Beauty Is Embarrassing

In the summer of 2009, Neil Berkeley was in the midst of starting his new company BRKLY, and also wanted to make his dream project: a documentary about the artist Wayne White. Neil had been a fan White’s for two decades, having grown up on his amazing list of credits including Pee-wee’s Playhouse, Beakman’s World and music videos which included Peter Gabriel’s ‘Big Time’ and The Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Tonight, Tonight.’

Neil reached out to Wayne and discussed the project’s potential with him over lunch. Filming began in September of 2009 and what followed was two years of shooting and editing to create the beloved and award-winning film that exists today.  With interviews from artists like Matt Groening, Mark Mothersbaugh and Pee-wee himself Paul Reubens, the film is an inside look at some of pop culture’s most iconic moments as told through one of its most unknown stars.  The film is a funny, inspiring and irreverent romp through White’s life and serves as a reminder that when you’re doing what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.

The Production

For the first year and a half, production consisted entirely of Neil on his own following White everywhere he went, filming everything.  Eventually, filmmaker Chris Bradley joined the team to edit and shoot, and from that point on Beauty became a two-person operation.  In the midst of production, Berkeley’s days often started before dawn prepping a shoot with Mr. White, going into the office to manage his design agency, and continuing filming later in the evening.

Animation

Because Wayne made his mark in the design and animation world, Berkeley conceived of several animated sequences the team at BRKLY would design and build.  The team’s most important guideline was that everything should look handmade.  White had a DIY approach to his work and Berkeley wanted the images to feel like they could have been made on his workshop table. 

There were two key moments from Wayne’s life Neil felt were crucial to the story, but he had no media to support them. These were Wayne’s first encounter with his future wife Mimi Pond, and a gut wrenching car crash from Wayne’s childhood which had a devastating impact on his life. To capture these story beats, Berkeley decided to make them fully animated sequences, using his design company to build them. Voice-over from interviewees would be used to drive the narrative in these sequences.

CLOSING CREDITS

The film’s closing credits were its most ambitious graphics effort and required a team of 3D design specialists. These artists built two minutes of animation showing a marionette doll walking through a 3D landscape which represented key moments from White’s life. The team at BRKLY was thrilled when they learned their efforts had earned them an Emmy nomination.

Distribution

Once the film was finished, Independent Lens came on board and purchased the broadcast rights to the movie. Beauty is Embarrassing aired on PBS in January of 2013 to critical acclaim. The film was also purchased by Film Hub for DVD and digital distribution. Soon after, Netflix added it to their queue and the movie started a very successful run on iTunes, Amazon and Hulu.

Marketing

To get the film to the masses, Berkeley used all of the tools at his design agency.  Eye-popping poster art became a fan favorite and short vignettes of Wayne going about his daily routine as an artist began to go viral.  The attention allowed the film to be picked up by 80 theaters across the country.  In addition, a store was opened where fans could purchase signed material and one-of-a-kind prints of White’s famous word paintings.

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