‘Send Me Your Sexts’: Filmmaker Eileen Yaghoobian Wants To Turn Your Dirty Texts into Film Art
It’s a dreary day at work. You’re alone in your office cubicle, gazing out at the birds gliding through the snow-capped tree tops. Your breath is heavy with a lover’s sigh, as you think only about spending the night with your dear or darling. Why wait? You pick up your phone and send out a text, the kind that makes you blush as you press “send” — pure modern romance.
Or, as filmmaker Eileen Yaghoobian expects, you’re probably just out buying milk.
Whatever the circumstances, Ms. Yaghoobian wants you to go to her site and submit your sexts to her – the crazier, the better. For a small fee of $80, she will transform your dirty text conversation into a short film, up to six minutes in length. Users of this pay-for-film service can choose to publish their names or remain anonymous.
So far, two videos have been released. The first, Dylan & Kacey, involves a possessive young brunette, Kacey, who watches her cold ex-lover, Dylan, have sex with a nameless blonde girl on the hood of her car. Kacey keeps mentioning hamburgers and steaks. The film’s mood is creepy, uncomfortable and hilarious all at the same time, as the strange and sexually charged dialogue is issued seriously by actors posed beneath eerie, shadowed lighting. In the second piece, Laura & Jamie, a sexually curious Jamie tries to piece together a spotty night of drunken revelry, as he attempts to figure out who this “Laura” is on his phone. The scene takes place in some kind of apartment lobby and features a whimsical discussion about Jamie’s predilections. When asked whether he is attracted to transsexuals, he says, “I am. I do like trannies [sic]. I like girls more.” The drama builds when Laura reveals that she herself is a transsexual.
The project is still in its early stages, and production is clearly hasty and cheap (a few audio problems plague the second video), but it shows promise as a social document. Despite its casual and irreverent attitude, Send Me Your Sexts proves to be a curious reflection of modern sexuality and its intersection with technology. It also probes our voyeuristic tendencies and demands a reevaluation of the line between pornography and art, even if it does so unwittingly. The films, so far, also boast devoted and serious acting from the performers at certain moments. It is fun to watch Stephanie Izsak (Kacey) deliver the final lines with aplomb: “OK, when you’re ready, ’cause love my steak raw. And salty [sic].”
Ms. Yaghoobian is an Iranian-born filmmaker from Canada who was formally trained as a photographer, and continued to work in animation, film and theater. She caught attention in the ’90s, particularly with her grid pieces, which linked images together in five-by-five thematic arrangements. Many of her photos bring nobility and beauty to the gritty city landscape. Her photography has been featured at the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and Paris’ Bibliothèque Nationale. She also worked as a costume designer in Rock ‘n’ Roll Frankenstein (1999) and was a set decorator in Boricua’s Bond (2000). After the death of her brother, Ms. Yaghoobian set out to complete her first documentary feature, Died Young, Stayed Pretty (2009), which premiered at SXSW to critical acclaim. Ms. Yaghoobian views her latest project, Send Me Your Sexts, as a culmination of her long and diverse career.
GALO spoke with Ms. Yaghoobian about her project and her views on sex, privacy, voyeurism, porn and cars.
GALO: I’ve read that Send Me Your Sexts is inspired by the Oscar nominated documentary, The Act of Killing. It’s a film which features reenactments of murders (performed by no other than the murderers themselves) during the Indonesian killings from 1965 to 1966. How did such a dark film inspire your project? How does that documentary connect with Send Me Your Sexts?
Eileen Yaghoobian: The idea of a reenactment. You know, Errol Morris does it and documentarians use that as a technique, as structure — a way of telling a story or documentary. And also in theater, because I come from a theater background, the idea of taking a text and interpreting it and visualizing it for the screen really intrigued me. And, of course, in The Act of Killing, it’s not text, its actual real stories, but he [Morris] is taking something from their past and reenacting a story — an action that they’ve done in the past. There’s a space in that action, if that makes any sense. Because it’s not something that’s happening now, like a documentarian capturing a moment, which is kind of a weird concept anyway, but the idea that he’s creating this story based on people’s stories — killers, actually – it’s really interesting. And this is taking people’s stories (sexting is people’s stories, it’s their relationship with whoever they’re sexting), and taking that and reenacting it and visualizing it. So, I’m thinking of it in that way.
GALO: You are revealing the sexts that users submit by making professional-quality videos of them. What do you think this process will reveal about modern sexuality?
EY: Not much! People are having sex? No…[Ms. Yahoobian says this jokingly]. Does sexting lead to sex? I don’t know the answers to any of that stuff. But maybe I’ll find it in the process of this whole platform, right? And that’s what’s really exciting. It’s really the concept of taking some offering, this thing, this service, where I’m interacting with people in that way, that’s really exciting to me, because, coming from a documentary background, I love working with people. And the new people that I meet are really exciting — and the things you do while you’re filming on location, or all these things you do, for me, as a documentarian, all these different kinds of landscapes that I enter into are really exciting.
I think it’s interesting that when people are sexting, they could be buying milk, so they’re not really having sex. They could be anywhere and doing anything. They could be f—ing someone else and sexting someone else, I mean, who knows? And that’s what’s interesting — that space, for me to visualize it. And the choices that people make in the words, the words they use to turn someone on or not. You could take yourself seriously and think that it’s a turn-off, or you can think it’s really funny. I don’t know what’s going to keep on rolling. I just launched this thing, but it’s going to be really interesting to see how it grows.
It’s a very creative space. I find that there’s drama, there’s comedy, there’s tension. It has all the great materials. You know the motive when someone’s sexting someone, or you can assume the motive — it seems transparent, but the language that people use and the creativity (because it is creative), they’re trying to make whatever fantasy they have with one another come to life.
GALO: Your first video about Dylan and Kacey on the Web site is hilariously absurd, but it’s also somehow serious and creepy. The actors speak their lines sincerely and the scene was darkly lit. Is this the kind of tone we should expect for the other films in the series? Is there a specific kind of tone that you were going for?
EY: No. I mean, I have a particular aesthetic, so that’s what it’s going to be. I can’t change the way I make things and the way I visualize things. But it’s all based on text for me. That’s what I mean when I say that I come from a theater background, because when you’re doing theater, you really evaluate the text and the language. I approach the text in that same way. And also, we rehearsed it with the actors. So, it was really important that we got to that place — we wanted to be earnest to the text, whatever creativity happened between me and the actors.
(Interview continued on next page)