Terence Nance is by far one of the most daring filmmakers working today–but he doesn’t quite see it like that. Nance’s 2012 debut feature An Oversimplification of Her Beauty became one of Sundance’s most talked about films that year with its blend of animation, stop-motion, documentary-style footage, and a completely deconstructed narrative. Nance’s new HBO show, Random Acts of Flyness, brings that same genre-bending style and avant-garde aesthetic to late-night TV, tackling the issues of sexuality, white supremacy, and the patriarchy through a variety of mind-bending sketches. But according to Nance, it’s less about being an “unconventional” storyteller and more about how that story engages with an audience.
“I don’t think about myself as unconventional. I wasn’t thinking about that at all when making [Random Acts of Flyness] or when thinking about where it could be. I was more thinking of the idea of engagement,” Nance said in the latest episode of Fast Company‘s podcast Creative Conversation. “There was no situation in which [HBO was] like, ‘You know what, Terence? That’s too weird.’ I didn’t necessarily expect that because I don’t think the shit’s that weird. There were questions if they didn’t understand something readily. There were definitely discussions but nothing that would have made me feel like the thing I’m presenting is illegible. That’s my challenge at all times. I want to engage people consistently.”
The creativity Nance displays in his work is bolstered by the fact that he never had any formal training in filmmaking to begin with. His degrees in visual and studio art, along with growing up with an actress for a mom and a photographer for a dad, lent him a creative sensibility that leans more on instincts rather than thinking within the parameters of what’s been done before.
Below are some highlights from the episode:
Diving headfirst into the creative unknown
“I wasn’t thinking about the history of film or what people think a filmmaker is or isn’t. I remember I wrote the script [for An Oversimplification of Her Beauty] and it was like 30 pages of just single-spaced prose text. It was broken into like, this is verse, this is the chorus, this is the bridge–it was like a song. And then I had storyboards. So it was this voiceover that was written like a song and drawings. [Associate producer on An Oversimplification of Her Beauty] Matt [Bray] had gone to film school and read it and he was like, alright, let’s shoot it next week. He didn’t have any, like, ‘Well, maybe you should go get Final Draft.” Nobody said that to me. I had other friends in film school, and I would hear how people would process the work they’re making and it was definitely more from like a linear narrative, formal perspective. That reassured me that that’s not something I was necessarily inclined to or interested in.”
Straddling the line between contemporary art and TV
“I enjoy being freaked out myself. I enjoy going to a space and thinking one thing and then getting something else. It’s more speaking to the expansiveness of what’s in art institutions than it is speaking to the limited nature of what’s on TV. So what’s in our contemporary context has been so expansive that it means nothing almost. In reaction to what is or isn’t on TV, the speed at which that is expanding has created a situation where, like the contemporary art world, there’s really no way of tracking what is normal anymore. So I don’t think people’s expectations are what they were even five, six years ago. I think people are a little bit trained to come to TV now and be like, I don’t know what the fuck is about to happen.”
Finding new ways to challenge systems of oppression
“We definitely try and not have creative no-go zones. What I’m most excited about in the show is how much we engage with the irresolute. I think the irresolute is a certain type of chromatic resolution, like it’s a scale. I’m really attracted to like Mixolydian scale, because there’s something about things that resolve in a way that you couldn’t have expected or don’t resolve in a way that lands on a clear emotion or decision that really attracts me. Let’s say the thing that has the most tension in it and see where that takes us. In a show that is dealing with like systems of oppression broadly, it’s easy to say, this shit’s terrible. This shit’s fucked up. I’m angry or whatever. And that’s necessary. But I think we’re always trying to stretch a little bit for what’s the irresolute emotional state within that.”