One of my favorite rediscoveries this years was being re-introduced to Rainbow Ruthie during ShortsFest weekend. When Ruthie Marantz was a teen in the 90s, she had a public access show (named after her childhood icon, Rainbow Brite!) and became a teen feminist idol who appeared in a ton of magazines and was featured on news programs because what she was doing was so unique for the time.
Now Rainbow Ruthie is back in a slightly different form: Marantz has created a pilot episode for a new show; one that focuses on where she is now and deals with the comedy of finding yourself again. It’s funny and touching, and brings the nostalgia HARD by mixing in clips from Ruthie’s teen show — and I’m completely in love with it and completely crushing on its creator.
I met up with Ruthie while she was in Seattle and talked about her inspiration for revisiting her alter ego 20+ years later.
Three Imaginary Girls: So even though I grew up in Seattle and not New York, I definitely remember seeing your show somehow. I’m not sure if you got crazy national news coverage, or if I saw you in like, Sassy magazine – but I have memories of seeing at least clips! And seeing you in photoshoots.
Ruthie Marantz: I was in SO many magazines! That’s so funny. That keeps happening to people; they’re like, ‘I remember seeing the first show’ — and it’s like so weird for them too. I’m like, “Welcome. Welcome to my world.”
TIG: I’m sure you’ve answered this already in a million interviews, but what made you decide to start Rainbow Ruthie in the first place?
Ruthie: It was really just sort of based on how much public access television I watched, and I was such a fan of public access — so much so I would like drag my friends to watch public access with me, and they were just like, ‘can we do anything else but this?’ And I was like, ‘No we have to watch all these shows! I was just a huge fan.
So sort of without really thinking it through all that much, I said, “I belong to this community and I’m going to make my own show.” I didn’t even really consider all the details; I just signed up and asked my dad for a camera. And then I just started filming the summer after junior high and junior high was like a really rough time for me.
I mean it was just the absolute bottom. My parents just got divorced and everything was awful. You know looking back on it now, this was this really good kind of release that I had that was very much me playing this character; this very strong, empowered feminist woman that I was not like in my actual life. But I sort of like created this superhero character that was this version of myself that I wanted to be and she got to be on television, and people got to react to her. So it’s it’s totally a trip. But it’s also something really glad I had because I think everybody needs something like, where they can express a lot of their frustrations and anxieties and what’s going on and particularly at a time — being an adolescent. But yeah, it’s a crazy thing to look back on.
And then you know as the show progressed, all these publications and networks and stuff started approaching me and those sort of trying to figure out, ‘how do we monetize this teenage girl and what she’s doing.’ But I was so acutely aware of the fact that I was a teenage girl and I was so against someone trying to come in and rearrange MY show. I was very much about the authorship and ownership of my work. And I was very wary of people. I had a couple photo shoots and experiences that were — I mean, I can only imagine that someone really famous goes through — but it was not enjoyable. So awful. I basically turned all of those offers down, and now I’m like back out there saying, “Is anyone still interested? Please take me. I’m way older, but … “ Still, that idea of it being on public access was important to me. And one of the best parts about doing this project now is just being able to talk about public access, because I love it.
TIG: Yeah, and it’s so different now.
Ruthie: Yes, because it’s not a thing. Now there’s YouTube, and there’s a bunch of other ways to watch things. But it was a community and we all sort of knew each other’s shows. We’ll all watch together, we dated each other. You know it was sort of like the YouTubers … except way more weird. And not trying to monetize anything because there was no way to do that.
TIG: Can you talk a little bit about the tech that existed then, and what it was like to record and edit your show?
Ruthie: So I started the show in 1995-1996. I started shooting on a Hi8 camera. Which … they do not exist anymore. There was no editing system. So I had to figure out how to get the footage from a Hi8 tape to a VHS tape, because the network dealt only with VHS. So I had to figure out a way to connect the camera to the VCR — but then I quickly realized, I’m going to want to cut from different tapes so I got a second VCR and the way that I would edit is I would just press Play, and Record, and then I got that system down.
The first couple of shows were like a sketch, and then a five minute blank space and then another sketch. So by the end I was really fast, but in the beginning … So that’s what I did; I edited off two VCRS; I had a tripod; every show started off like with me on my teenage bed screaming about the patriarchy or whatever. Part of the reason for me to push to do this show now is like a lot of these tapes are actually physically depreciating. I need to transfer these; some of them are broken, and I don’t even know how to repair a Hi8 tape.
TIG: Tell me a little bit about what you’ve been doing since the original Rainbow Ruthie was on the air.
Ruthie: Well, I stopped the show because I was going to college; it was sort of like a natural end. There was no really big goodbye. It was just that I was going to study filmmaking. So I went to a small school is Massachusetts and studied film and then came back to New York for a bunch of years and thought about how I want to be a filmmaker, but what does that mean? Like who wants to shoot music videos with me on the weekend? And everyone was like, NOBODY. Because we work in New York and we’re really tired and we’re trying to pay our bills that we can never pay. So it just was just kind of a lot of random jobs and things for years and years and years in my 20s and then, then I thought this needs to happen!
So I applied to Grad school and started going to NYU; the graduate program there for writing and directing. And it was near the end of my time there; it’s a three year program, and then they give you two years to shoot a thesis project. So I started thinking what that project was going to be. And I started casually mentioning my show to people that you know classmates and they were like, “What! You have go to write about that.” But I said, “No I really don’t want to do that. And I hadn’t watched the tapes in so long and I was scared and horrified about what was going to be on those tapes. Also, I was grieving my father; he had died right before I found out that I got accepted, and literally on the day of his memorial I I got a call that I was supposed to come to New York for an interview — which is sort of like a perfect moment of how life is.
So when I went to the interview I was completely out of my mind with grief. I was like, “Sure – you guys want me to talk about filmmaking? Okay, yeah fine.” I wasn’t even nervous about it. So that was another reason; it was, if I watch this, I’m gonna have to confront this whole life I had with my dad because he was such a big part of the show. But, I took enough time away from it where I felt ready to watch them and now I’m so glad to have that archive of our life together. So it’s it’s definitely bittersweet. But once I watched the tapes, I was definitely convinced that this was a multi-series TV show. The key was to figure out how the old footage out would fit with the newer stuff that we shot, and the newer stuff was going to be about — sort of autobiographical but a little bit heightened, about being in your mid-thirties and having no idea what you’re doing and having the last thing good thing you did being a teenage public access story and that’s your only skill in life.
And now that the whole industry has changed in such a dramatic way, what would my show be and how would I make myself relevant again? What does that even look like? So that’s how it all came together. We shot this [pilot episode] Proof of Concept and that’s the thing that Spike Lee contributed to, and since then I’ve just been writing the Bible and all the rest of the episodes for the show; just waiting for the right person to be involved so I can make the show in the way that it should be made because it’s this highly personal thing that I have to do the right way. It’s such a crazy archive, and such a crazy thing to have your life documented in that way – at my age. Now, it’s not. Although I would argue that there’s not a lot of transparency with these people that are presenting their [online] lives as like their real lives.
TIG: Oh yeah; it’s very filtered.
Ruthie: Yeah it doesn’t feel authentic; mine is very authentic and I know that because I literally want to rip my skin off every time I watch it. Like, I hate myself.
TIG: So, ideally you get picked up by a network, a Netflix or an Amazon Prime, or some kind of big streaming service – if that doesn’t happen would you consider just DIY’ing it with you own YouTube channel?
Ruthie: Definitely. I’d love to. The ultimate goal is for people to see it. I learned a lot just from shooting the proof of concept that I feel confident that I know what we need to shoot again and what the show looks like; what it feels like. So I definitely am open to that. I’m just hoping that we’ll be able to make it in the dream scenario of how it’s really supposed to look. But if not, we’ll go back to public access! Although I did go back to them and I was like, “Hey guys I just got my master’s from NYU film school and I have Spike Lee as my mentor there, and I’m going to make this show look as a love letter to public access,” And they were just like, “Who are you? We don’t care. And goodbye.”
So I was, “Coollllll. I guess I won’t be shooting in the studio again.” They didn’t even want to allow me to go to the location. But also, there’s no archive of me anywhere. If you Google my name on the internet, you would just find stuff about film festivals. You wouldn’t find those magazines you read; I have those clippings in a book.
TIG: Where can we see Rainbow Ruthie next, and what you doing next?
Ruthie: I’m going to SeriesFest in Denver, which will be cool because it’s all television indie pilots, so I’ll be in really good company. And then after SeriesFest, I’m not sure yet! But I am still applying to a bunch of festivals and going on the tour this year. And I’m hopefully shooting a feature this summer — not something that I wrote, but I’m working with two young comedy writers and I think I’ll be shooting that in Fargo actually if all goes well. Also I’m writing my feature, which I really am anxious to just start working on for many reasons.
I mean, I’m amped to work on the show if the right people come along. But I’m also just ready to start writing another project so I’m starting that. And that’s also still about teenage girls, so I guess I can’t get away.
TIG: I always like to end my interviews by asking what songs or bands where you listening to when you writing and filming this pilot?
Ruthie: That’s a really good question. Okay, well I created a playlist because I was always trying to think of how music was going to fit into this. So I have some new Beck songs on there because it was interesting to me to have artists that were like heroes of mine in the 90s that are still making music on this list – because that’s sort of me: I’m this like relic of the 90s, but I’m still making something.
Let me actually look it up to see [pulls out phone to look at playlist] because music was really important during this. I know I have A Tribe Called Quest, and some of the music from this list made it into the pilot. Here’s the Rainbow playlist!
God, this is really random. Okay so we have Beck, we have Roy Orbison. Oh Luscious Jackson! The Breeders; Fleetwood Mac; L7; Fatboy Slim; The Chemical Brothers. Then Cults, Blood Orange, Bikini Kill, Brat Mobile, Babes in Toyland, Veruca Salt, Liz Phair – you know! I had to stay in the zone with this character.