Interview: Chelsea Spear

Chelsea Spear, of Two On The Aisle Films, has a new short film, The Mystery Of The Missing Matron which just premiered at Lumen Eclipse’s first annual LE:60 festival, celebrating the one-minute long film. Matron is a photo roman, a film made of stills. She’s done four other short films, including The Unhappy Medium and Alphabet, which Guy Maddin called “very, very beautiful”. She is in the process of submitting Matron to other film festivals around the country, so keep an eye open for a screening near you!


Part the First

At this moment in time, what is your favorite song?

Chelsea Spear: I’ve been waking up at 2am with “From The Top Of The World” by My Brightest Diamond running through my head.

What’s your favorite band that you don’t think a lot of people would have heard of?

Chelsea Spear: The Shortwave Set. Recommended if you like lush melodies, boy/girl harmonies, analog synths, handclaps, string quartets, and cutting lyrics. Their second album just dropped over here, and I recommend you hear it!

What, if anything, is on any particular wall (your choice) in your domicile?

Chelsea Spear: A screenprinted poster from Elvis Perkins‘s most recent Boston show.

What’s the strangest thing you own?

Chelsea Spear: A human skull. No. Um…hmm. A small skein of qiviut, Lolita Nation on CD, and a copy of a book called How To Be A Medium. And a PXL2000 camera.

Of the things you’ve done, what’s your all-time favorite (however you want to interpret that, be it artistic works, actions, whatever)?

Chelsea Spear: A small selection: making my first short film, Alphabet, because it showed me that I could make movies, and making Missing Matron, because it was quick and relatively drama-free. Getting the first Flicker NYC film grant. Showing Alphabet at the Brattle Theatre as part of Boston Cinema Census, seeing The Unhappy Medium on the Lumen Eclipse screens in Harvard Square, and getting the email that I’d made the cut to LE:60. Knitting a scarf for the aforementioned Elvis Perkins and having him dedicate my favorite song of his to me from the stage, and hearing him call me “The Alpaca Queen”. Living in NYC over the Invincible Summer of 2001. Going to see Lou Reed with my dad about a year before he died.

Who’s your favorite visual artist (excluding yourself)?

Chelsea Spear: In terms of traditional art, Edward Hopper — his use of color and his subject matter contrast so dramatically from one another. As filmmakers go, Guy Maddin.

What are the five most recent films you’ve seen?

Chelsea Spear: Counting movies I’ve rented: Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist

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; It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown ; Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains ; I Confess , and Man on Wire .

What’re your top three movies?

Chelsea Spear: Hal Hartley’s Trust showed me that I could be a filmmaker, Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise showed me how, and Guy Maddin’s Archangel mirrored the fevered visions in my head.

Do you own any original artwork, and if so, whose?

Chelsea Spear: We have some gessoes my boyfriend’s sister made. I also knit my own sweaters, if those count.

What is your favorite game?

Chelsea Spear: Scrabble. I would like to be better at chess, but I think I’ve reached my plateau, and it’s not very high.

What sort of pie do you enjoy?

Chelsea Spear: Pumpkin pie for breakfast the day after Thanksgiving. My favorite bakery around here is a place called Petsi Pies, and they make some delicious pies — I’m especially fond of their apple-pecan pie.

If you could say one thing to David Byrne, what would it be?

Chelsea Spear: What’s with the Peeps?

Describe some horrible/otherwise amusing local commercials.

Chelsea Spear: Bob’s Discount Furniture. There is no way of describing these masterpieces of the bluescreen, but you can see them on YouTube. I recommend the one with the dressers singing in four-part barbershop harmony.

What are your five most favorite books in the world?

Chelsea Spear: Oh geeze. The Passion by Jeanette Winterson, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, From the Atelier Tovar by Guy Maddin… I read a decent amount and it’s hard for me to keep up with my favorites.

What is the most boring thing you’ve ever experienced?

Chelsea Spear: Orientation for the communications department at my junior college.

If you could name a child anything in the world, what would it be?

Chelsea Spear: Emily Grace, like in the Green Pajamas song.

What would be a better weapon, a gun that fires dogs or a gun that fires cats?

Chelsea Spear: Gun that fires cats. More aerodynamic than dogs, and meaner.

What is your favorite meal?

Chelsea Spear: Annie’s mac and cheese (orange box) and broccoli. At heart I am a simple girl.

What is reality?

Chelsea Spear: An illusion on which we all agree.

Part the Second

Where did you get the idea to do “The Case Of The Missing Matron” almost entirely in stills?

Chelsea Spear: It was a necessity. When I first got word about the LE:60 contest, I had exactly six weeks in which to make a film — too short a period in which to roll film, process the footage, and edit it together. Since I only had a digital still camera at my disposal, I figured I’d use it to make the movie instead.

The Nancy Drew idea came later. I’d been wandering around Harvard Square with my iPod on shuffle, and Buddy Holly came up. Somehow the postwar optimism of the era in which Buddy lived made me think of Nancy Drew, and at that moment everything fell into place. I got Nancy Drew’s Guide to Life (one of those little books they sell by the registers at hoity-toity bookstores), pulled five life lessons from it, and posted them on my blog for my readers to vote on. The lesson “A visit to a historical museum can lead to clues in old valentines” won, but I amended it to “flea market” because we wouldn’t have access to a museum.

Will there be more episodes/installments?

Chelsea Spear: I’m thinking of doing more work with the Wendy Strong character. Antonia Pugliese, the actress who played Wendy in this short, recently started her freshman year at Harvard, where she’s majoring in biology, which means it would be well-nigh impossible to bring her back. Should I go ahead with the other short I’m thinking of doing, I’d take the character in a different direction and cast a different actress.

Were you inspired by any other photo romans, for example, La Jetee , The Residents’ “Hello Skinny” film, or the PsychoGram shorts from Liquid TV?

Chelsea Spear: I’ve seen La Jetee a handful of times in my life, first in a Super-8-filmmaking-and-experimental-film-theory class in which the teacher disparaged 12 Monkeys as “an amusement park ride”. The short was so unlike anything I’d ever seen that it stuck with me for many years. I finally saw it again on my birthday — I had two free rentals at the local video emporium and this had JUST arrived back after being perpetually rented. When I first saw it, it definitely resonated with me, but this time I finished watching it and was all “I WANNA MAKE A PHOTO ROMAN”. The only other photo romans I’ve seen have been John Harden‘s La Vie d’Un Chien, which grabbed my attention and refused to let it go when it showed as part of an exhibit at the DeCordova, and the restored version of Garland’s A Star Is Born , which incorporates stills and the surviving audio artifacts in an attempt to restore the film. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never even heard of PsychoGram! Off to the YouTube with me…

Would you like to do more work with stills? Do you have any interest in using found stills, either solely or incorporating them?

Chelsea Spear: I am a big sucker for found and re-appropriated footage, so working with found pictures is not out of the question. Since I recently took up still photography and darkroom work again, the possibility of making another photo roman is definitely possible. One of the other stories would have been a photo roman-a-la-Val-Lewton, and I’d love to break out the Ilford for that.

What would you do differently with the short if you had your druthers?

Chelsea Spear: Lots of technical stuff. If I started to get into it and pointed all of it out, everyone would pick up on it, so I won’t trouble you with that.

What other projects are you working on?

Chelsea Spear: I’m working on a PXL2000 short with Donna (who played Mrs. Augustine), Jeff (who played Eddie), and a player to be named later. When I unearthed my PXL camera I realized that the picture was not unlike the image of a kinescope, which inspired me to think about making something that looked like 1950s TV ads. There are a few other things on my mind grapes, which you’ll know of when the time comes!

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