Laurel Frank on the queerness of “Rods & Cones” and moving from art to filmmaking

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Laurel Frank has worked as an artist as well as a set dresser/prop master on several television and film sets over the past five years, but now she’s making her narrative directorial debut with the web series Rods & Cones. The five-part show, which you can watch here on AfterEllen, stars creators Tara Jepsen and Beth Lisick as eccentric and lovable comedians Carole and Mitzi who hit the road in Episode 1 to take their act to the Over the Shoulder Comedy Boulders Festival.

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“I’ve always wanted to be a director and been involved with movie making, and in fact I’ve done some directing before,” Laurel said. “It was an early interest. It’s something I’ve been doing my whole life so it’s been a natural progression.”

Laurel met Tara and Beth  “at a mutual friend’s birthday party in Palm Springs.” From her director’s statement:

“Sometime during the party I fished a bottle of fake blood (left over from a movie I’d worked on) from the back of my car. I dumped the blood into the swimming pool and made Tara float limply through the pink cloud as I bossed her around and posed her in a little Sunset Boulevard-style photo shoot. I remember yelling, “Relax your face! Remember, you are dead! I’m not buying this! Relax your face ALL THE WAY!” I guess my directing chops impressed her because a couple days later she asked me to direct Rods and Cones.”

Rods & Cones raised money on Kickstarter to put the series together, and Laurel said she was inspired by comedic offerings like Jenny Slate’s Catherine, Strangers With Candy and Absolutely Fabulous.

“I had never thought of really doing comedy before and when Tara first put it to me, I started really looking at comedy directors and realized it’s really the place to be critical about the filmmaking form,” Laurel said. “I was looking at older ‘60s stuff and television a lot, considering really really short form, episodic form.”

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Although Laurel said they would love Rods & Cones to make its way to being on television, the urge to create something “accessible” led them to the web, where they premiered with Wifey.TV.

“Of course we’d love it to be something longer,” Laurel said. “There’s so much material there. Carole and Mitzi are pretty rich.”

Laurel said that almost cast and crew member who worked on Rods & Cones is LGBTQ-identified, and that the show itself is “very queer.”

“I think officially the only out queer character is Carole, but it’s a story—everyone who works on it is queer,” she said. “I think that Beth is not a lesbian but everybody else is pretty explicitly gay. I think we read that way. In some area of the spectrum of a queer gender and queer sexuality.”

However you won’t be seeing any overt sexuality on Rods & Cones, as it isn’t part of the story—at least not in these five episodes.

“I think that this show isn’t about sex. It’s not about sexuality at all. But it is about sort of fringe characters living the way in opposition to heteornormativity. Those characters, regardless who they’re having sex with off-screen, they’re total queers,” Laurel said. “Weirdos, they’re all weirdos. And that’s what interesting to me about them. That queerness, that weirdness. That’s super important to me.”

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Now that Rods & Cones is up for viewing pleasure, Laurel is looking ahead to future projects, as she’s in development on a few features with Steakhaus Productions and recently pitched a music video.

“I am focusing more on movie making than art although I am working on an art piece made up of a series of video loops that string together to form a repeating story,” Laurel said. “I have also been doing some development for some friends Kevin Otte and Paul Roberts who are ghost hunters working on reality a show about gay ghosts.”

As a creator who also cites John Waters, Nashville and ’80s soap operas among her influences, it’s safe to assume that Laurel’s work will always be of queer interest.

“I don’t know if I’m explicitly making movies about sexuality, but I always think that my work is queer,” she said. “It’s about queerness, it is queer. It’s very, very important to me.”

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