THREE PLASTIC CHICKS SITTIN' AND TALKIN': AN INTERVIEW WITH CLAIRE-DEE LIM, CREATOR OF THE POWER OBJECT
In the previous post I took a look at a terrific new Web series from creator Claire-Dee Lim called The Power Object, which chronicles the adventures of three young female professionals who stumble upon a magical vibrator with wish-granting capabilities. I got a chance to sit down and speak with Lim about her series, how it came about, why she decided to stage the entire thing with dolls, and lots of other interesting stuff about the ways of Hollywood. What follows is our conversation, two live-action adults talking about the power and the objectivity of dealing with low-tech puppetry. All wine glasses and other utensils employed during this interview were full-size and to scale.
DC: So you must be feeling pretty good about The Power Object right about now.
CDL: Out of everything I’ve done in the last few years, The Power Object is the thing I feel best about. I didn’t feel like I had to compromise. I had an idea about what I wanted to do, and the best part was that no one told me I couldn’t do it. It’s been a relief in that regard, and the way that people are responding, I couldn’t be more thrilled that somebody noticed.
DC: It’s really fun and it announces itself in a unique way, even the tag: “Finally, a Web series about vibrators.” Hard to resist, or at least resist the temptation to check it out and satisfy your curiosity.
CDL: It’s a wish fulfillment story, and those are interesting to me, because when we’re making wishes we never cover all the bases. Ever.
DC: And as a viewer you don’t want the bases covered. You want to see where the chips fall. It’s a version of “The Monkey’s Paw,” only this monkey’s paw has batteries. How did the series come about?
CDL: The Web series is an interesting format. I started on The Power Object years ago, during the Writers Guild strike. I was getting a sense that this was not going to turn out well for the majority of writers in the middle of the pack.
DC: So the project originated because you were trying to create opportunities for yourself rather than wait for them to come to you.
CDL: Yes. Absolutely. That particular script was written way before Firehouse Dog. Mike Werb and Mike Colleary were producers on this, and we’d known each other from way back. They approached me and said, “We wanna work together. Come up with something you want to write and we’ll move forward and see if we can set it up.” So I wrote the screenplay on which the eventual Web series was based and got a lot of meetings on it, but no one wanted to pull the trigger on it.
DC: Was the screenplay conceived as something done with dolls, or was it written as more conventional live action?
CDL: It was live action, and at the time there was no Bridesmaids to lead the way. Movies that had come out around the time the script went out and started circulating in the system were movies like The Sweetest Thing with Cameron Diaz and Selma Blair, and The Sweetest Thing didn’t do very well at all. Now, with Bridesmaids and with Bad Teacher, everybody’s going, “Yay! Girl comedies! Men and women are going to see it!” But at the time women doing raunchy was still kind of unproven as an audience draw. I did get the Firehouse Dog job out of it, though. New Regency responded well to the screenplay, but I think the vibrator scared them! (Laughs) I had so many meetings where the reaction was, “Can’t you get rid of the vibrator?” Fast-forward to the strike, and the whole atmosphere there was, “Create your own stuff for TV! Writers have to be creators, blah, blah, blah.” And it was inspiring, in that I wanted to try to figure out what the script really was.
DC: Has doing it in this Web series format, with dolls instead of live actors, freed up your creativity in any way or made you more open to taking chances?
CDL: Well, once you say yes to puppets, you say yes to everything else. (Laughs) And even before landing on the concept of dolls, The Power Object was conceived as a flash cartoon. In 2000, I had made a very rudimentary flash cartoon called Game Girl, about a girl gamer. I had four episodes, and it’s still online—I won’t tell you where. So I was initially going to do The Power Object as a flash cartoon, but a little more polished, a little more animation, but the drawings just weren’t up to the task. So I thought, where could we go from there? I met with this really talented artist, Jean Kang, and she worked over the scripts. I had 45 minutes of material and it was nine episodes, and she said “This is gonna take forever to finish this thing.” So we started spitballing and I thought of that MTV series The Sifl and Olly Show-- sock puppets! So from there I said, “What if we just do puppets?” Or what if it was this, or what if it was that? All of which led to the idea of dolls. This was all just in the last year.
DC: The whole design of the show tickles me. As a kid, one of the things you do—or at least what I did—was restage my favorite TV shows using dolls and other toys or, when high tech really came to town, doing radio play versions on my keen new cassette tape recorder. And your series reminds me a lot of that kind of approach. The absurdity is heightened, yet what’s notable about what you’ve done is in hanging onto a kind of seriousness in regard to the aspirations these three characters have for themselves.
CDL: Another friend of mine says, “At a certain point I forget they’re dolls.” That’s what I want to have happen, for you to get into the story.
DC: I actually felt bad for Jessie when her date with Rollo goes so badly.
CDL: You get the emotions, which border on the realistic, or at least the recognizable, and then you get plastic hamburgers and rubber sushi.
DC: One of the funniest ongoing gags is the mixture of props that are the proper scale for the dolls with full-sized found objects, like the martini glass the rocker is sleeping in, or a pair of gigantic nail clippers that Glenda uses on herself. And in one of the episodes we even get a Power Object-world close-up look at pubic lice which, thank God, is the furthest thing from realistic!
CDL: (Laughing) One thing that Firehouse Dog was really criticized for was all the fart jokes. And those were my fart jokes. I wrote most of them. And Hannah’s troll babies do some farting. Again, it’s probably seen as inappropriate to some degree.
DC: But seriously, if you’re watching the first Web series about a vibrator, are you really looking for decorum? Probably not.
CDL: You won’t get it from me! (Laughing)
DC: Jean Kang designed the dolls. How did you and she settle on what you wanted to do with them?
CDL: We found the most generic dolls we could get from the L.A. toy district. All of the dolls were then chemically stripped and Jean painted the faces. She modeled Jessie on Halle Berry, Glenda was Reese Witherspoon and Hannah was Lucy Liu. But the thing is, with real actors this series would play completely differently. Because somebody’s head stuck in a gigantic wine glass is funny. The physical comedy that we’ve got now just wouldn’t translate. We’d have to be much more literal, and all that physical stuff would be completely missing. And there’s the budget issue too. With Web series you can’t compete with television. Television has lots of money to devote to making things look a certain way and actors to be a certain way. Take away the shoestring that I’m working with, and I think you take away a certain creative impetus.
Art Director Jean Kang paints a doll's face (top), while creator-writer-director Claire-Dee Lim tends to hairdressing duties.
DC: It’s almost as if your very lack of resources causes you to find creative, sometimes odd solutions, and inspires a spirit of comedy that would be harder to access with a more visually conventional style. It’ll be interesting to see, when the script begins to emerge as a live-action project again, how the making of The Power Object as we know it now will affect the project as it is reconceived for flesh-and-blood actors moving about in real space. It’d certainly be an interesting creative process for you.
CDL: I would welcome that. I’m sure I’d find myself saying, why can’t we just have two-story-high wine bottles, and add this whole other surreal element to it? But what the full script has is 45 more minutes of various subplots that got knocked out. And we’d be able to dig deeper into the characters and work with strong actresses who have all that great comedic timing that would be necessary.
DC: Is the series completely produced now and being released in chapters now, or are you still working on it?
CDL: I am all done, and part of the reason for doing it that way is that just the releasing it and the working the Internet and the social networking, and the real networking— going out and doing various things for the project-- that’s another job. So it was my goal to just get it all done, because I don’t know how I could have done the creative work and the promotion of it at the same time.
DC: Do you see this as the end project, or will you try to use the Web series as a sort of springboard to get the live-action script going again?
CDL: To take the script further, that would be fantastic. You wouldn’t have to read the screenplay. You could just watch the show! I have ideas for sequels and further development of these characters, and the dolls are camera-ready. So at this point it’s about gauging the reception of the series itself, and taking a longer look at where I think Web series in general are going to go. I’ve noticed that in the last year audiences are having a hard time finding them. It couldn’t be a more convenient format for audiences, but there’s not exactly a TV Guide out there for the kind of choices you have on the Internet. The doing of it has to be, to some degree, its own reward. One of my friends told me, “I’m getting a window into your brain, and it scares me.” The fact that my friends like it and are laughing, to me that’s it.