PES Talks Fresh Guacamole
Since his film Roof Sex burst on the scene in 2002, PES has built a career around pairing everyday objects with seemingly unrelated activities in clever, often humorous and always thoughtful stop-motion films and commercials. Through a combination of word play, iconic imagery and whimsy, PES creates very short but very complex films, deftly mixing numerous subtle and brash ideas into a highly orchestrated audience experience. Tens of millions of people have watched his films online over the years, with more than 3.5 million views alone of Fresh Guacamole in its first four days online.
I recently had a chance to talk to PES about his work, his filmmaking style, his Oscar nomination and using grenades in the kitchen.
Dan Sarto: How did you come up with the idea for Fresh Guacamole?
PES: Well, these ideas usually have a long gestation period. I love objects. I love thinking about objects. This is just the way I think. My films are just an expression of real thoughts that have amused me over time or that I encounter or come up with at random moments. There’s usually a moment or a single idea around which I structure an entire film. An idea that I essentially fall in love with.
Here’s an example from my film Western Spaghetti. My mother grew up in an Italian family, she’s a great cook, makes tons of great Italian food. My mother was always a stickler for pasta being cooked “al dente.” She used to say, “Great pasta should be firm and never rubbery.” Dozens of years later, I was in Staples and I see they sell giant bags of rubber bands. I’m thinking, “Great pasta should be firm and never rubbery” and here is a bag of rubber bands that looks exactly like cooked spaghetti. Then I had this notion, if that’s cooked spaghetti then what’s the uncooked spaghetti? You search your brain and you come up with the idea of pickup sticks. Great, now I have the core ingredient for making spaghetti. How can I build it out? What looks like boiling water but also carries the connotations of “bubbling?” Bubble wrap. I’m not saying it [coming up with these ideas] all happens in ten minutes. Some of the ideas come immediately and some of them are stewed on for months, even years.
So as far as Fresh Guacamole, again it comes back to a single idea I’ve always had when I walk into a food store. I see a pile of avocados. I’ve always had this little fantasy of grabbing one and throwing it and blowing a whole store up. So the idea of grenades as avocados is a very old idea for me. I hoarded this idea for years thinking that I could potentially use it somewhere.
PES: Then I decided, “Alright…grenade, avocado…what’s the dish? Guacamole! What else do you make with avocado? That’s the central ingredient.” And then, of course, just like Western Spaghetti, I played it out from there trying to fill in the blanks. There is always the right time to make a film I think and it’s not always “now.” They need to bake in the oven. I don’t put out a ton of content. I try to focus on making small but re-watchable and well-considered films. A friend remembers me talking about avocados as grenades back in 2004.
DS: Where do you come up with such innovative metaphorical ideas for the materials you use to animate?
PES: I used to carry a little paper and pen all around. Now I carry a camera and an iPhone. When I’m searching for objects I’m always finding ideas at places like flea markets. But I’m also just writing ideas.