Dec 182013
 

RnR_OfficeStill

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 122013
 

29 palms

I usually start my sketches out of the blue, in the moment. Sometimes it is a moment where I just need to get out of it, with “it” being many situations, like filling bottles or emailing. Usually, this does not lead me far, as there is no time really to see, but it helps slipping out of the moment, sometimes. The result might look like the procrastination sketch I did during a 1 minute break the other day.

procrastination

‏The [first] illustration done in 29 Palms, two weeks ago, took a bit longer, maybe 30 minutes. What we see is the view from Hotel Harmony in 29 Palms, sitting in front of room 5, looking over the more or less flat plain towards the hills, or mountains, that are already part of Joshua Tree National Park. In the front is a palisade made of panel sheets, that transforms into a rough fence made of dark, sun burnt wood. The hills are in flame and full of contrast, as it is later in the afternoon and the sun brings out all the contours of the rough, seemingly lunar hills. It is a big wall in the distance, waves of stone, kept away from what seems like a safe perimeter by the fence and panels. Inside this perimeter, there is organized nature, a pathway, a little rim marking it, a planted green, dark green bush, with silvery reflections there where the sun points to leaves in the right angle.

So you see: Sketching is seeing, too. I have seen these mountains many, many times as I travel to Joshua tree about every half year. I always stay a day or two at the hotel Harmony, looking down to 29 Palms, and to the right, where the rising planes grow into mountains. But I think I never watched them so closely. A nice side effect: A scenery really sticks in your mind, probably for the rest of your conscious life. Sketching is memorizing.

Somewhere in my brain sits this canvas and I can bring it back, while I write these lines, waiting in Zurich for the dough getting ready to be formed into little breads for dinner later tonight. There is snow outside.

When I started sketching this scene, I could feel the bigness of nature outside this little perimeter of civilization. A civilization that is overly present in the spread of things that is called Los Angeles, spreading out into what was fierce nature not long ago. Our civilization comes with a destructive force. It is loud, insane sometimes, colorful, splendid and exuberant. It eats itself through bushland into the desert. But the same forces allow me to sit there, with a cold drink, watching the waves of stone, exploring their beauty. The civilization brought me here by plane, by car, fueled by gas from another desert, or from below the sea. Watching them makes me realize how small and limited our efforts are. They will still be here, when the Harmony Motel is long gone and no perimeter is left to sit and muse about nature´s grandeur.

[Andy Tauer is the perfumer behind Tauer Perfumes and Tableau de Parfums, an ongoing collaboration with the films of Evelyn Avenue’s Woman’s Picture series. He keeps a blog where he talks about his creative process, and a sketchbook, where he documents the places he’s been and seen. Every month here on the blog he talks about something he’s sketched in his infamously scarce spare time.]

 

Dec 072013
 

still

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
Dec 072013
 

The winner of the Advent drawing is Sarah K., Commenter number 200. I really enjoyed hearing about the movies people liked – this year and in general. I’m reminded again that the good taste of perfume lovers extends well beyond the world of perfume. Thanks to everyone who participated by giving their “recommends”.

explorer

 Posted by on December 7, 2013
Dec 062013
 

advent

 

Thanks for participating everyone. The drawing is now closed. Winner announced tomorrow.

MYEvery year, perfumer Andy Tauer does an Advent calendar, with daily giveaways on different blogs. For perfume lovers, it’s a highly anticipated event – a chance to win soap, perfume, and other things Tauer – and each year is more exciting because Andy is pretty prolific, and there’s always something new to try.

ingrid still for ingrid dvd

Most of my friends have heard me talking about Andy, or know about our Evelyn Avenue collaboration, now three years running (my film series Woman’s Picture, his accompanying perfumes through Tableau de Parfums), but most of them aren’t acquainted firsthand with his work.

A few weeks ago, we released Ingrid, the third Tableau fragrance, which is now available through the Evelyn Avenue store and at various retailers, among them Luckyscent.com. Ingrid, like Miriam and Loretta before it, is pretty stunning, a meditation on the past from a decidedly contemporary perspective. Like Miriam and Loretta, Ingrid is a perfect fit for the character and story of the same name which inspired it. Ingrid the character has a lot going on under an impossibly poised surface, and for me the perfume captures the mood of the film (also available in our store) and of Calpernia Addams’ performance. It’s been a high point of my experience as a filmmaker collaborating with Andy, investigating together the ways scent and persona combine and influence each other, speaking across mediums through our work.

tauer_flacon_Ingrid_front_8bit-2(1)

Now that the next film in the Woman’s Picture series is finished and going out to festivals, Andy and I are talking about where to go next perfume wise in relation to that story and its characters (played by Grace Zabriskie, Amy LaVere, Lindsey Roberts, Angela Dee, and Savannah Bearden). If Dark Passage, the limited quantity scent we did for the film’s kickstarter campaign, is any indication, the collaboration will only get better as we move forward. You can see the trailer for Only Child on the Evelyn Avenue home page.

You have to smell Andy’s work to believe it, so I’m excited to participate in the Advent calendar this year; even more excited that he now has an Explorer Set, which includes three 15 ml atomizers, a great way to get to know the scents. To be eligible in the draw for a Tauer Explorer Set, please leave a comment on this post telling us what films you saw this year that really spoke to you. We’ll draw the winner through random.org the morning of Saturday, December 7.

(Pictured above: Calpernia Addams as Ingrid and Sally Stover as her mother in a still from the film “Ingrid”)

 

 

 Posted by on December 6, 2013