This is a film that I wrote as a short as a tonal test for another short that I’d like to shoot as a feature.
Said everyone in LA ever. I jest. The other short is to be set in Georgia (the country, not the state), but I first wanted to see how many bodies would make a room feel crowded without or without puffer jackets; how long of a continuous shot I could get away with without the money for a track; how strange lines would sound in English when they were intended to be English language subtitles translated from something Kartvelian. Meanwhile, I’ve had a bloody weird year. Through its bizarre professional and personal interactions, I’ve sat on this internal dialogue on the notion of art and “art” and value and “value” that are not what they seem whichever way you look at them. On the one hand, I do want to believe that a The Work can still Speak For Itself. And yet, the more I work, the more those words have morphed to look like: The Work May Speak Only When Spoken To. This is not even about creative output and its reception being subjective. It’s about the existence of The Work, not The Work Itself. Most people won’t even look at The Work Itself.
Years ago in Hong Kong, when my hair was still black (indeed, the timeline of my life is defined by my stages of hair evolution), I attended a gala with a capital G in an updo (an updo), dark lipstick, floral silk pants. The latter part of the evening boasted an art auction in the name of AIDS research (noble, indeed – donate here). The likes of Uma Thurman, Michelle Rodriquez and Tracey Emin stood before a room of well-coifed, well-postured folk to rally dollars and more dollars. Let me preface the following by saying that I don’t often get starstruck – at least not in the realm of your Victoria Beckhams, your Lang Langs, et cetera. I did once quietly lose my shit about neurosurgeon Charles Teo being in my HIIT gym class back in Sydney. But on the most part, celebrity is a stressful concept to me, as I’m sure it is to the celebrities themselves, so I keep my distance.
And yet, here was Tracey Emin, a stoic vision on a conference hall stage in steamy Hong Kong. Tracey fucking Emin, standing beside one of her neon sculptures. You know the ones. It said something about the things we do for love or “love” in her slanted scrawl, as they usually do. But most of the room didn’t know that. Because most of the room was either drunk or didn’t know what Tracey Emin looked like. I’ll come and install it myself, declared Tracey Emin as the bidding stalled. How could people not be clamouring for Tracey Emin’s work? I’ll add a name, declared Tracey Emin. Whatever name you want. “The things we do for the love of [insert name here]”. And I’ll come and install it myself.
Of the two times in my life that I remember wishing I could time-travel forward to some Future Time where I would presumably have more money, and bring it back to buy something that would reap far greater value and “value” at said Future Time, this was one of them. The other time was a Dion Lee blazer from Spring/Summer 2009 with cutout elbows. It was $150 and I was 16. I’ve told Dion since. He laughed and said he never wanted to see that blazer again. Fair enough.
Meanwhile, back in Hong Kong, Tracey Emin’s work went for a figure that did not do it justice and Adrien Brody’s painting of a red dragon fetched four times the price. It’s Adrien Brody! A girl at my table whispered urgently and waved a diamond finger at the stage where Adrien Brody stood with his painting of a red dragon. I turned to the designer to my left. He’s not even going to install it himself! The designer shrugged. It’s Adrien Brody, he said.
The following year, I sat between a fine art dealer and a drag queen at a birthday dinner in Paris. The room had criminally high ceilings and the conversation drifted back to Hong Kong and the stunning aforementioned.
I do want to believe that The Work can still Speak For Itself, I said.
The art dealer started laughing before I’d even finished saying “Speak For Itself”. Most people won’t even look at The Work Itself, said the art dealer. It’s all in The Marketing.
The drag queen nodded solemnly. Her hair was bleach blonde and way better than I could ever dream of my hair looking bleach blonde. It’s all in The Marketing, honey, said the drag queen, gesturing broadly at everything – the criminally high ceilings, the birthday dinner, the phone with her Instagram profile pulled up, the hair (the hair).
She later told me it was a wig.
I was ok with it.
Two years on, I wrote this short film as a tonal test for another short that I’d like to shoot as a feature. How Do You Like Your Eggs? to those who want to believe that The Work can still Speak For Itself. How Do You Like Your Eggs? to the artists who remain unreachable and untouchable and let third-party gatekeepers Speak for The Work. Has the way we see The Work changed? Or has the nature of The Work Itself changed?
Is The Marketing Itself is now considered to be The Work? If so, surely The Work will, over time, pander to the masses and ignore what it set out to do in the first place. Does it even matter if The Work exists if the purported act of making The Work is enough to be marketed as value or “value”? Is there value or “value” in locking yourself away from the world, like our heady mix of creative types in How Do You Like Your Eggs?, until The Work is done, so you have something to show for your absence – your silence that will be taken as acquiescence to the way people perceive you, not the way you want to be perceived?
I talk myself in circles like this with every project I take on.
That sounds exhausting, says my producer, folding and unfolding the leather document folder I bought her to clip all of our call sheets and run sheets and shot lists into. It’s called a GoldFold, because the guild member who has been painstakingly handcrafting them for the past 25 years out of Southern California goes by the name of Travis Gold.
Every few months all I want you to do is to rub some Skidmore‘s cream on her, says Travis Gold. It will keep the leather in good shape.
Maybe Travis has it all figured out.
STARRING (in order of appearance)
WRITER + DIRECTOR Margaret Zhang
PRODUCER Samantha Oliver
ASSISTANT PRODUCER Kayleigh Yap
DP Tom Black
1st AC Tom Brooks
2nd AC Brendan King
GAFFER Steve Schofield
BEST BOY Nick Gascoine
SOUND RECORDIST Oliver Dibley
SOUNDTRACK Bede Benjamin-Korporaal
COLOUR GRADE Adrian Hauser Cutting Edge
HAIR + MAKEUP Koh
STYLING Margaret Zhang with Moncler 1952