For the latest installment of our "Tell Us Something Good" celebrity recommendation series, we chatted with creative partners, married couple, and professional funny people Ahamefule J. Oluo and Lindy West. We talked about their new movie, Thin Skin, which stars Ahamefule (or Aham, for short), features Lindy on its creative team, and was directed by The Stranger's Charles Mudede. They're screening it this Friday, February 19 through Northwest Film Forum, and they'll stay on after to discuss the film.
If you didn't catch Thin Skin's world premiere last August at the virtual Bentonville Film Festival, or its Northwest premiere at Portland's Time-Based Art Festival in September, don't miss it on Friday, as it's one of the rare chances you'll have to see it. [UPDATE: Following the success of the February 19 screening, there will also be one more screening of Thin Skin on February 27, this time available on demand for 24 hours.] As you'll read more about below, it's been a tricky distribution process for this Seattle-set, "music-infused, darkly comedic true story about keeping it together when you’re falling apart," which stars Aham as a corporate underling on the heels of a broken marriage who finds solace in late-night sets at a jazz club. The trailer is embedded below.
We also talked to the couple about what they've been up to lately—including stocking up on Laotian sausage from Vientiane Asian Grocery, reading Samantha Irby's newsletter, and watching a ton of Dateline, not to mention working on the third and final season of Lindy's Hulu show Shrill, partially inspired by her time on staff at our sister site, The Stranger. Read on for all of their recommendations and a sense of their delightful banter.
This interview, which has been edited for clarity, begins after the trailer below.
Can you talk about the film and where it's at in the process right now?
AHAMEFULE J. OLUO: So we got the final edit of the film in March 2020, possibly the absolute worst time for something like that to happen. We've been doing these festivals, but the whole circuit's been kind of broken—the way that getting an independent film out in front of people and distributed has completely evaporated in this pandemic. I mean, I don't think it was doing so great beforehand. So, we finished the movie, and then it's just been an absolute mystery in terms of how to get this to people.
LINDY WEST: Yeah, we did a couple of different festivals and tried to follow the traditional routes, and it really has been challenging. What we've been hearing from industry people who have worked in film for a long time is that even high-budget indie films with big movie stars are having a hard time finding distribution. It seems to me that, like every other industry, film has taken a big, disorienting hit in COVID. How do you release a movie when no one's allowed to go to a movie theater? And then here we come along with our little passion project that we've been working on for 10 years.
It's been really hard because what we really want is just for people to see it. We're really proud of it, and we think it's really special. So we decided, if the model was broken, why don't we make our own model and have this screening and make it an event where people in our community can see this film that really is about Seattle. It's an experiment, but we're excited about it.
In some ways, is it even more meaningful to have it come out now when so many people are disconnected from that feeling of living in the city?
AJO: Yeah, totally. When you make a really low-budget movie, you can't really afford to have a ton of extras, so there is this feeling of isolation and you feel like you're in a city without that many people throughout a lot of the film. But then I think it really makes the moments of community and the live music performances that are in there feel really warm and intimate, so there is that contrast between living and thriving and connecting and just existing.
It’s screening through Northwest Film Forum on Friday. Do you have other plans for it beyond that?
AJO: We're figuring it out. We don't really have other plans right now. I don't think that we're going to do a bunch more festivals, because I just don't know that it’s the best way to do anything right now, so we’re looking at different options. Maybe I have a little bit of impatience because I come from a background of live performance where you do something on the stage and people see it immediately, so it's really hard for me to have spent years and years working on a thing—and it's been done for a full year now—and to have it not be seen by people, because I think it's worth being seen by people. I think we tried to make something that gives people something instead of just taking their time. So, we don't know what we're going to do, but we're going to do something. [Ed. note: A second screening has since been announced for February 27, available on demand for 24 hours through Northwest Film Forum.]
LW: Yeah, and we're doing the screening, hoping to build some enthusiasm and some momentum and let people know that this is a film worth getting behind. Our core team has just been constantly strategizing. Particularly the last month, we decided to shift gears a little bit and think about what our next steps are outside of the traditional model. The response to the screening already has been so encouraging. People are so enthusiastic. We’ve already sold enough tickets to really qualify as a great opening weekend for an indie movie. And there's this feeling of like, wait, we would have done this a year ago?
AJO: The system right now is like you're supposed to just really beg people to take your movie. Put it out, not give you any money. But it's a broken system even when it works. So it's kind of shocking in a good way to do the screening and be like, oh, we're actually making a little bit of money. I mean, we're only charging a sliding scale starting at $3. It was never the point to make money.
Coming from a music background, it feels very eerily familiar to what's happened in the last ten years in the music industry. Now, I would have no interest in seeking out a label to do something musically. The point to that has been diminishing and diminishing, and now, I think, unless you're a very specific kind of artist, there's no point in being part of a label system. And it seems like it might go that direction for a lot of indie films as well as you really see those pipelines disintegrating.
I’m excited for people to watch it. The very few chances that we've gotten for people to see it have been such an amazing experience because we really wanted to make something that, even though it's not necessarily a feel-good movie—there's some difficult things—we really wanted to make something that has heart and makes people feel a little bit different than when they started watching it. And it seems like from the very few people that have seen it, at least to some people, it's effective in that way. So I am genuinely excited for anyone who watches it and gets anything out of it.
Lindy, you also filmed the new season of Shrill during COVID, right? What was that like?
LW: Oh yeah. It was really stressful, except not for me because I didn’t get to go because we weren't allowed to have more than one producer on set at a time, so we had to just assign a set producer, and then the rest of us just watched footage remotely. It was a really complicated logistical thing, and the crew did an incredible job. I think for the actors it was kind of lonely—for everyone, you can't socialize, everyone had to get a test, like, every day. But they really came through and managed to put together a really funny special season, so I'm proud. Season three comes out this spring!
Have you guys been spending most of your time in Seattle during COVID?
AJO: At the beginning of the pandemic, we were pretty exclusively out at our cabin in the woods, and now we're kind of splitting our time back in Seattle. But either place, we're just spending a lot of time at home, as everyone is.
Do you have favorite restaurants you’ve been going to?
AJO: We had a really wonderful meal at Musang the other night. It was outdoors on the patio and everyone was really well distanced, and the food was really amazing. I would say that we're pretty careful. I have not eaten indoors in a year, and even in times when they're allowing it, I'm just not there yet. We haven't gotten on a plane. Neither of us go into an office. So we've been playing it really safe, but restaurants are a thing that we both really, really love, so going places where you can be outside and be safe and still get a really great meal has been wonderful. We had a great time at Musang. We just had our 10th anniversary of being together and we went to The Corson Building—for some reason, we'd never been there before, even though we love food and it's been there forever.
LW: We’ve gone several times to the pop up at L’Oursin, Old Scratch.
AJO: Oh, yeah, Definitely, that’s wonderful. Places in our neighborhood too, like Super Six has great outdoor seating—
LW: Where you order online and you don't even really interact with anyone.
AJO: Yeah, and it's really huge, which is nice, because you can kind of be around a lot of people and feel safe because you're really spaced out. It's just nice to be around people even if they’re really far away. What else?
LW: I feel like there's something I'm forgetting.
LW: Oh, the cake store, of course! Gotta go to the cake store. What’s better than the cake store? God, that was good. I mean, we’ve been there before, but not for a while. And it was just like it was a whole new level of perfect. It was really incredible. I mean, we've definitely been doing a lot of eating. Trying to not use delivery apps, going and picking stuff up. What is there to make us happy but food?
AJO: One thing that’s really great is the Laotian sausage from Vientiane Asian Grocery. They sell it refrigerated and you freeze it.
LW: They’ll cook it for you, too. Probably the best bite of food I've ever had in my life.
Aside from restaurants, are there any other shops or local businesses that you particularly like?
LW: I love everything in Columbia City. I just sent some friends flowers for Valentine's Day from the Columbia City Bouquet. Aham just got some new spokes for his bike from Bike Works in Columbia City. We frequent various pet-themed businesses in the neighborhood.
AJO: We got a dog. We have a seven-month-old dog.
LW: Yeah, who is suspiciously absent and quiet right now—he’s probably destroying something in some other part of the house. We have to go to the dog park often twice a day so that we can stop him from torturing us, but he's very fun. We go to All the Best Pet Care and the other pet store [Ideal Pet Stop] that’s up by Third Place Books—oh Third Place Books! Love them.
What about movies? TV shows? What have you guys been watching?
AJO: This may not be a typical answer from an artsy guy like me, but we're really fortunate to be working on a project with Shondaland—we’re writing an episode of a Netflix series [Notes on Love]—and, full disclosure, I have not watched a lot of things that they've done. And since we're working with the producers, I was like, I should watch Bridgerton. And I loved it! I thought it was great! I thought it was exactly what I needed at that moment that I was watching it. And I felt very aligned with how it had absolutely nothing to do with my life and it had absolutely nothing to do with Donald Trump and it had absolutely nothing to do with Joe Biden. And not everyone was white on the screen, so I could just not think about racial justice for an hour.
LW: That was a good couple days when we went all the way through Bridgerton. Aham and I’ve watched a lot of British mysteries. Aham watched all of Battlestar Galactica. TV is our whole world now really. It’s pretty sad, but also pretty cool. We watch a ton of Dateline—all the Dateline we can get our hands on, which is hard. They tend to show episodes over and over, and there's not a lot of Dateline on the on-demand! It’s upsetting.
AJO: We’ve definitely watched every episode of Forensic Files at least twice. So it's like, now you can't watch it.
LW: It’s devastating. Also, Repair Shop on Netflix. Can't recommend it highly enough. It’s a British reality show about a repair shop where people bring their heirlooms into the repair shop, and then the repair shop repairs them. So there's like a clock expert, Suzie the saddle maker, two little ladies who repair stuffed animals, a Cockney bloke—unclear whether or not he actually knows how to repair anything, a hot carpenter. It's just absolutely flawless television. I think they took the first two seasons off Netflix, but they put a third season on. So I'm so sorry for anyone who didn't see the first two seasons, but Repair Shop has repaired me emotionally many times during the pandemic.
What music or podcasts have you been listening to?
AJO: I used to listen to a lot of podcasts that had story and things like that, and now I just listen to the driest, most boring things. I listen to the Tape Op podcast, which is about recording equipment. I listen to Tides of History, which is just a very dry history podcast. I listen to a lot of economics podcasts, like Planet Money and The Indicator.
LW: Also during Pandemic, Aham started giving me what we call “Jazz School” where in the morning, while we make breakfast, he'll play me some jazz songs and make me analyze them. We've only gotten through tenor saxophone and not even remotely actually gotten through it. But we've done maybe the first 10 years of jazz tenor saxophone.
AJO: Well you know, you can't go to bars right now, so where else are you gonna have men be condescending about music? You gotta bring it into your house.
LW: So Aham will play me a song and be like, “Okay, who is this? Listen to this solo. And then tell me which tenor saxophone player it is.”
AJO: But it’s worked. You know various tenor saxophonists.
LW: A little—sometimes it works. Sometimes, I guess right. I would say I get it right using knowledge 30% of the time, and then I guess right 20% of the time, and then 50% of the time, I get it wrong. Right?
AJO: I’d say you're being a little hard on yourself.
LW: Aww, that's nice! Honestly, I'm joking about it and making it sound boring, but actually it's been really interesting because it was always a mystery to me. Like, if Aham and I are at a restaurant and there's some jazz playing softly on the stereo, he'll be like, “Oh, this is 1959.” He's like a savant and, even if it's something he's never heard before, he can tell who the drummer is, which always just seemed like witchcraft to me. Like, “What do you mean you can tell who’s going bong bong bong on the drum?” I just don’t understand!
AJO: Also, because Lindy is the child of a jazz musician, and I am a jazz musician and a parent, I know for a fact that no one grows up with less interest in jazz than the child of a jazz musician. But I think certain things seep in. So there are weird things that Lindy knows from growing up with it, but also you can tell there's been, like, an active blocking of this thing from entering her being because this is the annoying thing that her dad does.
LW: Well, anyway, I've learned quite a lot in jazz school, sort of.
What books have you been reading?
LW: I just listen to fantasy novels on audiobook while I fall asleep. That's like my only reading. I'm trying for the third time in my life to get through the entire Wheel of Time series. There are 14 books, and they're all 1000 pages long, and every time, I usually get to about where I am right now and then I can't remember who all the characters are because there's 75,000 characters and then I quit, which is actually currently happening. I have stopped listening to my audiobook and I have started listening to a random murder mystery thriller. And I can just tell that it’s iffy if I'm gonna go back. But for some reason, I take it personally that the series keeps defeating me, and now they're making an Amazon show and I am not gonna let the show beat me to the end. So that's sort of been my project like while I'm doing dishes. Oh, man, it's so long though.
AJO: I'm not going to recommend a book, but I will recommend the author Samantha Irby—who is a great writer of books—her newsletter, in which she recaps episodes of the Judge Mathis TV show. There are hundreds of them. So, you can subscribe and then read them like a book. You can print them out I guess and have them bound, as they are deserving of.
LW: She does one almost every day.
AJO: They're really incredible. I do find Judge Mathis to be interesting in its own way, but it is really one of those things where a really beautiful, brilliant writer can just write about anything if they feel it and it's real and it's beautiful. It seems frivolous, and I guess maybe in a way it’s intended to be frivolous, but I find it very powerful and amazing and wonderful and on the level of any book, including the Bible.
LW: Absolutely more meaningful than the Bible in my life! Ugh, Sam, getting us through it.
Are there other people that you follow online that you would recommend?
LW: I'm not on Twitter. Rebecca Solnit’s Facebook presence is always a balm, she’s very grounding. I love her.
AJO: I mostly just like things that make me laugh, like pages that make me laugh like Hetero Cringe.
LW: Oh, what would we do without Snake Pit?
LW: Oh, Kookslams! It's just people getting knocked over by waves. People standing, taking a selfie in front of the ocean, and then just getting absolutely douched. Some of them are terrifying. Like you're like, oh, that person's dead now, but mostly it's just funny. I think they take care not to post ones where people died. I think.
My friend Jessie [Maed Designs] became a famous knitting pattern designer, so I just follow her knitting publicity, which I find very soothing. It's just like people posting pictures of her designs that they knitted. I feel like Pandemic has just made me uninterested in anything serious or dramatic, like I don't wanna I don't want to watch a sad movie—
AJO: Yeah. I mean, there's a guy on Facebook who is a saxophone repair guy, and he just is constantly posting pictures of saxophone repairs. And I love it—just the detail and he talks about, like, the trouble that he had fixing this part from this saxophone from 1930 because you can't buy this part and you have to make it. For me, just seeing pictures of pieces of saxophones is great.
LW: One of my favorite things on social media on Facebook is to get really mad about those mass-produced viral videos. They go in two directions: It'll be like, “Five minute craft!” And then it's someone with a full industrial workshop building a table. Or it's like, “Wow, you'll never be the same with these tips!” And then it's like, Yeah, you just take an empty two-liter soda bottle and you cut it in half and then you stick your phone cord through it. Why? Why? No one needs that, why??! I find my rage at both ends of that genre to be very sustaining.
AJO: Yeah, we ironically watch a lot of life coach-y type things. This guy Dhar Mann makes the dumbest fucking videos that are like parables I guess, and I don't recommend them, and I hate them, but—
LW: But we watched, I would say, 20 of them. He produces these really cheap fables about human behavior. It's always like “Gold Digger Learn a Lesson!”
AJO: And it’s like the same actors—they have the Dhar Mann Players, basically.
LW: And he's clearly got millions and millions of dollars from figuring out the Facebook algorithm and making the worst fucking videos you’ve ever seen in your life. It's incredible. It's honestly, like, if you want to understand—
LW: Emptiness! Yeah, a real 21st-century emptiness. It's like, whew, a real chef’s kiss from Dhar Mann.
AJO: If anyone ever watched one of those videos based on this they’d be like, what is wrong with you?
Anything else you would recommend, or not recommend?
AJO: I do fun things on Instagram sometimes.
LW: Oh yeah! I recommend Aham’s Instagram Live. He does an improvised concert every morning on the piano. It's so precious and soothing. And then sometimes in the evenings, he does looping concerts where he plays a bunch of different instruments on a looper and builds these beautiful, can I say soundscapes?
AJO: They’re soundscapes.
LW: Yeah, let’s do it. They’re great.
AJO: They are definitely sound. It’s been proven.
LW: They’re 'scapes. They’re 'scapes as well.
What are you guys looking forward to most when this is all over?
AJO: I want to go dancing so bad. It's not even a thing that I did that much beforehand, but I just want to see live music and dance. That's all I wanted to do when I was a kid was go to concerts, and by being a touring musician, I kind of lost some of that. I just want to see people play music, and I want to be there, and I want to dance and have fun.
LW: Yeah, even I want that, and all I ever wanted to do before was be asleep. I also want to get on a plane and go far, far away.
AJO: Oh yeah, I want to do both of them. I want to go dance somewhere else.
LW: Maybe Ibiza.
AJO: Yeah, I would like to go dance in Ibiza.
Anything else you'd like to add?
LW: I think if people in Seattle are looking for a very small getaway, a double-masked getaway, I can't recommend enough driving to the Chimacum Corner Farmstand and buying some frozen local meats and then driving back to Seattle and cooking them.
AJO: Yeah, they have wonderful meat at the Chimacum Farmstand. And we're paying them to say that. Why are you looking at me like that?
LW: Because I don’t understand your joke!
AJO: Because we give them all our money!
LW: Oh, that’s true. We do. I get it now. We do spend all of our money on their meats, and now we’re advertising for them, but they deserve it.