An Interview with Rachel Filmer, the Paper Art Queen
Some of the most impressive Bo-related art online isn't a painting or a drawing—it's made entirely out of PAPER!
That's right. These gorgeous pieces are comprised of tiny paper pieces that are meticulously assembled to create the final product.
Luckily, Rachel Filmer is a sweetheart (and 40 like me!), and she was more than willing to answer my many questions.
Here is my interview with Rachel, which has been edited and condensed for clarity purposes.
Bo Burnham Historian: Hi, Rachel! Thanks for taking the time to talk to me about your amazing and intricate art.
Rachel: No problem!
Can you please provide some details about yourself?
Rachel: I’m 40 and live in Poole, on the south coast of England.
I’ve lived in various parts of England, went to university in Birmingham (got a not-at-all ill-advised BA in Drama & Theatre Arts), worked in London for a while, and now I'm back here.
I’ve had a crazy range of jobs: writing for film magazines, managing entries and juries for an international festival in Cannes, professional singer, teaching cake decorating…and now cutting holes in paper for money, which is quite weird.
BBH: Wow, what a varied career you've had. The Cannes one sounds really cool in particular!
How did you get started with your art? Are you formally trained?
Rachel: Not remotely formally trained. I dropped art at school as soon as I was allowed because I was terrible at it.
There are a few brilliant artists in my family, but I was always more musical and used to sing professionally. I really didn’t see myself as a creative person.
In my late 20s, I went to a cake-decorating workshop with a friend, and another friend taught me to knit and that was it—suddenly, I was trying all sorts of things I’d previously assumed I’d be unable to do.
I bought a paper cutting kit when I was 30, and that was the thing that really stuck.
I was terrible at it—really bad—but I wanted to be better and I have an unhealthy perfectionist streak so, within about six months, I felt like I knew was I was doing.
BBH: Ah, I am also a perfectionist, so I get the impulse to master your craft.
What are your art influences? Are there any particular artists or creators who inspire you?
Rachel: I don’t even have a favourite artist.
I have such eclectic taste—really captivating graphic design is probably the thing I like best.
I’ve always been a film and TV junkie and done a lot inspired by that (I spent several years almost exclusively making layered cuts from film and TV stills), so I love artists like Matt Needle.
I don’t know if you’ve seen his film- and TV-inspired prints, but they’re some of the best things on my walls.
BBH: No, that name isn't familiar to me, but I'll definitely check him out due to your recommendation!
When did you become a fan of Bo? Have you known about him for a long time, or did you discover him through Inside?
Rachel: I’ve known about Bo for ages.
I've enjoyed his stuff and I’d seen Make Happy, but it’s rare for me to watch stand up unless I can go in person. I feel like a lot gets lost in translation to a screen.
I’ve always been a huge fan of musical comedy though.
I didn’t get round to Inside for a while. I’d heard it was great—I put it on one day while at a bit of a loss and was absolutely blown away. I think I watched it twice that day…and many more times since, along with everything else.
BBH: That's cool you've known about Bo for years. I only really discovered him in 2019 because of Eighth Grade.
And I also love musical comedy! I grew up on Weird Al and am passionate about Flight of the Conchords (both of whom Bo has cited in his works). I've actually seen the latter act twice in concert—2008 and 2016!
So what inspired you to make art about Bo? And what is your general process from concept to the final product?
Rachel: There is something about Inside that’s uniquely inspirational to me. I can’t really put it into words.
I think it’s both the tropes of the musical styles differing for each song, and the impact of the lyrics, as well as the homemade nature of it. It makes me want to make stuff.
Inside shares the same space in my brain as very few other things—they’re films, books, designs, and various other items that make me so happy but also make me feel a bit desolate because they’re so brilliant I know I’ll never make anything that good in my life.
Generally I let an idea sit for quite a while, refining it in my head before I start to design it—the design is always the challenge, and the cutting takes a while but that’s the fun part.
BBH: I never would have guessed the design part was the most difficult aspect! Just looking at your WIP pictures makes my fingers ache lol.
What's your favorite piece of Bo fanart that you've made? Least favorite?
Rachel: I only have two finished pieces so far, although several more are in progress.
I can’t quite get a few details in the Comedy piece right yet, but when I do I think that might be my favourite!
I’m hoping to eventually have a piece for each song in Inside, but that may take years at this rate!
BBH: That would be incredible! And if there's any message to take away from Bo's special, it's that good art takes time and effort.
I can tell you spend a LOT of time on your art, and we all appreciate your expertise.
What's your preferred medium for your art? I'm guessing it's paper haha.
Rachel: Yeah, definitely paper. I’m not an artist at all.
The thought of endless possibilities with paint freaks me out.
I love the challenge and the limitations of working with paper, although I developed something new for the AEOM piece that I’m planning to use more.
I also love risograph printing (using Japanese machines that are much like screen printers).
The finished results look so cool, and there’s a similar limitation in that you have to pick a small number of colours and work out how best to use them. When I design my pieces now I think about how I can turn them into riso prints when they’re done.
BBH: Oh, I like those riso prints too...they are quite lovely!
My favorite of your works is definitely the stained glass AEOM piece that looks like a page out of a scribe's book.
How did you come up with that idea? Was it more or less difficult to create than your other paper art?
Rachel: Definitely more difficult.
When I heard AEOM, I immediately thought of a hymn and then of stained glass, but I don’t have a clue how to make stained glass and I knew paper wouldn’t cut it [Editor's note: I don't think that pun was intended haha].
I had some issues translating the waves to a stained glass design I liked, but then the top paper layer came together quite easily.
Took me months of trialling different materials to get something to work, but it was really labour intensive. It worked out in the end though!
BBH: Absolutely! It's so delicate and stunning in photos, and I'm sure it's even MORE impressive in person.
This video you posted on Reddit definitely demonstrates how complex it was to make!
I also adore the Welcome to the Internet piece. How did you conceptualize that one? I truly love the "Apathy's a tragedy and boredom is a crime" part, so your art spoke to me immediately!
Rachel: That Iine was probably my favourite in the whole special from the first viewing, and the idea of it just popped into my head—not exactly what it would look like, but how it should feel.
I spent a while looking at various old carnival posters to identify different elements that might work. The design is always the most difficult part for me. I made the first paper cut, then the prints, then slightly redesigned some of it and made another.
BBH: Well, you nailed it because that looks EXACTLY like an old-timey carnival or circus sign. Bravo!
I even found a short video of you assembling this piece of art on YouTube and, to quote Socko..."Boy, that [looks] complicated!"
Please tell me one fun fact about yourself. Do you have any specific hobbies or interests people don't know about?
Rachel: Oh, so many.
I won a UK kids TV show called Finders Keepers when I was 11.
I almost amputated my arm with a bathroom sink (and almost lost an eye to a fencing sword).
Last year, I solved a 3x3 speed cube in 19 seconds but have now forgotten all the fancy algorithms.
BBH: Those are definitely some interesting facts lol.
And you're a fellow cuber! I love it too (but you are MUCH faster than I am at solving!).
Back to Bo. What's your favorite song/special by him? You can name more than one.
Rachel: So hard to pick a favourite.
Inside is my favourite special, but favourite song changes daily—it might be The Chicken today.
I do have a particular soft spot for Repeat Stuff, though. Shit is what I listen to most, I reckon—it’s just perfect.
BBH: Agreed on all of your choices. The Chicken is one of my favorites as well! It hits WAY too close to home as a mother and wife looking for purpose in her life.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
Rachel: On my screen right now are in-progress pieces based on Comedy, Shit and The Chicken. None of them are right yet, though!
BBH: I'm sure you'll figure it out!
How can fans best support you? Are any of your pieces for sale? And do you have social media that you'd like to plug?
Rachel: I go by CutScenesUK on Etsy and social media.
I’ve had riso prints made of my Bo pieces to date and will continue to do that with future pieces.
I make paper cuts for customers too, but they do take time, so the prints are a more affordable option!
BBH: That's great that you are providing alternatives that are cheaper for your customers. How thoughtful of you!
Thanks again, Rachel, for taking the time to talk with me about your art, and I can't wait to see your takes on the other Bo songs!
Rachel: It's been my pleasure. Thank you!