PES has spent most of the past decade turning everyday objects on their head, one inch at a time. The California-based filmmaker, real name Adam Pesapane, has become something of a stop-motion auteur since the debut of his first short, Roof Sex, in which two armchairs have sex on a roof. Since then, he's created viral hits like Western Spaghetti and the Oscar-nominated Fresh Guacamole, all in the same quirky aesthetic. In his universe, footballs are turned into cold cuts, dice become onions, and chairs give blowjobs.
Today, PES released Submarine Sandwich, the third installment in his food-focused series of stop-motion shorts. Set in a recreated 1920s-era deli, the film follows a clerk (played by PES) as he wordlessly constructs a submarine sandwich from behind the counter. As in his earlier films, the cuts of meat are not actually meat, but vintage sports equipment that he spent years looking for on eBay, Craigslist, and at flea markets. A boxing glove is sliced into thin strips of "ham" (represented by pink napkins), and 1970s-era tube socks (provolone cheese) are cut into white baseball patches and spread across the sandwich.
It's clever, cute, and definitely weird, but PES says it's just the way he's always seen the world. He has vivid memories of going to the grocery store as a child and imagining avocados as grenades — a vision that became the basis for 2012's Fresh Guacamole.
"I don't know if anyone else sees this, but those avocados are just like grenades."
"It’s just one of those little ideas, and everyone has these things that amuse you," PES said in a phone interview Tuesday from his studio in Santa Monica. "For me, I use them as cornerstones for films because that’s my way of saying, 'hey this is really funny, I see this in the world and I don't know if anyone else sees this, but those avocados are just like grenades.'"
The film was crowdfunded through a Kickstarter campaign over the summer, and took seven months to shoot. But the seed was planted a few years earlier, when PES fell in love with an old meat slicer he saw on display at the MoMA in New York. He was struck by its muscular design, and began wondering what a PES deli would look like. He was already familiar with the menu — he grew up in New Jersey in an Italian-American family, and his aunt owned a deli there — but recreating the atmosphere would prove difficult.
PES spent 18 months monitoring eBay for just the right deli cabinet, a 1920s-era piece from New York. He paid way too much for an old soccer ball in Peru, and scoured Los Angeles flea markets and sites like Etsy for any other memorabilia he could find. Once it was all collected, and with funding secured, he began the painstaking process of bringing it to life, one shot at a time.
PES works on Submarine Sandwich at his studio in Santa Monica. (PES)
It's a long and arduous process, but PES says authenticity is critical to his work. His entire career, much like the medium in which he works, is predicated on meticulous attention to detail — everything from the sound of the meat slicer to the texture of his materials. In the promo video for his Kickstarter campaign, PES made a point of stressing that all of his films are completely free of computer-generated special effects.
"I like giant cutting boards that are scarred over 200 years, I like knives that I found in Mexico that were handmade in the 1800s."
"I like touching things, I like handling things," he says. "I like giant cutting boards that are scarred over 200 years, I like knives that I found in Mexico that were handmade in the 1800s. I like deli cabinets that have oak doors on the back and really creaky hinges. I like stuff, and I like the texture of stuff."
"And so part of my films are about this sort of deification of stuff, and texture, and that beautiful thing about real life, versus that sanitary feeling that you often get from a computer."
Now that Submarine Sandwich is behind him, PES plans to devote more time to other projects, both personal and commercial. He's shot several commercials over his career, and wants to create a TV series in the same style of his celebrated shorts. And although he says he's not opposed to trying new formats or technologies, he seems intent on exploring the same twisted reality he sees every day.
"I've always been a bit of a documentary filmmaker at heart," he says. "I approach all my films as if they’re real, 100 percent believable. I’m just showing you, this is what happens if you cut a baseball, or two chairs are fucking on a roof and I happen to sneak up there and photograph them."
"I’m treating it like it’s really happening and that heightens the absurdity of it. It’s like yes, I really am making this dish, doesn’t it look delicious?"