Dorothy Gambrell is a studio art major who is producing a film, Love and Escape with Your Robot Pal, for her senior thesis. She has studied film both at Williams and at the Tisch School of the Arts during a semester at New York University in her Junior Year. Gambrell received a Class of 1945 Student World Fellowship, travelling through Northern and Western Europe to film Americans Like Each Other, a documentary about tourism and Americans. She is also a cartoonist, producing Cat and Girl, a weekly cartoon strip that runs in the Record.
What is your film about?
It’s a musical about a waitress who runs away with an evil marching band and is pursued by a toaster who has assumed human form.
Is this based on any life experiences?
It’s based on my experience. It’s completely autobiographical, but I’m not telling you which character I was.
Is this in the style of somebody? Who are your influences?
I started watching a lot of musicals, obviously, and really enjoyed trying to do something in the style of the early ’30s Warner Bros., early era Busby Berkeley kind of thing. Half that, and then half C-grade, gory horror-type movies, made for very small amounts of money, because that’s just what I find myself doing. So there’s very little gore, just in that sort of inept style.
Sometimes. The other times are accidental – that’s why I need the purposeful times, so the other times look purposeful.
What’s it been like working with other people? What has the collaborative process been like?
Well, one of the reasons I made a musical was because I vehemently dislike the auteur theory, and a musical is one of the most collaborative forms of movie you’re going to make. I was really pleased with the results, in that people, in acting, or in doing crew-type stuff, or in writing music, did things much better than I would have done if I could have magically done everything myself. But it’s very hard to schedule. The next major project I undertake will involve me sitting in my room for long periods of time, rather than actually going outside and speaking to other people.
How did you approach the music? Did you write the script and then let people jump off from that, or did you take the music and work that into the script?
I had the script, and Adam Bloom [’99] wrote the music for it. I gave him the script and he read the script, and we started writing stuff, and then I went to visit him. He showed me what he had, and I was able to take large chunks out of the script then, because the music was explaining stuff so I could take out portions of my mediocre script.
And insert the best music ever?
Yes. The bestest, really.
Are you going to go into film?
I’d like to. It’s not the most practical field to want to go into, and I think I would rather be good and somewhat independent in another field than be doing terrible work for other people in film. But that’s the long-term goal. To make large-budget motion pictures.
About toasters and things?
Yeah, that’s going to be the continuous theme throughout my work – toasters.
I only ask that because I’m curious – do you see yourself as a screenwriter, director and producer? Which of these roles is the one that you feel most comfortable in?
I see myself as a director. I basically had to do a lot of stuff in this one because that was the way it worked out. That’s what I see now. I don’t know if I was actually directing someone else’s script that I would suddenly feel that maybe writing was the right way to go. I know that it just seems a lot easier right to think, “Well, other people can do all that. I’ll show up and everyone will be there because I didn’t have to do the scheduling. And the equipment will be there already, because that’s not my job, and I can just shoot it, and then go home.” That sounds very nice.
I do want to talk about Cat and Girl, because I do remember when it was on walls. What was the genesis of that? How did it come about?
There are two separate lines which converged magically one day…
Cat and Girl?
Actually no. Cat and Girl arrived together. When I was at NYU, I was watching some sort of student graduate project film. And it was a nice enough film, but it was really insufferably artsy. And the two main characters were women, and one of them was referred to as “Cat,” which I thought must be short for Catherine. And the other was referred to as “Girl,” which I thought I must be hearing incorrectly, because they could have not possibly named the main characters “Cat” and “Girl.” And then when the credits rolled, I saw that they had.
Around the same time, I was reading McSweeny’s, and on the back page, there’s always an advertisement for a fake series of novels, like “Meg McGillicutty.” And they’ll have “Meg McGillicutty: Diamonds Are Forever.” “Meg McGillicutty and the Lost Stolen Hidden Buried Pirate’s Treasure.” And just a list of these things. After the movie, I drew a cat and a girl, and I thought, “Hey, I can combine these with the wacky adventure titles as suggested by the last page in McSweeny’s.” And that is what I did.
Are you happy that it’s made the transition to the mainstream, now?
Is the Record the cultural mainstream?
I’m starting with that assumption, yes.
Yeah, the plan was always…one of the rather funny things about drawing a cartoon strip with a, I would like to think, fairly cute-looking cat and girl, is that you get the widest audience possible, preferably including small children. So the Record is a step along my path to large merchandising options. If anybody is interested in merchandising, you can contact me.
Is this something you think you would continue doing outside of the wacky confines of the college experience?
Yeah, I enjoy doing it, and I’m not going to be running out of ideas, so assuming I have a job, assuming it is not a job that takes up all of my time, I will continue to do it. I have to look for some sort of outlet. The entire idea of starting on walls, and then going to the Record and on the Internet, is that it’s kind of independent of where it’s actually being published. So you can make that transition relatively easily.
Other walls in other cities?
Yeah, that’s probably what I’ll wind up doing. So if anyone’s in New York, and they see Cat and Girl, that’s me.