"Brillo Box (3¢ Off)" tells a story of art, value and family
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The day her parents brought home a Brillo box sculpture by Andy Warhol, Lisanne Skyler had no idea the piece would become the catalyst for a future documentary.
“Brillo Box (3¢ Off)” is a short documentary film that uses a Warhol sculpture to discuss art collecting and value fluctuation. Woven into the film is the personal story of Skyler’s family and her parents' connection to the world of art collecting. Skyler, an associate professor in the University of Arizona School of Theatre, Film and Television, is the writer, director and producer of the film.
“’Brillo Box’ is the story of the path of a work of art,” Skyler said. “It’s following the work from my own family, who owned it in the late 60s and early 70s, and it changed hands a ton of times and it eventually landed at auction a couple years ago.”
Warhol created his Brillo boxes in the early 1960s. He had struck gold with his colorful pop culture interpretations of Marilyn Monroe and Campbell's soup cans, images that are still iconic today, but his Brillo boxes followed up with a less than successful reception.
The sculptures simply weren’t as sought after as his other work, but some people snatched them up. One of those people was Skyler’s father. As a budding art collector, a friend recommended he purchase a Brillo box as one of his first pieces, believing it would be a good investment.
Decades later, the Brillo box surfaced at a New York art auction and Skyler brought her camera to capture the sculpture that had resided in her childhood home. It auctioned off for a whopping $3 million. Skyler then decided the type of story she wanted to tell with the Brillo box.
“Once the box sold for that price, it was very clear that the story was going to be about value,” Skyler said. “How value is assigned, how it happens, what are the factors.”
The next big hurdle to get the project off the ground was to find funding sources. While funding for independent films as a whole is difficult to obtain, funding for a short documentary with such a tie to a personal story is a whole other challenge.
With support from the UA College of Fine Arts and the faculty grant program, Skyler started dedicating more time, money and effort to the project and made headway on her documentary. From her first few interviews with her parents to the final polished film, “Brillo Box (3¢ Off)” was almost six years in the making.
Throughout the years, Skyler partnered with HBO creators and received help from fellow faculty members and students who brought their own talent and passion to the project.
Jeanna French, the editor of “Brillo Box (3¢ Off)”, wrote in an email that they were challenged to find the right balance between the personal family arc and the journey of the Brillo box. Once a student of Skyler’s, French reconnected with her former professor while she was working on the documentary and joined the project as editor.
French wrote that she enjoyed working with Skyler and finding a compelling and creative way to incorporate her family story into a narrative about art collection and value.
“In [Skyler’s] past documentaries, she was fascinated by economic cycles and things we choose to gamble on,” French wrote. “’Brillo Box’ was new territory for her in that it was not just a story about the value of an art object, but more a personal story about her family.”
James Jefferies, another UA graduate and former student of Skyler’s, had the unique opportunity of being a part of the film at the beginning and end of the process.
While a student, Jefferies did research and assisted with pre-production work. Once the film was completed, it was submitted to the world-renowned Aspen Shortsfest, where Jefferies was working as the program coordinator.
“It was kind of an intense bag of cats for me because I’m working for this festival and Aspen Shortfest’s bar was really, really high,” Jefferies said. “I was a little bit skittish about watching it because this is a mentor of mine who I think the world of… but it’s a really interesting and personal and heartfelt journey that she manages to take viewers on.”
Jefferies colleagues agreed with him, and “Brillo Box (3¢ Off)” had its world premiere at the 2016 Aspen Shortsfest. From there it traveled around the world, screening at more than 20 festivals and premiering on HBO on Aug. 7, 2017.
The film is available on HBO’s online streaming services and will make its debut in Tucson at The Loft Cinema at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 24 as part of Arthouse Theatre Day 2017.
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