Melt Your Minds with a Punk Variety TV Show: The Eyeslicer

The Eyeslicer is back with a second season of experimental short films and a plan to revive the independent filmmaker scene. A pair of pixelated friends — animation so simple,…
by Dave Jasmon
Sep 11, 2019

The Eyeslicer is back with a second season of experimental short films and a plan to revive the independent filmmaker scene.

A pair of pixelated friends — animation so simple, it’s almost Atari — move in a matter of minutes between a problem with fleas and a lovely, existential meditation. The dichotomy of eccentric, yet familiar machinations and jarring emotional depth instantly set the tone for The Eyeslicer Season 2.

The aforementioned short is one of several recurring segments from Albert Birney’s “Tux and Fanny,” an introduction coming on the heels of a self-aware ASMR opening from Seafoam Kitten which addresses HEAD-ON what The Eyeslicer is up against: A pile of streaming platform content troughs from which the masses binge daily (YUM! Tasty, tasty content). Yet, what do we do as viewers when our queues are empty? More to the point, what do we do when our appetite for the monoculture dissipates?

Gone are the days of Liquid Television, hand-me-down VHS oddities, and recommendations from your local indie video store clerk. This is where The Eyeslicer comes in, an exercise in filmic pointillism that up close might be discarded as a patchwork assembly of weird-for-the-sake-of-weirdness, but step back and you just might see an innovative collection of filmmakers working together to break through the Great Stream Machine.

Tux and Fanny and that old-fashioned alternate universe (plus a chicken) feeling. Photo from Albert Birney.

Co-Created by Dan Schoenbrun and Vanessa McDonnell, The Eyeslicer is a punk variety television show that is both independently produced and distributed. It consists of (roughly) hour-long episodes of short form work that are combined into something resembling a mixtape, or perhaps a sketch show in an alternate universe. While Schoenbrun and McDonnell curate the episodes, the shorts for Season 2 were created by over 70 filmmakers, including Meow Wolf’s own Alec Brown, Annie Jaymes, and Brad Wolfley (Meow Wolf also serves as Executive Producer).

Schoenbrun states, “Vanessa and I both come from a background in the film world and are really passionate about the idea that there should be more outlets and opportunities for people that want to watch and engage with art. We feel that even the independent film world has become increasingly corporatized over the last decade, and that most people are getting their art, entertainment, and content from corporate algorithms these days. The Eyeslicer is an attempt to create a sustainable, radical alternative to that.”

Talkin’ Dick Pics with Sunita Mani. Photo from Russell Sheaffer and Hannah McSwiggin.

This alternative began with a Kickstarter-funded first season featuring contributions from a number of emerging filmmakers, such as Ari Aster, Shaka King, and Amy Seimetz, and was essentially a “greatest hits” gumbo of backlogged works collected by Schoenbrun and McDonnell. However, instead of returning to the well with these now-better-known artists, the second season doubles down on providing opportunities to up-and-coming filmmakers.

Schoenbrun explains, “The biggest difference is that a lot of the work is commissioned instead of curated. It’s almost 50/50 at this point. We launched something called the Radical Film Fund, where we basically said to the internet and to our community of filmmakers, ‘we don’t have a lot of money, but we have a little bit, and we believe there should be more opportunities — even if you’re a working, established artist — to go out into the woods or wherever and spend a day or two making something fun.’”

The result is 13 episodes (around 11 hours) of work that would likely never reach a large audience through mainstream outlets, yet the recent success of Season 1’s contributors proves that there’s a wider appeal for alternative and absurdist content than the algorithms suggest.

“It’s a group of filmmakers that we really believe are discoveries. There aren’t a ton of big, established names in there, but it’s people that I’m totally confident if you give it three years…that list is going to be full of big names.”

“The stuff that we curated tends to be pretty contemporary stuff that’s been made over the last year or two,” Schoenbrun says. “It’s a group of filmmakers that we really believe are discoveries. There aren’t a ton of big, established names in there, but it’s people that I’m totally confident if you give it three years…that list is going to be full of big names.”

Going Under Covers on Saturday Morning Slicer. Photo from Michaela Olsen.

Between the flood of filmmakers and their disparate techniques, it could be easy to get bogged down by the lack of a clear path or throughline, but Schoenbrun and McDonnell have lovingly arranged these enormous works into episodes that share themes, recurring characters, and ultimately, an overarching message.

Schoenbrun says, “This season we’ve sort of taken to describing as a deep dive into our current American hellscape. Each episode sort of stands on its own and looks at something different. There’s an episode all about internet storytelling. There’s an episode that’s all cartoon-based. There’s a Halloween episode that’s all about liminal spaces and the female gaze in horror film. Our season finale, which is called “The End of the Show // World,” is all about the apocalypse and global warming and our impending climate crisis. It’s almost like you’re getting a peek into all of these different subtopics of this wider exploration of where we are right now. When you watch it all the way through — and spend the 11 hours watching it in the order that it’s intended to be watched — I really feel like it takes you pretty deep into something that I haven’t really seen explored in mainstream American art and entertainment.”

Not only are Schoenbrun and McDonnell attempting to showcase radically unique filmmakers, as well as introduce these artists to viewers of otherwise rigged platforms, but they’re also trying to experiment with distribution in order to change the rules of the game. Case in point, outside of the first couple of episodes, the remainder of Season 2 will only be available via USB drive presented within 7-inch record packaging. You can pre-order NOW on their website, look for it at festivals, or (hopefully) find it in the future at brick-and-mortar stores.

Schoenbrun explains, “The big idea is: we just want to find ways to make this feel like sort of a community, something that’s more special than just, ‘Here it is on the internet. Watch it when you want.’”

This idea of discovery, creating community, and relying on that deeply engaged core of true believers is what Schoenbrun believes is missing from film culture in the internet age. “The internet was supposed to be the place that made that easier, but it’s actually become a lot harder. The distribution experiment is a reaction to the idea that the internet is no longer designed to let this stuff thrive, especially because it’s been so corporatized. These newsfeeds want you to pay to promote things. They favor content that the algorithm favors, which is ‘lowest common denominator and easily digestible.’ To get this art-over-algorithm work out to people — both online and offline — you kind of have to be creative.”

Contemplating Total Body Removal Surgery with Kati Kelli. Photo from Kati Kelli.

While The Eyeslicer’s throwback distribution model encourages a more engaged standard of film consumption, it relies heavily on another old school method of marketing: Word of mouth. Thus, the upcoming four-day kickoff event known as Eyeslicer Fest.

From Sept. 14-17 in their home base of Brooklyn, Eyeslicer Fest will bring together alternative film fans with an indie game-fueled party featuring an 11-room installation of the show, a tribute to comic and zine festivals called The Radical Film Fair, and a world premiere screening of Season 2 in Green-Wood Cemetery. The Radical Film Fair is being presented by Kickstarter, and is a free event that will bring together dozens of filmmakers, independent distributors, movie theaters, zinemakers, and more for a giant flea market and indie film jamboree.

“We have a lot of friends who are filmmakers and distributors that are still making physical objects. There’s not really an IRL distribution path for that kind of work anymore. At music festivals, there’s usually a tent where all of the independent labels are there selling records, or if you’re a comic or graphic novel fan, there are these fairs that you can go to where you can meet these artists and buy things directly from them.”

So can an independent film movement thrive in the internet age without streaming? You could say it’s wishful thinking to believe that DIY, grassroots movements such as The Eyeslicer can really make a dent in the film industry, and Schoenbrun acknowledges the uphill battle they face, but we at Meow Wolf can certainly attest to the power of passionate people banding together to fight the Great Machine. It all starts with a collection of caring individuals and the belief that together our weird voices can create something greater than the sum of our parts.

“What we do believe in trying to do is,” Schoenbrun offers, “keeping our eye on the goal of finding as many people as possible hungry for something different. We really believe there should be an alternative and a space for alternative visions that don’t fit into that structure. That can mean a lot of things, right? That can mean filmmakers trying to make that work, that can mean industry people, festivals, even distributors trying to support that work. That can mean just fans, people who care about finding new weird things…those people will always exist. Creating in collaboration with all of these people, not trying to own it entirely, but doing our part to create a space for all of that…is really the goal.”

Baron von Slice, your cute little bunny button of a host, wants you to watch TOONS! Photo from Leah Shore.

Now let’s all join hands and dive into the American hellscape together!

*For details on how to purchase The Eyeslicer Season Two or how to get involved with Eyeslicer Fest or the Radical Film Fair, visit theeyeslicer.com/.