The new Amazon TV show by Jill Solloway is based in Marfa, so naturally, the crew descended into town to film the pilot earlier this year and then filmed more episodes in December. Below is my coverage for the show.
Major TV pilot set to film in Marfa
Originally published in the Big Bend Sentinel on May 26, 2016
MARFA – Six degrees of Kevin Bacon is about to hit closer to home as the actor will star in a television pilot to be filmed in Marfa in the coming weeks.
Pre-production is currently underway for Emmy-winning director Jill Soloway’s new TV project based on the Chris Kraus novel, “I Love Dick.” The novel tells the story of a protagonist, also named Chris, and her obsession – shared through letters – with a well-known theorist named Dick.
As Chris navigates through her marriage to Sylvère, her work, and Dick, the 1997 novel is what poet Eileen Myles writes in the foreword as a “remarkable study in female abjection.”
“She’s turned female abjection inside out and aimed it at a man . . . ‘I Love Dick’ boldly suggests that Chris Kraus’ unswervingly attempted and felt female life is a total work and it didn’t kill her,” Myles writes.
Soloway was introduced to the book a year ago and realized there is a phenomenal female voice that she said was somehow overlooked, until now. Instead of focusing on the letters, she said her TV show adaption will feel more like her current successful Amazon original series, “Transparent,” which was inspired by her father coming out as transgender. The show has won many awards, such as the Golden Globe for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy, and actor Jeffrey Tambor’s award for Best Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy for his role as the transgender parent, Maura.
The book “I Love Dick” is originally based in an East Coast university town, but Soloway and writer Sarah Gubbins started to feel like they’ve seen a setting like this before. Instead, the show will follow the married couple to Marfa. Soloway and Gubbins thought about one of the last scenes in the book that takes place in the desert hills beyond Los Angeles and thought the show would be vibrant in a town like Marfa.
Soloway was introduced to this part of the state by her partner Myles, who is a part-time Marfa resident, a former Lannan Foundation writer-in-residence, and New Yorker.
“You can blame Eileen Myles,” Soloway joked.
Soloway said she thinks Marfa is an amazing place for the show’s setting. With the everyday interaction between the Border Patrol, ranchers, and artists, she said this creates something that will be funny, creative, and human with this gigantic backdrop of Texas.
The letters written by Chris will be handled as voiceovers.
Playing Chris is Kathryn Hahn, who is no stranger to Soloway’s work. She played Rabbi Raquel Fein on “Transparent” and starred in Soloway’s film, “Afternoon Delight,” which won Soloway the best directing award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013. It was screened two years ago at the Crowley Theater.
Soloway started talking to Hahn about the role in the very beginning. Hahn read the book and wanted to do it.
“And off we went,” said Soloway.
Playing the lead role of Dick is Bacon, who hardly needs an introduction with his prolific film career. Soloway said Bacon is “just fantastic” and will bring a lot of his character to the screen.
Both “Transparent” and “I Love Dick” are Amazon Prime original productions.
Soloway’s work – to say the least – is totally of the moment as she addresses issues going on in today’s times. “Transparent” will begin its third season, but in season one, Tambor’s character, Maura, is harassed for using the ladies room at a mall, fast-forwarding to the current battle over transgender bathroom issues nationwide. The Texas Tribute recently reported that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will sue on behalf of Texas to stop President Barack Obama’s federal directive to allow transgender students to use the bathroom they are most comfortable with. This particular episode with Maura premiered two years ago.
Soloway does equate her shows as cutting edge. She recalled that in season two of “Transparent,” a flashback scene to 1930s Berlin deals with gays, lesbians, and transgender people. Yet, here we are again in today’s society.
“These kind of polarizing notions of creating enemies out of fear can be challenged,” said Soloway.
With the presidential election campaign underway, Republican candidate Donald Trump has publically stated that Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton plays the “woman card” and wouldn’t get as many votes if she were a man.
With most narratives focused on straight white males, Soloway said that transgender people, minorities, and women are used as objective in the male gaze. She added that women are used to empower a male storyline, while others are used as the butt of the jokes.
“Transparent” and “I Love Dick” turn the tables. “It empowers people to see themselves with the role of the subject,” said Soloway. “To me, to offer that feeling of being the subject, it does feel like the work is absolutely necessary and modern and needed at this moment.”
North Highland Avenue backdrop for TV show
Originally published in the Big Bend Sentinel on June 9, 2016
MARFA – As I looked around the Marfa Big Bend Sentinel front office on Friday, with a video monitor and influx of crew inside, I blurted out, “I think this is the most people we’ve ever had in here.”
Even on our busiest days, which are typically Wednesdays, there are usually no more than seven people in the office at a time, but the “I Love Dick” crew commandeered our office as they shot a scene for the Amazon TV pilot. Lucky for me, the crew thought my comment was amusing.
Fridays in the newspaper office are usually pretty chill. Unless breaking news happens, there isn’t much going on over here, but last Friday, series creator Jill Soloway set up camp with us to get out of the Texas heat.
The shots for this location were all exterior, so the space provided much-needed shade and a place for the crew to hide from the camera. Actress Kathryn Hahn ate her lunch on the Donald Judd bench. She was hesitant because she didn’t want to be inconsiderate, but Robert Halpern insisted that’s the purpose of the furniture, to be used, “and Donald Judd said so,” Halpern told the actress.
Timing would have it that we’re currently going through renovations though, so Halpern told Soloway and other crewmembers who walked in to “excuse our construction zone.”
Soloway and company are wrapping up two weeks of filming in Marfa for a potential TV show based on the Chris Kraus novel, “I Love Dick.” The book tells the story of a protagonist, also named Chris, and her obsession with a well-known theorist named Dick.
These past few days, Marfa residents and visitors have caught glimpses of actors Kevin Bacon, starring as Dick, Hahn, who plays Chris, and Griffin Dunne, who will play Chris’ husband Sylvère, filming scenes around town and just hanging out in general. But this isn’t new to us as “Giant” was filmed here in the mid-1950s, followed by “There Will Be Blood,” “No Country For Old Men,” “Far Marfa,” “Marfa Girl,” and host of other films and advertising shoots.
I ran into Bacon twice the first day he arrived. First, he stood in front of me with Hahn and Soloway getting tacos for lunch at Salsa Puedes. I was too nervous and hungry to say hello. I crossed paths with him later that day on my way home from work. Because we say hello to everyone here, I instinctively lifted my hand and waved hello to him. He said hello back, but I immediately felt embarrassed that I said hello to a childhood icon like we’re friends or something.
Later that evening, I posted on Twitter as my quote of the day, “If I would I have know I was going to run into Kevin Bacon, I would have showered.” Typically I don’t disclose who says these quotes, and I still won’t, but I did tag Bacon. In my years of experience on Twitter, sometimes the person you tag notices and sometimes they don’t.
In this situation, Bacon noticed. He even shared it on his personal Twitter account and included that he loved it. Since then, that tweet has been shared 17 times and liked 103 times. I received texts from friends who said I was “twitter famous,” which I replied, “sure, for not showering,” because that’s every girl’s dream. The experience was a good excuse to introduce myself though. When I eventually met him at an art opening at Ballroom Marfa, I told him I was the girl who wrote that tweet, and it went from there. He still thought it was funny.
Back to Friday, Soloway let us watch through the monitors the camera’s point of view as Hahn walked along Highland Avenue. There were extras across the street at the place formally known as Maiya’s, (and now called Stellina). The script called for one of them to yell a greeting at Hahn as she meandered along the sidewalk. She waves back and greeted back. That was the scene, all of 30 seconds.
Many locals were hired as extras, including former Padre’s Marfa bar manager Nick Cooper, Valentine artist Boyd Elder, Frama barista Eli Cordova, former Alpine Avalanche publisher Gwin Grimes, and Marfa ISD robotics teacher Rob Crowley.
I was going to finish up some work but the boss said that was enough excitement for one day. Soloway said, “Yeah, when is this going to happen again,” and let me hang out and take more photos.
Now when she sees me around town, she immediately says hi.
Made-in-Marfa TV show premieres Friday
Originally published in the Big Bend Sentinel on August 18, 2016
MARFA – The TV pilot filmed in Marfa this summer will premiere Friday on Amazon Video. “I Love Dick,” starring Kevin Bacon, Kathryn Hahn and Griffin Dunne, will stream online starting at 8am for all Amazon customers and not exclusively to Amazon Prime members.
The show, based on Chris Kraus’ 1997 novel, tells the story of Chris, played by Hahn, and her obsession with a professor named Dick, starring Bacon. She navigates between Dick, her work, and her marriage to Sylvère, played by Dunne.
Rather than Southern California where the novel primarily takes place, the comedy unfolds in Marfa. Our town in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert guides the story along as Chris adjusts to small town living and learns to embrace the remoteness for her self-discovery as with many other real-life transplants to town.
The crew descended on Marfa in late May and spent two weeks filming all around town from the Capri event space to the space formerly occupied by the Museum of Electronic Wonders & Late Night Grilled Cheese Parlour. Locals were hired as extras to fill the background, some with speaking parts, and photos of Bacon filming around town popped up on social media.
Bacon also surprised Marfa ISD teachers and staff at their end of year party when he presented a check of $5,000 to the Marfa Education Foundation.
Those who attended the Marfa Film Festival last month got to see a first, but incomplete, look of the “I Love Dick” pilot. Although it was never publicly announced, word spread quickly in that small town fashion what the “secret screening” would be and the Crowley Theater was packed to the rafters mostly with local residents.
Film festival creator/director Robin Lambaria introduced the screening as a “really special surprise.” It was the first time she showed something at the festival without seeing it first, even though she is one of the actors in the episode with a speaking role.
“We have something happening in this town that hasn’t happened . . . probably forever on this level since ‘Giant,’” said Lambaria.
Granted, there have been movies aplenty filmed in the Marfa since “Giant,” including “There Will Be Blood,” “No Country for Old Men,” “Far Marfa” and “Marfa Girl,” but a TV show with multiple episodes hasn’t been filmed in Marfa in a long time, if ever.
Series creator Jill Soloway and writer Sarah Gubbins, who happened to be in town that weekend, shared their gratitude to the residents for allowing them to film in Marfa, but warned those who had hoped to see themselves on the big screen that night that they probably didn’t make the cut.
“Try to enjoy it for the love of the whole thing,” said Soloway. “Yes, don’t look for yourself.”
The screening ended with applause and cheers as Soloway jumped back on stage with Lambaria to thank poet Eileen Myles, Soloway’s girlfriend who has a home here, for suggesting Marfa be the show’s setting.
Anyone who views the episode can leave feedback as they would with any other product on the online commerce site. The feedback will help determine whether the show becomes an ongoing series.
Although, rumor has it around town that the show is already picked up.
Sarah's review: Not everyone loves Dick
Originally published in the Big Bend Sentinel on August 25, 2016
MARFA – The critics have spoken. You either love Dick or you really hate him.
Emmy-winning director Jill Soloway’s new TV pilot, “I Love Dick,” premiered last week on Amazon Video with many local and past residents logging in to see Marfa on the computer or TV screen.
An hour and a half after the scheduled Friday morning release, the episode had almost 100 reviews. Now with a little over 2,600 reviews, the show has 3.1-star rating out of five stars. The split is between the lowest rating (one star) and the highest (five stars).
It’s always cool to see familiar faces and backdrops in a TV show or movie. The show opens with Marfa Film Festival founder/director Robin Lambaria as the hipster subletter Ester and Mando’s Restaurant waitress Belen Garcia shows Chris and Sylvère (played by Kathryn Hahn and Griffin Dunne respectively) to their table to join Dick (played by Kevin Bacon) for dinner. I moved to Marfa three years ago, so I’m still fairly new to the town, but there is a sense of pride I get seeing whatever is my home base at the moment in the TV world. The big party scene filmed at the Capri event space became a fun game as I tried to spot as many locals in the background as I could.
There are others that don’t feel that way though. Naturally, the show was the talk of the town this weekend and in this age of social media where people turn to their keyboards to air their approval or grievances, it seemed that everyone had something to say. It was hard to avoid it.
I decided to survey my friends on Facebook and what I got back was mixed responses. While some commented on the actual storyline, I read reactions that cared more about how Marfa was portrayed and what this new attention would attract to town. Tourism is part of the local economy, but I feel like I have this conversation every time a new article from an out-of-town publication is published or a news piece airs (60 Minutes, anyone?), or a new business comes to town. Sometimes change is just hard to accept. I started this year watching my parents lose their home to the always-rising property taxes in East Austin due to gentrification, so I understand the resistance.
There are a lot of amusing jokes that most people won’t get if they’ve never been here, and clearly Soloway and writer Sarah Gubbins paid attention to those details. I don’t think the show is an overall glowing portrayal of Marfa though. If anything, “I Love Dick” makes light of the quirks we have to endure to live here.
Devon (played by Roberta Colindrez) tells Chris that the Presidio County Sheriff doesn’t like the artists and she shouldn’t smoke her weed outside, as he’s not cool with it.
It was comical to see Lambaria act like she’s never heard of Marfa before, or that Caitlin Murray from the Judd Foundation mentions a “bad art show” that was “filled with men and terrible painters.” I immediately recognized Presidio County Justice of the Peace David Beebe’s voice as he talks about nitro coffee, the newest caffeine endeavor for Daniel and Jessie Browning, the couple behind the Frama Coffeeshop.
When Chris drives into town and looks around, she asks her husband if it’s weird that this was not at all what she expected. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that from visiting friends.
After an inspection of the house that is provided for Sylvère’s writing fellowship, she walks out in disgust and says it’s like we’re Amish. Yeah, we have this amazing art scene in a town of 2,000 people, but with limited resources, the closest big box store being 1.5 hours away and overnight delivery being pretty much non-existent, we make due with what we have. This is nothing new to those that live here or have visited on a Monday.
Mercer Black Declercq is a fourth generation Marfa resident and she commented on my post that while it’s not what she typically watches, she supports the show fully.
“Diversified economy for Marfa is a good thing,” she wrote. “As for whether or not it’s damaging to the ‘Marfa brand’ – well, I have more to say about that than can be shared in a Facebook post. The short of it is, no one owns this brand. It’s a living, breathing, growing thing and those of us who have been here awhile, particularly those of us with some family in the Marfa cemetery, have seen worse and better times.”
During the two-week filming, the production company stayed in local hotels, sometimes ate in local restaurants – Marfa Burrito’s Ramona Tejada catered the big party scene – and rented facilities and locations. They rented the Marfa ISD’s big gym for 10 days and a bus for two days, paying a total of $10,200, which includes $1,000 for “being a nuisance.”
The show is not perfect, but I also feel like it’s too early to form my opinion just yet. TV pilots are hard for me because there is less than an hour to sell the idea, and the cast and crew are clearly in that getting-to-know-each-other phase.
It’s no secret I am a huge Veronica Mars fan (this is the girl that woke up at 6am to get an express pass for the movie premiere), but I have to admit it took me four to five episodes before I became hooked. In fact, I almost tuned it out at first because it didn’t immediately win me over. I’ve had a few friends tell me similar stories with the shows and movies they love.
Yeah, it’s Amazon’s pilot season and the whole point is that the reviews will determine if the show gets picked up, so our opinion is rushed. I would like to see more of “I Love Dick,” because frankly, I’m interested to see how Chris interacts with Marfa in the show.