Aug 212014


Tammy Parker has been making fragrances for several years now under the working name Poetry Bath. You go over to her studio and there are walls of ambery essences and tinctures and absolutes and a lovely clean woody smell permeating the air. Lots of sweet orange and bergamot. Balsams. Big aluminum containers which get decanted into tall bottles with spouts line metal shelves. Smaller bottles are stacked in plastic tubs.

Tammy was the first person I met, outside the bubble of Facebook perfume fanaticism, who wore Annick Goutal’s Eau d’Hadrien. Maybe the first person I met in real life who’d ever heard of it. Until recently she had two fragrances, Verses 1 and 2. Poetry Bath maybe basically tries to get to the bottom of her love for the bath, that kind of sacred space you can get in with the door locked and the steam veiling things and your thoughts drifting in an amorphous in-between. Candles, scrubs, bath oil, bath salts. You come out, when you decide to come out, a little more clear headed.

Recently she’s been working on a third fragrance, a Verse 3. So I asked her about the process.


How long has it taken you so far to compose Verse 3?

Composing a blend of fragrances is like writing a poem or designing a room or cooking a meal (if I ever really cooked!).  The concept for Verse 3 came years ago. I wanted to layer the notes to reflect “Contemplation”.  By the time I physically poured the oils together drop by drop, I took one day for one version.  I walked away from it for two weeks.  The second version was the result of sorting out the base note by simplifying it.  When I began to blend, it took an hour.

What kinds of things have you thought about while working on it – when your mind wanders from the task at hand?

When my mind wanders from being in the moment while I am blending, sniffing and stepping back from the intensity, I actually begin to think too much!  The power is within the movement between an intoxicating floral to a deep resin and finding the balance.

Have there been any additions to the scent that have surprised you?

What surprises me are how the disparate notes create a fragrance I didn’t know I was looking for until it was in the beaker.  I shouldn’t admit that, huh?  It is the scariest part and the most elating as well.  Like magic, the waft of an ashram swept across my face.  I was wanting the scent of contemplation and there it was!

What fragrant material would you say you have the most of on hand? What is it about that particular scent that draws you in?

This is a hard one to answer.  Bergamot takes up a lot of my shelf space.  Its scent is at once mellow and dusty with a green citrus finish.  It blows me away.  I will stop at just one scent or we’ll be here all day.

When you’re working on a scent, what are the down periods like, when you’re waiting for what you’ve worked on to mature? How do you carry the scent around in your head during those times?

Between mixing oils at my counter and pouring them into the bottle, and walking away, I seal up all of my oils and put them away.  I don’t want a hint of smell near me to clear my nosy little palette.  I worry a lot about making the right choices.  To allay my thoughts, I start researching botanicals and folklore about what I think may be the next dropper full. This is all such a metaphor as to how I conduct my life!

(Photos taken at Tammy’s studio)

 Posted by on August 21, 2014
Jun 202014



Details from “Selfy Portraits”, Brian Keith Jones

I met Brian Keith Jones at the closing of a Chuck & George show at Southfork, a gallery run here in Memphis by Lauren Kennedy.

Jones and partner Brian Scott, the other half of Chuck & George, had reinvented a room there, parasitically taking it over with their own peculiar visionary sensibility. The effect was like walking into the room of a house an animator has turned into a cartoon. Everything was outsize or miniaturized – a big TV, a tiny TV (both broadcasting static-fueled fever dreams), cloth patterned wallpaper, vinyl floor boards. I imagine this installation would be fantastic in a white cube gallery space. At Southfork, which is also a home, it was a genuine head trip.

A week or so ago I started seeing some pretty wonderful drawings on Brian’s facebook page, so I wrote to ask what he’s up to:

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on a small series of “Selfy Portraits” for a group show at my Dallas gallery RO2 Arts. I also have two ‘big’ shows brewing with my partner Brian Scott under the collaborative pseudonym of Chuck & George.

Where do you usually work and what are ideal circumstances for you there?

I will usually work at my desk in my shared studio in Dallas Texas. It’s a cruddy little slum house with no plumbing but it’s next door to my home. Unlike my house it has air conditioning so Summer tends to be very productive for me. As long as I have a small organized clean space with fabulous music I’m free to go. I have even produced a small series of work in Central Park while on a Summertime ‘Paupers” trip to New York.


Selfy Portrait, Brian Keith Jones

Is there a different headspace doing self portraits? What’s the shift in perspective or is there one?

I have been told over the decades that I have a monumental puppet head. Traditional self portraits are as much vanity projects as they are just simple painting exercises. Usually I use a mirror but for my “Selfies” I used my phone camera. Strangely enough my last solo show was 48 paintings of myself as the giant puppet “Big Tex” that greets the fairgoers of the Texas State Fair. He had a Hindenburg moment and burned to the ground on his 60th birthday. The 48 paintings also acted as cels in an animated loop. I spin and burn…repeat.

How long does a drawing usually take you?

I am shockingly fast when I get going. The drawing part can take maybe 5 minutes and then I move on to the ‘coloring’. Sometimes on a small painting (under 8 inches) I set maybe a time constraint of 4hrs to keep myself from overworking it. I try to have many small affordable pieces during a show so I appeal to a wider fan base. I like to collect art too so I appreciate something in my price range that wont take up too much wall space.


Selfy Portrait, Brian Keith Jones

What’s the medium of these latest pieces?

I have in my solo work taken to water colors. They are efficient, quick, brilliant, yet unforgiving. I don’t use them in a traditional prissy sense though. Often I paint on a homemade absorbent ground on a birch panel and give the work a good Ultra Violet protective varnish. I don’t really like looking at art behind glass.

What do you want from someone who looks at your work?

2-3 minutes would be nice. I really like audible reactions like laughter, gagging or some of those sounds people make when they look at an ugly baby and pretend that it is adorable.


Brian Keith Jones has a BFA from University of North Texas in Denton. He has been producing art and showing in various established Dallas galleries since the early 90’s. In 1990 he and his partner Brian Keith Scott created Chuck & George and have been collaborating since. Brian Jones’ work is more whim and fancy, often focusing on the bloated flesh, nipples, a trail of hair, humor and hopefulness. Often these paintings of doll-like figures are put to simple animation. Occasionally the artist will don a costume for a live version of his characters simply to test the endurance of the costume or even of himself. His collaborative work as Chuck in Chuck & George is more complex, and often more narrative. Together the two Brians will create a painted, drawn, animated and sculpted environment complete with characters, furniture, walls, and floors. Large complex murals, set designs and window dressing lie easily within their artistic reach. For fourteen years they have operated the Oak Cliff Visual SpeedBump Art Tour that annually opens the homes and galleries in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas. This has helped in the urban revival of that area which is now growing and vibrant. The whimsical ‘over the top’ home and studio of Chuck & George (the Brians) is often open to private or group tours and is sometime the host of various fund raising events. This for the most part has given them a beloved art historical presence and earned them a Dallas Observer Mastermind of Arts award in 2013.

 Posted by on June 20, 2014
Jun 142014

Grace’s “destroyed” workshop

Recently, Grace Zabriskie wrote to tell me that her wood shop had been ‘destroyed’. She’d been doing a lot of work in it, and gathering wood for new projects. It didn’t look too destroyed to me in the picture she sent but I understood what she meant: the tornado of creativity had hit and she was sorting through the mental and physical after-effects. I’ve written about Grace Zabriskie’s wood shop before. It’s an amazing place, a puzzle of nooks and crannies, drawers and shelves and cabinets storing hundreds of tiny to less tiny tools and implements that I guess are totally routine to her but endlessly fascinating to me. It looks like the art department for a Brothers Quay film down there. I asked her what she’d been making.

What are you working on now in your wood shop?

I’m just finishing the two bedside tables for my daughter Marion’s airb&b space. Marion’s friend Peri made a lamp I bought from her at her last lamp sale, I donated it to Marion for the room, then used it as part of the inspiration for aspects of the first bedside table. Now I’m hoping she (Peri) will make the tall lamp to go on the short table. The tables I see as fraternal twins, and the lamps should be, as well. The lamps and tables are all cousins.

Peri made the first lamp from a piece of mahogany that is unique. A variety I’ve never seen before. There’s no more of that – or not enough of it. I found stuff in my shop that I could donate to her for the new lamp. But of course, here I am, playing with it, as though I don’t have 17 projects lined up already.

You sent me an email with pictures of your ‘destroyed’ wood shop, after much work in it. What do you require out of the space in order to do your best work, and when it isn’t in that shape how does that influence your approach or execution?

A destroyed workroom is the signal for an important time. Sorting through the mess, discarding things, saving things, putting tools away, and, mainly, FINDING things that have been lost for days or weeks. The challenge is getting through this project without getting excited about some new idea and starting on that, instead of finishing the cleanup. Everything that I “require” of my workspace to do my best work is, I’ve decided,  either a reason to get to work making it what I need, or a delaying tactic, or both.

Can you tell me one small decision or discovery involved in making the bedside tables that had a large impact?

Think thrice before starting another project using reclaimed wood that is cupped, bowed, and wanky in general. Or, on a more positive note, the pleasures of collaboration, or even imagined collaboration, are great. Which got me thinking that perhaps all creative work involves imagined collaboration. (Which, I believe, has been said before, come to think of it.)

Your wood shop is in the basement. Descending into the space always gives me this feeling of entering another state of mind. It’s an adjustment I go through from the upstairs area to the wood shop that takes place on the stairs down. I used to feel this kind of thing when I worked in a little attic office. Walking up the stairs was part of the process, not just in terms of “getting” there physically but also mentally. Does anything like that happen for you?

Going downstairs, past all the wood collected there on the stairs against the walls, is definitely part of the re-immersion.

What happens for you when you show this work you’re doing downstairs to people in the upstairs world? Anything much?

What tends to happen, often enough, is one of my favorite things. People stand there sometimes and begin thinking in some new way about something that they have wanted to dare to do. The spark.
I can see it when it happens. It makes me happy.

(photo of Grace Zabriskie’s wood shop by Philip Horowitz)

 Posted by on June 14, 2014
Apr 292014


When I first met artist Marion Lane a few years ago, her clothes and hands were covered in paint. I meet my share of painters but I’m usually disappointed because I want to see the obsessive nature of their work under their fingernails, and often they’re so scrubbed up you feel a separation there. I relate more to a lack of separation, so seeing Lane’s paint splattered pants and hands is always reassuring. She works in her home studio, and spending time with her there involves walking around inside her work somehow, navigating her process. I’ve also seen her cleaned up at several of her shows, the latest of which was Adventures in Suntan Alley at Launch Gallery in LA. Launch’s website said of Lane’s work that it’s “an outlet for her immense curiosity about the human eye and its systems for organizing color and form,” and though her paintings tend to be stationary, they feel alive with movement and mutation, “something like hybrids between amoeba DNA and corner-shop candies.” With a recent project, she explored the idea of setting that movement down the street on wheels…

What are you working on right now?

I am painting a skate board for artist Craig Deines.

Is this project teaching or showing you something new you hadn’t seen or known before?

Yes many things, I procrastinated for almost a year I think because technically I wasn’t sure how to proceed and the adjustments for working on a bull nosed curved form seemed tedious and also somehow uninteresting although its not really a big deal. I hired a young artist to actually do the work for me, we came up with some ideas and I asked her to implement them and the whole thing pretty much didn’t work out, she did manage to cut a nice curved line but she didn’t glue it down well so I had to rip the thing up , re-glue and pretty much re-cut the curved line by hand with a razor blade, it didn’t come out that well but I just kept at it for several days and in the end it looks like a very well tended badly cut line so it is forgiven.

For the other side of the board  I asked my friend and fellow artist Rochelle Botello to help me come up with some ideas and this has turned into what is probably the first successful collaboration I have had regarding my paintings in  many years (in that we actually did finish it), possibly because there is only one skateboard so there was no switching back and forth from one painting to another, we just had to soldier on.

What did it look like when you first started it?

It looked like a brand new pristine fancy inlaid wood skateboard with no wheels.


What do you think about while you work?

Maybe nothing, it’s pretty hard for me to stay focused on anything for more than 2 or 3 minutes so I’m usually trying to remember to stay focused and not wander off. Sometimes I count and try to get to 100 before I stop, I often can’t get to 10.

Actually I did spend an entire day trying to re-cut the curved line and it felt so good, I really loved that. I want to do that more often.

You’ve talked about the collage element of your work, and you’ve mentioned that you look at all kinds of things, all the time, that influence or inspire you. What were the last three or four things you looked at that made you think about collage in some way?

That’s a good question. My most recent paintings are 100% collage, and so is the skateboard. I realize they are collage in that they are glued down but  I don’t or haven’t yet actually started thinking of them as anything other than paintings. Maybe one day soon. The last things that I looked at that inspired me:  the sky this morning after the rain, the movie Gravity which I’ve seen twice, once in 3D ( the story isn’t that great but who cares), the skateboard collaboration that I did with Rochelle, tons and tons of paintings, including my own.

 Posted by on April 29, 2014
Apr 102014


Elisa Gabbert is one of my favorite writers. I carried her latest book, The Self Unstable, around with me for weeks, reading a page a day the way some people read their morning affirmations. Each of the book’s 90-something pages contains a single paragraph, and each of these concise paragraphs presided over my thoughts on its assigned day, informing my outlook and interactions with its strange, circuitous logic. When you search for the book on Amazon, White Girls, by Hilton Als, shows up right underneath it, which makes a lot of sense; both writers have a uniquely poetic way of viewing the world, making it clear just how much you’ve been missing. It makes you wonder where a person sits to write this kind of material, and what her own days look like…

1. What are you working on now?

I’m working on a new manuscript of poetry based on a character I recently played, Judy from The Designated Mourner by Wallace Shawn. In the play, she’s quite cold and reserved, and her main function is to report the story “as it happened”; Shawn has said she’s the voice of truth in the play. You don’t see much of her inner life or emotions, whereas you get a lot of that from Jack, her husband. After spending so much time with this character, learning her lines and trying to figure out how to make her real, I found myself wanting to stay with her longer, and go deeper. So this project is an attempt to give Judy a new monologue. Incidentally, it’s tentatively titled L’Heure Bleue.

2. What kind of decisions do you find yourself making with it?

I’m basically using Judy as a filter or channel for my own experiences and emotions. So I’m choosing which thoughts/ideas/feelings that come into my head feel like they could be part of Judy’s experience, and then I have to ask the further question of how she would feel them and express them. I make a joke out of everything, but Judy’s very dry, so I can’t resort to humor. Her character is driven by heartbreak, so I have to find ways to funnel my little daily heartbreaks into one singular heartbreak and make them part of her story.

3. What have you learned from previous projects that are helping you out on this one? Conversely, what haven’t you learned that this is teaching you?

My last book is written in little blocks of prose which are, in a sense, pretty formulaic. I conceived the form in such a way that I could make progress even if I didn’t feel like writing; I could write just one sentence and save it and then eventually I’d have enough sentences to build into a little block. The Judy poems aren’t so formulaic, but I’m trying to make steady, piecemeal progress in the same way – if I only have a fifth or a third or half of a poem in me one night, I write it, then build more onto it when I can. But this manuscript is written in verse, so I’m having to relearn the line and figure out how I want lines to work here. I want the page to look something like a play, with those wide margins and lots of white space, so that’s informing how I write the lines. (Ha: I just noticed that “lines” can refer to poetic verse or theatrical dialogue.) These poems are also much more emotional than The Self Unstable, which was very philosophical and aphoristic. And they take place in an actual setting, not some abstract idea-space, so I’m writing more images. It’s a return to the kind of poems I was writing in my first book (The French Exit), but my approach is quite different.

4. Where do you work and how do you work?

I carry a little notebook in my bag and make notes for drafts when lines (or “scenes”) come to me. Lately, these poems often start when I’m at a poetry reading. I also get a lot of ideas when I go out for a walk or a run. I recently wrote one in a waiting room at a hospital, etc. But a poem never feels done until I see how it looks typed up as a document, so I try to minimize the time between initial notes in a physical paper notebook and getting them into a file on my laptop. It feels floaty and impermanent until I have it saved on my computer. So most of that finalizing happens in this big brown armchair in the corner of our living room. The chair was a gift, years ago, to my husband from my father-in-law, but the chair is really too small for him (he’s 10 inches taller than me), so it’s become my chair.

5. When do you think you’ll be done?

If my last book is any indication, somewhere between one and three years.

 Posted by on April 10, 2014
Jan 092014


I’ve known Melissa Dunn for over twenty years at this point, and every six months or so, when she invites me over to her home studio – or I invite myself – I get a gut punch reminder of what a good artist she is and how many things someone who’s really paying attention can do with color. The last time I visited, over the summer, she took me through her garden, an experience which was a little like walking through one of her paintings. Afterwards, we went inside with some cuttings and she arranged them in a vase, rearranged them, arranged some more. I wondered what happens when the garden dies down in the fall, and where that specific energy then goes. A few months ago, she posted a picture showing a work in progress (above), hashtag “weirdestfuckingpaintingever”. Maybe it was the season? Naturally I was curious…

– Brian Pera

Evelyn Avenue: What are you working on now?

Melissa Dunn: I’m working on a painting for a group show that hopefully I’ll finish this week. There’s a lack of resolution in it that I’m ambivalent about.  I love the problem solving at the end of a piece but I also dread it because I don’t want to rely on standby solutions.  It’s in the problem solving that evolution happens and I’m really pushing myself to get out of my comfort zone these days.

Color and the way color touches other colors seems very important to your work. What are you learning about color on this project?

I’m learning that I paint in a brightly lit bubble of spotlights that is far from how color looks in the real world. The bottom half of this canvas is an olive green color that has a glowing effect under the spotlights of my studio that I really like.  When I turn those off and the painting is limited to the illumination of just the ceiling light, the yellows in the green that make it glow disappear and that area gets very dark. It’s difficult for me to paint with room level lighting but at some point in each painting I use less light so I can apply the color in the real world instead of the extra-illuminated world of my studio. This painting is really teaching me about how yellow looks in different lighting conditions.

You’ve talked about the instructiveness of gardening to your practice. Where is your garden at right now and what kind of consciousness is that bringing into your studio and this work?

Autumn just knocks me over.  I could never live in a place that didn’t have all four seasons.  My internal clock would suffer and I would be a mess.  Starting at the end of August I notice the light changing.  In September so many plants have one last bloom before going dormant.  Some blooms last until November and are bright and gaudy among the dead plants around them.  I’ve been walking in the woods regularly lately and it’s so showy and on fire.  All of this annual change is coming into the painting I’m working on now because I feel like there’s a last gasp of life in this particular piece.  Starting in January I’ll be preparing about fifteen canvases for a show a year from now and I’m already envisioning how I want to move my work in a direction that lets evolution, life, death, regeneration all have its say.  With that, nature is my teacher.

What did you see today that you hadn’t noticed yesterday in the piece?

A couple of days ago I posted a snap of this painting on Instagram and basically called it a weird fucking painting.  My friend had two words of advice – get weirder.  That hit me over the head like a ton of bricks! I wrote GET WEIRDER! on a piece of paper with black magic marker and pinned it on my studio wall.  I want to dig deep inside myself and extract the strangest, freakiest, most subversive part of my being and paint with that as my guide. I feel like I’m playing it way to safe, and for what?  The art market?  Ha!  My clients?  Ha!   What I noticed today that I hadn’t noticed yesterday with this painting is that I need to  get weirder, get weirder, get weirder.

 Posted by on January 9, 2014
Dec 182013


I’ve worked with Angela Dee three times now, exploring a character we first started shaping together almost five years ago. The obsessively orderly, emotionally compartmentalized proprietress of a motel called the Loomis, Joan figures prominently in the Woman’s Picture film series. Dee is the kind of actress you keep trying to find things to do with. She comes to set with a unique combination of preparation and flexibility, and Joan is always so fully fleshed out upon arrival that each time we restart is like a reunion with two people at once, actress and character. Neither feels like fiction. When I heard months ago that she was working on a pilot, I was intrigued, not just because I’d watch anything she does with the full confidence I’ll be entertained, but because the show is her baby, from conception to writing and execution, and I knew she’d bring all the resources to this project that she brings to mine, flexing a whole set of muscles I haven’t had the opportunity to experience yet…

-Brian Pera

EVELYN AVENUE: Tell me about what you’re working on now…

ANGELA DEE: Primarily, this last year has been dedicated to an indie TV Pilot I wrote called Rack and Ruin – a comedy set in a toxic, high-end fashion boutique in NYC.

What made you want to do it and how did you get it started?

I have been thinking about this show ever since I got a job working at Brown’s in London almost 20 years ago! In school I was torn between Fashion and Drama – I majored in both. Initially I chose fashion because… well, frankly I was petrified of being rejected by the big drama schools in London. I ended up getting a scholarship to the London College of Fashion and that experience, combined with many years working on-and-off in high-end retail, exposed the ugly underbelly of the beauty industry. From that first day working in the store I found myself laughing at the absurdity of it all, just wanting to make fun of fashion and unmask the whole charade.

The show only came into existence a little under two years ago after I had fortified my confidence as a writer and director on a number of other projects. In the fall of last year I did a reading of the scripts with a group of friends to hear how it all worked and a couple of months after that we went into pre-production. It originated as a web-series but as I kept writing it just wanted to be a 1/2 hour show. So that’s what it is now. However, the pilot has 5 web episodes embedded in it just in case it finds a home on the web – which in today’s climate is likely. I wanted it to be as flexible as possible. I’d like to see it have a life out there however it will be taken.

You bring a unique level of acuity to the characters you play. How does that serve you in a project like this, where it’s also story and direction and a thousand other additional factoring decisions?

(Zoinks! I just had to look up acuity… should’ve looked into a language scholarship!) First off I didn’t direct the show. I really wanted to, but a few peers of mine, whose opinion I relied on talked me out of it – it can be very challenging to direct something you’ve not only written but are the lead in. So, I didn’t really have any input in the direction on set.

But, I’d say if I have acuity as an actor it might be because I’m a big observer of behaviour? It’s one of my favorite things to do. I love it. So, I suppose I’ve spent 20 years researching this project. Asking questions about the industry. Paying attention to how I behave in relation to it and trying to understand WHY? And taking copious notes on the comically sadistic things women will do to each other in the ‘privacy’ of a clothing store – as customers, employees, owners, etc.

So I know this world inside and out. I wrote each character as if I were playing her/him. It’s probably a bit obsessive, but I know EVERYTHING about them. I could answer questions about their favorite food, what underwear they wear, what their relationship with their family is like. I think it’s helpful to be that immersed in the world I am writing. So, for example, we had some dramas on set. One of the 5 main characters is a dog. And, on the day we were scheduled to shoot her… she got stuck on an elevator in midtown and didn’t show up.

I had to rewrite the entire pilot right there on set with 30 people waiting for me. I was petrified at first – the stress was unbearable – but once I sat down to do it the solution came very quickly and naturally. And I think that’s because of how well I knew the story – not just the pilot but a good 2 seasons worth of story-arcs and such. So I found a way to write her out without loosing her for the rest of the show. You know. For when I get a deal and a cable-networtk pays me to do the whole thing for real…

What have been the biggest obstacles and assets in making this happen?

The first major obstacle was the DGA (Directors Guild of America). Wow. They are not built for indie people like me.

But, I’d say the bigger obstacle would be what I am calling the “bitch” factor. There is a very key, very specific moment during the first day of shooting where I chose to be liked by people rather than stand up for the project. I’m really sitting in the residue of that. There’s always a moment on set where you have to stand up for a choice – whether it be as an actor, a director, a photographer, a writer, you name it – where you have to fight for something. And that fight is not for the weak at heart. It can make you look and feel like a “bitch.” Often times you will be the only one fighting that fight, so the stakes can feel especially high. And sometimes there’s no guarantee that what you’re fighting for is even the right thing to do but you have to fight for it nonetheless, and that can cause conflict. Sometimes in the moment that conflict can feel too overwhelming to face so you back down from it. But, I’ve learned that it’s better to suffer a little short-term discomfort (read: be a “bitch”) for long term success/satisfaction. I’m still trying to find that balance. It’s an awful feeling both in the moment and later.

The biggest asset has to be team morale. For whatever reason the entire cast and crew were pumped to be there. There is no replacing that energy. It is truly a gift. It helps get you through those tough 14-hour days, the no sleep, the cold/rain, the crises. I loved being on that set. It was very humbling.

What did you doubt during your work, and what did you have confidence in?

Doubt is truly the devil. And self-doubt is even worse. I was weathering a constant, internal self-doubt storm. Not so much as an actor but as a writer and as the de facto center of the movie-storm. I felt completely responsible for everyone there. I was acutely aware of problems as they arose and it felt awful to think that anyone on that set would suffer in anyway because of me. I burst into tears one day when I found out the actors had not been getting their call-sheets. They were all basically showing up to set not knowing what scenes they were doing or, in some cases, if they were even going to shoot at all. You kind of just pray that it’ll all be worth it at the end of the day but the doubt is there.

You know, ironically, while I had doubt as a writer at the same time I also had confidence in the story and my character. After all, I wrote the darn thing for myself! I felt so secure in my scenes and with the other actors. We had such an incredible time together. I would’ve liked to have played around with the dialogue a little more – there was absolutely no improv which to me is a shame when it comes to comedy. But regardless, it was really grounding to know so much about the world I was in. And seeing the other actors bring life to the roles that had been in my head for so long was just the most outrageous experience. Quite a high.

If you did it again what would you do differently do you think?

I would direct it.

What’s the status now?

We just finished the sound design. We still need to do some color correction and grab some pick up shots for the opening, but in the meantime we’re doing a cast and crew screening this week. My plan is to have this baby sold and/or launched at the latest by March of 2014. I have an awful lot of work ahead of me (pitching, promoting, sizzle-reels, etc). This next leg of production is a new area for me, so I imagine I’ll be on a steep learning-curve for the next few months.

(Above: A still from the series, featuring, left to right, Ashley Kuske, Markie Post, and Angela Dee)

 Posted by on December 18, 2013
Dec 072013


You hear a lot these days about what people have just finished. A lot as in an endless feed. Everyone has something to push. It’s easy to believe after a while that these things come into being like a Facebook update or a tweet. It’s easy to forget what goes into them – the laborious, fraught, sometimes indecisive stuff involved in getting a project realized. I’ve started asking my friends and people whose work interests me (writers, filmmakers, potters, actors, painters, etc.) questions about what’s in that terra incognita of the artistic process for them, partly because I miss hearing more about the process than a perfectly composed update indicates.

Recently, filmmaker Cam Archer talked to me about how rarely we see the insecurity behind artistic production any more. Maybe it’s hidden under the thicket of info streams on social media. Maybe we’re trained more and more as artists to excise it from our conversation, urged by the way things stand to present confidence and clarity first, foremost, and for the duration. Like him, I think, I need reaffirmation that I’m not the only one struggling with what I’m trying to say, and I’m interested in how and why people work.

I asked filmmaker Penny Lane first, after seeing a sneak peak trailer  of a film she’s working on that she put together and exhibited at the Creative Capital Grant’s artist presentations last summer. Like Penny, the trailer was funny, motor -mouth smart, and somehow quintessentially American. 

-Brian Pera

Evelyn Avenue: Tell me about the project you’ve been working on…

Penny Lane: Nuts (or, as I like to call it, NUTS!) is a crazypants feature doc about John Romulus Brinkley, a small town Kansas doctor who in 1917 claimed to have discovered an impotence cure involving goat testicle transplantation. Tens of thousands of men beat a path to his door as news of his miracle cure spread all over the world. He then went on to build the world’s most powerful radio station, which operated at one million watts and reached 17 countries. Also he was elected governor of Kansas in 1930, only to have the election stolen from him.

Brinkley rose from poverty and obscurity to the highest reaches of fame, fortune and influence, but in a swift and brutal reversal of fortune, he died a penniless laughingstock and has now been totally forgotten. It’s a weird little chapter of American history, and also a sort of Horatio Alger story where the hero is a sociopathic conman (who you kind of can’t help but like).

Nuts contains all these different elements – interviews with historians, tons of archive, animated reenactment scenes and an unreliable narrator – sewn together in a way that I think is really cool and exciting. I’ve certainly never seen anything like it! It’s going to be really fun and really strange.

The best thing I did was somehow convince my friend Thom Stylinski, who is very funny and an extremely good writer, to jump into this venture about three years into me working on it by myself. Initially he was just going to write the part of the Narrator, but he ended up scripting all the reenactments, and ultimately playing a huge part in almost every aspect of the process of putting this story together. I would have quit this film long ago if it weren’t for him, especially back when he believed in it before anyone else did.

EA: What interested you about the subject, and what approach are you taking and why?

PL: Well, Brinkley’s crazy, tragic, hilarious biography is ready-made for a dramatic feature. But it took a LONG time to figure out what I wanted to do, other than just tell the story. I went through a lot of bad ideas, and some okay ideas that I was not capable of or excited about doing for one reason or another. Finally, I settled on the idea of telling the story first the way he always told it (i.e., just chock full of lies all of which are designed to make you think he is a heroic figure) and then doing a third act reversal where I tell the story from the point of view of his detractors. It’s kind of hard to explain, but it all makes sense if you watch it. It’s all about trying to seduce the viewer into Brinkley’s world, and then pulling back the curtain to reveal all the distortions and lies that went into that seduction. This involves an enormous amount of what the kids call truthiness. It’s just been WICKED FUN to go buck wild with invention, manipulation and dishonesty, and still somehow stay within a “documentary” format.I expect that different viewers will experience the film very differently, depending on how skeptical they are of quackery and how much historical knowledge they bring to the film. That’s great! In the end, I think everyone will have been thoroughly entertained and also be a little more confused than they were at the beginning. That pretty much sums up my artistic and intellectual goals as a human.

EA: Both OUR NIXON (Lane’s latest documentary, with Brian L. Frye) and NUTS! use archival material. How were they different in terms of the process?

PL: Totally different, actually. I mean, for both the story and the approach were developed out of very intensive archival research. But in the case of Our Nixon, there was one specific archive (the home movie collection) that spawned the whole project, whereas with Nuts it’s much more the case that the totality of all of these different pieces of things I was finding all over the country over several years slowly began to add up to a story and an approach to that story. Our Nixon was also entirely archival, and Nuts is made up of both archival and stuff I’m shooting/scripting/animating.Nuts is just a much more heterodox film than Our Nixon, which had a kind of austerity, and part of that is  Nuts uses a lot of different categories of archival (i.e., science films, home movies, industrial films, still photos, advertisements, books, newspapers, etc.) than Our Nixon, which only had three elements (home movies, TV interviews and news clips). So trying to figure out what each of those different kinds of archival is doing and how it interacts with the animations, the narration, and the interviews with historians is kind of… nuts.

EA: You’re working with animation for NUTS!, right? What are the challenges there vis a vis the story?

PL: Yes, indeed. I’ve never worked with this kind of animation before: they are hand-drawn, computer-animated animations that are being used for a kind of imaginative reenactment. The biggest challenges overall are 1, that I have a hard time imagining what it’s actually going to look like until it’s actually done, and 2, it’s very labor intensive and thus quite expensive. For this film specifically, another challenge with the animation is to develop the right kind of visual style that is funny without being too cartoony.

EA: When do you think you’ll be done?

PL: Oh my god… maybe never? Hopefully 2015. Definitely 2015. Maybe 2016.

(Pictured: a still from the film in progress.)
 Posted by on December 7, 2013