Daily Mini Interview: Joanne Martin: A Life in Miniature Documentary Film Crew

Joanne Martin: A Life in Miniature Documentary Filmmakers

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View of the dollhouse Joanne Martin’s been working on since 1985.

What role did you play in this documentary, Joanne Martin: A Life in Miniature?

Stephanie Lewis (SL): Executive Producer, Director, Writer, Photographer, Video Camera, and Visual Artist.

Eris (E): Co-Director, Film Editor, Music Editor, Music Editor, Photographer, Photography Editor, and Video Camera.

What’s your earliest memory with miniatures?

(SL): My earliest memories of miniatures was seeing them at my aunt’s house. Other than that, like a lot of kids, I played with Hot Wheels/Matchbox cars and Lincoln Logs.

(E): I created a small neighborhood that ran on electricity for a science fair in the third grade. My parents helped me create this project. Not only was it an amazing bonding experience but it gave me an appreciation for the attention to scale that goes into creating miniature versions of our world.

Now available to rent! Watch "Joanne Martin: A Life in Miniature" here.

How did you first get started making this film about Joanne Martin?

(SL): First, my parents had said for years that I was a lot like my aunt, but since going away to college, I hadn’t spent much concentrated time with her. I was curious if they were right. About seven years ago, I invited my aunt to come down to Arkansas to speak to the art club I advised at my college. She gave such a fantastic presentation on the Miniature Museum of Greater St. Louis and we had such a great time together, I thought it would be exciting to make a film about her and the museum. I got sidetracked from the project after a major illness in 2012 that took me a couple years to fully recover from. Shortly after that, I met Eris. We began talking about the project and she told me how much experience she had with video editing, and she had recently graduated with a degree in Graphic Design. I asked her if she’d like to help me realize my vision and she said she would. We were both also extra motivated in 2015 after a nationally recognized film festival came to our region and was especially dedicated to championing women and diversity (The Bentonville Film Festival (BFF)).

(E): Stephanie approached me in early 2015 with the idea of making this film. We had been friends for a couple of years and this seemed like an exciting adventure to embark on. Her passion for the subject was catchy and soon we were filming, organizing, and editing.

Screen capture of Joanne talking about her dollhouse that she’s been working on since 1985.

In addition to Joanne’s passion for miniatures, what other topics does the film focus on?

(SL): The film is essentially a biography: her family history and her role as anchor in her family and extended family, her relationship with her mother, her thoughts on her religious upbringing, her career life, her role as President of the Miniature Museum of Greater St. Louis (the film contains scenes of her speaking about various miniature boxes and dollhouses in the museum), her tenacity, and it touches on her reading disability and dropping out of high school.

Anything you learned while making this film?

(SL): As an artist who normally works in the two-dimensional, static mediums of painting, drawing, and printmaking, I found the dynamic, moving medium of film/video to be exhilarating even if it at times, it could be tedious. Another thing I liked was working collaboratively. Work in traditional art media can be very lonely as they are almost always predominantly solitary pursuits in one’s studio.

A detail of the dining room in Joanne’s dollhouse she’s been working on since 1985. This image also features one of her punch needle rugs which are one of her miniature-making specialties.

Any tips/tricks you learned about shooting small scale works?

(E): Depth of field can be a curse or a blessing. Strict attention must be paid to get the shot. It’s also good to try a variety of lighting situations.

Favorite miniature-centric quote or mini-focused scene from the doc?

(SL): “I hope it comes out the way I pictured it. Sometimes things don’t come out the way I think they should. And the trash can is sitting right next to me.” —Joanne Martin speaking about the placement of a tree next to one of her dollhouses. (Speaks to the creative process in general, but I also like it as a metaphor for my aunt’s approach to life, too.)

How can fans view the documentary?

(SL): The film will likely be released to the public in 2018-2019. For 2017 – 2018, we will be submitting the film to film festivals. When it is released, we will release it for sale as a DVD and will have it available online for rent or purchase in digital format. That is our plan now. We just launched a Kickstarter for our post-production costs this summer.

What festivals are you planning to submit to?

(SL): The Bentonville Film Festival, The Tallgrass Film Festival, The Slamdance Festival, Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, Ozark Foothills FilmFest, Cinema St. Louis… Those are a few we have been looking at. There will be more.

Favorite filmmakers?

(SL): In no particular order: P.T. Anderson, Hal Ashby, Lars von Trier, Guillermo del Toro, Michel Gondry, Miranda July, and Diablo Cody.

(E): Milos Forman, P.T. Anderson, Terry Gilliam, Madeleine Olnek, Diablo Cody, and Patty Jenkins.

One of Joanne’s roombox scenes.

Favorite films?

(SL): Top three in order are Harold and Maude, Magnolia, and Mary and Max.

(E): Amadeus, The Fisher King, and Harold and Maude.

What advice would you give to new filmmakers or film crews? 

(SL): Stay really organized at the front end. It makes all the difference. That extra time you spend organizing, will allow you to really savor the creative stuff later.

(E): Get out and make the movie. I wish someone had told me how much fun it was. Filmmaking is the best!

Do you collect miniatures yourself? 

(SL): I do not. I’m not much of a collector except for Wonder Woman merchandise and memorabilia.

Favorite mini makers?

(SL): I enjoy the work of mini-food maker, “Walking with Giants.” I like Lori Nix’s work. I would say that the first miniaturist to really turn my head, besides my aunt, would be Frances Glessner Lee and her miniature reenactments of crime scenes: her Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. She was also a trailblazer in forensic science because of that work.

(E): Personally, I’ve always been inspired by the people who create the miniatures used in large scale theatrical productions. From Star Wars to Inception, the quality of work used to trick the viewer has always been amazing to me.

Film director Stephanie Lewis with her aunt and film subject Joanne Martin.

What inspires you?

(SL): Being immersed in the art world as a college art professor is my primary source of inspiration, but I’m also inspired by the heroic people around me. We don’t have to achieve fantastic things to be heroic. Most of the people I find heroic are very humble and people would never expect them to be heroes in some capacity. I love people who are the heroes of their own lives as well. I find my aunt to be one of these heroes.

(E): I am inspired by this world that seems to be evolving into a more accepting and loving place.

What is the most memorable miniature you have ever seen?

(SL): I’m not sure I could answer this definitively, having seen so much art. I love the cinematic quality of Lori Nix’s work. Frances Glessner Lee’s work is understandably haunting.

(E): I’ve enjoyed some of Tatsuya Tanaka’s work. I like the interaction between mini and real sized objects.

What is your hope for the field of miniatures? 

(SL): Before I started the film, I was not as aware of the miniature field as I am now. Originally, I thought it might be a niche medium, but now I think a lot of different people are involved in it — from women like my aunt, to young men, mainstream fine artists, to Hollywood miniature set designers. I don’t think it’s going anywhere.

Detail of the wall in the game room in the dollhouse Joanne’s been working on since 1985.

How can miniaturists and miniature collectors help keep the art alive? 

(E): I think getting the word out to the younger crowd is necessary. Every time I show anybody anything to do with this film, they get excited. I think that people just need more exposure.

What would you like to see replicated in miniature?

(SL): Anything for which the reduction in scale would be ironic. I’m a sucker for humor.

Why a miniature doc?

(SL): Actually, I would not characterize this film as a “miniature documentary.” I would call it a film about one miniaturist who also runs a miniature museum with snapshots into her life and past. I love documentaries. I watch them voraciously. I love learning in general and am drawn to non-fiction primarily. I wear a lot of hats lately. Film is a new hat I wear. I’m enjoying working in a new medium quite a bit. It’s a brain and creativity rejuvenator for me.

(E): I love artistic collaboration, so when this opportunity arose, I couldn’t say no. Working in video brings together several of the artistic mediums that I love. Photography, music, design, and writing come together to make this work.

What’s to come from the Joanne Martin film team?

(SL): Our next project is still in its planning stage, but it will also be a biography of a sort with a dash of dark humor and surrealism.

Other hobbies you enjoy?

(SL): Hiking, swimming, and travel primarily.

(E): Travel and playing guitar.

Would you like to share a dailymini exclusive with readers? 

(SL): I still have my childhood Hot Wheels/Matchbox collection. 

Stephanie Lewis lives in Bella Vista, Arkansas and Eris lives in Springdale, Arkansas. Together, these two have been working on Joanne Martin: A Life in Miniature, a documentary film that will be touring over the next year. You can now watch the film here. To learn more about their film, visit the documentary website, consider donating on Kickstarter, and check out the official film trailer. To connect on social media, check out the latest updates on FacebookYouTube, and Twitter.

A detail of a miniature in Joanne’s ½ inch house.