and musicians for the film. I hope that the film draws more attention to them and brings more people to their music.