Negotiating Oral History, Documentary, and Journalism

I realize I haven’t been blogging on this site regularly for a while, and this post is going to venture into far more pointy-headed territory than normal. But as I’m moving toward transforming the feature length documentary into a book and interactive film grounded in oral history research, I think its important to share my thoughts and process.

This post was inspired by a series of conversations, where it became increasingly clear that I was working in an area that wasn’t entirely transparent to the narrators who are sharing their stories with me. I’m hoping this will help clarify things for them, and for me.

 

In June of this year, the Oral History Society held its annual conference in Belfast. The theme? Dangerous oral histories. The conference organizers were concerned with physical dangers and risks when gathering and sharing oral narratives, but also about the fragile emotional ground for both oral historians and interview participants, or narrators, when conduction oral history interviews and research.

That ground becomes even more fragile when working at the intersection of oral history and documentary.

I think it’s incredibly important to recognize that the feature length film Pin Up! The Movie, while based in oral narratives, is still a documentary at its heart. By this I mean it has a structured narrative, with a three act structure (beginning, middle, and end). In the film I follow two sets of women involved in pin up culture. A group in Colorado was competing to win the pin up contest at the 1940s Ball in Denver. The second group was in California, where I was following a new model to her first professional pin up shoot and publication with an established photographer.

Both “stories” were contrived in a way. The Ball (and its contest) was one of the first things I shot for the film. In other words, I knew how that story was going to end before I really began. For the pin up shoot, the photographer held a casting call where women learned pin up hair and makeup techniques. She and I consulted with who should be “cast” for the final shoot after looking at her proofs from the day. While I contributed who would be a good “talker” (based on quick interviews with the women) and made suggestions, she had the final say.

But because it was a documentary, I also took control of the story shaping in the editing suite. The people participating had little say, and only saw the assembled film once it was completed. I tried to be fair, but I was also the “auteur.”

Mitzi (left) with some of the pin ups she’s shot with (and who are in the film) on the red carpet: Ashleeta, Bang Bang Von Loola, Miss Emilie, Leslye Rox, Miss Rockwell De Vil and Sydney Ralston (with slurpee).

But during this process, I struggled. The project, initially conceived of as a stand alone documentary and website, eventually seemed to morph into a more interactive, online entity. And as such, my own approach would change. The interactive film didn’t need a traditional story line — by nature it was non-linear with no clear beginning, middle, or end. Users could navigate as they saw fit. The individual could have more control of her story.

In other words, the interactive film began to look a whole lot more like an oral history project.

Oral history, in the words of Alessandro Portelli, is “history telling.” By that he means organizing what had been told in the past, perhaps to family and friends, into a coherent narrative. It is also, as Ron Grele notes, a “shared authority” between the narrator and the oral historian, with each having equal weight as to the interpretation of historical events. As an oral historian I cannot discount the theories of individuals about their lives.

I also am tasked with inserting the work into the public sphere. Oral histories do little to advance “history from below” by sitting in an archive. It’s important for the public to hear the interviews with individuals in their own voices.

The process looks very different than a documentary film, in that narrators are given copies of the interview transcripts (and often the interviews themselves) which they can edit and use as they see fit. This is their individual life story, after all. It’s important to make sure the story is told accurately and allow them to maintain copyright of that story.

While the journalist in me (I’ve spent two decades in the field) worried about interviewees attempting to retract some or all of their interview in order to sanitize history, the reality is that the editing usually is relatively minor stuff, like fixing a date that is incorrect, or correcting spoken grammar to written norms. When someone wanted to remove an important anecdote, I would explain to them why the anecdote was important from a scholarly perspective. Only once has a person insisted a portion of her story be removed, and that was only because she had been the victim of identity theft and feared the culprit could find her again. Narrators can withdraw from participation at any time.

Oral history is also a profoundly feminist activity. And by feminist, I mean feminism that considers a variety of perspectives and experiences and doesn’t privilege one over the other (I’m personally working from the fourth wave perspective). I need to find what is missing in a given story and bring people in to help fill that hole. My role as an oral historian isn’t to make judgements, or to say that one person is right or another wrong. Instead, my role is to find patterns and themes, and attempt to understand a community holistically.

For this particular project, that meant trying to find what was missing. The feature film featured few people from out of the United States, and while it had a strong representation of people of color, it still wasn’t a satisfactory number to me. I knew there were transsexual pin ups, but I had none represented in the traditional documentary.

I worked hard to remedy that in the interactive project for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, I strongly believe that seeing diversity in media projects helps to increase receptivity to diversity in the “real” world. Second, the experiences of pin ups in Taipei or Norway may be radically different from those in Southern California. Ditto pin ups from marginalized communities. I paid special attention to making sure that the project wasn’t just made up of white women from Western capitalist societies. It’s not tokenism, but rather making sure that all aspects of the culture are there. A variety of perspectives means my analysis and work can be richer and more complete.

A former professor once told me that you keep doing interviews in a project until you stop hearing something new. I took that approach into this project (and am still interviewing because I’m still hearing “new” stuff).

Photo by Michael Dooley

What was weird in this situation is that it started as a film about a subculture; a subculture with an active social media presence. In the filmmaking process I became involved with the (mostly online) community in ways that I hadn’t in other projects. Documentary and oral history work is always intimate. I personally don’t know how scholars or filmmakers avoid personal connections and friendships with the people they’re collaborating with. But for this project it became even more intense, likely because these encounters were morphing into my own online presence. I’m involved with private groups on Facebook, and regularly text or message people who are part of the project about non-project related things.

In other words, I felt like many of the women I met were becoming friends.

Hence the danger. I’m treading on treacherous ground.

The back end of the interactive documentary.

My producer and I presented on the interactive documentary project at the International Oral History Association in Finland this past June. We talked about the ways the online documentary offered collaborative potential for oral historians seeking to put their work in the public sphere. Full interviews can go on a website, and the process offers numerous ways to edit and contextualize in a more user-friendly format than a bricks and mortar archive or even a book.

Afterwards, one of the audience members asked me, “Are you sharing the interviews and transcripts with the narrators?” I paused for a moment, but almost immediately realized the answer had to be “yes.” Again, this isn’t so that they can change their stories and sanitize their lives, but rather so that they can share in the storytelling process.

Does that mean as a scholar I’m going to sit back and pretend I don’t have opinions or observations? Of course not! I’ve already heard a variety of things that complicate my analysis and work: inconsistencies between interviews and public actions, ideological blind spots, or approaches that I personally think are unrealistic. My job as a scholar isn’t to judge, but to tease out patterns (do certain sub-demographics think a certain way, even among people with the best intentions) and offer context and analysis when looking at the interviews as a whole. If there are problems, even among the best intentioned, I will point those out.

And I’m also going to self-critically look at my own role in this whole process. I’ve already made mistakes and will likely make more. Discounting them would do my narrators a disservice.

It’s the least I can do for this culture that has so willingly shared so much with me.

 

 

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Your Week In Pin Up, Issue 41: The Making It All Worthwhile Edition

ywipu30 January 2017

We Can Take a Nothing Date….


R.I.P. M.T.M.

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Mary Tyler Moore died this week at the age of 80. I blogged about the impact the character Mary Richard had on my career. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. She was a feminist icon.


And Also Barbara Hale

John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

She was best known for playing Della Street on Perry Mason. But her career started as a contract player for RKO in 1943. How did she get her first role? The gal who was supposed to get it was sick.  She was 94.


Then There’s the 85-Year-Old Couture Model

Kristy Sparrow for Getty Images.

Kristy Sparrow for Getty Images.

Carmen Dell’Orefice closed out Chinese couturier Guo Pei’s show at Paris Couture Week.

#squadgoals


Then There’s That Little Calendar Girl

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Ernest Chiriaka. January 1953.


This. GIF.

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*SWAK*

Save

Save

A Year in Pin Up 2016

Time for the annual best-of list. So here are the highlights for our 2016 Year in Pin Up.

Week. By. Week.

Week 1: January 1-7

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The week we started our Instagram casting call for features in our interactive documentary.

Week 2: January 8-14

Some of pin ups (and director Kathleen Ryan and Producer David Staton) at the Albuquerque Film Festival

Some of pin ups (and director Kathleen Ryan and Producer David Staton) at the Albuquerque Film Festival

File this one under film festivals. Albuquerque Film Festival and Comic Con. Good times.

Week 3: January 15-22

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#girlsquad

Week 4: January 22-27

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Our kind of Super Bowl.

Week 5: January 28-February 3

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This GIF.

Week 6: February 4-10

Director Kathleen M. Ryan by Sheila Broderick Photography.

Director Kathleen M. Ryan by Sheila Broderick Photography.

A feature about the film in the University of Oregon Alumni Magazine. Love it!

Week 7: February 11-17

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Did you see us at the Dirty Show?

Week 8: February 18-24

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Pin up knows no age boundaries. Via Sabine Reichel and Beate Pilgreen

Week 9: February 25-March 3

From top left: Pinup Sunshine, Ria Fend, Serenity Pinup and Kitty Mansfield, our February i-doc winners.

From top left: Pinup Sunshine, Ria Fend, Serenity Pinup and Kitty Mansfield, our February i-doc winners.

That time we had four winners in our Instagram #iwannabeastar contest. Yes, it was that close.

Week 10: March 4-10

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That week we went viral.

Week 11: March 11-17

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The last of our Kickstarter premiums went out to their homes. The house seemed so much emptier.

Week 12: March 18-24

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That dance. From the classic Metropolis.

Week 13: March 25-31

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Ethnografilm in Paris. Ooh la la.

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Week 14: April 1-7

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The week Scarlette Saint Clair SMASHED our previous Instagram voting records.

Week 15: April 8-14

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Palm Beach International Film Festival with Art of the Pin Up Girl.

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Week 16: April 15-21

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Viva Las Vegas. Oh, and we met Elvis too.

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Week 17 April 22-28

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That week we went viral. Again.

Week 18: April 29-May 5

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RIP Prince. This GIF helped us remember everything we loved about you.

Week 19: May 6-12

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Scarlette only held her crown for a few weeks when Fifi Von Tassel stole it away. Most Instragram votes in a week for our #IWannaBeAStar contest. At least to date…

Week 20: May 13-19

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That time we shot a music video and this happened.

Week 21: May 20-26

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This photo. #ALeagueofTheirOwn #RubyRydell

Week 22: May 27-June 2

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That week we started crowdfunding on Marilyn’s birthday.

Week 23: June 3-9

Girls Like That (Pin Up 6) Teaser from TaylorCatProductions on Vimeo.

“Girls Like Us” teaser, part one. Full music video coming soon. We swear.

Week 24: June 10-16

Cafe Racer, 1960s.

Cafe Racer, 1960s.

Bad ass women on motorcycles. Via Dangerous Minds.

Week 25: June 17-23

Girls Like That (Pin Up 6) Teaser (the Car Show Version) from TaylorCatProductions on Vimeo.

More shenanigans. Yes, yes, we know…

Week 26: June 24- 30

The Millie Michelle from TaylorCatProductions on Vimeo.

The week we introduced one of our i-doc stars, The Millie Michelle.

Week 27: July 1-7

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We had NO IDEA we were screening in India as part of Ethnografilm… until we saw this news story.

Week 28: July 8-14

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The week we got listed at a highlight at Comic Con by the Huffington Post.

Week 29: July 15-21

By Frank Larson

By Frank Larson

The treasure trove of photos of New York in the 1950s… found in an attic. By Frank Larson, courtesy Creative Boom

Week 30: July 22-28

Photo by Michael Dooley

Photo by Michael Dooley

COMIC CON!!!!  Post-screening panel with photographer Mitzi Valenzuela and models Bang Bang Von Loola, Sydney Ralston, and Ashleeta in front of director Kathleen Ryan.

Week 31: July 29-August 4

Miss Merry Lou, #iwannabeastar finalist

Miss Merry Lou, #iwannabeastar finalist

The #iwannabeastar contestant who BLEW UP Facebook. Maybe we should make room for her in the film?

Week 32: August 5-11

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Alberto Vargas calendar girl, c. 1948.

Week 33: August 12-18

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Yes, please.

Week 34: August 19-25

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The week we got some British sexiness at Sexhibition.

Week 35: August 26-September 1

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The modern child as a Dutch Masters painting. Via Imagur.

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Oh, and the whole burkini-ban/indecency thing. Via PBS.

Week 36: September 2-8

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The week we screened at Woodstock.

Week 37: September 9-15

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Rosie at 95. Via People Magazine.

Week 38: September 16-22

The week Ruby’s Musings video blogged for us up and down the California Coast.

Week 39: September 23-29

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We shared a number of photos from the 1940s World Fair via the New York Public Library this year, wrapping up with this one of the Prettiest Leg Contest.

Week 40: September 30-October 6

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Photo by Kevin Owens Imagery.

Sami Lee Schaefer, who turned into a good friend and a great interview. Our September #iwannabeastar winner.

Week 41: October 7-13

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Halloween. Horror movie GIF style.

Week 42: October 14-20

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By OC Wonderland Studios

Halloween. K Von Spun Style

Week 43: October 21-27

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Halloween. Vintage style.

Week 44: October 28-November 3

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Halloween.  Catwoman style.

Week 45: November 4-10

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When pin ups came together in the wake of the US election to fight racism, sexism and biogtry. Don’t let the 1960s-era photo fool you.. these gals are standing for their rights, and are looking good doing it.

Week 46: November 11-17

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Words to live by. Via Undocumedia.

Week 47: November 18-24

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Bill Randall, November 1959 calendar.  Go, Team!

Week 48: November 25-December 1

 

RIP Mrs. Brady. You know Florence Henderson was a ’50s pin up before she became “a lovely lady,” right?

Week 49: December 2-8

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The weekend our Seed&Spark backer Christian D. Orr and his date Nicol went to the 1940s Ball. Thanks to Sheila Broderick Photography and Cha Cha Romero for making the night magical.

Week 50: December 9-13

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Our #BestNine via Instagram.

Week 51: December 14-20


A Christmas Twist. Thanks, Si Cranstoun.

Week 52: December 21-31

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 25: Actresses Debbie Reynolds (L) and Carrie Fisher pose in the press room at the 21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

LOS ANGELES, CA – JANUARY 25: Actresses Debbie Reynolds (L) and Carrie Fisher pose in the press room at the 21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

On Tuesday December 27th actress Carrie Fisher died. Her mother, Debbie Reynolds, posted this on Facebook:

Thank you to everyone who has embraced the gifts and talents of my beloved and amazing daughter. I am grateful for your thoughts and prayers that are now guiding her to her next stop. Love Carries Mother

Just over 24 hours later, Reynolds died after suffering a stroke. She was 84.

I’ll always remember her in one of my favorite films, Singing in the Rain. A even though this year had some brutal twists and turns, this clip from the movie gives me the strength to enter 2017 with optimism. Thank you, Carrie’s Mother, for sharing your gift with us.


We’ll see you in 2017.

What is an I-Doc?

Play me a story….

We’re getting a lot of questions about what is an interactive documentary, or i-doc, since we’re in post production.

What is an Interactive Documentary? from TaylorCatProductions on Vimeo.

So we’ve made a couple of different videos.

 

What is an Interactive Documentary Part 2 from TaylorCatProductions on Vimeo.

Basically, an i-doc is an online video story, which has multiple components and lets the user have a high level of involvement and participation. It’s like a documentary video game. Pin Up! The Movie online will have the following components:

  • A game for first-time users to sort you into various story topics. You’ll be able to reach all of the elements of the film eventually. You’ll just start from different points – and get a log-in so that you can pick up where you left off on multiple visits.
  • Five to six major story arcs, including pin ups and beauty, subcultures, history and more.
  • Planned reveals as users work their way through the i-doc. When you make your way through certain sections, new elements are revealed.
  • A virtual make-up kit, where you can keep track of how far through the story you’ve gotten.

 

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It’s overwhelming – and very exciting. I can’t wait to see how it all develops.

We Did It (Almost)

First,  the good news. We’re fully funded at 101% of our goal on Seed& Spark. and we have 600 followers. This is fabulous. I am overwhelmed.  It means we can approach Seed&Spark and seek distribution.

Painted pin up of interactive online documentary star Kitty Mansfield, by Seed&Spark follower Petja Heiskanen, aka PinUpDrawings.

But for the bad news: unless we reach at least 250 more followers between now and 9pm PT tonight (July 1st), it’s not looking good for us to advance to the finals of the Untold Story crowdfund challenge.

 

The Millie Michelle, on location in Las Vegas. She’s one of the new models featured in our interactive documentary. We’re hoping to shoot on location with all of our i-doc stars.

When I first started working on this story, I never dreamed I’d still be immersed in all things pin up three years later. But what I found was simply following the fabulous ladies I met in Los Angeles and California wouldn’t fully tell the story of the modern pin up. So I began finding women in the Pacific Northwest, South and Midwest of the United States. Models from Canada, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, the UK, and Singapore. This is a global culture, and in the online interactive documentary I’m hoping to tell that story.

 

Bang Bang Von Loola and director Kathleen Ryan on why the interactive documentary is so important.

But here’s the problem. We have 600 followers as of right now. The top five films each have more than 900 followers. We’re not in the top ten. And Seed&Spark and Project Greenlight Digital are only advancing the top 10 films to the next round, based on followers.

We’re followers of most of these other films. We want them to do well. But also we want our fair shot.  And the potential $20K in matching funds would help me pay for music licensing for distribution, and travel to all these locations (domestic and abroad) to tell the story of the pin up.

Miss Mozzy Dee explains what Pin Up! The Movie means to her. She’s hoping for a role in the online documentary.

If each person who reads this blog followed the campaign and then helped us to find just ONE new follower, we would be well on our way to the finals. So please, in these last few hours before the Untold Story challenge ends, help us out. Any followers who join between now and 9pm PT tonight will count. And we have some great free gifts as a thanks.

*SWAK*

Kathleen Ryan

Director

Underdog to the Rescue!

First, thank you so much. We’ve got 500+ followers which means we qualify to apply for distribution. So the next step is figuring out how to up our follower numbers to get into the Untold Story finals.

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We need Underdog to save an underdog. We’re in LAST PLACE of the films that have reached the 80%/500 follower threshold. We can do better.

 

 

So we have some things up our sleeve…

 

We we reach 600 followers, two lucky followers will get a copy of the Mitzi & Co. 2017 calendar. Free.

 

When we reach 700 followers, Delicious Ruckus will provide a signed and kissed copy of this print to one lucky follower. For Free.

 

 

When we reach 800 followers, five lucky people will get “pinned up” by director Kathleen Ryan, in the style of these Conan O’Pinups that we did a bit back. Your head on a classic pin up illustration or contemporary photo. Your choice. Oh, yeah, free.

 

 

When we reach 900 followers, one lucky follower will get a personal video “thank you” from some of the gals in the film and online documentary. We’ll share it with you and post on social media. Gratis.

 

We have until noon PT tomorrow on funding, and until 9PM PT for followers. WE CAN DO THIS!!!!

Your Week in Pin Up Issue 37: One More Week and We’ll Be Done Crowdfunding Edition

ywipu27 June 2016

89% Funded. 400-ish Followers. This is Giving Me (more) Grey Hair.


The Burlesque Performer Who Got Turned Away at the Border

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It’s a whole big story. I went through immigration and they thought I was a prostitute and that my partner was my pimp. My boyfriend was stopped and they couldn’t find anything on him, so they googled me. They found the connection between my stage name and my real name, and that started a whole five-hour process

-Agatha Frisky, Australian Burlesque performer to The West Australian

Because Burlesque and sex worker just go hand in hand.

BTW Frisky holds a Ph.D. in psychology.

#notgettingit


Car Show Craziness

Girls Like That (Pin Up 6) Teaser (the Car Show Version) from TaylorCatProductions on Vimeo.

Our top video of the week.


The Return of the Goof Troop

Girls Like That (Pin Up 6) Teaser (the Kitty Mansfield version) from TaylorCatProductions on Vimeo.

Because, faces.


Twitter Trends

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It’s fascinating to see what you like.


This GIF.

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#SWAK

 

 

Want More of This???

The Millie Michelle from TaylorCatProductions on Vimeo.

Meet The Millie Michelle. She’s one of our new i-doc stars. We had a bunch of fun following her to her favorite places in Las Vegas earlier this year. And we want to do something similar with all of the ladies featured in our online interactive documentary.

But we’re in big trouble. Big big trouble.

 

In this Seed&Spark crowdfunding challenge, we’ve only made it to 400+/- followers so far. We need to get to at least 500 to qualify for potential distribution and get that filmmaker gift box.

And 500 is the minimum number we need to reach to qualify for the next round of the Untold Story challenge.

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However, they’re only taking the films with the greenlight (80% of funding goal reached) who also have at least 500 followers. We’re currently sitting at number 15. That means if nothing changes we won’t qualify for the chance to win $20K in matching funds. And that means our distribution is in jeopardy, at least how the film is conceived right now, because we won’t be able to afford music licensing.

This is the current list (as of 9:22pm MT 7/25):

  1. A Punk Daydream, 733 followers
  2. A Horse of a Different Color, 704 followers (hasn’t met the minimum funding requirement yet)
  3. Inner U Destroyed, 685 followers
  4. Hearts of Glass, 682 followers
  5. The Great Flip Off, 653 followers
  6. Don’t Talk About the Baby, 648 followers
  7. Shadows of the Valley, 648 followers
  8. A Queen for the People, 633 followers
  9. Love, Hate, Church & State, 624 followers
  10. Risking Light, 622 followers
  11. Time Well Spent, 618 followers
  12. Rideout, 583 followers
  13. The Ties That Bind, 580 followers
  14. Devoti Tutti, 533 followers
  15. Pin Up! The Movie, 386 followers
  16. Anti Poaching: Coastal Mozambique, 302 followers

So to be competitive? We really need at least 300 more followers. In five days.

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You’ve stepped up to the plate. We’ve seen our follower numbers jump by at least 100 over the past 36 hours. But we need more.

I don’t want to slag on these other films. They’re all great stories which should be told. We’ve been promoting some of these stories. I think they’ll make great films. But so is Pin Up! The Movie. And we have a follower base on social media that’s large enough to be able to get the numbers to be not just at #10, but at #1 in the list.

Follow. Share. Help. Please.

 

Screenings and Travel

Yesterday was all about our feature on Colorado Public Radio. We headed down to the studios to talk about the film and our upcoming screenings.

And we did this little pre-record right before we went in.

Bang Bang Von Loola on Pin Up! The Movie from TaylorCatProductions on Vimeo.

But I thought a calendar would be interesting so you can see what we’re up to in the coming weeks and months.

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Confirmed

  • July 9, 2pm. Tiki Kon, Portland, OR. We’ll be part of the Music and Symposium series there. Tickets ARE spendy ($63), but it includes three days of entertainment. And the screening includes a conversation with some of our behind-the-scenes crew and the models who are in our interactive documentary.
  • July 22, 7:15pm. Comic-Con International, San Diego, CA. There are two ways to see us at Comic-Con. The first is to have a badge for Comic-Con, and they’ve been sold out since last year. The second is to get our red carpet package on our Seed&Spark. You can walk the red carpet with us, plus get some drinks afterwards with the cast and crew.
  • August 21. SexhibitionUK, Manchester, England. Perfect spot. And maybe we’ll see Ria Fend there????

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Location Confirmed, but No Date Yet

  • Denver, September 2016. Drive in theater screening, you say? Benefit for Pin Ups For Charity, you say? Sign us up!
  • Florida, Fall 2016. We really want to do a double date with our friend at Art of the Pin Up Girl – and they do too! We’re talking late fall or early winter because, well, we may be wanting to escape snow in our neck of the woods then!
  • St. Louis, MO, Fall 2016. We’ve got a great group of pin up gals there who are organizing to bring a screening to town.
  • Texas, Fall, 2016. We’re in talks with some friends in El Paso to have a screening there – and we hear that the movie theater is FABULOUS.
  • Sweden, July 2017. We’re working with the brains behind Pinups and Kustoms to arrange a screening or two in Scandinavia.
  • Australia, 2017. Ditto with the folks at Adore Pin Up. Can’t wait for our first trip down under!
  • Mexico, 2017. Ditto (again) with the folks at Risque Pinups. It’ll be a fiesta with car clubs and vintage fans!

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We’ve also submitted to the following film festivals. This is always a crap shoot, but we HAVE had luck with the comic con genre (batting 1000, as they say in baseball).