“Who said there’s no second acts in American life? F. Scott Fitzgerald?
Fuck you F. Scott Fitzgerald.” – Wayne White
For over 30 years, Wayne White has made an indelible mark on the creative world. As a designer, painter, puppeteer, sculptor, and musician, Mr. White created images and ideas that are an integral – yet sometimes subconscious – part of the pop culture lexicon. To this day, he still gets up every morning to do the only thing his body and mindwere made to do…create. Whether the world acknowledges it or not.
Part biography, part live performance, Beauty Is Embarrassing, tells the irreverent and inspiring story of this one-of-a-kind visual artist and raconteur. The film traces White’s career from an underground cartoonist in New York’s East Village to his big break as a designer, puppeteer and voice-over actor on Pee-wee’s Playhouse for which he won three Emmy’s. It follows Wayne’s success designing and animating for other children’s shows like Beakman’s World and music videos for The Smashing Pumpkins (“Tonight, Tonight”) and Peter Gabriel (“Big Time”) through a dark period of struggle and self-reflection before emerging in his present-day incarnation as a respected painter and performer. The film, like White, embraces the ragged edges and messy contradictions of life, art, and family with rabid humor and honesty.
For two years, filmmaker Neil Berkeley traveled with White through Houston, Miami, New York, Chattanooga, Nashville and Los Angeles retracing Wayne’s steps from childhood to parenthood. He peeled back layer after layer of Wayne’s singular creative process and his astonishingly prolific career. In addition to the 300+ hours of footage shot by Berkeley and his team, the director discovered hours of video which White shot throughout his career including never-before-seen behind the scenes footage of the making of Pee-wee’s Playhouse – now included in Beauty Is Embarrassing.
Wayne White’s trip to the top came relatively early in life but was followed by fall that felt all too real. Yet, as Wayne explains in the film, there are sometimes second acts in life that take us to new heights – without compromise. At its core, Beauty Is Embarrassing shows what it takes for one uniquely talented, profanely hilarious, and utterly uncompromising artist to make it in America.
Future You Pictures presents in association with Tremolo Productions Beauty Is Embarrassing featuring Wayne White, Mimi Pond, Mark Mothersbaugh, Todd Oldham, Matt Groening, Gary Panter, Ric Heitzman, Paul Rubens. Edited by Chris Bradley, with additional editing by Kevin Klauber. Directors of Photography Neil Berkeley and Chris Bradley. Executive Producers Aimee Bothwell, Bart McDonough and Eddie Schmidt. Produced by Neil Berkeley, Chris Bradley, Milan Erceg and Morgan Neville. Co-Producer Liah Corral and Anthony Maiuri. Written by Neil Berkeley, Chris Bradley and Kevin Klauber. Directed by Neil Berkeley.
DIRECTOR’S STATEMENT I first met Wayne in the spring of 2001. He and I were doing work for the same company, and while I’d like to say we immediately bonded, I have to admit that the friendship was one-sided. Our relationship was initially comprised of my desperate attempts to stay friends with him and continually tell the world about what he has done in his career. I think my experience with Wayne is similar to that of many other people who have come in contact with him—we’re amazed at how prolific he's been as an artist, and we’re touched by how kind, humorous, and interesting he is as a person. I’m incredibly thrilled that Wayne finally warmed up to me (it did happen, folks!) and has allowed me the opportunity to spend the last few years chronicling his life.
Being in my mid-thirties, I grew up dead center in the middle of Wayne’s artistic achievements. My childhood seemed to track every professional move he made – from Pee-wee’s Playhouse, to Beakman’s World, to the Pumpkins and Peter Gabriel’s videos, to the commercials he made, all the way up to the word paintings. His work seemed to be right in line with whatever age I was and whatever cultural phenomena I was paying attention to.
So when people ask me what it has been like making this movie, the first thing I tell them is that it has been the time of my life. I hope audiences get that sense of joy that Wayne has about what he does everyday. That’s the lesson I learned from him…spend everyday doing work that makes you happy. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past three years, and I can’t wait for everyone to see what I’ve been up to.
Neil Berkeley, Los Angeles CA
Interview subjects include (in alphabetical order):
Cliff Benjamin – Art Dealer
Tony Crow – Lambchop
Jonathan Dayton – Co-Director, Little Miss Sunshine
Valerie Faris – Co-Director, Little Miss Sunshine
Matt Groening – Creator, The Simpsons
Mark Mothersbaugh – Devo
Todd Oldham – Designer
David Pagel – L.A. Times
Gary Panter – Co-Creator, Pee-wee’s Playhouse
Paul Reubens – Pee-wee Herman
Charles Stone – Director, Drumline
Fred Sullivan – Owner of the famous Fred62 diner
Kurt Wagner – Lead singer, Lambchop
Paul Zaloom – Beakman’s World FILMMAKER BIOS Neil Berkeley, Producer/Director/Writer/Cinematographer Neil Berkeley has been working as a designer and director in film and television for over ten years. His work includes main title design for some of TV's most popular shows and he has directed several national commercials. He has also developed main titles for documentaries including The Cool School, Johnny Cash’s America, Air Guitar Nation and Respect Yourself: The Story of Stax Records.
Since 2009, Mr. Berkeley has operated his design-based production company, BRKLY. The company developed most of the animated sequences in Beauty Is Embarrassing including the Mimi Pond Cartoon, the Pee-wee's Playhouse sketches and the end credits.
Beauty Is Embarrassing is Mr. Berkeley's first feature length documentary.
Chris Bradley, Producer/Editor/Cinematographer
Chris Bradley has directed, photographed and edited feature-length films including Pittsburgh (Starz – Anchor Bay Entertainment) a feature length mockumentary which premiered at the Tribeca film festival and starred Jeff Goldblum, Ed Begley, Jr., Illeana Douglas and Moby, Fired! (Showtime – Shout Factory) a comedic documentary starring Tim Allen, Harry Shearer, Fred Willard, Sarah Silverman, Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, Jeff Garlin, Illeana Douglas, and others, and Jon E. Edwards is in Love, a documentary winner of the SXSW Special Jury Award as well as Santa Fe Film Festival’s Creative Spirit Award.
Morgan Neville, Producer
Morgan Neville is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, who has specialized in making music documentaries including Muddy Waters Can’t Be Satisfied, Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story, Johnny Cash’s America and Troubadours. His non-music films include The Cool School, The Joy of Lex and Shotgun Freeway. Neville's company Tremolo Productions, is a major producer of arts documentaries, including Pearl Jam Twenty, Pacific Standard Time, The Union and Beauty Is Embarrassing.
Eddie Schmidt, Executive Producer
Eddie Schmidt is an Oscar-nominated filmmaker (Twist of Faith) who has produced four documentaries that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, including This Film Is Not Yet Rated(which he co-wrote) and the Emmy-nominated, all-star music documentary, Troubadours. His films have appeared on HBO, IFC, PBS, BBC and Sundance Channel, as well as theatrically and at other major film festivals around the world. For television, Schmidt has directed, written and produced documentary and comedy series and specials for HBO, IFC, NBC/Universal, Lionsgate, PBS, E!, A&E, and Current. Recently, Schmidt was executive producer of the pop documentary Candyman, distributed Harry Shearer’s documentary The Big Uneasy, and has been producing a new feature documentary with BMP Films (Autism: The Musical). For three years – the maximum term – Schmidt served as Board President of IDA (International Documentary Association). He will soon join Steve James, Barbara Kopple and others in directing a short film for Morgan Spurlock’s Focus Forward initiative with Cinelan and GE.
Kevin Klauber, Writer/Editor Kevin Klauber has spent the last 5 years working on feature documentaries. He has edited projects on behalf of PBS, the National Science Foundation, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and Sean Penn. Last year, he worked with Cameron Crowe to shape over two decades worth of footage into the feature documentary, Pearl Jam Twenty. While frequently working in the mainstream, Kevin has also fostered credibility in the independent film market, as well as critical acclaim. 2012 has brought his second nomination for the Golden Reel Award by the MPSE, as well as the programming of his latest documentary Beauty Is Embarrassing into South by Southwest. Kevin graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts with an emphasis in film production, as well Werner Herzog's Rogue Film School.
Tim Rutili, Composer
Tim Rutili is a singer, guitarist, keyboardist, and frontman/lyricist for the American rock band Califone. Originally from Chicago, Rutili now lives in Los Angeles. He was raised in Addison, IL. After moving into Chicago in 1988, he found success with the band Red Red Meat. The band was signed to the Sub Pop label, where they received high praise and moderate success. He was also a member of the indie rock supergroup Ugly Casanova, which included Modest Mouse singer Isaac Brock, producer and former Red Red Meat bandmate, Brian Deck, and others. He also appears on Joan of Arc’s album Guitar Duets, performing a duet with Jeremy Boyle. Rutili directed his first feature length film All My Friends Are Funeral Singers in tandem with the creation of Califone’s 2009 release of the same title. The film was accepted for competition at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.