For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed Martha Williams, writer-director for Run for Your Life and a long-time maker-writer-performer-organizer. Martha (BA anthropology GWU & MFA film directing CalArts) is an award-winning film director, event maker and former multi-media, dance-theater maker who’s work has been seen and celebrated in the US and abroad. Martha also works as a content creator and creative consultant for hire at BugHouse Media, bringing her wild, winsome approach yet web-like thinking to everything she does. To learn more, visit bughousemedia.com and marthawilliams.info.
Q: What are you currently working on? Tell us about it.
I’m polishing up the last four scripts for Episodes 4-8 in Season 1 of the comedy web series Run for Your Life, which is about ridiculous internet dates that make the main characters run for their lives until they figure out what went wrong. I also always have three other projects I want to put creative energy into but decided to take that energy and actually nurture Run for Your Life into the world. This means I’m looking for sponsorship, distribution and/or other funding sources.
Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?
Two years after a pretty tragic break-up with my “soulmate,” I thought I was mended enough to start online dating. Wrong! Turns out that tragedy was buried deep in my bones and I was very angry. I’m not alone in using online dating to distract from a break up, which might lead to some good times, but often leads to bad behavior. Not that I was having a ton of success in my mind, but I went out with a lot of men and since online dating says there’s a dating surplus, I treated them like disposable diapers. This means, I also have stories! Like the guy who said God and Joseph Campbell were his writing partners, and the guy who claimed to be a shaman but in person told me he was a warlock with a coven gone wrong.
As comedic as my life seemed, online dating was also troublesome. I asked why is it so terrible? Was it that I was growing older? You know every woman in NYC goes to that question. Was I too prudish or too slutty? Was I too serious or too demanding? Was it me? Yes! It was partially me, I wasn’t ready to open my heart. But simply put, when technology is my matchmaker, I usually want to run for my life. Ultimately, this catch phrase “run for your life” stayed with me until I was ready to actually make it last year.
So, yes, Run for Your Life is a comedy but it’s comedy with heart designed to contribute to the collective conversation around modern romance and the profound question: why does online dating suck so often?
Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?
I don’t have art heroes but I do have art angels, people who have called me forward in one way or another. These include Kristin McCardle, Pascal Rekoert, The Broken Rose Portal team, Elke Rindfleisch, Rachel Werbel and Lawrence Crimlins. Each showed up to steer me in the right direction or help me break through a block. It’s these friends and artistic cohorts with whom we are weaving this epic artistic, very nuanced and circuitous journey.
Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?
My impetus for making has always been a fascination with the world we live in. I thrive in street culture, which is why living in LA was such a fail for me. I could spend hours watching the way someone moves or listening to the way someone talks or thinking about how it all fits together. I often call myself a culturalist, because it’s big picture culture that fascinates me the most and this started at a very young age.
Partially culture is fascinating because as a child, we moved every three years to a new town because my dad was a Marine and then retired and became an Episcopal priest. Everywhere we went, North Carolina, Hawaii, Virginia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, people were convicted about their beliefs and way of life i.e. they thought they were right about what was cool, appropriate and right. But what was cool, appropriate and right changed everywhere you went. If everyone thinks they are right, and right is different everywhere you go, what is right? So early on, I started to ask, what is really going on? Why is all of it right and none of it right at the same time? It seemed to me that there was much more to life than meets the eye and that most people embody prescribed narratives and perhaps…a lot of lies.
So to this day, what keeps me motivated is my curiosity about the world around me. What is the story behind someone’s life that creates a beautiful tragedy or a raging success? Why do they move like that? What are they hiding and why? What is truth? How are our bodies maps? Where do body, mind and spirit truly help each other? Are we more human or less human because of technology? What assumptions about power make male/female relations riddled with transgression?
Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?
In-ter-arch-y noun. a system of society or government in where integration of male and female values are paramount, not hierarchy…and a word I made up for a TV show I’ve been developing called Church of Christy about a female driven near future utopia (interarchy) and the contradictory ambition of Christy Church, one of it’s founders. I always say it’s Terry Gilliam’s Brazil meets Veep – absurd, comedic and fast talking. I’m looking for a producer, co-writer or agent to hop on board sooner than later.
I also wrote lyrics to a rap called Welcome to the Interarchy and looking for the right musician to collaborate with on it. My dream is to get it in front of Beyonce or Janelle Monae.
Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?
Just recently I was hired to conceive and direct a handful of music videos (not yet released) and I had this distorted image that came to mind that didn’t seem relevant right off the bat, but I couldn’t shake it. When I sat down to really work it out with the song, I finally realized that the image made perfect sense for the video. I often have a profound image or word in my head, and then when I follow that, it tells me the story. That’s when I know vision is leading the way.
Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?
I’d be doing whatever I want and have a lot of people helping me to do it and never once think about money. I’d be following not only film ideas, but public art project ideas, spectacle, fashion and sharing my truth with the masses through speaking and writing.
Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?
Often, I make something and then, because of resources, I don’t nurture it into the world. That said, I’m trying a new strategy with Run for Your Life.
But besides resources, I think my barriers have to do with starting “late” and not historically feeling entitled to be an artist, something that can go along with being female i.e. not taking up space, being nice, lack of confidence or just having parents who would prefer you to be a star athlete instead of a ravenous maker of things.
Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?
I dance, touch trees and am helplessly curious about life so I read a lot, take workshops, see movies and most importantly have an ongoing conversation with creative friends and cohorts. And on the more practical side, I also make sure I carve out time every day for writing or dreaming.
Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?
I’m blessed by an avalanche of ideas but sometimes splintered by them too. I think I’d benefit from a very practical dorm mother who told me what to focus on.
Q: What is your favorite piece of art?
I’m not into favorites. Although I do love Bill Viola’s experience d l’infini and anything by Pina Bausch and the Coen brothers.
Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?
My grandfather. He taught me that life was beautiful and that laughter weaves the ultimate safety net of life. He also heated up coffee like no other, loved ice cream and to drive fast, always had a joke in his pocket and acceptance up his sleeve.
Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?
I’d like to be known for making wild films and work that shows the bended truth of reality and contributes to the evolution of the collective mind.
Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?
My best friend (and magician) has named me “Mountain.” As a 6’4” woman, I think it fits.
Q: What is your guilty pleasure?
I love getting my nails done, looking down at my hands to delight in color. It’s guilty cause those nail salon ladies are likely modern day slaves.
Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?
You are an artist and this is why the world seems strange. Trust that itch, it’s probably right.
Q: Where would you most like to live?
My first memories were in Hawaii, where I learned my first dance: the hula, where we didn’t have to wear shoes in school and where I ran free amongst the banyan trees. Then we lived throughout the south where hammocks and lemonade feast on southern drawls. That said, I’ve always been drawn to hot, humid, natural life and love the feel of islands, like in the Caribbean. I love sublime island beauty mixed with danger of being sand and trees in the oceans belly – pulsing with heat, rain, birds and the possibility of being swept away by a swipe of nature’s hand.
Q: What is your idea of success?
Success is making work that impacts the way we think of the world, that touches a deep seated not-easily known or understood center of the human nature.
On a practical level success looks like I have a strong, loving community of inspired friends and makers while making work in a sustainable way. It also looks like my work is known by the masses, I’m considered to be a thought leader and I’m a sought after creative thinker.
Q: Final Thoughts?
Here are some conversation starters:
What would be a better narrative around power?
How does the erotic heal?
Why do so many little girls like pink?
Who is kale’s press agent? Cause when I was a kid it was a border patrol at the salad bar.