Driving Across America By Myself: Ari Fararooy on the allure of the Great Open Road
Ari Fararooy now knows where he is headed, but it wasn’t always the case. Like many college students before him, Fararooy, 26, found himself at a crossroads– does he continue to study pre-med or switch lanes in the hope of finding himself and discovering his true passion. He chose the latter. “I had the first big epiphany of ‘oh wait I’m not happy to be doing this, let me try and discover what does make me happy and what doesn’t make me happy…’”, recalls Fararooy.
Post-college in the summer of 2013 Fararooy embarked on a road trip across the US. Living in LA, sans car – a nightmare in the famously pedestrian unfriendly city – he decided to fly home to Boston and pick up his 2004 Nissan Sentra. For three weeks the budding video director and content creator travelled from Boston to Los Angeles, documenting the journey with his digital camera. “I figured I could make a super abstract, experimental short film in the process” says Fararooy. The result? Driving Across America By Myself, a travelogue-style film that blends reality with innovative digital techniques to create an altogether psychedelic and surrealist viewing experience. It is a snapshot of not only of his travels but, more broadly, a testament to the pioneering spirit of leaving comfort in favor of adventure, escaping into the unknown in search of new frontiers.
There is a certain randomness to travel. Sure, you can plan and map out a certain path but there comes a point where plans derail and the unpredictability of life intervenes for better or worse. Luckily, Fararooy isn’t one to sweat the small stuff. He credits his lack of planning and truly novice approach to his experimental film style. “I had no pre-existing reference going into [the trip]”, says Fararooy. “That’s why it’s such a weird, random, linear but also non-linear, short film. It really was like I would show up somewhere, see something and have an idea, and then I would just do it. It was very spontaneous.”
For anyone who has read On the Road or watched Easy Rider, the notion that ‘The Great American Road Trip’ is associated with a feeling of restlessness and a promise of adventure will come as no surprise. It is an expression of America’s obsession with freedom; the road is symbolic of mobility and, more often than not, the desire to reroute one’s own trajectory, physically, emotionally or both. For Fararooy this was certainly the reasoning behind his trip– the freedom and solitude offered by the road gave him “time to myself to be adventurous”.
Growing up on a diet of movies and television shows, Fararooy says he favoured the most visually stunning pieces. The Matrix, a childhood favorite of Fararooy, has clearly left a lasting impression. “I remember watching that and my mind was blown.” His work also breaks new ground, harnessing new technologies to take viewers on an unexpected type of journey. Fararooy suggests that “it’s a trip [by] every meaning of that word.”
From the outset of Driving Across America By Myself it is clear that the video will not follow the traditional travelogue path. Rather it symbolically breaks away from conventional means of narrative with Fararooy breaking the fourth wall by noticing he is boxed in by blacks bars or what he pointedly refers to as “barriers”. Indeed it is “through editing”, says Fararooy, that he was able to convey his state of mind prior, and even during his trip. (“The vibe of the video really did match my emotions.”)
The “halfway mark” is a recurring theme for Fararooy, both offscreen and onscreen. When he reaches the middle point of a journey, a need to physically and emotionally reevaluate his environment overwhelms him. In other words, he must reassert some semblance of agency. He was halfway through college when he decided to change directions and it is halfway through the film that he needs to stamp out any lingering “barriers” that are trying to box him in. Also, it is a little over the halfway mark that he decides to shave off his hair. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that this wasn’t solely a practical move given the heat of the desert. “It was really just me getting ready for the next chapter of my life.” It is a line that echoes the sentiments of another young man embarking on a trip across the US - Jack Kerouac’s Sal Paradise: “I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future.” It seems fitting, therefore, to put to Ari the question many before me have asked: What’s the appeal of “The Great American Road Trip”?
“Well”, considers Fararooy, “specifically to a United States road trip, I think the country is just so different as you go from one side to another. Especially in the last year as we’ve learned this country is enormously vast. [The trip] really is completely out of your norm.”
Sleeping and brushing your teeth in parking lots can become part of a typical day on the road. A tip for those planning their own trip across the States: side-of-the-road motels. For Fararooy, it was a stroke of (coincidental) genius sleeping in parking lots of motels - a way of saving money on accommodation and food. Apparently a lot of motels don’t exactly have a strict door policy when it comes to their intercontinental breakfast buffets. Of course, Fararooy hastily clarifies that he knows it’s something that “you’re not supposed to do...”.
But sometimes bending the rules can lead to new possibilities. This is certainly the case in Driving Across America By Myself. Fararooy reconfigures, and in turn challenges space – what is malleable and editable – within a filmic landscape. In his experimental use of digital effects and Adobe editing programs, Fararooy is the quintessential pioneer: a 21st century Instagram-savvy, cross-platform digital explorer.
While Fararooy may be willing to take the time to park on the side of the highway to capture the perfect shot, he understands that his audiences’ prefer videos that are easily – and quickly – digestible. In fact, his biggest motivation for creating content is to capture the attention of today’s fickle and ‘time-poor’ audience. “To actually get someone’s attention for even a few seconds, and in the process, trying to excite them or inspire them is really cool,” says Fararooy.
But, even more so, he wants to create work that is “visually stunning and compelling and, more than anything, unique and new.” As he explains, “Timelapses are cool, but I don’t enjoy making the same timelapse video that's been done over and over. What I do like doing is a timelapse and mixing it with the cinemagraph technique, with a photo animation and combining all three to create something that’s never been seen before.” With his ability to mix new digital technologies, creating works evocative of Salvador Dali’s surrealist dreamscapes, Fararooy has managed to achieve this goal - he is able to make people pause and replay. One only needs to look at his presence across platforms such as Instagram and Vimeo, where his work has amassed thousands, and even hundred-of-thousands of views.
With a captive audience that is growing everyday, Fararooy is at the forefront of a changing media landscape. He believes that the act of ‘Driving Across America by Himself’ was a life changing adventure, one he has commemorated physically. Not by getting inked (although that would've been a fitting roadmap analogy), but by continuing to shave his head – a way of retaining the feeling of freedom that defines the road.