Lisa Hammer [Interview]
October 18, 2013 Leave a comment
In the 90’s it meant something completely different to be an “underground filmmaker/musician/artist/etc.”. Just as the terms “alternative” and “independent” have become so skewed lately that it is hard to tell what or who is true to its/their origin and might be considered “underground”. Of course, many technological advances have been made to make such a jaunting insight a true reality, some of which really isn’t such a bad thing. But for me, and I hope many others, these terms meant nothing more than the act of being an artist with a specific taste and desire to create only what they feel is worthy of being shown, at least in their own heart. Sure there are common characteristics such as being off-putting or risque that seem to be a commanility as well that most likely were the initial push “underground” as they say. But in all actuality, that was the point! Doing something different! Different only in the manner that is pleases your own eye, even if it isn’t something you are used to seeing or hearing during the prime times or spot lights of our lives.
And in the 90’s, and thankfully to this day, there has been one woman who was and will always be in the upper echelon of the underground world. Yes, I understand the bizarre sound that may make when you say it out loud (sort of like an “Anarchist Leader”, right?), but it is the truth. There will always be somebody who’s work stands out amongst the rest of the rest of the rest. And that woman is without a doubt the brilliant musician and filmmaker Lisa Hammer. She has been grinding the gears of the weird for several decades, creating some of the finest underground works to date. Whether it is masterminding German Expressionist masterpieces, or doing voice over work for Adult Swim cartoons, this is a woman who may not do everything she wants, but she certainly does only what she wants. So ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, the lovely and talented Lisa Hammer!
What initially drew you in to the world of German Expressionist films?
In film school I saw Sunrise by FW Murnau and I was mesmerized by the beauty and timelessness of the story and the gorgeous scenery and cinematography. The film made me cry with no words spoken, only titles. That is so powerful. From there I was hooked.
Who would you consider your greatest personal influence in the medium?
It’s a mash-up of Murnau in my silent films, Cocteau with my surrealist fairy tales, Bunuel for my sacrilege, Lynch for my dream imagery, Busby Berkley for the musical aspects, and John Waters for my camp. I aspire to reach the comedic genius heights of: Peter Bogdanovich, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Blake Edwards, Roman Polanski and George Cukor, to name a few. Too many to name!
Can you tell us a bit about your involvement in Miranda July’s Joanie4Jackie film anthology? How did your participation in the anthology come to be?
She asked me to submit my film Empire of Ache with Dame Darcy for her video chain letter project, (the short films created by several women circulated the world for a few years.) I don’t really know how she heard about us, it just came out of nowhere but I was very happy to participate!
You have been in the world of music and film for a lot of years now. In your expert opinion, how do you feel the worlds have changed with the introduction of technology, social media, etc.? Are the changes positive, negative, or both?
Since the technology for both music and film has become affordable and easy to use, anyone and everyone is both a filmmaker and in a band now. The market is flooded with artists and amateurs. Andy Warhol’s prediction that everyone would get 15 minutes of fame has actually happened. It’s great to see so many people being creative, but I think I preferred it when there were only a handful of us, it was a bit harder to create our films and music, but we got much more attention. Now it’s hard to get noticed at all, thank god I already have a history and a group of loyal fans! The trick now is to get noticed and it makes me want to go back to school to study marketing. Ha!
On that note, what do you believe the term “underground” means today, as compared to what it may have meant 20 years ago?
20 years ago I was noted as one of the very few underground experimental female filmmakers in the industry, I got a lot more attention from magazines and distributors. My colleagues were very few and also got tons of attention. People like Nick Zedd, Jim Jarmusch and Richard Kern, to name a few in the NY circle. Now I don’t see an underground per se, I see everyone grabbing a cheap digital camera and uploading their films and web series to youtube. It’s hard to find the actual underground film projects, you have to sift through lots of amateur shorts and web series, and an awful lot of videos of cats doing silly things. It does raise the bar for filmmakers, as we have to create the best work of our lives and get it into festivals and create a buzz in the industry. The competition is healthy.
I have so many, every film has been my favorite, from the insanity of Pus$bucket, to the artistry of The Invisible Life of Thomas Lynch, where I got to mentor with amazing director James Merendino (SLC Punk.) I loved filming POX where I got to write with Ben Edlund (Firefly) and Doc Hammer (The Venture Brothers) and direct an incredible cast in a haunted silent film star mansion in Hollywood (I lived there!), and recently the filming of The Sisters Plotz with my partner in crime Lisa Ferber has been one of the most fulfilling experiences in my life.
I’ve been really lucky. I have been blessed to direct the amazing talents of celebrity guest stars: Eve Plumb (The Brady Bunch), James Duval (Donnie Darko), Clayne Crawford (Swimfan), Allen Lewis Rickman (Boardwalk Empire), H. Jon Benjamin (Archer), Jonathan Katz (Dr. Katz), Arden Myrin (Mad TV), Leo Allen (SNL), Aryn Cole (All My Children), Yelena Shmulenson (A Serious Man) and I lived through directing Courtney Love! I get to work with my talented husband Levi Wilson (Not Fade Away) on all my projects, which is the best thing of all. We have so much fun on every project.
Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming film The Sisters Plotz?
The Sisters Plotz is a frothy romp through the world of three eccentric heiresses who live in a townhouse with their butler, who is really an earl, but is slumming it. These kooky aristocrats have no idea what year it is, don’t know how to do anything for themselves, and rely on their servants to do everything for them. It’s a slapstick musical comedy with amazing songs by Lisa Ferber and May Feinsinger. We all get to sing and dance, but it’s not corny, it’s a bit surreal and campy, as if John Waters and Busby Berkley had created a love child. Lisa Ferber wrote it and I helped create the story, and then I directed it. Eve Plumb plays our sister Celestia, a Dada poetess. Levi plays the sarcastic butler, Reginald. Lisa Ferber plays my sister Whimsellica, a dreamy painter, and I play the dangerously recreational inventor, Ladybug.
It started as a web series and got to be a top 5 most watched video on Funny or Die. I decided it needed a longer format to tell the whole story. I’m editing the feature film right now and it should be done by 2014. And… we added a PIE FIGHT.
You are a filmmaker, screenwriter, musician, composer, so on and so on. Of all the trades you have racked your resume with, what is your absolute favorite?
I am more talented at music than filmmaking, but I seem to gravitate towards directing film. I’m really a mediocre filmmaker, so maybe I am striving to improve in areas I lack in? I really have been neglecting my music a bit, but I’m a little sad as my wonderful guitarist from Radiana (Steven Deal) passed away a few months ago, and I feel lost without him. By 2014 I will seek out new band members and continue the band in his honor. It’s hard to sing with a broken heart.
I love all of it! Except: I hate creating shot lists and breaking the script down to make a budget. If anyone out there wants to help me with line producer duties on the next film, please email me! Hahaha!
With so many different forms of art already under your belt, is there any form that you have yet to tackle that you would like to?
I’m an aspiring novelty inventor. A few of the inventions seen in The Sisters Plotz are actual inventions I am developing. I just need help from a patent lawyer, if any readers are patent lawyers, also please email me. Hahaha!
What was the last thing that made you smile?
My absurdly gorgeous Himilayan cat, we call her Missy Shitepants, as she has long white hairpants and she often doesn’t clean them well. It’s pretty gross but it makes me laugh. Also the Hulu show “Quickdraw” makes my sides split. And my awesome husband Levi, who cracks me up constantly.