By January, I’d started submitting Woman’s Picture to film festivals, though there was still some sound work to do. Eileen Meyer and I had been working on the edit for about a year, and had gotten to know each other pretty well. Getting rejected by festivals is never fun, but inevitable, and it’s good to have someone as imaginative and supportive as Eileen on board. I’d worked alongside her enough to know that I trusted her input, and she always helped create a bigger picture perspective for me during moments of disappointment.
It was Eileen who first mentioned the Creative Capital Foundation to me, sometime in early February. She sent me a link to the online application, saying, “Let’s seriously consider this grant.”
Creative Capital, its website states, is:
“…a national nonprofit organization that provides integrated financial and advisory support to artists pursuing adventurous projects in all disciplines. Our pioneering approach combines funding, counsel and career development services to enable a project’s success and foster sustainable practices for our grantees.”
The application, like all grant applications, looked like a nightmare to me. I knew it would take me weeks to complete, so I put it out of my mind until March, closer to the deadline. I had way too many things on my plate and figured something like Creative Capital, though it might mean much needed money and resources for the ongoing Woman’s Picture series, was a long shot. I was too consumed with long shots as it was.
WHAT’S A MOVIE POSTER SUPPOSED TO LOOK LIKE?
Sometime around November 0f 2010, I’d started talking to Eileen’s partner, Jones, about posters for Woman’s Picture. I wanted something that felt vintage, telegraphing the style and thematic conceits of the film.
Spending time around Eileen had meant getting to know Jones, too, mainly because we worked in their house during the edit. Jones would come home during her lunch hour, at which point Eileen and I would take a break and chat, getting our heads out of the material a little.
- (Jones making bread at home)
Jones and Eileen cook a lot so there was typically something good to eat; often home made bread, once or twice home made bagels. I looked forward to the breaks not just to get away from the computer screen but because, when there was bread, Eileen always let me have three pieces, and I got to smother them in peanut butter.
- (April Novak – Hardy, Arkansas, July 2010)
I’d spent a lot of time the year before with April Novak. During June of 2010, she helped on a film in Hot Springs, and we just generally hung out a lot. April is a substitute teacher so during the summer she had probably too much free time. We exploited that by taking pictures, making the Hot Springs film, visiting her family in Henderson, Tennessee (where I bought a lot of perfume), and traveling to Hardy, Arkansas, where we stayed in a cabin called Never Inn, playing Go Fish.
I loved photographing April because she seemed like someone from a different era. She studied old images and shopped in thrift stores to remake herself into something out of the fifties. And she wore lipstick. Her house was crammed full of estate sale finds and she had the most extensive record collection I’ve ever seen. She seemed very much like her own person, and though she imitated and reassembled looks from the past belonging to other people, she made them into something inimitable. Once school started, I rarely saw her.
- (April Novak – Woman’s Picture poster prototype)
When Jones and I started working on the poster design for Woman’s Picture, I played around with an image I’d taken of April months before. I’m not sure what appealed to me about the kaleidoscopic treatment I came up with, other than maybe the fact that it reminded me of the compartmentalized female faces on the cover of Haunted Houses, one of my favorite books.
Like Woman’s Picture, this novel by Lynne Tillman follows the stories of three women, none of whom ever meet. I’d thought a lot about Haunted Houses during the Woman’s Picture edit because there was some pressure from people who saw early cuts to intercut the stories in a more traditional way, and though I resisted that pressure, I didn’t ultimately have any other response than to say I didn’t want the stories presented that way. Haunted Houses was something I knew worked, and I kept revisiting the novel to remind myself that characters don’t have to intersect in order to feel thematically connected.
- (Final Woman’s Picture poster, designed by Jessica Jones, with photography by Austin Young)
Austin Young had done photos of the lead actresses for Woman’s Picture‘s poster art back in May of 2010. Figuring out how to use those images, once he’d done his magic to them, was a challenge. I didn’t want to change the look of them. I like Austin’s work and wanted the poster to reflect his style somehow.
Jones and I tried various iterations, trying to figure out how to group the women (Calpernia Addams, Amy LaVere, and Ann Magnuson) together while sort of emphasizing their separateness at the same time. Ultimately we outlined their portraits, which gave them a curious one dimensional vs. three dimensional quality I liked.
- (Jones and Eileen, out for drinks, February 2011)
I think what I liked most of all is that this reminded me of the paper dolls I played with as a kid at my grandmother’s house. I’d always liked mixing and matching the doll clothes, making them different people. I’d felt that way about the characters in Woman’s Picture – that they were personal and real but also total fabrications, fantasy projections.
Jones was a dream to work with. She was patient and inventive, and she liked and understood Woman’s Picture, having watched it take shape in her own house. I felt like she knew what was important to me and really respected the story and the characters. Working with me requires a lot of patience I think because I come up with “bright” ideas constantly, always somewhat more ambitious than my present circumstances or resources will realistically allow. It can make finishing one project a challenge for my collaborators because I’m jumping ahead simultaneously to six equally complicated and unlikely things.
WHAT’S A WEBSITE SUPPOSED TO LOOK LIKE?
I had a lot of ideas in January and February especially. Really until about May of 2011 I was engaged in a lot of preliminary work, which can drive me crazy. I like to get out and do things as soon after the idea hits as possible. 2011 brought a lot of planning and leg work, and all these projects weren’t set to launch until months later.
In addition to working on the posters, I was designing this site, Evelyn Avenue, trying to figure out what it should include and how I wanted it to work. And what I should name it. I ran many names by Eileen and Jones, the overwhelming majority of which were vetoed.
Before I’d even decided on a name, I started speaking with several web designers. It was never really a match and I thought if I had to deal with these guys on a regular basis – and I knew I would – nothing much would get done, certainly not the way I wanted it. Ultimately I was introduced to David Averbach, a designer out of San Francisco and a very good fit for me. David ultimately built this site, working off my sketches.
I picked the name Evelyn Avenue because it’s the street I live on, and most of what I was doing was out of my house, or started there, or finished there. I liked the idea of an online neighborhood. I liked the idea that this online site, which is all over the place and visited from everywhere potentially, might represent a core group of collaborators who pass in and out of each other’s houses the way people link to interconnected stories and material online. Eileen and Jones liked the name, so I went with it.
- (Preliminary sketch for the Evelyn Avenue home page, March 2011)
The relationship with David was intense – there was a lot to work out properly – and the winter and spring of 2011 were full of these kinds of partnerships, some long distance, others closer to home. At one point I said I felt like a polygamist, married to many different people, trying to make each tricky relationship work. We always had a child together (a project) and were sharing the responsibility of raising it properly. And usually we had different ideas about parenting.
BIG PLANS: CECIL B. DEMILLE OF THE DELTA…
Around this time, I had fantasies of making Evelyn Avenue a shared production company, though I didn’t know exactly what that might mean.
In the seventies, Robert Altman and Francis Ford Coppola had tried to create this kind of collaborative independence and failed. I believed their failure had to do with thinking too expansively. It was a time of freedom in film and they were given a lot of money. They were ambitious and wanted to do fifty different things. I related to that, and tried to remind myself, with everything on my plate, that doing a lot was only really great if you were doing it well, efficiently, and as economically as humanly possible.
I wanted to do what Altman and Coppola had tried to do, to create a repertory of actors, filmmakers, artists, and writers, a space, a neighborhood called Evelyn Avenue, in which all the people I knew could thrive.
But as plans for Evelyn Avenue progressed I knew that all the sacrifice and responsibility involved in making such an enterprise a success would be far too much to expect of anyone I knew. If we failed, I’d be responsible. I had no idea how or whether anyone could make a living off such a proposition. I was barely handling the responsibilities myself, and I was just getting started.
I thrive on collaboration and hoped for a while to make what my collaborators and I were already doing more official, more equal, but ultimately I settled on the idea that Evelyn Avenue Inc. and related projects would be repertory in theory only for the time being, and possibly indefinitely.
THE GUY IN ZURICH:
Some of these collaborative relationships are more fruitful than others. One of the most fruitful for me has been my collaboration with perfumer Andy Tauer, who lives in Zurich, but in March I was still really getting to know him. I’d approached him in the fall of 2010, and since then we’d been working on a line of perfumes inspired by the stories inWoman’s Picture.
During January, February, and March, we exchanged ideas about packaging, not just the bottles but their boxes. We worked on articulating for others exactly what we were doing, in the most common sense terms. We tried to come up with a name for the line. It wasn’t until late March that we landed on Tableau de Parfums. By then I was pretty sick of trying to come up with names.
We wanted the Tableau line to look like it came out of Evelyn Avenue, and the challenge in conceiving the packaging and publicity involved making Tableau, Woman’s Picture, and Evelyn Avenue feel cohesive but distinguishable as individual projects as well. We knew that some people would discover Evelyn through Tableau or Woman’s Picture, and vice versa, so how these things related had to be clear to anyone who approached any one of them.
- (Preliminary sketch for the Tableau de Parfums page on Evelyn Avenue.)
I wanted to respect and extend the design Jones had created for the posters, so for the graphics of the Tableau line and the Evelyn website we used wallpaper patterns she’d sourced months earlier. It was important to me that Evelyn Avenue felt weirdly vintage the moment you landed on it, and I wanted it to be complex and full of ideas but easily navigable. I also had to figure out what we’d be doing with Tableau for the next year, and really the next several years, and thinking that far ahead with such detail is a challenge for me sometimes. It’s hard to know what will excite you a year from now, and I knew that Tableau and Evelyn, like Woman’s Picture, would need to keep me interested in order to keep doing them well.
- (Brian Pera, thinking about Tableau, Evelyn Avenue, and Woman’s Picture during their formative stages)
Andy and I worked very well together, without ever meeting. What started as a three perfume line morphed into a ten year project. I knew Woman’s Picture was to be an ongoing series of related films about women and memory, and after realizing how smoothly the collaboration with Andy worked, it made sense to give ourselves the same time frame in which to grow and evolve.
The site needed to be up by May. Tableau was set to release it’s first perfume, Miriam, in October. Final decisions on the fragrance were important because it would take some time to produce.
In spring of 2011, I smelled several versions of Miriam for the first time, and it was amazing. I had no idea whether people would like this slightly old fashioned, nostalgic fragrance, but I was pleased that Andy had come up with something that fit so perfectly with the character who inspired it. I knew that many people – enough people – would consider a perfume tied into a film to be something of a gimmick, so the fragrance needed to be so good that it was unquestionably a work of art in its own right.
Andy doesn’t do anything half-assed, but still I worried. And while the prospect of a perfume line was exciting it was also daunting. I kept asking myself what the hell I thought I was doing, wondering whether I’d have the stamina to not only help realize the perfumes but to promote and package them effectively. I was terrified of disappointing Andy, who had been doing this for years and had a trusted, highly devoted group of admirers. At the same time, none of our work was yet public. We hadn’t even announced the project yet. So the pressure came without the embarrassment and rigor of failure.
In March, I completed the Creative Capital application. As expected, it took several weeks. I really don’t have time for this, I told myself, but with Eileen’s encouragement I kept at it. You had to answer ten questions, each in under a hundred or so words. Coming up with this kind of text is excruciating, and I was sick of it. I’d written a press release for Woman’s Picture, all the text for Evelyn Avenue’s pages, content for a facebook page revolving around the film, text for Tableau’s packaging. In addition to answering the questions I had to create a bibliography of my past work. Eileen reviewed my answers and pushed me to clarify even further. By the time I finished the application I told her I was glad THAT was over, and that I never intended to apply for another grant again.
I forgot about Creative Capital and got back to work on Tableau and Evelyn Avenue. And I started entering Woman’s Picture into more festivals, bracing myself for rejection.