In setting up an interview with Atlanta-based filmmaking troupe Fake Wood Wallpaper, I became quite aware that arranging a meeting with five people isn’t easy, especially when everyone has different or inflexible schedules to keep. Tony Holley was the one who couldn’t attend the September 8th coffeehouse excursion. Dressed in Urban Outfitters inspired attire, Georgia State University graduates Mike Brune, Alex Orr, Hugh Braselton, and Adam Pinney looked more like the face of Weezer fandom than filmmakers. As our conversation began and progressed, though, it quickly became evident that appearances can truly be deceiving.
How did Fake Wood Wallpaper form?
Mike: We all met at Georgia State University in film school in 2001. Alex and Hugh met before that.
Alex: Yeah, we met at theatre class.
Mike: I met Alex in a film class. When was the first place we were all four together?
Hugh: Me and you said it first, ‘cause you put “fake wood wallpaper” on one of your movies, and I said, “I want to put the name on one of my movies.”
Hugh: And you said, “Well, let’s do that,” and I said, “Okay.” Then we saw Adam’s movie, and I said, “If I didn’t shoot my movie, I wanted Adam to shoot my movie.” Then all three of us said, “Yeah, we’re Fake Wood Wallpaper.”
Alex: Because of the credits.
Hugh: Yeah. Then we got Alex in, and then Tony came in later.
Mike: The reason we formed was because Hugh liked the name of my non-existent production company, and decided to put it in the beginning credits of his films.
(everyone laughs in unison).
Hugh: Then Adam wanted to put it on his too.
Alex: And then I was just…not even around when you guys made a club.
Mike: It wasn’t just that; we liked each other from before that.
(followed by a collective “yeah”).
Where exactly did the name “Fake Wood Wallpaper” come from?
Mike: Should we tell the truth? I’m a big fan of Seinfeld; in one episode very early on, Kramer decides he wants to put up wallpaper in his apartment: fake wood wallpaper. So it looks like a ski lodge. That’s where I got the name, and I always liked it, “fake wood wallpaper.”
What kind of films do you make?
Hugh: Adam makes movies about girls that die in bathrooms.
Adam: That’s a genre right there—I’m working on the bathroom trilogy right now…patterned after other trilogies.
Mike: Other bathroom trilogies.
Adam: So that’s my genre, and then we do some slap-sticky comedy stuff…and then quirky narratives. Absurd honesty.
Speaking of shorts, I was looking at your web site (www.fakewoodwallpaper.com), and I noticed that your films were recently screened as part of the Atlanta Underground Film Festival? What was that experience like?
Alex: Yeah, this past week at Underground Atlanta Film Festival they showed a lot of shorts. They did a locals program last night, and they showed three, four, five hours of shorts? What (of ours) showed there?
Hugh: “Beard Arm.” “Good Morning, Good Morning.” “Beard Arm” is a—we started making these “Beard Man” movies, and “Beard Man” is like…there’s really no rules to `em; it’s just Alex with a beard and no shirt. We take it as far as we can—it’s silliness.
Mike: “Beard Arm” won best local short.
Hugh: Mike wrote it and directed it, and Alex acted in it and edited it.
Mike: Adam shot it.
The Underground Film Festival has only been around for two years, right? How did you get involved with screening your stuff there?
Alex: I went to film school with Eric Panter, the festival director. He hosted a thing at MJQ called “Well Fair,” which was local movies, and a couple bands would play. If you had a short pretty much of any quality, he would show it. You could always get your stuff screened somewhere.
Hugh: We showed our movies before “Beard Man” ever came about. We showed all our shorts, and then we started showing “Beard Man.”
Mike: In the first year he gave us a block. We had a whole “Fake Wood Wallpaper” Retrospective…an hour, and hour-and-a-half of shorts.
Hugh: It was sold out. People were sitting on the floor.
I understand that Eddy von Mueller and Evan Lieberman were your professors at one time? What were your first impressions of them?
Alex: I didn’t meet Eddy until I already met Evan. I met Evan in an Acting for the Camera class. One day after class, we were talking movies and being geeks. I told him I had a nice DV camera at home that I had taken for public access for a week or so, and uh, asked him if he wanted to hang out and shoot something. We started shooting a feature that we never finished. We shot like two or three nights at the house, and then we took it into the Acting for the Camera class, and he wrote the class into the scene. He was teaching them acting technique with scenes for this movie, which we never cut, but it was a pretty fun thing to do.
Hugh: That was three or four years ago.
Alex: My first impression of Evan is, “That guy knows his movies.” Then we all worked with Evan. We worked on “Kathy T Gives Good Hoover.” The first time I met Eddy, we were doing Starship commercials; somebody once again made me take my shirt off on camera.
Hugh: Evan actually gave me my first job out of film school. He was never my teacher, but the Starship commercials were the first time I’d ever worked and got paid and decided to quit normal job. Evan’s gotten me a lot of work. I’ve done three features with him now?
Alex: Yeah, we did “Sock-puppet,” Jay Edwards’ “Stomp! Shout! Scream!”.
Mike: I had both of them as teachers in film school. I had this idea for this script, and I told the girl sitting next to me. She started to blab it out loud. I was like, “No, no. Don’t tell anyone; I don’t want anyone to steal it.” It was my first film class in college, so I’m sitting in like the third row. Eddy was there and heard me saying, “Don’t say it! I don’t want anyone to steal my idea,” and he was like “Now, someone will steal it; someone’s done it before. It doesn’t matter. It’s hopeless to try and keep it a secret.” (hearty laughter from all). He was a good teacher. Evan knows a lot about movies. He taught this class about Hong Kong cinema, and he’s especially fond of Wong Kar-Wai. He sorta introduced me to that filmmaker.
Adam: I’m only familiar with Eddy through an Avant-Garde class where on the first day, he says, “I hate avant-garde; I’m gonna teach about vampires.” Evan and I met doing “Kathy T.” I don’t know how I became a prop master on the movie, but I just, uh, know him from that. He’s a good guy. I don’t know Eddy that well.
How has the Atlanta film scene changed since you’ve been a part of it?
Alex: There wasn’t much of a film scene until Frank Lopez started getting film screenings going at Fountainhead. Now, there are plenty of venues to show shorts; Eyedrum has things; Well Fair isn’t around, but Eric Panter’s always organizing some sort of screening—this Underground Film Fest. So there’s more than like the IMAGE Film & Video Atlanta Film Festival to screen films. If you work in the film business, there are once again movies here, which there hadn’t been for a long time, but I haven’t been working for that long.
Mike: It’s definitely better than it was ten years ago.
Alex: Definitely better than before digital video.
Mike: We feel like we’ve made an important contribution to the Atlanta film scene.
What’s the hardest part of filmmaking, as far as pre-production, production, and post-production? What’s the most stressful?
Alex: Motivation. None of it is as easy as people think it is when they agree to come out and help you. Someone shows up and thinks it’s a whole lot of fun and not that much work. It’s all hard, but it’s harder for me to make myself sit down and write and get something else going, then to finish something else up.
Hugh: Writing is the most stressful. We always show each other our stuff, and you have the questioning of what is right and what’s wrong. If it’s wrong, they’ll tell you. If it’s right, you’re glad, but you still have a lot more stuff to try and work out. I’ve been working on a script for almost two years that was supposed to be an easy script to shoot, and now it is not. The hardest part of it is trying to get the story right before we go and shoot it. That, to me, is the hardest part.
Mike: The hardest part for me is editing. Adam shot a film that I wrote and directed back in February. I started editing it, and I was just like, “Man, this sucks; what am I doing?”. It turned out differently than I had envisioned it or planned it out—or maybe I didn’t plan enough. It’s happened before with…“Beard Arm” as a matter of fact. I wrote and directed this film, and I had it all planned out for “this is how it’s gonna be,” and then when I got into the editing room, I was like “it can’t be what I want it to be.” Then I had to be creative again almost. I hit a brick wall with “Beard Arm,” and it just sat there for over six months. Then Alex came in; he was bored one night, and it was on his computer, and he wanted to learn Final Cut, so he started cutting “Beard Arm.” I cut a few scenes and then he came in and just made it fantastic. He just brought this whole digital mind to it. I couldn’t think outside what I had originally thought.
Adam: For me, it’s coming up with something to write. These guys have stories all the time, and they’re always coming at me with their ideas, and I don’t have a lot. It’s very rare that I’m inspired to write something—I hate that. I shoot fine, I edit fine, and I enjoy all that. When it comes out, it’s a decent piece of work, but coming up with something for me is just like…I tear myself up all the time `cause Hugh’s always like “I got this idea, I got this idea.” I really wish I could have more ideas, that I was more touched by God in that way.
Alex: You never did drugs.
Mike: I never did either.
Alex: But you eat candy all the time.
Mike: Oh, that’s right.
What is the future of filmmaking in Atlanta?
Adam: You look at a city like Austin, and its filmmakers are making films, and one of the big films representative of Austin is “Slackers.” Atlanta hasn’t had something like that; I want to consider “Diary of Mad Black Woman” Atlanta, but—
Mike: It’s not Atlanta.
Adam: Yeah. I think Jacob Gentry tried to do that with “The Last Goodbye.” He made an Atlanta movie, but I think it’s gonna take one of those movies getting into the theatres. Once that happens, more people in Atlanta will. It won’t be people coming to Atlanta to make films, it’ll be these groups in Atlanta that will be able to make features, but I don’t know if that’ll happen any time soon.
Alex: There’s not like a “pulse of Atlanta,” though—it’s not New York.
Adam: Not yet. We’re gonna have an aquarium.
(hearty laughter erupts).
Alex: Have you been to Ikea? (laughter increases in volume). Every time I think about Atlanta as a city you’re going to make movies in all the time, it’s like hot, awful, sick hot.
Mike: It’s hot in Austin.
Alex: It’s not hot like here. It’s humid here, but then it’s really cold. What do you have in Atlanta? You have woods and the city and the burbs. There’s no mountains, there’s no water.
Mike: What are you talking about? The Atlantic Ocean borders Georgia.
Mike: Well, not Atlanta but it’s still in Georgia.
Alex: That same ocean in Georgia looks exactly the same in North Carolina and South Carolina. I think there are filmmakers in Atlanta who could make movies, but not compared to the whole city thing.
Hugh: It doesn’t have to be a movie about Atlanta; it just has to be a story that comes out.
Alex: M. Night Shyamalan makes movies in Philadelphia, but when you watch his movies, are you like “man, that was Philly”? No, you’re not. No, that was anywhere in America. He just makes them where he lives.
When you were kids, how many of you wanted to grow up and be something other than an artist?
Hugh: I wanted to be a basketball player. At first I wanted to be a garbage man, then I wanted to be a basketball player. Then I wanted to be a CIA agent, then I wanted to be a movie-maker.
Alex: How old was CIA?
Hugh: I was like twelve, and I saw “Patriot Games.”
Alex: And then after that you wanted to be a filmmaker?
Hugh: Yeah, after I saw “Jurassic Park” when I was thirteen.
Adam: When I was eight, I think I wanted to be a pathologist. And then I wanted to be an artist, like a fine arts artist. Then I started understanding movies more and not just watching and enjoying them as entertainment. There were movies I watched and thought, “Wow, there’s something to this.” I think film combines all the arts in a really cool way.
Mike: First thing I can recollect wanting to be…working with toys or candy in some fashion. Living in Lego Land. After that, I wanted to be Fox Mulder; I wanted to be in the FBI. I still have the little cut-outs of “FBI Hiring” I got off Parade magazine in 1996. And then, after that was filmmaker. I don’t think I knew what the term “artist” meant in high school. I didn’t understand the concept of “art” in high school, but I did want to make movies, and I did. We all did.
Alex: Ever since I was a little kid, I just wanted to be a stand-up comedian. Always. And then when I got into high school, I realized that if I was a teacher, I didn’t even have to be that good of a comedian, and everyday I would have an audience whether they liked it or not. So when I went to college, I was a history major—I was gonna be a history teacher, maybe do some stand-up at night—but either way, I can work my routines out all day long in front of high school kids. After I took a film class in college, I realized people got paid to make movies, and it was a job. It never really occurred to me that you could be like, “I want to be a filmmaker.” After I flunked like four history courses too—history is fucking hard in college; it was fun in high school, where you learned about the Civil War nine times in a row—after that I was out. I guess when I was six I wanted to be a jet pilot because of “Top Gun,” and then I realized I couldn’t fit “airborne” on a license plate because it was too many letters, so that was out.