When filmmaker Scott Bateman ’86 made his first film, "You, Your Brain, and You," he had one goal in mind: “to make one of the kinds of movies I would want to watch over and over again.”
He’d long harbored an affinity for the bizarre comedy of Monty Python and experimental filmmaker Peter Greenaway, and would frequently play those movies on repeat.
His newest film, an autobiographical documentary called The Bateman Lectures on Depression, brings that sense of absurdity to his lifelong struggle with anxiety, depression, and agoraphobia. Using the format of a hundred-question standardized test (sample question: “If depression were a theme park, what would be your favorite part?”), Scott quilts together disparate snippets and vignettes that involve found objects, hand-drawn animations, archival footage, original film, and more to tell the tale of his family history, his isolation and loneliness, and his eventual path to seeking treatment.
Scott has an unusual process: Instead of starting with a script, then shooting the film to follow it, he begins by collecting images he finds striking—scrolling Pinterest, scribbling in a sketchbook, flipping through graphic design manuals, and traveling in search of unusual sights, like a wooden sign proclaiming “NIMROD” in bold white letters. Anything that catches his eye is fair game. It’s only after he’s captured these images that he drafts a loose narrative that connects them all.
Another source he draws from is the Prelinger Archive, a public domain collection of ephemeral footage that includes vintage classroom and workplace safety films—“all this crazy stuff that was made in the 1950s to program us to be better Americans,” Scott says. This smiling, wholesome vision of mid-century Americana makes ideal raw material for him to distort and subvert.
“From a young age, I’ve been someone who makes fun of everything,” Scott says. “So, often when I’m trying to make something, I’m looking for stuff I can kind of work against, to maybe make fun of a little, but also turn on its head. I can have something like an old film or graphic design as clay to build into something else.”
At Puget Sound, Scott majored in psychology, drawn to the field by his own struggles with mental health and a desire to help others. But he diverged from that path when he found himself gravitating more to art and English classes, and working as the graphics editor of The Trail. After graduation, he became a syndicated political cartoonist, a job that let him use his irreverent sense of humor and knack for visual expression. In 2013, he wrote Disalmanac: A Book of Fact-Like Facts, a tome of creatively reimagined truths.
“The idea of using humor to deal with the world came out of being depressed,” he says. “Approaching things with a sense of humor led me to cartooning and writing a fake almanac, and it carries into filmmaking as well, because it’s part of who I am.”
Creating things also helps Scott control his depression. In The Bateman Lectures, he details spending hours on end in his room as a teen, working on cross-hatching. “When you’re creating, when you’re drawing or doing some painting or something, you’re in a zone,” he says. “It puts you into a creative right-brain zone that’s an oasis away from depressive and anxious thoughts.”
A dyed-in-the-wool autodidact, Scott is propelled by his original vision and his compulsive desire to bring it to life. He directs, shoots, edits, writes, narrates, manipulates images in Photoshop, composes and performs original music for the score—and in the new film, makes a brief cameo as Grover Cleveland.
The music for The Bateman Lectures is inspired in part by John Carpenter, the director of horror films such as Halloween and The Fog who composed original scores for his own work. “He knows what he wants for the music, so it’s easier if he does it himself, and I like that idea,” Scott says. “I wear a lot of hats on each of my films. I like to be able to have that level of control over each area.”
And it’s with that same purpose and clarity of vision that he’s been able to translate his lived experiences with depression and anxiety into a movie, the kind that he’d want to watch over and over again, and that will go on to resonate with other audiences.
“I get to exercise or try to develop so many different talents, to create something that people can watch in their home,” he says. “It’s a crazy thing.”
By Julianne Bell ’13 Published July 31, 2018 Photos by Julie Goldstone