It is quite important to note that these were legal pot gummies (Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012) and maybe equally important to note that several audience members took him up on it before the screening started.
However, that might not have been strictly necessary because on its own, this show is a trip. Funded by a Kickstarter campaign that raised $29,505, “The Eyeslicer” is comprised of short films that defy the average imagination — in the hour-long episode that screened at SeriesFest, documentary, animation and live-action blended together to cover everything from the death of Blockbuster to the idea of watching your own birth. The reaction, exiting the theater, was largely a collective “Wow.”
Not only is “The Eyeslicer” a truly unique viewing experience, but what Schoenbrun and co-creator Vanessa McDonnell have planned for its future goes well beyond the ordinary. Earlier in the day, IndieWire met up with Schoenbrun to find out exactly what he had planned for “Eyeslicer” in the future — after all, many of the projects screening at SeriesFest this weekend are pilots searching for some form of distribution from established companies. Schoenbrun, meanwhile, has no interest in any of that.
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“The goal isn’t to make a lot of money,” he said. “The goal is to build a scene and a community and a sustainable platform for work that’s trying to be edgy and diverse and different. We’re not looking for the big money deal where it’s like, great, this network bought it and they’re going to figure out how to get out to people. We want to build it slowly every year.”
“Eyeslicer” is Schoenbrun’s follow-up to his contribution to “collective:unconscious,” the 2016 film eventually made available for free online. Getting it out to a wide audience was a great experience, Schoenbrun said, but there was a downside: “We got like 300,000 views, but we didn’t get any way to communicate with those people. That was the problem.”
Added Schoenbrun, “How do I really become a Louis CK or an indie artist on BandCamp and be able to communicate with my audience?”
Thus, they’re looking to a strategy that Schoenbrun described as “this secret TV show release, where it starts small and it’s just the people who know about it. It’s not elitist — it’s not like you have to be invited to come in. But you need to hear about it; there’s a minimal barrier of entry. It’s like this secret club that’s operating behind the curtain, a way to add some kind of scarcity or barrier to entry to the Internet, which is just blitzed with things.”
The 10, hour-long episodes of “Eyeslicer,” all of which are completed, feature a variety of short-form content: “The goal for us is to grow it into something that’s both the best of the weird stuff from the festival circuit mixed with stuff we’re making,” he said.
And thanks to the Kickstarter campaign, every filmmaker whose work is featured got paid for it. “It was actually depressing — so many of them were like, ‘This $150 is the first time I’ve ever been paid for my work.’ I was like, ‘Wow, your bar is pretty low.'”
While initially Schoenbrun never thought “Eyeslicer” would play at festivals, it actually made its world premiere earlier this year at the Tribeca Film Festival — in the same section as more mainstream offerings like “The Handmaid’s Tale” — something that speaks to the ways in which the fest scene is currently evolving.
“Tribeca reached out really early on,” he said. “More and more festivals are having these kinds of conversations about what is our role, in a landscape where there used to be a much clearer division between the kind of work that people were making, as an institution that’s supposed to be set up to build audience and support and create opportunities that support and create art.”
McDonnell and Schoenbrun’s plans go beyond the TV series, for the record, including a future road show that might actually include Smell-O-Vision (McDonnell, he said, is “an expert” in this, thanks to her work at the Brooklyn screening house Spectacle).
“We view the show as our flagship thing that we do every year, as this incubator for really great work,” Schoenbrun said. “But we want to be using it as a platform for young cool filmmakers to find an audience and develop new things. We’d rather have a small community of people who are incredibly passionate about what we’re doing than an amorphous number of views.”