A Conversation With Reggie Watts
(We love Reggie Watts! You love Reggie Watts! Our Lauren Wissot found this interview she did with Watts and it needed a home so, lucky for you, we gave it one here at Hammer to Nail. Watts’ special Spatial is available now on Netflix and this conversation centers around his experimental film Dutch A/V which is linked below.)
The German-born, Montana-raised son of a French mother and an African-American father, Reggie Watts’s worldliness seems bred into his genes. So it should probably come as no surprise that this much-lauded comedian and musician – his latest Reggie Watts: Spatial recently hit Netflix to rave reviews – once used a foreign land to form the basis of a theatrical collaboration.
Produced in partnership with writer/director Tommy Smith, Dutch A/V is a “live-edited environmental film” culled from over 26 hours of footage shot through spyglasses, immersing the viewer in the sights and sounds of Holland. Recipient of the MAP Fund Award, Dutch A/V was work-shopped at IRT Theatre, debuted at the Under the Radar festival back in 2011 – and currently can be sampled on YouTube (I urge all Watts fans to check it out!)
Hammer to Nail: So how did this off-the-wall concept originate in the first place?
Reggie Watts: It really started with an idea I had about wanting to get spy cameras and just kind of do surveillance, drift through a city, take in the atmosphere, the ambience, just field recording essentially. Then I thought Amsterdam would be great because I wanted to be there on my birthday.
HtN: Why Amsterdam?
Watts: I just like the Dutch. It’s a cool culture. I enjoy their pragmatic social structure, the engineering, architecture, history, and language. I like the openness. Not feeling like a criminal when you want to have a space cake. Plus, the girls are really super hot.
HtN: Well, I guess that’s as good a reason as any. (laughs) But did anything in particular take you by surprise as you were filming? As an artist-tourist did you have any preconceived notions that were upended?
Watts: Yeah, we did one of the pieces in the Red Light District – that was eye opening. It was interesting to see how the system worked with the – I guess you’d call them pimps or enforcers. They’re always in the shadows watching to make sure there aren’t any creeps bothering the women. It’s also fascinating to see who falls for the lure and who doesn’t.
HtN: And you really kept the cameras rolling – 26 hours of footage is a lot to edit down. So why did you perform Dutch A/V as a live theater piece and not, say, screen it as a video installation? Then again, as someone who’s been studying music since the age of five, I guess your influences are eclectic.
Watts: I just really love making a story come to life in front of an audience. I’m moved by experimental theater like that of Richard Foreman, the Wooster Group – and what I see in my contemporary community. And I like everything from Miles Davis and fusion music to goth, heavy metal and industrial. All these different influences go into the sample bank and will come out in strange, seemingly unconnected ways.
HtN: But you obviously have film influences as well.
Watts: Sure, I love film-making it or watching it. Genre-wise I’m a huge fan of science fiction, fantasy, coming of age comedies. But I tend to stay away from movies that are too serious or too dramatic because I generally get very invested emotionally and it takes too much out of me.
Wissot: That’s funny. A lot of people go to the movies precisely to have that catharsis. So, did you perform Dutch A/V in Europe? I wonder how actual Dutch audiences, and Europeans in general, would react to an American representation of their world.
Watts: Unfortunately no, though that was a goal. I always look forward to coming back (to Holland) and having some bitterballen.
– Lauren Wissot