Many artists have tried to depict the creative process, but few have rendered it as vividly as experimental filmmaker Steve Girard.
Multi-talented artist Steve Girard is best known for his unsparing and grotesque drawings, many of which function as incisive critiques of both himself and the world at large. They work because even in the depths of their graphic imagery, they are relatable, humorous, and intensely personal. Girard brings this aesthetic to his new short film Wawd Ahp, which both vividly depicts the creative process and features a decapitated rapper having sex with his own severed neck, over the protestations of his meticulously cornrowed and beaded head.
The film, which Girard also stars in, moves effortlessly between live action and animation, devolving from a music video into a hallucinogenic nightmare, complete with a seahorse shooting swastikas out of its eyes. While some Internet commenters have dismissed it as the embodiment of shock value, others, including several prominent film festivals, have found something deeper in Girard’s sewer of strangeness. The film recently won both the Anarchy Shorts competition at Slamdance Film Festival and the Midnight Shorts competition at South By Southwest. But Girard is just relieved to have finally completed a project whose interminability caused it to rebel violently against itself as it stretched past two years.
I don’t like Mulan. I don’t like Wallace and Gromit. But I don't The Cider House Rules either. I can’t do ‘these are humans with our feelings.’ I want to keep playing around with reality.
“I wanted to make an animation music video,” Girard says when describing the origins of his film. “I emailed Wu-Tang Clan, Robbie Hancock, Radiohead, everybody. I googled ‘Radiohead email address,’ got a bunch of hits, and emailed them all.” The only people that replied were a pair of British brothers whose slow descent into obscurity had begun a decade earlier, about the time Coldplay started getting buzz. After receiving the go-ahead, Girard packed his bags and moved from New York to his sister’s house in Montana for four months, hoping to storyboard the video. Though this part of process went smoothly, when Girard returned to the city and began to animate, the project slowed to a crawl. One day he looked up and two years had past. “Why am I animating a minute of this funk song?” he thought. He couldn’t come up with a satisfactory answer. “This shit is way too much work to be just an animation,” he convinced himself. “At this point in my life I want to rap in the mirror.”
While growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Girard used to rap in his friend’s jury-rigged closet studio, and while he admits he wasn’t particularly talented, he remembers those amauteur sessions as being some of the most fun he’s ever had. With his animation project imploding, he needed fun. But this music video had sucked so much of Girard’s life already that it couldn’t just be that, he had to slice open his alter-ego’s throat and watch his own blood drip down the drain into a subterranean lair of malformed cartoons. “Animation is boring,” he confides. “You go a little nutty because of the repetition.” Girard says his only goal at that time was to finish the film and make it a firecracker. He ended up spending more on clay and supplies than he made in that year, but eventually he finished the project.
Though the film has provoked uniformly strong reactions from audiences, Girard says he didn’t think about that at all when he let his creation loose into the world. He used to fastidiously maintain a Tumblr blog of his artwork, which gained him a substantial following but also led to increasing anxiety. “I got really into people’s feedback,” he admits. “I’d scroll through the blog and try to figure out who I was that way. I started trying to impersonate this feeling of ‘fuck everyone.’ I was trying to feed what I thought there was an appetite for.” Part of the reason Girard moved away from his blog was because this constant interaction with fans caused the enterprise to lose its fun, and he’s in no hurry to drag that same feeling into filmmaking. Even so, he’s happy it has elicited reactions. He says he’d only be upset if people were bored by it, or didn’t care at all.
Previous Slamdance Film Festival discoveries, like Christopher Nolan and Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite), have gone on to mainstream fame, but Girard doesn’t want to get overly hopeful about the future. “You win a metal dog, you say something into the microphone, it’s on Deadline Hollywood, a bunch of people on Facebook say good job, and then you pay for your flight home.” Still, he recognizes that week of eating free veggie burgers and drinking beer could be his ticket to making a feature film of his own. In order to reach the next level, to secure substantial outside funding, Girard knows other people in the industry will have to take him seriously. Festivals are a necessary step in that direction.
The world is changing—part the Internet, part yoga, people being into their happiness. It makes me uncomfortable.
If Girard has his way, he’ll make a feature film that’s part animation, part live action, in the vein of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? or Jurassic Park. “I don’t like Mulan. I don’t like Wallace and Gromit,” he says. But I don’t like The Cider House Rules either. I can’t do ‘these are humans with our feelings.’ I want to keep playing around with reality.” He realizes this is not a cheap proposition. Luckily Girard is part of a circle of actors, directors, comedians, and other creatives who are willing to share, sometimes for a discounted fee, in his off-kilter vision of the world. “I feel like I’m in a mine filled with different gems, and if I’m not the person to harvest my friends, they’ll get drilled and sucked away by executives.”
Though his work has been popular on the Internet, Girard cringes at the thought of crowdsourcing funding if he can’t find a big backer or two. “Every time I see a Kickstarter, I get sick and bored at the same time and want to lie down under a car.” He has previously sold t-shirts emblazoned with his artwork on his Tumblr, and thinks he might return to it more vigorously if money becomes an immediate concern. Girard’s relationship to the Internet reflects his vision of life in general, at once embracing the depths of its idiosyncrasies and also being repulsed by them. When the topic of “Bronies,” adult superfans of the cartoon My Little Pony, comes up, he’s perplexed and disturbed. "The world is changing," he muses. "Part the internet, part yoga, people being into their happiness. It makes me uncomfortable."
The concept of discomfort anchors Girard’s art, it’s a continuity that runs through his drawings, animation, and film, and something that will no doubt continue to both pester and inspire him as he crafts his debut feature.
Written by Nathan McAlone (@nmcalone)
Click the thumbnails above for exclusive samples of Girard's illustrations. For more, check out his Tumblr page.
To see the film on the big screen, catch it at one of these upcoming film festivals:
Calgary Underground Film Fest - April 11th opening for "Asphalt Watches"
Florida Film Fest - April 5th & 12th
Indie Grits Film Fest - April 18th
Stanley Film Fest - April 24-27
Maryland Film Fest - May 7-11
Rooftop Films Summer Series - TBD
Northside Film Fest - June 12-19