At the end of my previous post about TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF) fan buttons, I promised you an interview with an entrepreneurial artist and classic film fan. Here is is! In covering TCMFF fandom, I knew I had to interview the delightful and talented Kate Gabrielle. She makes movie buttons that many festival attendees proudly sport. When I started preparing to attend this year’s fest, multiple people pointed me her way to gear up, but since I had seen her work all over my social media feeds, my online ordering fingers were faster than some of their recommendations. Kate produces more jewelry and artwork than her TCM-related merchandise. She’s a self-taught illustrator and painter. She’s a movie blogger, too. Let’s enter her world where popular culture, art, a wee bit of girlish twee, and movie love meet and learn a little more about her!
Q: How did you get into classic movies, and what do you like best about them?
A: My parents played classic movies when I was younger but I didn’t really get into it myself until I had just turned 13 and saw How to Steal a Million (1966) on AMC. I had my dad take me to Hollywood Video to rent every Audrey Hepburn movie I could get my hands on, and I binge-watched them over Christmas break. By the time I went back to school in January I was a full-fledged classic movie fan.
I think if I had to pick one thing that I like best about classic movies, it’s how well-formed the stories are. Even the most low-budget films from the 30’s have tight, perfect plots that (in my opinion) are better written and more entertaining than most movies coming out today. I feel like older films didn’t cater to the lowest common denominator— the humor is often sharp and sometimes wicked, the adults all behave like adults, and the themes (even in movies that are very genre-specific, like swashbucklers or westerns) usually run deeper than the surface. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also admit that I just love the look of classic movies. Whether it’s Cedric Gibbons’ intense black and white art deco sets or the sparse, run-down “black and white in color” sets in Jean-Pierre Melville films, classic movies are my eye candy.
Q: What are some of your favorite classic films?
A: I always like to say that my favorite movie is 100 movies. It’s so hard to narrow down my list! But my absolute favorites are Purple Noon (1960) and Sunday in New York (1963). I actually got to see Sunday in New York at the 2014 TCMFF, introduced by Robert Osborne! It was a dream come true.
Some other movies that basically all tie for second place — Jules and Jim, Le Feu Follet, Young and Innocent, La Piscine, Darling, L’Avventura, Sullivan’s Travels, Doctor Zhivago, Le Notti Bianche, Meet John Doe, How to Steal a Million, Top Hat, Day for Night, Le Samouraï, and Fahrenheit 451.
Q: Did any of your favorites influence the art you make?
A: I did a series of collages a few years ago that drew from Le Notti Bianche and Jules and Jim and a few other favorites. Since I’m a full-time maker (I don’t really want to say artist since a lot of my income comes from brooches and patches, not really oil paintings or sculpture..) I feel a lot of pressure to make things that have a good chance of selling, so that I can pay my bills. So when my favorite [usually not super popular] movies inspire me to create a piece of artwork a lot of times I end up pushing that project to the side in favor of making something with a little more appeal. That being said, I feel like I’m kind of notorious for making products or artwork where I’m literally the only person in the world who would want to own it. Right now I’m working on a set of patches that says Team Truffaut or Team Godard just because I’m personally smitten with the idea.
Q: How long have you been a TCM fan?
A: My parents added TCM to our cable plan as my Christmas present in 2000, and I’ve been a fan ever since! When I was in high school I actually got to interview Robert Osborne as part of a project for GT, and it’s definitely one of the coolest things that has ever happened in my life.
Q: What do you like best about the network?
A: Thanks to TCM I’ve been introduced to so many rare 30’s gems that I never would have been able to see otherwise. There’s a series of low budget movies starring Guy Kibbee (Mary Jane’s Pa is my favorite) that I absolutely adore, and I’m positive that without TCM they would have eluded me my whole life. Right now it’s still very hard to find a lot of movies on DVD, especially the rare obscure ones that don’t have the clout of Casablanca or Gone with the Wind. TCM plucks those little guys from obscurity and I appreciate that so much.
Q: When was your first TCMFF, and how many times have you attended?
A: My first TCMFF was 2014, and then last year I went on the TCM Cruise instead. The 2016 festival will be my second TCMFF, but technically my third TCM event.
Q: What are the highlights of the festival for you?
A: The highlight of this year’s festival is, hands down, getting to see Anna Karina in person and Band of Outsiders on the big screen. I start shaking just thinking about it! The highlight of the 2014 festival was getting to see my favorite movie, Sunday in New York. And I got to meet Ben Mankiewicz at the festival and on the cruise!
Q: What inspired you to come up with your own TCMFF button designs?
A: Last year I sold a lot of fan club buttons for the festival, so when Raquel from Out of the Past suggested that I make social media buttons for TCMFF I decided to turn it into a button pack with fan club buttons and some photos of featured attendees/films.
Q: How did it feel for support of your buttons to go viral among TCM fans?
A: I’ve been a classic movie blogger since 2009, but I’ve never felt like a member of the classic movie community online. So getting orders from some of my favorite classic movie people, and knowing that I’ll be seeing festival-goers wearing my buttons when I’m walking around TCMFF, is kind of surreal! It’s very exciting for me, and even if my position in the community is “the button girl” I’m over-the-moon happy to have my own little part in such a wonderful group of movie fans.
Q: Do you tweak your TCMFF button designs each year or are the design sets the same each year?
A: This is my first year making the button pack, but I’m already planning for next year! I think I’m going to make a “starter pack” for people who hadn’t purchased one before, which would include the same things that I had this year (social media button, year of attendance button, two fan club buttons & five mini buttons with photos relevant to that year’s programming) and then have one or two supplemental packs available for people who already have the social media button and the Ben Mankiewicz and Robert Osborne buttons. I’m also thinking about featuring different stars on the year of attendance button. This year I did Bette Davis and Cary Grant, I’m thinking maybe Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck for 2017.
Q: It was a smart idea to come up with buttons saying year of festival attendance (e.g. first, second, etc) and Twitter handles! Being a festival goer yourself, did that make you realize how helpful those buttons would be for TCM fans to communicate with each other?
A: Thank you! Raquel gets all the credit for the social media buttons, I never would have thought of that myself! The year of attendance buttons were inspired by the buttons you can get when you go to Disney World. When you first walk into the park they have a bunch of free buttons saying things like “This is my first visit” or “I’m celebrating my birthday”, etc. and I thought it would be so fun to do something similar for TCMFF! And, to be honest, with TCMFF it isn’t just the first time that warrants a button — whether it’s your second or seventh festival I think it’s just as exciting as the first!
Q: Do you make a lot of custom TCMFF buttons, like the ones for the Going to TCM Classic Film Festival! Facebook group and for Nitrate Diva?
A: I don’t really advertise custom buttons as an option anywhere, so I’ve only had those two custom orders and a couple others.
Q: If someone wanted their own custom button made by you, how should they go about it, and what would that cost?
A: I only do custom orders on a case-by-case basis depending on whether or not I have the time to take on the order and how difficult the design would be. If someone wanted to contact me I have a contact form on my website here. It’s also more likely that I will take on custom orders if they’re purchasing more than one button, especially if a lot of work will go into the design.
Q: You, also, make other jewelry inspired by movies and movie going. How does a film or part of the film experience grab you and make you think about how it would look as a piece of jewelry?
A: My dad has owned a music t-shirt business since before I was born, so I grew up wearing band shirts and seeing everyone I love displaying their love of music on their torso. The idea of wearing your interests has always been with me, and I guess I took that notion and changed it from music to movies, from t-shirts to jewelry! 🙂 I also have a habit of making what I can’t find. So when I really wanted a set of themed collar clips that I could wear whenever I go to the cinema, and I couldn’t find them anywhere else, I just made them myself!
Q: How would you describe your own fashion and design aesthetics?
A: Right now I’m really inspired by late 1960’s/early 1970’s style — turtlenecks and mini skirts with knee-high boots and long necklaces… bell sleeves and mini dresses and psychedelic prints. All of that kind of mixed with an unkempt Debbie Harry vibe, maybe? I’m having a little bit of a style crisis so at the moment I’m just all over the place! As far as design aesthetics go, this is probably going to sound crazy, but I want my home to have the feel of an old crowded used bookstore mixed with the decor of a New York deli. Books and movies overflowing from every corner, and wall-to-wall 8×10 headshots hanging slightly crooked in cheap gold frames.
Q: Looking are your style and art, I could imagine you listen to pop music like Yé-Yé. What kind of music do you like if any?
A: Surprisingly I don’t think my music tastes tend to translate into my art or style at all. My favorite bands are New Order, Joy Division, The Killers, St. Vincent, Goldfrapp, and Blondie. I do have a soft spot for 60’s movie soundtracks though, too. My favorites are Modesty Blaise, Doctor Zhivago, The Servant, La Piscine and Borsalino (although that last one is kind of 1920’s by way of the 1970’s).
Q: What makes you happiest about creating art?
A: I just love seeing the finished product and being able to say “I made that!” Ever since I was little I’ve always taken whatever I made during the day and propped it up facing my bed so that when I woke up I could see it again first thing in the morning. Whether it’s a painting or a button set, it’s the same sense of satisfaction at having come up with an idea, and made that idea into something tangible 🙂
1. Kate Gabrielle owns the copyright for all images in this post. Seek her permission before reusing.
2. I purchased my own TCMFF button pack and Going to the TCMFF button. I was not compensated for this interview.