- Three Dollar Cinema:The Down and Dirty DIY of Queer Production
What do you do?I find things out.You don't make any money out of your work?No, I don't work in the way that people usually understand the expression.—Charlie Nash, Queer Magnolia1
Work it, skank.—CHRISTEENE, "African Mayonnaise"
i met them below the bridge shortly after 9:00 a.m., bearing coffee and breakfast tacos: a motley assembly of misfit mediamakers, arty queers, and nonconformist nerds like me, all scattered among the trash-cluttered banks of Waller Creek in downtown Austin, Texas. This was not the first time I had visited the set of a CHRISTEENE music video, but it was my first day "on the job" as a cursory member of the "Workin' on Grandma" crew. After I delivered the breakfast buffet, director PJ Raval and performer Paul Soileau (aka CHRISTEENE) brainstormed shooting concepts and delegated the day's duties. My first assignment was to keep cinematographer Mike Simpson from tumbling into the creek—putrid as it was from the human waste that had accumulated there from Austin's barhopping hipster gentry and the city's attendant growing homeless population. I was a graduate student at the University of Texas who had been studying queer media subcultures from behind the distanced safety of my books, and this sordid scenario marked my introduction to flesh-and-blood queer production practice: standing protectively beside Simpson as he balanced precariously on a set of slippery stones at the edge of the foul creek, attempting to obtain the perfect angle on CHRISTEENE as she emerged from underneath the bridge, refreshed from a morning bowel movement. Months later, my production education would continue on the set of CHRISTEENE's "African Mayonnaise," an endeavor, as recounted later in this article, that would find me and the crew on the run from a well-orchestrated pack of Scientologists, a set of persistent mall cops on Segways, and finally, the encroaching police just outside the Barton Springs Mall.2
These shambolic scenes of queer creation, which initiated my border crossing from queer scholar to queer producer, are a colorful cry from the ubiquitous visions of slick studio shoots, professional production offices, and formal writers' rooms that are proffered within many contemporary academic accounts of the American3 media industries. Yet it is precisely within such spaces of material scarcity and lowbrow scruff—through rather rudimentary and resourceful means—that most queer media has been made, both in the past and in the present: the history of queer production is by and large a history of do-it-yourself (DIY) practice, a fact born out of both necessity and design.
Despite the reality of DIY's predominance within the queer cultural realm, however, recent work in queer production studies, particularly [End Page 63] that authored under the ostensibly businessleaning moniker of "industry studies," has paid scant attention to this decidedly anticapitalist practice. Following on the heels of a wider field critically attuned to Hollywood and the dominant domain of television, such work has favored sharp, timely analyses of corporate outlets and their popular output—Fox's American Idol (Draper), Showtime's The L Word (Himberg), Logo's RuPaul's Drag Race (Ng)4—as opposed to engagement with the scrappier grassroots production cultures that proliferate outside the immediate reach of these corporate entities. This scholarship offers indispensable knowledge about the inner workings of the mainstream media and the impact that behindthe-scenes decisions have on the cultural products that are most visible within the commercial marketplace—and the ideologies they espouse. At the same time, in honing in on a limited field of production, if left to stand alone, such work risks conflating LGBT5 Hollywood product with queer media writ large, formulating overdetermined one-contract-fits-all conclusions about queer production that simply do not apply to most queer work.
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This is not to claim that scholarship on...