In honor of the SISTER SPIT 2014 FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN, I present another offering from the 1997 Sister Spit Tour Diary! This entry was written from a CYBER CAFE by one of the Valencia directors Samuael Topiary!!!
DAY 4 or 5, from topiary
Hello and hope you are well. We are now on day 4 or is it 5? Driving all night through major heat and find ourselves in Tuscon.
After nice opening shows in Santa Cruz and LA, we really hit our stride in Las Vegas, out-performing ourselves to a rowdy and diverse Vegas crowd of locals, a mix of heckling straight men and appreciative dykes and many others in between. Our most excellent and talented host Dave had hooked us up w/ free rooms at the illustrious Stardust Casino and even got us a grant from the Nevada State Council on the Arts. The free “ass juice” the bar kept doling out definitely heightened the energy. Heckling was raised to a new level. And believe it or not, we even did a second set!
I think it’s safe to report that we all had a blast in Vegas especially after Ali treated some of us to her expert slot machine techniques.
It’s fucking hot as hell here in Tucson and we’re all a bit punchy now after driving all night from Vegas to Tucson. Am writing you from the cyber cafe next to the Hotel Congress.
Hit a traffic jam in the middle of the desert on the road from Vegas to here at about 3 am. We wondered about the alien abduction possibilities, but it turns out there was a murder…. probably by human hands, though. The landscape is surreal here.
I lost $3 to the nickel slots. It’s very hot in the van. We have to drive at night and sleep by day. Wish we had more time in Tucson, it seem so interesting, picturesque.
The tour is really starting to get rolling now. I can feel us as a show gelling, getting the hang of it, getting funnier and easier and less precious with each other. The traveling is harsh, though.
The best part about the Crash Pad is that there’s value in not talking. The value lies in the sultry looks, the beckoning body language, and perhaps a good prop. If you really think about it, it’s a great film school. Tell a story with out words. Go.
Use the non-verbal. When I first started rehearsals for Valencia, a lot of the dialogue I had written didn’t sound or feel right. That’s really common in scripts, especially for newer scriptwriters like myself. As the words fell out of the actors’ mouths, I edited and replaced them with shrugs, glances and subtle eyebrow raises. There’s actually only one line of dialogue in the entire short that matters, “We don’t eat food that’s been cooked in bird muscle sweat.” And then at the end of the scene she binges on food that’s been cooked in bird muscle sweat. The average dialogue in a Crash pad shoot? One line from each performer. The math is perfect.
Keep close. Another rule of thumb we follow at the Crash pad is shooting with a specific lens length. We secretly (secrets out!) film with 50-millimeter lenses to capture what the true human eye sees. Well, that’s not really why we do it. It started because we were shooting two cameras and needed them to edit together well. We figured out that if we kept the same lens length, then most shots edited together smoothly. Also and most importantly, our various sets were always small and DIY designed, so keeping this tighter lens meant softer backgrounds and a greater feeling of intimacy with our performers. With Valencia, I shot mostly mediums and close ups. Whenever I shot a wide, I just didn’t feel close enough with the characters. My entire short only has one true wide edited in with a collection of close shots. And I don’t really like it.
Be collaborative! At the Crash Pad, we let our performers do whatever they want. If they arrive with a storyline idea, they get to perform it. They decide 100% what kind of sex they want to do in their scene, and we just follow like a documentary film crew. The only rule is you have to do everything on the bed because that’s where the light is shining. During rehearsals for Valencia, people started writing their own dialogue. I had written words that helped shape the character, but then during rehearsals I said they could translate that however they wanted. Of the dialogue that remained in the short, a lot of it was re-written during improv rehearsal sessions. This resulted in funnier and more genuine moments from non-actors.
And then of course, a handful of my actors were cast directly from the Crash pad. They had the most acting experience of everyone, only had a few lines each and gave a lot of good face.
Alexa Inkeles is a writer and filmmaker based in San Francisco. Currently she works as the video producer and editor for WIRED Magazine’s tablet edition. Her original films have shown in Frameline, Newfest and London’s BFI festivals. Her interests include magical realism, tipping points, and the effects of technology on popular culture.
The film adaptation of Michelle Tea’s queer memoir Valencia is premiering this month at the Frameline Film Festival in San Francisco, June 21st at the Castro Theater, June 27 at Rialto Cinemas in Elmwood. In honor of this cinematic event, I bring you an interview with director Aubree Bernier-Clarke. Aubree will be participating in the panel discussion “What Were the Queer 90′s?“ June 20th at the GLBT History Museum along with several other directors involved with theValencia project. The discussion will be moderated by Michelle Tea. Aubree’s alter ego DJ Snowtiger will also be appearing at the Valencia After Party June 22nd at The Elbo Room.
Where are you from originally?
I was born and raised in Louisville, KY.
When did you move to Portland, Oregon?
I moved to Portland in 2002 on a whim. I knew I needed to get out of Kentucky but I didn’t know how. Then I received an email from a friend, Tami Hart, who I had met once when our bands played together in Providence. She was subletting her room in Portland for the summer for $200 a month. That was $25 less than my room in Louisville, so I say YES! I packed up my car and moved to Portland alone, having never even been there.
How did you get your start in directing?
Well, I started editing way before I started directing. I was always interested in film but I went to college for photography. There was no film program, but we did have a class on Final Cut Pro 1. I made a few little student films there, but didn’t think it was something I’d ever be able to do as a career. When I moved to Portland, I scored the totally awesome job as tour nanny for Sleater-Kinney. Through that experience, I met Lance Bangs, who is married to Corin Tucker. Lance hired me as his assistant and gradually I started doing more and more for him. When he needed an editor last-minute for a project, he let me take a shot at it. The project went well and I started editing full-time.
A couple years later I had the opportunity to shoot behind-the-scenes on two Spike Jonze films: Where The Wild Things Are and I’m Here. It was through watching him work and being on those sets that I got the directing bug. I came back to Portland and directed some little low budget music videos, and realized that it was something I really wanted to focus on.
How has living in Portland impacted your style of filmmaking?
Portland has a fiercely independent DIY aesthetic and an incredibly supportive creative community. People help each other out because they are passionate, its not about making money. I have a wonderful group of collaborators in Portland who I work with frequently, so I feel very lucky on that account. Also since the economy’s such crap in Portland, living there has taught me to diversify. Unless you’re Gus Van Sant, you can’t make a living as a director in Portland. I’ve worked in almost every department: producer, director, editor, cinematographer, PA. Its made me totally ADD because I can’t stand to do the same thing every day, but on the other hand I’ve become quite a well-rounded filmmaker as a result.
What are your greatest influences and inspirations?
The riot grrrl movement is probably the one thing that has influenced my life the most dramatically and permanently. It taught me about feminism, DIY and being true to yourself in a completely formative way. Coming from a photography background, I also love still photographers like Francesca Woodman and Ralph Eugene Meatyard. Film-wise, growing up I was obsessed with Heathers, The Craft and The Doom Generation. I also love to read YA urban fantasy novels and those have actually taught me a lot about crafting a good story.
How did you get involved in the film adaptation of Michelle Tea’s Valencia?
I’ve been a fan of Valencia ever since I read it on a trip to SF in 2002. When I heard Michelle was making it into a film, I immediately emailed her to tell her how excited I was about the project. She offered me Chapter 3, and the rest was history.
In my chapter, Michelle is hopelessly in love with Willa, who does not love her back. Michelle quits her day job so she can spend more time with Willa, and returns to a profession she thought she’d left behind for good–prostitution.
Conceptually, I wanted to stay as true to the source material as I possibly could. It had to be a 90s period piece, and my crew and I strived to make everything authentic. My costume designer Colleen Siviter did an amazing job of sourcing the wardrobe, which I think really made the film. I chose to shoot it in black and white as an homage to Rose Troche’s Go Fish, a film that I thought captured the 90s queer aesthetic perfectly.
Most recently I directed a music video for Sara Jackson-Holman called “For Albert” about a mermaid’s encounter with a sleazy sailor and a group of sea witches. I also did a video last year for La Pump, “Magnet,” which stars my cat Fritz as singer Jen Agosta’s emotionally unavailable love interest.How do you come up with a concept for a music video?
I tend to listen to the song over and over again for a whole day until its stuck so far into my subconscious that I can’t get it out. Then I’ll sleep on it and usually it will play on loop in my dreams and that is where the ideas happen.
Describe the documentary you are currently working on
The documentary is called Diary of a Misfit and its a project I’ve been working on with my co-director Casey Parks for over 3 years now. The film is about Roy Hudgins, an enigmatic figure who lived in Delhi, Louisiana, from the 1920s until the early 2000s. Roy was Casey’s grandmother’s first friend when she moved to Delhi in the 1940s. People in town have different stories about Roy: Roy was kidnapped, was left in a shoebox on the church steps, was a “morphodite.” Roy was an outcast, a musician, a good Christian and a yard mower. Diary of a Misfit is the story of a town and a family who’s histories are intertwined with the mystery of Roy Hudgins.
What other projects are on the horizon?
I just relocated to Los Angeles on May 1 to attend the Directing Workshop for Women at the American Film Institute. Its a notoriously hard to get into program that only accepts 8 women per year. Through this program, I am developing my next short film, I WANT TO BELIEVE, which is a supernatural queer coming-of-age film about love and death. Learn more about it HERE.
What are some of your other goals for the future?
I’m currently adapting a feature screenplay of Michelle Tea’s Rose of No Man’s Land, and am excited about focusing on that project next.
Shawna Elizabeth is a PhD Candidate specializing in Queer Theory. Some of her writing can be found online at femmetheory.com and she has also been a Guest Blogger for Ironing Board Collective- http://ironingboardcollective.wordpress.com/category/authors/shawna-elizabeth/.
She is originally from Canada.
This week I interviewed artist/filmmaker/ claymator Hilary Goldberg! I got to know Hilary when we worked together on the upcoming film Valencia, where she was producer of the entire project and director of Chapter 5. I then marathon-watched every available episode of her claymation series The Deer Inbetween. Her animation, so meticulous and beautiful, would be an impressive feat for an entire team of people, let alone a single director/animator/writer! It’s the type of work that makes me marvel that I know this person IN REAL LIFE. If you wanna know what I’m talking about, you’ll have a chance to see a segment of her body of work at a Video Art Salon curated by Evie Leder on March 21.
Can you talk a little about your background and how it informs your art? What fundamental things define your outlook?
I grew up with a strong cultural influence from my immigrant artist grandmother, and the international contingent of miscreant eccentrics that my grandparents’ household attracted on a regular basis. There was an aesthetic, for my grandmother Edith Piaf, Charlie Chaplin, and Toulouse Lautrec, and my grandfather, a nostalgic cinephile with a failed hand at operating an arthouse drive-in theater always kept us connected to film and video equipment.
However, I was born in the same year and county that Anita Bryant descended to overturn an ordinance that prohibited sexual orientation discrimination. The pendulum was swinging back full tilt to kill off the world I would spend my life seeking out in a rapacious piecemeal style.
My outlook is sentimental and romantic, but satire is my métier. In my worst moments I redirect my anxiety to the many-worlds interpretation, and am comforted by the notion that there is some other version of me doing quite well.
How did your film career begin?
I stole a video camera and started with playdohmation at the age of twelve. Later, I heard that you could go to film school, so I did, and it was impractical. I missed the riot grrl and homocore thing, and feminism came by way of Ani DiFranco’s music, and the subsequent years I spent touring with her and co-directing/co-editing our film Render:Spanning Time with Ani DiFranco during the Baby Bush years. It was a time of individualist D.I.Y. empires, a commercialized left with feminist window dressing, and it was both epically confusing to me as well as cosmic preparation for years of upstream soul crushing attempts at a so-called film career in LA.
Penny Arcade brought her collaborative Lower Eastside Biography film project Queer Realities and Cultural Amnesia to screen in LA and her film and friendship was at minimum, a clarifying influence in my life. By then I had discovered a queer bar called the Parlour Club where Vaginal Davis hosted a 20s night called Bricktops, and Clint Catalyst and Shawna Keeney hosted the literary series Unhappy Hour, I picked up some collaborators, but there was still a vast disconnect. I was seeking and longing for a movement, a school of thought caravan that Penny Arcade simultaneously clued me in to and dispelled. And then there I was at the beginning.
Describe how/why you got into claymation? What was the appeal?
I moved to San Francisco after many years of visiting the city. The transition helped me make peace with my inner twelve year old. Filmmaker and Artist found a happier coexistence on the claymation path, a place I’ve always been drawn, and I finally had a studio arts practice to develop in my workaholic fashion.
Can you describe the plot of The Deer Inbetween and how you conceived of these feuding mushrooms and soul-keeper deer?
The series follows a pair of deer workers that measure hearts against a feather to determine the souls passage. As the number of heavy-hearted souls increases, humans have less influence on the future of Earth, and the Fungal Kingdom is ready to run the show.
A few years back, I wrote a novella during a Nanowrimo spree, and the one part of it that I liked was a dream sequence with a deer guide named Usher that directed the newly dead into the underworld. I had taken a dream and astrology class in LA, go figure, it was actually really cool, and there was this one Egyptian myth about a heart and feather on the scale and it stuck with me. I also fell in love with the story of an Italian Unicorn deer that the press called a freak. That was the origin story for Usher and Stew. There is a ton of back-story to their deer cave, and if I had the funds, my obsession with pneumatic tubes, the akashic records, and switchboard deer would take flight. I cannot for the life of me recall how the mushrooms entered the picture, but they did. Then they took over, and wrote the whole show.
During most of the series’ inception my grandmother was dying. I built a giant papier-mâché cave while watching hospital drama procedurals, and this project was a way to process grief and existential angst. She died before I made the first episode, and by the end of the series it had become a labor of love more than anything else.
Do you build all the clay models yourself? THEY LOOK AMAZING!
Thank you. Yes I build everything, and do pretty much everything as learned from the public library and the internet and lovely animator forums, and then I also have some amazingly talented collaborators on the series. Margaret Hasley creates the costumes, Ted M. Superstar creates the music, and Sophia Poirier creates the sound design. DavEnd was the music director for the season finale, and the song Long Night of the Fungus was a joint effort.
All of the artists that are part of the series have influenced the puppet fabrication, and the sound of their voices got me through the long hours alone in the dark. The finale was as close as I’ve ever gotten to feeling like a Muppet and that is my highest compliment to a collaborative effort.
The voice actors in The Deer Inbetween are SO GOOD- Who are you working with?
Argeed! Michelle Tea and Ed Wolf play the deer, Usher and Stew. The mushrooms are played by Chris Vargas, Irina Contreras, Tara Jepsen, Greg Youmans, Vanessa Veselka, Penny Arcade, DavEnd, Ben McCoy, and Kirk Read. And in episode 2 there are the mushroom hunters Beth Pickens and Susie Kim.
Is season 1 of The Deer Inbetween complete? Is there a season 2 in the works?
Yes, Long Night of the Fungus was the season 1 big finish. Usher and Stew are on hiatus, and enjoying a break after the musical. I have a season 2 in mind and heart. It is a labor of love, and there isn’t any funding yet. I need to take a break and focus on funding my life in general, but when it is possible to do, it will happen.
Lets talk VALENCIA- How did you come to be involved in the project?
Michelle was the protagonist in my film in the Spotlight, and when she decided she wanted to create a collaborative feature for her book Valencia she asked if I would direct a chapter. I had already been interested in adapting one of her books to film, and this was the perfect opportunity. My role in the project increased slowly over time to post supervisor and animator and then I stepped up to join Michelle as a producer.
Did you get to pick your chapter of Valencia? If so, why did you pick chapter 5?
I picked Chapter 5 because it spoke the most directly to my experiences at that age, meaning — taking hallucinogens then carrying around a tape recorder to record my thoughts (it was the 90s). I also wanted to try my hand at claymation and puppetry and it was a chapter that offered an excuse to do so.
How would you briefly describe the Valencia movie to someone who knows nothing about it?
It is an experimental many-filmmaker queer collaboration that adapts Michelle Tea’s memoir Valencia into a feature film that will premiere at Frameline this June. The cast and crews are different for each chapter, the “Michelle’s” change shape in many ways, and we look forward to sharing this project with the world. A bit of movie trivia, I created the opening animation and the movie poster using your incredibly beautiful illustrations and Michelle Tea’s handiwork.
Your chapter had some great actors- who are they?
Tanya Wischerath is Michelle, Machete Mendías is Iris, and Jaq Schmitz is Laurel. They are all extremely talented artists and were delightful to work with on this project.
Tell me about the video art salon on March 21. I’m excited!
The artist Evie Leder asked if I would show selections from my body of work paired with the artist Darrin Martin. I am calling my latter portion of the program “Goldberg’s Variations” (finally), my intent is to go from Super 8 to 16mm to HD animation, to cover some time and distance. I will share the hip-hop artist Katastrophe’s video I directed Big Deal, the neo-noir short film in the Spotlight, and some episodes of The Deer Inbetween.
What are you working on now?
Valencia will have its world premiere at Frameline in SF this June. I have a few more collaborations with Michelle Tea in the works. The hopes of a mycology based animated short film. Mostly, I am seeking out freelance commissions for animation and editing gigs. I’m interested in created film titles, and animated sections of films, but am generally open. Funding my life as it were. The Long Night of the Fungus is upon us!
This week Valencia took a field trip to the Zap Zoetrope Aubry Production studios in the Presidio. Zap is a production house started by Francis Ford Coppola and there are lots of artifacts from his 1983 adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders lying around, including photos of the author on set, and reunion pictures of Cherry and Ponyboy thirty years later.
We weren’t there for me to get moony over Matt Dillon swag, though I did; Valencia is interviewing different production houses to find a place to do a bunch of technical things to our film so that it’s in tip-top shape for its premiere at Frameline in San Francisco this summer! When I say ‘technical things’ I mean that Executive Producer Hilary Goldberg spoke some numbers-based language I’d never heard before to the film guys, who totally understood what she was talking about. I did not. I just ate their amazing wasabi snack mix and spaced out to the various artifacts around the space, such as Metallica’s autographed drum head.
The dudes at Zap were so impressed by my lifetime devotion to The Outsiders / felt so sorry for what a nerd I am about an Emilio Estevez movie from the 80s, they gave me a DVD of the movie that includes all these interviews with S.E. Hinton giving a tour of the Tulsa, Oklahoma locations she herself scouted for maximum authenticity. Thanks, dudes!
Silas Howard was one of the first filmmakers signed up for the Valencia movie project, as I brainstormed the things whilst hanging out with him at a Frameline Festival some years back. Silas is a great filmmaker. By Hook or By Crook, a feature he made with artist Harry Dodge, remains an important, beautiful queer and genderqueer classic. Frankly I don’t know of another movie before or sense that shows such embodied trans-male characters, and that they’re these San Francisco 90s outlaws pulling scams and being tender bro-besties just flings it over the top. Have you not seen this movie? It rests among Times Square, Ladies and Gentlemen The Fabulous Stains, The Outsiders and Over the Edge as my favorite films about queer punk underdogs wild in the streets. So yes I am psyched about Silas making a chapter, AND I am psyched about his cast as it is brilliant: performer Heather Acs as Michelle – I watched Heather acting in Silas’ short film Blink nightly on Sister Spit, and she was enthralling, playing a doomed speed freak in a spooky relationship with another speed freak, played with twitchy menace by Ben Foster, who I just watched betray Mark Wahlberg in Contraband! Zari Esaian, one of my favorite people ever, takes a break from her blog Bad Mantality (in which she details the many transgressions of men and illustrates with photos of them taking up way too much space on the subway) to play Iris! Iris’s sister is portrayed by freaking Erin Markey, whose brilliance I have literally written essays about.
Okay, let’s talk to Silas about Chapter 9!
MICHELLE TEA: What happens in your chapter?
SH: I filmed in Troy, in upstate New York, at the home of Nao Bustamante who was also ended up producing, location managing, AD, craft services, gaffer and dimmer box controller – oh and wedding photographer coordinator. She made us a pot roast feast on the last day - though we never saw her cooking – and could not imagine when she could have found the time! I believe she is a witch.
MT: Are you sticking to the story or messing with it?
MT: If you could bring back something lost from the 90s what would it be? What are you happy to see go?
SH:Hummm that’s a tough one. Maybe I’d bring back some of the anger we all had and that almost smug rejection of mainstream culture. It was nicely instigating. We knew our party was way cooler then the celebrity show ponies. It was a time when a band like Nirvana could get hugely famous on a song that made fun of the crowd that made them mainstream.
MT: What was your first San Francisco makeout?
Channing Kennedy is super cool. He is a writer and blogger for Colorlines, a maker of movies and of art in general, and sort of a magical person overall. When I found out he wanted to do a Valencia chapter I was psyched, because I knew he would do something very excellent and unexpected with it, and he has. Read on.
Michelle Tea: Hi, Channing! What happens in your Valencia chapter?
MT: Tell me about your cast and why you cast them.
MT: Where are you filming?
CK: In my mom’s duplex in Berkeley, with one external nighttime scene that we did near MLK and 24th in Oakland (because I know Oakland better than SF, and because that’s where I was when I read the chapter for the first time). It was raining on our shoot day and I had no backup plan, but fortunately we found a nice dry overpass to shoot under. Plus it was during an Occupy Oakland raid right, so the cops were all busy across town while we were screaming in the street.
MT: Did your chapter have any special challenges?
CK: Mostly tone, since this chapter has higher stakes than the ones preceding it. But the story itself is pretty universally relatable.
MT: Are you sticking to the story, or messing with it?
CK: We’re sticking as close to the chapter as possible while also making it a ghost story from the year 2034, when Michelle is 63.
MT: Where were you in the 90s, and what were you doing?
In 1998 I went to a state college on a full scholarship, found out that I wasn’t the only cool person in the world, and dropped out immediately. I was required to see a therapist back home and he advised me to take up linedancing, a prescription which I stupidly declined to fill. Really, I flubbed the ’90s pretty badly, but I was a teen! I’m inherently distrustful of anyone who dealt well with teenhood.
MT: If you could bring back something lost from the 90s, what would it be? What are you happy to see go?
MT: What was your last project and what will you work on next?
CK: Most recently, I’ve run support for (and acted/sang/operated puppets for) Emily’s new movie, Gold Diggers of 1829, which took three years to finish. Plus we got married in July, and that involved designing an unzippable ring pillow shaped like a gutted fish, and a talent show and Powerpoint presentations and the release of a wedding zine full of comics by our friends about us. Plus the usual weddingy stuff. I feel like we could’ve gotten an artist grant to cover our wedding if we’d been smart. In general, I’m very lucky to be doing creative work at my day job, creating video and writing for Colorlines.com. For the coming year, I’ve got a few scripts and comics ideas in very early stages — they’re all kinda scifi stonerish comedies about the internet and sex and intersectionality.
Cheryl Dunye is the filmmaker behind the queer classic The Watermelon Woman, the HBO women in prison project Stranger Inside, and My Baby’s Daddy which stars, among others, ‘Christopher’ from The Sopranos! Cheryl’s films are super personal even when the story isn’t overtly her own, and it is peppered with tricks and fictions when it is. She continues to play with themes of race, class, gender and sex in her recent production, the lez noir murder mystery The Owls and the porno MOMMY IS COMING. She took a second out from her crazy schedule teaching and living in both San Francisco and Los Angeles to give a scoop on her chapter.What happens in your Valencia Chapter?
Michelle Tea: What happens in your Valencia Chapter?
Cheryl Dunye: Michelle stalks Fate
MT: Are you shooting it literally or are you subverting it somehow?
CD: I chose a filmmaking style that was popular in lesbian media of the 90′s …very subversive and very experimental.
MT: Who is your Michelle and why did you cast her?
CD: Michelle is played by a blow up doll.
MT: Who else is in your cast?
CD: My cast includes the likes of Pony Lee Strange and micha cárdenas.
MT: You have been living between LA and SF. If you could smoosh the best parts of both cities into a whole new city, what would it have?
CD: 24 hour massage temples
MT: Your career blew up in the 90s. What was that era like for you? What do you miss about it, and what were you happy to see change?
CD: I knew a lot about culture, how to make work and had a lot of national and international visibility and mobility. I think this decade is lacking in all of these things for me.
MT: What was your first San Francisco kiss?
CD: Not sure if i had a first kiss, a real one, in the bay until i met my present gf, Anya.
MT: You are a big proponent of collaboration. What about it is so exciting for you? Was that a draw to working on this project?
CD: The biggest draw back for me in making Chapter 16 is my lack of images from my personal archive that represent Michelle’s life in SF in the 1990′s. This also has become my biggest asset as my collaborators have helped fill in the blanks with their creative editing style, sounds and voice over, and performances.
MT: What movie, person, art, book, show, place, animal are you obsessed with right now?
CD: I’m obsessed with stories of the supernatural,reading about hijacking of planes to Cuba and am loving, as always, my dog Hamilton and my cat Eliot.
MT: What was your most recent project, and what will you work on after this?
CD: My latest film, MOMMY IS COMING, will make it world premiere at the Berlinale in 2012. And I am presently writing a ghost story.
When I saw Bug Davidson’s Screen Tests it filled me with the same sort of itchy urgency I’d feel watching MTV when I was twelve, or seeing the movies Times Square or Desperately Seeking Susan, a smash of excitement and regret: there was clearly something happening, something massively awesome, and I wasn’t there, and I was going to miss the whole thing. When I was 12 it was New York City I was missing, Andy Warhol’s New York City. With Bug’s riff on Andy’s screen tests decades later, it’s Austin, TX that has it going on. The look of the enchanting, compelling, magnetic parade of characters mugging for or coolly ignoring the camera in Davidson’s Screen Tests made me feel slightly insane – How can I know these people? – a string of Davidson’s own Poison Ivys and Mary Woronovs or, to cite another apt relation, his Cookie Mullers and Edith Masseys and Divines. His film Miggy N Lil, about a butcher who takes no shit, is full of mesmerizing characters who fly off the screen, shot in the most beautiful, atmospheric and hyper-real manner. When I heard he cast beloved performance artist Ben McCoy as a lesbian drug dealer in his film Big Bright Future I was like, duh of course he did, he’s a genius. And then I was like, duh, he must shoot a Valencia chapter! And so he is!
Michelle Tea: What happens in your chapter?
Bug Davidson: Michelle meets Space, a big fat liar that is way too distracting and entertaining to ignore.
MT: Who is your Michelle and how did you find her?
BD: Ms. Cristina Coupal took on the challenge, I found her through a friend that knows just about every artist working in the service industry in Austin which I, of course, was too. I called her up and asked if she would email me some photographs of herself. When she did, she looked like eight different people in eight different photographs. She mentioned something about hauling 100lbs bags of trash to the dumpster in high heels. She was also a huge, jumpy, excitable WE GET TO DO THIS? fan of the book. I cast her about five minutes after her screen test.
MT: It seems like you’ve got such a cool queer scene, and film scene, in Austin. Should all move there or what?
BD: None of this is true, it is a horrible, ignorant, sweltering, smelly, chock full of dirty meat place. (Just kidding. It’s growing rapidly, though.)
MT: You were one of the filmmakers that threw a big party to raise money for your chapter. Why did you do that rather than just fundraise on Kickstarter?
BD: It seemed more in the spirit of the project, to get our hands dirty and put some shit together. Plus that is just our style. There were amazing performers and we put up some films, heck, if you want money from folks, a show is a good place to start.
MT: What was your vision for your chapter – what elements did you want to stay true to and what did you fuck with?
BD: It was so much fun to do an adaptation. (Thank you Michelle!) I started by translating the chapter as strictly as I could into screenplay format. From there I chose to keep elements that were alined to my strengths, resources and style.
Listen, I’ve gone on at length in this blog about how much I love Jill Soloway, and I’m going to do it again. And you know what? I might decide, a few months from now or whatever, to do it again. Because she’s amazing. Did you happen to enjoy the Emmys this year, for the first time in your life? That’s because she wrote it with her lezzed out sister Faith, who is a famous funny lesbian. Jill’s eye on the world is super female, feminist, hilarious, and really heartfelt, and you might have seen it on Six Feet Under, United States of Tara and How to Make it in America, as well as in the pages of her audacious book Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants. I am hugeky thrilled that she is not only shooting a VALENCIA chapter, she’s shooting the final chapter. Grand finale! I talked to her about her chapter. Look!
Michelle Tea: Hi! What happens in your chapter?
Jill Soloway: It’s the last chapter. An empty apartment. Tarot cards. The meeting of Michelle and Magdalena Squalor. Melancholy.
MT: How did you find your Michelle? And the rest of your cast?
JS: My cast is only Michelle and Magdalena and they sort of came to me.
MT: Are you interpreting your chapter literally or are you mashing it up?