I'm not sure if you've heard, but Williamsburg has changed in the last few years. There's been a lot of development. People have been priced out. Big glass buildings housing big glass condos have sprouted like weeds along the water. There's a Duane Reade. It's gotten pretty corporate, is what I'm saying. Everyone's moved to Bushwick. I mean, I guess I'm not sure if you've heard all this, but I feel like you probably have. Which is why it's so amazing to discover ACME Studio, right in the heart of the Williamsburg, right in the middle of where all the biggest changes have gone down, a creative oasis amid all of the new developments. Finding your way to the somewhat hidden ACME entryway is akin to what the Pevensie children must have felt as they fought their way through the heavy fur coats filling the magic wardrobe, but once you get inside ACME, it's almost like you're in Narnia. Well, there's no witch in ACME. But there is a lion. A taxidermy lion, but still.
ACME Studio is, in the words of studio manager Brian Colgan, "part prop house, part photo studio with cyc, and part design and fabrication shop. We can design and build your set, prop it out with items from our eclectic collection, and host the photo shoot in-house. What we do is what makes us different. Most studios are just a studio space where you come in and it's a big empty white box. We're different because we are the studio but we have all this stuff in here."
"Stuff" is an understatement. I have "stuff" at my house. ACME has a bounty of just about everything you can imagine, and even things that you couldn't imagine if you tried. Taxidermy animals peer down from their perches lining the walls and a Jesus statue adorned with a crown of barbed wire prays over you in the bathroom. A sculpture of disembodied mannequin torsos graces the space along with paintings that have been given to owner Shawn Patrick Anderson over the years. I ask Colgan how such an amazing and eclectic collection had been amassed and he tells me, "Shawn Patrick is a set designer. He used to have a studio by the Brooklyn Navy Yard. People started to ask to shoot there because he had all this stuff. More people started asking because they wanted a raw, wacky space. A lot of the stuff is acquired through shoots we do. We've realized how important it is to edit stuff out. Like this big blue pencil here. [Colgan gestures to an almost six-foot long blue pencil suspended from the ceiling.] We had it to make a bunch for an Oprah Magazine cover shoot. We had to have like fifteen Oprah-sized pencils. But we got rid of most of them after the shoot. For the most part, we like rusted, reclaimed, rustic stuff. And taxidermy. We're the taxidermy people now. We think of like How can you be the best at this one thing? That's what we're trying to do."
Anderson says, "What we're very proud about it how much of this stuff is reclaimed. We work a lot with Build it Green and it's great to be able to repurpose something. Otherwise it can be very wasteful."
Because location is everything and because ACME has such a prime one, I ask Anderson about his history in the space and how things have developed since they've been on North 3rd Street and if there's anywhere else they'd rather be. He tells me, "We've been here almost three years. It was just a big empty room at first. But we could see the vision here. Even in the last few months things have sky rocketed for us. Maybe we wouldn't want to do it in LA, but I was just down in Baton Rouge and they just have the enormous spaces where you could just put several airplanes in there. Land is so cheap...but, really, this is great. I'm happy doing this here right now. It used to be a little bit of a tough sell to get people to shoot in Brooklyn, but now, people fly in and no one wants to stay in Midtown. They want to stay at the Wythe Hotel. It's made a big difference."
Despite having such a personal investment in the space, in terms of all the work that's been put into revamping it and the years it's taken curating the whole collection, Anderson has an amazing view on what it is that all of this "stuff" really means. When I ask what he would take with him in case of a fire—a question that keeps me personally up late at night—he replies, "My three favorite things to take in a fire? What would I take? I mean, I like a lot of this shit. But, you know, I would let that burn, that would look really cool. [Anderson gestures to an elaborate chandelier hanging in the kitchen] Oh my god, yes. There's this baby sculpture, these two weirdo babies, that are laughing together in the bathroom. I would take that. You know what? We could let it burn and then start all over. I would grab that baby sculpture and then run. These things are really cool but it's just stuff. We could start all over. I'm not the most fragile guy. These are not precious things. We're always getting new stuff."
Colgan chimes in, "I mean, I'd take my iPhone charger." Which, really, is just smart.
Earlier, Colgan had told me, "My favorite thing, the coolest thing we have is a taxidermy lion head, which was from a shoot that Shawn did with Andre 3000 and it was really hard to get—as it should be—they didn't even use it in the shoot but it's super unique and we have it and now everyone wants to take a picture of it. I never thought much about taxidermy before but it's really cool. I've met a lot of great people. Like there's this guy upstate who did Siegfried and Roy's lions. So, yeah, there's a lot of interesting people in the taxidermy world. In fact, we're going to have a taxidermy class here. You start with a mouse."
In fact, ACME has entered a new phase of its existence where more people will have the chance to go inside and experience this sort-of magical place. Colgan tells me, "We've been working on having more events here, like talks and workshops. We have this huge space and it's fun for people and it's a great location and people really respond to the space. It's fun because it's kind of hidden and people like finding things."
Colgan points out, "We work with an amazing wide group of people who do amazing things. We have a wood shop in the basement with five artists working down there and there's a recording studio [that's not part of ACME] called Dungeon Beach. This building is really just amazing. It seems the opposite of what this area is becoming to a lot of people but it's really special what's happening in this building, with all sorts of different people buzzing around, making things, working together."
And he's totally right. It's a completely special, almost surreal space that is amazing to experience because there aren't any other places like it, not in Williamsburg or anywhere else.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen