Far Out Meets: The creators of the compelling short documentary ‘The Grass is Always Greener on TV’
At Far Out Magazine we believe in cinema’s ability to heal.
At a time when millions of people remain locked inside amid strict social distancing measures and cinemas around the world continue to keep their doors closed, we want to shine a light on filmmakers on a personal level.
Turning our attention to the work created by independent artists, we have launched our new weekly series ‘The Far Out Film Club’. The project will focus on one filmmaker during each episode and will premiere on both of Far Out Magazine’s Facebook page and YouTube channel every Wednesday.
Offering a platform for filmmakers around the world, promoting their work to millions of cinephiles while also connecting them to other creatives, our second edition of the series welcomes creatives Matt Pizzano and producer Nic Wehmeyer to discuss the short documentary The Grass is Always Greener on TV.
“The project started the years ago when Nic found an article detailing Mark’s artwork and his life in Chattanooga,” Pizzano told Far Out Magazine “He shared it with me and we decided there was something compelling here about, though our thinking about it changed significantly as time went on.”
The person Pizzano is referring to, the main subject of his film, is Mark Bennett.
Bennett, an author and an artist, found a sanctuary of calm within the escapism of television. Having been forced to deal with personal trauma in varying degrees throughout his life, Bennett would focus his attentions on the specific details of television sets, compiling a vast collection of blueprints from the storylines and sets of the 1950s to 1980s television sitcom homes.
“A friend, in my home state of Tennessee, introduced me to Mark’s work when she showed me one of his blueprint renderings of Bruce Wayne’s manor from the TV show Batman that was hanging in her hallway,” Wehmeyer explained. “I was blown away with the creativity and the detail that Mark put into these blueprints.
“When I returned to NY, Matt and I both agreed that Mark’s blueprints would make for an interesting artist profile film. We arranged to talk with Mark and quickly began to understand that he wasn’t just a fan of these shows, but he lived and breathed inside these fictional worlds. We both knew that his story was rich and we had to dig more.”
While Bennett’s drawings often delivered an entertaining result and a truly unique take on a somewhat trivial topic, the source of this fascination was drawn from a deeper struggle. “Our focus in the film changed drastically from start to finish,” Director Pizzano remembered. “Going into that first interview with Mark, we had initially just anticipated an interview filled with quirky fun facts about classic TV and hopefully some insight on changing American pop culture. But after spending a few hours with Mark, his personal struggles came surging forward and a more powerful and heartbreaking life story emerged.
“We had to completely rethink the project, and we travelled back to Tennessee several more times to talk with Mark and explore the difficult experiences his story presents, and how to share it with others.”
In what began life as a lighthearted profile was suddenly given a deeper meaning. Bennett, who had suffered sexual abuse as a child, was opening up a glimpse into his coping mechanism. “We were taken aback with how open and vulnerable Mark was with us,” Wehmeyer explained. “Not only about his obsession with these TV shows but about the painful memories that lead to his obsession. So we had to figure out how to highlight the uniqueness of these blueprints while honouring the story behind them. Once we thought the story was set, Mark would open new doors to his life that would shift the story structure completely and further unpack this obsession.”
The fascinating aspect of The Grass is Always Greener on TV is how quickly the curtain falls. Snapshots of Bennett’s drawings are quickly cut close to his appearances on national television, hosts of daytime show hosts asking, in a comical manner, ‘what is wrong with you?’ as a secondary aspect of this fascinating story begins to unfold.
“It was easy at first to dismiss Mark’s obsession as something completely alien from our own experience,” Pizzano explained. “But when you really consider the root behaviour of wanting to escape to a fantasy world — most of us spend most of our waking hours in an alternate digital universe or binging entertainment. For me personally, hearing Mark’s story prompted me to reflect on what obsessions or distractions I’ve been using for comfort, and what memories or fears I might be trying to escape from. But most importantly Mark’s story is one about overcoming deep trauma and abuse – one to which there is no easy band-aid to heal or no clear solution. But Mark’s unique use of these hyper-cheerful worlds created a compelling way to hopefully keep an audience involved to hear this difficult and dark subject matter.”
The director continued: “Lastly our world predominately celebrates and elevates the exceptional, and that can mask what a struggle it is for many of us to just achieve “normalcy”. But to be able to wake up in the morning, feel ok in your own mind and to be generous enough to show someone close to you that you love them, is a triumph in itself — and that’s worth celebrating as well.
Pizzano’s viewpoint is a snapshot of why this film is a success. The humility and sincerity required to tackle the topic was vital, offering the chance for Bennett to tell his story without judgement and without trying to steer the subject matter into a formulaic plan. The Grass is Always Greener on TV flows at its own pace, almost acting as an open and honest therapy session while juxtaposing the joy of Bennett’s work with the difficulties he faced behind the scenes.
“Throughout the film, it was important for us to keep Mark relatable and build that empathy with the audience,” Wehmeyer explained—and it is an invaluable achievement that they did so.