Pee Wee's Sodomy House7 minutes, 30 seconds  ©2001
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The secret word is "Sodomy" in this animated spoof of the legendary Pee We's playhouse. Evenone gets in on the fun in this hillarious romp!
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Film Festival Screenings
2001Nov18 MIX NYC Gay/Lesbian Experimental Film/Video Festival
2002Mar8 Flaming Film Festival - Minneapolis MN
2002Apr5 London Gay & Lesbian Film/Video Festival
2002May4 Queer City Cinema - Regina Saskatchewan
Back Story

Warning - may contain spoilers

Two things came together to inspire this piece. One was the rainy day when I was playing with my Pee Wee's Playset and realized I could do a pretty good job of most of the voices. The other was the realization that digital editing made stop-frame animation very do-able. It's easy to isolate a single frame, and to string multiple together to create motion. And the copy/paste functionality would allow repetitive motions easy to be done very efficiently. So my devious little mind, instantly thinking that sexual acts have a lot of repetitive motions, and the not-so-subtle cheekiness of Pee Wee's Playhouse would be a great vehicle.

Now, I should say that I've been a Pee Wee übeer nerd since the first time I became aware of him. I had seen every episode of Pee Wee's Playhouse multiple times. I knew exactly how the episodes were put together. If I used something provocative for the secret word, then everything else would revolve around that. As a gay filmmaker with a gay target audience, the best choice for the secret word had to be "sodomy." Or maybe the only choice. It was the first idea I had, and I never considered anything else. From there the rest wrote itself. I'm not exaggerating. It was as if I were taking dictation from Paul Reubens himself. It was just plainly obvious how to engage the characters and follow it through to a logical conclusion. I would lie awake in bed at night playing it out in my head.

But stop-frame animation was a lot easier said than done. I set up the playset like a studio with lots of bright lights, and positioned the camera down at it's level. It looked fantastic. It was just like the show, but in toy form. I knew the animation would be painstaking, even with digital assistance. If you look at it now and compare it to Robot Chicken, mine looks intolerably static. But when you're doing "experimental" video, you can get away with a lot. And the content was rock solid. And the repetitive sexual acts did come out great.

What turned this project from drudgery to a nightmare was problems with the equipment. While the digital medium did allow single frames to be managed well, the primitive iMovie software wasn't designed for that. Being a computer programmer by day, I've come to learn the symptoms of buggy behavior in software. I knew that the sheer number of clips was overwhelming the software package. I later learned an export/import technique that would allow me to reduce the number of clips to a pretty standard number, but at the time it was a second-to-second struggle to keep the software from crashing every time I did everything.

My camera also took the opportunity to make my life a Hell. It had previously been bulletproof. It had never given me a lick of trouble. But something about the bright incandescent light on this small enclosed space would make its color interpretation go haywire. It was never a problem before, and it was never a problem again, but in this situation I would be making slow progress at this painstaking process, and suddenly I'd realize the color was dim. Not only would I need to redo half the work I'd just done, but before I could I had to turn the camera off and on, and change the tape, and say a prayer in hopes that it would fix itself. I found that if I took it outside and shot a few seconds of natural daylight that it would right itself again. But that was a huge pain, and it kept making me do all this work over again. At some points I just gave up. You can still see parts where the color is all faded, like it wasn't properly lit. It was a miracle I got it finished at all.

The finishing touch was the closing music. I got out my old toy Casio keyboard, put batteries in it, and worked out the tune by ear from memory. I put it to a samba beat, and presto. And like the rest of the piece, the title wrote itself: Pee Wee's Sodomy House.

I wrapped it all up and got it off to MIX, not knowing what to expect. The previous two years had been increasingly disappointing, and I didn't want to get my hopes up. But it couldn't have gone better. What a comeback. I got placed in the closing night gala. That is the most prestigious spot in the whole festival. And the crowd ate it up. I was now back upstairs at Anthology in the big theater. And because it was closing night, it was packed. And during the screening, something happened that I wasn't expecting. Whenever anyone said the secret word, the whole audience screamed real loud. Considering how everything else simply laid itself out before me, I can't comprehend how this could have come as a surprise to me, but it never dawned on me that I'd have a whole theater screaming during this video. I had people coming up to me afterwards telling me how genius it was to incorporate audience participation like that. I humbly said thank you, but knew all along that the credit went to that original Pee Wee's Playhouse format.

After the lackluster reception of Gay Marriage: A One-Man Show, I wasn't up for another year of dreading deadlines and stuffing envelopes. But this one was such a standout that it did get requested at a couple other festivals. One was the London Gay/Lesbian Film Festival. I attended on a whim. I asked a festival coordinator if Pee Wee's Playhouse was known in England. He said not widely, but Pee Wee / Paul Reubens was known for his notoriety. The screening went well, except nobody screamed at the secret word. In talking to individuals afterwards both at the festival and an unrelated private party I attended, no one had any idea of who Pee Wee Herman was. But even without knowing the format and getting all the inside jokes, it still stands up on its own.

While I will never top G*I*J*O, at least not in my own mind, as a full package, I think that Pee Wee's Sodomy House might be the most entertaining, satisfying, well-rounded production of anything I've created.

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