From Vol. 1, No. 4, 1998
HOODWINKED BY A HACK Rick Trembles
I just received a 12-thousand dollar Canada Council grant to make an ambitious 20 min. live-action/ animation/ interaction film about my asshole. Hearing this news made my summer, cuz I was living on 100 bucks a month welfare after my rent was paid, and pretty sick of eating rice and beans every day. Recently, CBC Newswatch was looking for people to interview for a piece on grants given to weird projects.
I prepared for the interview with some of my less explicit work, figuring anything other than that could never air. I thought I’d show them how I go about constructing comic strips from rough sketches to final art and the endless steps it takes to turn that into animation. When newscaster Jill Oviatt and her cameraman settled into my bedroom/ studio to shoot, I asked that the amount of my grant not be announced. I was worried that it might affect my bargaining capabilities somewhere down the line if everyone knew how much I was worth. The cameraman smiled and said the amount I got wasn’t enough to be taken advantage of. We agreed to discuss it further after the interview. This never happened, so they blabbed just as they’d planned.
I was filmed for a long time pretending I was animating, but Oviatt wasn’t interested in how-to demonstrations. She wanted to discuss the particular project being financed. I showed samples, explaining that I didn’t know how much of it they could use on tv, cuz it’s so dirty. They filmed whatever they could to edit later. When she asked me what I’d tell people who thought my money could’ve been better spent on hospitals and such, I thought, “oh no… it’s gonna be one of these.” I should’ve kicked them out right then and there, but all I could answer was that some people can consider my work therapeutic. She asked what I might say to accusations of pornography. I said my work was too personal, raw, and didn’t have the gloss, (“raw” became the selling point of the piece when they put together their ad previewing the show). I explained that part of the appeal of my project to the COUNCIL must’ve been its experimental nature because I’m reproducing a slide-show derived from a comic strip onto 16MM film. The result will be a comic, within a slide-show, within a film, narrated by an on-screen lecturer (me) who’ll occasionally interact w/the (animated) slide-projected images. None of this made it into the final coverage.
I got cold feet the next day, especially about my hospital quip, so I mailed Oviatt a sob story explaining how I’d been pursuing my artistic inclinations way below the poverty line for too long and this grant is the most I’ve ever been paid for my work, which’ll barely cover the costs of making my film, not counting living expenses. I admitted that the haphazard way in which I presented portions of my project might be taken out of context so I enclosed copies of the exact comic that my film’s based on, the original grant proposal, and an academic text citing my work so she could get the full picture. I asked that she give me a call to reassure me that her piece wouldn’t be taking on an alarmist tone, otherwise, I’d have to request that my portion of the segment withdrawn.
Predictably, I didn’t hear from Oviatt for a week, so I called her producer. She said they got my pack, murmured something about the public having a right to know, and that the segment’s so brief it’ll whiz by in a flash (how reassuring). I told her I want to hear from Oviatt before it airs. She said she’d reach me once they’re done editing. She never even attempted to, so I phoned the day before showtime. Oviatt commended everyone’s honesty, and said that when they interviewed the Council, they gave them plenty of time to study the work in question beforehand, so it was all fair and square. I said I wasn’t qualified to comment on hospital budgets. They weren’t using the hospital bit. Feeling like there was nothing more I could do, I told her I was looking forward to it. How bad can it be? I was more curious than worried as to how my asshole would be portrayed on the boob tube.
I watched over and over as they pumped sensational ads all evening long featuring shots of me at my drawing table, with a voice-over warning: “you may not like it, but your tax dollars are paying for it… Creative funding! Tomorrow on Newswatch!” Oh well, they gotta sucker them in somehow. Upon seeing Oviatt’s severe mug introduce her baby the next night, I knew I was in trouble. Eyebrows frozen raised throughout most of it, she seemed hard pressed containing a sneer as she mouthed off stats and budgets. Despite telling her that nothing short of reading its dialogue verbatim would do it justice, Oviatt had insisted on a summary of my story. At a loss for words, I summed up my life’s work as “the sexual history a character from masturbation on”, then sort of snickered and shrugged, “that’s about it”. What I thought would be an out-take ended up being my introduction. This seemingly flippant, noncommittal gesture provided them with a perfect tie-in to introduce the next recipient, who’s experiments at “pulling apart words and putting them back together” conveniently came across as gibberish. The Council representative who was asked about my work seemed taken off guard and described it as “pretty slurpy.” Presentation of each artist was deliberately edited to emphasize the most difficult or awkward moments. For someone who enjoys complete control of every aspect of their work, this was a nightmare. It felt like I’d done a disservice to anyone who might have a peculiar project to submit. Before this I’d been telling everyone I knew that if I could get a grant, so can they. I felt proud to be able to thumb my nose at everyone ever convinced my work would never amount to anything.
After seeing the piece, a friend cynically told me I may as well forget further funding after this fiasco. Others told me not to worry because no publicity is bad publicity. Another said I shouldn’t have been lumped in with pretentious artists. If this was the States I might’ve had a pack of entertainment lawyers knocking down my door hungry to help me sue Newswatch for misrepresentation. But if this was the States, I would’ve never gotten a grant to make a movie about my asshole. Viewers were asked to call in with comments to be aired the next night. Besides predictable outrage, one caller pegged it, claiming the report smacked of the far-right’s attempts to ridicule funding of the arts.
Watching my copy of the report, I snicker and bask one minute and feel exquisitely screwed the next. Now that the joke’s over, it’s time to hole myself up for the winter, complete this fucker of a movie, and hope the results can stir way heaps more shit upon its release.
November 15, 1997