ITOL Exclusive Interview: Colin Stacy, Founder of Tees-en-scène

We were very lucky to chat with Colin Stacy the founder of the fantastic Tees-en-scène, a wonderful t-shirt company that celebrates women in film, queer filmmakers and people of colour working in the industry. Their designs are really stylish, and more importantly, they’re helping to promote the work of filmmakers who have been ignored in the past. We would like to say thank you to Colin for his time and make sure to support Tees-en-scène.

ITOL: Can you introduce yourself to our readers?

Hello! My name is Colin Stacy. I’m a Sagittarius sun, with Capricorn moon and Scorpio rising. I live in Austin with my brilliant wife Heather and three (yes, three!) wild boys, Everett, Walter and Quinn. I work full-time in the medical waste industry, driving all over Texas to pick up needles and other fun things. Right now I’m in more of a book-reading than a film-watching phase. There’s just not enough time! I fall asleep so easily. Lowkey my favourite thing to do these days is laugh at Gru and his minions with my family on Friday movie nights.

ITOL: How did you come up with the idea of Tees-en-scène?

Two Decembers ago I met Steven Soderbergh at a test screening of Logan Lucky in Plano, TX. He was exhausted so we didn’t talk long (but he was very generous with his time and conversation!). It was funny because of the few hundred people in the theatre and at the test screening, no one recognized him. So he was just chilling out at the bar when I approached him.

Anyway, I was struck by his shirt: a plain black tee with “A Film by Mike Nichols” printed front and centre. I took to Facebook that night to share the experience and suggested in the comments I should make a shirt to honour the true comedic genius, Elaine May. My mutual film friends loved the idea so I launched a Kickstarter. My friend Joel and I designed the shirt around the “written and directed by..” title card from Mikey and Nicky.

The concept was simple: to honour and elevate the labour and art of a female filmmaker who’d been overshadowed, marginalized and essentially shunned by the industry and its male powers-that-be. The Kickstarter was successful so the shirts were made. I’d originally intended to do a single run but requests for more were overwhelming; I started an online store.

For me this is not about clout or about elevating my personal brand or career or to have people say “that Colin, what a good guy.” When I started the company I made it explicit that profits that didn’t go back into shirt production would be given to women artists and filmmakers, specifically BIPOC and queer people

This all coincided with my personal journey to watch more films produced, written, and directed by women filmmakers. I felt that I could use the platform created by the May tee to do more. I’d donated a portion of the Kickstarter funds to the Canadian feminist film journal, cléo. Reading their work over the last few years put me on the path of a more intentional film-going. That journal (RIP) and its writers were a major influence on how I saw the political action of watching films and what I choose to elevate, especially as a white cishet male. Shortly after launching the Elaine May tee, Janus Films announced a restoration of Barbara Loden’s Wanda, which I’d watched a few months before.

elaine

Loden’s story compelled me so that I had to make a shirt to celebrate her life and work. Thinking of a wider inventory and broader vision, I needed a brand to separate myself from the work so tees-en-scène was born. Since releasing the Loden shirt in July of 2018 we’ve released designs celebrating Kathleen Collins, Amy Heckerling, Debra Hill, Sandi Tan, Claire Denis, Lucrecia Martel, The Wachowski Sisters, Thelma Schoonmaker, and Cheryl Dunye.

For me, this is not about clout or about elevating my personal brand or career or to have people say “that Colin, what a good guy.” When I started the company I made it explicit that profits that didn’t go back into shirt production would be given to women artists and filmmakers, specifically BIPOC and queer people. Ultimately it’s a project of allyship. End of the day, I’m just making shirts that will wear and tear and rot away, but while they’re wearable I can use them to create a stream of money and a brand that can be used to elevate marginalized artists and to give funds to those who have historically been denied them.

lacurecia

With each shirt, I also commission a woman or non-binary critic to write a piece to honour the filmmaker and their projects. I do everything I can to stay behind the curtain and elevate the filmmakers and critics. For me it’s all just a celebration of the true power and beauty of creation.

ITOL: What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?

The two main challenges have been 1) funds and 2) branding. Funds are challenging because, well, this is a start-up and there’s not much money to be made in the shirt game, especially if you’re extremely niche like us. But that’s the challenge for any start-up and money is money and it’s not interesting to talk about. Branding, though, has been the biggest obstacle. Mainly because I want to do everything I can to stay out of the centre, which is why social media is so helpful. I can actively make the choice to not have this be about the work Colin is doing, but about the work and projects of who tees-en-scène was created to celebrate.

Ultimately, branding is hard because it can come off in our capitalistic hell as cynical, because, honestly, branding is often and ultimately an act of leaning into political cynicism. An act of exploitation.

How would that make me any different than the studio execs or CEOs that exploit the narrative of the oppressed? And again, it’s not like tees-en-scène even brings in a lot of money (shirts are expensive to print!) but the position is to be a funnel, albeit a small one. So, yeah, branding. I’m always looking for ways to better communicate what we’re doing and how we’re giving back.

ITOL: Do you have a personal favourite design?

I love them all. But if I had to pick two (which I’m going to do) it’d be the two where I’ve most closely worked with the actual filmmakers: Sandi Tan and Cheryl Dunye. Sandi’s is from the film Shirkers, which if you haven’t seen you must. Both my wife and I love hers because it’s in her own handwriting. And it’s from her very first film. Sandi’s story is fascinating and difficult but she’s the most resilient, determined person, plus she’s a brilliant writer and critic and one of the most natural filmmakers. It’s in her blood.

SANDI TAN

I find her process invigorating. So I’m always happy to wear her shirt because through it I’ve gotten to know her a little, and though we haven’t met IRL, I’d consider her a friend and influence. Let me add: she’s writing and directing an adaptation of Elif Batuman’s masterpiece, The Idiot, which I cannot wait to get a taste of.

Then Cheryl. A queer icon, a pioneer. Her project is one of the most fascinating art things of the last 20+ years. I think she so effortlessly took cinema to places that only literature had thought of going. She was blending and blurring formal bounds before it was part of the warp and woof of everyday life. I admire her hyper-sense of auto-critique and memoir. Hers is a project of sheer honesty. And that she did all this in the 90s, that Congress had riled discussions about The Watermelon Woman, that she’s always been herself without fear or judgment is so inspiring. We worked together to design her shirt and it’s one of my favourites because I feel honoured that she’d allow me to get so close to her work. It’s an affirmation of my project, I guess. And she’s just so generous and lovely.

ITOL: Who are your favourite female filmmakers and are there any films you can recommend to our readers?

Lucrecia Martel is my number one right now. La Ciénaga turned me upside down. That film is like a wound. And her last film Zama is a transmission from another world. Other than her films, the thing I most treasure are her interviews. She is a poet and so beautifully and incisively engages in a political discourse that expands my mind every time I read her. You can’t be radicalized in the presence of her words. And that she directed Björk’s latest tour is insane. I wish I could’ve seen it in NYC. So yeah, watch Martel’s work.

lucrecia-martel.jpg
Lucrecia Martel

“Lucrecia Martel is my number one right now. La Ciénaga turned me upside down. That film is like a wound. And her last film Zama is a transmission from another world.”

Another filmmaker I adore is Jodie Mack. She’s an experimental filmmaker. Very playful and political. A lot of her work, especially her most recent stuff is about textiles and labor of global populations. It’s inherently post-colonial and critical of capitalism and the West, all things very much in my wheelhouse. Like Martel, Mack is a brilliant interview, absolutely mind-expanding. I saw her film The Grand Bizarre last year at NYFF and her post-screening interview was life-changing. Artists obviously don’t have to talk about their work but when their words serve not merely as extra-textual but as key parts to the text and the conversation, I find it even more satisfying. You can find a lot of Jodie’s work here.

jodie-1.jpg
Jodie Mack

A few more must-see filmmakers and my favourite films of theirs are: Chantal Akerman‘s Golden Eighties, Sophy Romvari‘s Norman Norman, Kelly Reichardt‘s Certain Women, Claudia Weill‘s Girlfriends, Julie Dash‘s Illusions, and Ja’Tovia Gary‘s An Ecstatic Experience.

ITOL: What has been the reaction to tees-en-scène and what is next for you?

The reaction has been overwhelming! Wonderful! I love to make shirts that people get excited about. Fashion is a simple way to express and celebrate the art they love and the creators who’ve shaped them and to give people that literal expression is incredible. Even better is when I get to hear stories of people learning of a filmmaker through our shirts. Like if I can put one person onto the brilliance of Kathleen Collins, then that was enough. Completely worth the investment.

We’ve only been officially tees-en-scène for a little over a year now and have grown tremendously in that time. I couldn’t be happier with what we’ve accomplished. I just want to be able to give more, and that’ll come with growth and visibility.

We’ve only been officially tees-en-scène for a little over a year now and have grown tremendously in that time. I couldn’t be happier with what we’ve accomplished. I just want to be able to give more, and that’ll come with growth and visibility. So what’s next? Honestly, I’m not entirely sure. A lot of planning is on a whim (see above: I’m a Sagittarius), or based on when and if I get approval from filmmakers to do a shirt. As of now, I have two more shirts to release this year and one at the beginning of 2020. We scaled up so rapidly in 2019 that I might take a breather from production next year. Doing everything as a one-man show gets very intense and tiring each release. And there are always more films to watch.
 

Check out Tees-en-scène here: http://www.teesenscene.com/products and follow them at twitter @teesenscene

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