Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Merry Creepsmas!!! And a Happy New Scare!

From one of our favorite Nutshells - Barn - the first Nutshell Study Frances Glessner Lee built with the help of her carpenter Ralph Mosher and her grandson, Charlie Batchelder.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Telling Frances Glessner Lee's Story by Susan Marks

 
 

Telling Frances Glessner Lee's story is complicated and beautiful. She is every bit the archetypal superhero. You could set her story in an era and the same themes resonate - the pursuit of justice in the face of great adversity. And like any superhero - she had her demons and flaws.
 
Still, Frances is more human than your average superhero. In fact, her superpowers were superior intelligence, hyper focus, advanced fine motor skills and the fact that she acted like a man in a man's world.
 
Frances also knew true monsters, she knew how it felt to be trapped, she knew injustices, she knew how it felt to be ignored, not taken seriously and dismissed. She didn't fit in. She tried it, played the role well but her true nature kept surfacing.

At one point she wrote, "I've lived a rather lonely and terrifying life." And understandable so. Life really began for her when she was in her 50s in the 1930s. That's when she devoted her life to "legal medicine" - creating a miniature world of macabre death scenes to help level the playing field. But that didn't mean her life got easier for her. In many ways, she became more and more isolated.

Her story hasn't been well preserved; files are missing, letters destroyed and journals may have been hidden away. Some members of her family are very secretive about Frances. (Others are very forthcoming and are in genuine awe of Frances). One family member told me that Frances was a very private person and wouldn't want anyone writing or making films about her. Another family member told me that information is wrong and that Frances wanted to be known for her work in forensics.  My guess is that they are both a bit right, Frances wanted her story told but she also wanted to control it. Unfortunately, in her lifetime, much of her story was left untold.

So for those of us now who want to tell her story we are left chasing her mystique. Inventing storylines while trying to stay true to what she cared about. To date, I've made two documentary films about Frances, wrote a screenplay and most recently wrote a tv pilot. And surprisingly, I'm finding new and inspired ways to tell her story.  It's exciting that Frances's story is starting to get the attention it deserves!









Friday, December 4, 2015

Frances Glessner Lee article 1955

An article about Frances Glesner Lee written in 1955. There are a few errors but some nice details too.  Some of this imagery is in our upcoming documentary film on Frances - Murder in a Nutshell: The Frances Glessner Lee Story.






MURDER IS HER HOBBY
A gentle 77-year-old. dowager is New England’s top criminologist and the creator of Harvard’s famous “nutshell studies” of unexplained death.
By John N. Makris
MRS. FRANCES LEE, who is a captain in the New Hampshire State Police and the only woman in the United States to hold such an active rank, has become, as a result of an unusual and non-paying hobby, a pioneer in the application of medical science to crime detection.
Her amazing series of model crime settings, which Mrs. Lee builds with the aid of a carpenter at her Littleton, N. H., estate, are housed in a special room at Harvard University’s Department of Legal Medicine, which she founded and endowed and which is the first and only one of its kind in North America.
Resembling shadow boxes, the models are built into the walls and are illuminated under glass in the darkened room. Above each model is furnished such general information as the “investiga- tor” would probably obtain before determining the nature of death.

The “investigators” who attend Harvard’s seminars in homicide are medical examiners, pathologists, coroners, city and town police officers, and state police. Mrs. Lee’s models serve to instruct them in the niceties of observation.
Mrs. Lee takes anywhere from three to four months to complete each model. The crimes selected for the groups are based on true cases, though various aspects are cleverly disguised so as to prevent the well-informed investigator from guessing the solution.
Mrs. Lee’s crime nutshells, say veteran officers who have viewed them, really take the place of actual experience. She goes to unbelievable lengths to achieve effects. She builds barns, houses, every kind of setting—and fur- nishes them with lifelike, third-dimension realism. She uses special lights and special magnifying lenses on her glasses while working on the models, handling dental and watchmaker’s tools like an expert.
Mrs. Lee even has to scale down her needle and thread and the size of her stitches when fashioning sweaters, lace work on dresses, chair backs, doilies, bedding, or when knitting the stockings worn by the female figures in her models. The knitting needles she uses, each smaller than a common pin, are the tiny ones used by Belgian women in lacemaking.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about her models is that the doors actually open, bureau drawers open, window shades roll up, stove lids lift, books open and have printed pages, and costumes are complete even to underwear. In one of the miniature settings is a state trooper who is only five inches tall. The whistle hanging around his neck can be blown. The pencil in his hand is made from the point of a toothpick but, incredibly, it has lead in it.
A door, no larger than a postage stamp, shows a bullet hole in the screen. Like everything else in Mrs. Lee’s amazing models, the bullet hole is exactly in scale. On the floor in a model kitchen is a miniature red wooden mousetrap. It works.
Mrs. Lee wants no distracting “phony-ness” in her details.
“Nutshell studies,” explains Mrs. Lee, “are not presented as crimes to be solved. They are, rather, designed as exercises in observation and evaluating indirect evidence, especially that which may have medical importance. Through ignorance, in many cases, important evidence has been destroyed.”
To emphasize such ignorance in detection, one of Mrs. Lee’s models shows two rooms that are apparently identical. One of the rooms shows how it was 80 minutes after a police officer has entered it. The cop has committed more than 30 major errors, plus a score of minor ones.
Each nutshell crime model is also a distinctive period setting. There is a country living room of the present day with miniatures of the New York Times and the Littleton Courier on the floor by a vacant armchair pulled up before a fireplace. The mastheads of the newspapers are perfectly reproduced. A tiny ashtray on a table no larger in circumference than the eraser of a pencil is filled with diminutive cigarette butts.
One of her models depicts a barn hanging. The lumber used to build this barn came from a 200-year-old barn on her Littleton estate that had been blown down during a bad storm. She had her carpenter slice the wood paper-thin, take off the inside and the outside, throw away the middle and put them together again, sandwich fashion, to retain their authenticity.
The farm tools displayed in this model, no longer than a common pin, are perfectly fashioned. The saw is razor-sharp and will draw blood if handled improperly. The ox yoke in the barn is a soft, weathered blue that comes only with time and exposure to the elements. Carrying out her lifelike effects further in this particular model, Mrs. Lee covered the ceiling of the barn with actual cobwebs and dust and saw to it that the corpse hanging from the beam really turned.
The wallpaper in many of her models is perfectly reproduced and it often takes a whole roll to paper one of her miniature rooms. A divan has real springs and a mattress.
Mrs. Lee’s father was John Jacob Glessner, a vice-president and director of the International Harvester Company. This, and other affluent connections, should explain how Mrs. Lee can spend so much on her special hobby. Quite early in life she acquired a taste for things in miniature, began making models of such groups as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the famous Flonzaly quartet. Her interest in legal medicine and crime detection developed through her friendship with Dr. George Burgess Magrath, a Harvard classmate of her brother who came to be New England’s foremost medical examiner. Since approaching President Lowell of Harvard many years ago about starting the University’s department of legal medicine Mrs. Lee has given the department nearly half a million dollars besides uncountable time and devotion to her tiny tableaux of unexplained death that sharpen the observation power of serious students of crime. •

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

A common reaction from people when they learn we are making another documentary film about Frances Glessner Lee and the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.

May your Halloween be fun and homicide free!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Top 50 2015 Academy Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting




I'm thrilled that my screenplay Dollhouse of Death made the Top 50 List (out of 7,422 entries) for the Academy Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting! What a huge honor.  What a great organization and fellowship competition. I feel so grateful!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Screenwriter Susan Marks


Writer Susan Marks with one of the Nutshell Study of Unexplained Death

Susan Marks is screenwriter, author and documentary filmmaker, repped by Jon Levin at CAA.

Susan's current projects include 2015 Academy Nicholl Fellowship Semifinalist/Top 50 screenplay, Dollhouse of Death.

Susan also recently wrote a modern Southern Gothic tale TV pilot, Perfect South and a retelling of the classic All About Eve in her newest screenplay, Devil's Food.

Her screenplay, Finding Poppy Pepperdine was a quarter-finalist in the 2013 Academy Nicholl Fellowship competition.

Her recent documentary film, Of Dolls & Murder about dollhouse crime scenes, features legendary filmmaker John Waters as narrator. Currently, Susan is in post production on a followup documentary, Murder in a Nutshell.

Susan's past projects include the book Finding Betty Crocker (Simon & Schuster 2005) and documentary film, The Betty Mystique.

Susan is a two-time recipient of the Jerome Foundation filmmaking grant,  a McKnight fellow and an Upper Midwest Regional Emmy winner.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Semifinal Round of the 2015 Academy Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting!



I'm feeling so humbled, grateful and a little surprised.  My screenplay on Frances Glessner Lee advanced to the Semifinal Round of the 2015 Academy Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting!  My script is one of 7,442 scripts total, down to 375 for the quarterfinal round and now 149 in the semifinals. UPDATE - my script made it in the top 50 screenplays. Amazing.

Sure I'm happy for me, but I'm also happy that this means more people will know about the incredible story of Frances Glessner Lee and her Nutshell Studies. 

Fingers crossed for the Final Round! 

Congratulations to everyone who QF or SF for this amazing screenplay competition!

Feel free to take a look at the lookbook for my screenplay.

One of the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death by Frances Glessner Lee
 

If you are curious to know a bit more about my writing and indie filmmaking, please read on!
                                        

Susan Marks is screenwriter, author and documentary filmmaker.


Her recent documentary film, Of Dolls & Murder, about dollhouse crime scenes, features legendary filmmaker John Waters as narrator. Her followup documentary, Murder in a Nutshell focuses on the enigmatic Frances Glessner the Lee - the creator of the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.

Susan's current projects include 2015 Academy Nicholl Fellowship semifinalist screenplay, Dollhouse of Death about Frances Glessner Lee.  She also recently wrote a modern Southern Gothic tale in a new TV pilot, Perfect South.

Her screenplay, Finding Poppy Pepperdine was a quarter-finalist in the 2013 Academy Nicholl Fellowship competition. 

Susan's past projects include the book Finding Betty Crocker (Simon & Schuster 2005) and documentary film, The Betty Mystique.

Susan also wrote the book In the Mood for Munsingwear and made the documentary, Inside the Speakeasy Dollhouse.

Susan is a two-time recipient of the Jerome Foundation filmmaking grant,  a McKnight fellow and an Upper Midwest Regional Emmy winner.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Murder in a Nutshell: The Frances Glessner Lee Story

I'm more than a little thrilled to announce that we are finished with our independent documentary film Murder in a Nutshell: The Frances Glessner Lee Story - a follow up to our other documentary film on the Nutshell Studies - Of Dolls & Murder

True, you never know when you are done-done with a film.  But for now, we are done. Unless of course we get some more funding. That would change everything! There is so much more that we could do to make this documentary film amazing. 

Although, I must say, Frances Glessner Lee's story is pretty amazing already.

Inside the not so glamorous world of post production on Murder in a Nutshell

Over the years, it just got less and less glamorous! But we never tired of the story. Not once.

Editor John Kurtis Dehn works hard while I take photos

Robin Barnes from Kitchen - one of Frances G. Lee's Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Filmmakers John Kurtis Dehn and Susan Marks from inside a Nutshell

Why did she bake a cake before killing herself?


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Show Up Every Day

Just for fun Laurel from the Yoga Garden and I experimented with our iphones to create this video of her being awesome.

The iphone wound up being pretty instrumental to my new documentary on the Nutshell Studies. I was able to get angles in the dollhouses previously unseen by traditional cameras.

Anyway, please enjoy a little yoga inspiration from the guru who doesn't want to be known as a guru - Laurel Van Matre of the Yoga Garden in NE Minneapolis.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Frances Glessner Lee screenplay quarterfinals in Nicholl!


Great news!  My screenplay on Frances Glessner Lee advanced to the Quarterfinal Round of the 2015 Academy Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting!  7,442 scripts were entered and only 375 entries made it to this round.

Fingers crossed for the final round! (UPDATE: My script did make it to the Semifinals!!!)

 Here's a bit more about my writing and indie filmmaking:


Writer Susan Marks with one of the Nutshell Study of Unexplained Death

Susan Marks is screenwriter, author and documentary filmmaker.

Her recent documentary film, Of Dolls & Murder, about dollhouse crime scenes, features legendary filmmaker John Waters as narrator. Her screenplay, Finding Poppy Pepperdine was a quarter-finalist in the 2013 Academy Nicholl Fellowship competition. 

Susan's current projects include 2015 Academy Nicholl Fellowship quarterfinal screenplay, Dollhouse of Death about Frances Glessner Lee.  Susan made a documentary film, Murder in a Nutshell - also about Frances.

Susan also recently wrote a modern Southern Gothic tale in a new TV pilot, Perfect South.

Susan's past projects include the book Finding Betty Crocker (Simon & Schuster 2005) and documentary film, The Betty Mystique. Susan also wrote the book In the Mood for Munsingwear and made the documentary, Inside the Speakeasy Dollhouse.

Susan is a two-time recipient of the Jerome Foundation filmmaking grant,  a McKnight fellow and an Upper Midwest Regional Emmy winner.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Frances Glessner Lee documentary update

We're  back in the audio suite again - recording with our new scratch narrator for our documentary film on Frances Glessner Lee - Murder in a Nutshell.

It's always fun to hear my words come alive with a professional narrator. We feel so lucky to be telling Frances' story. And of course, the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death are endlessly fascinating.




Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Back in the edit suite for Frances Glessner Lee documentary!

Our home away from home. Back in the edit suite this week for more and more re-edits on our documentary on Frances Glessner Lee. We've got new scratch narration, new graphics, new music, a new Nutshell scene and yet we've only managed to trim five minutes worth of fat. But we're getting there!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Nutshell we didn't know existed

One of Frances Glessner Lee's Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. Photo by Susan Marks
For those of you who know the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death - this one may throw you. We (the filmmakers) didn't know it existed for many years. This Nutshell is featured in our forthcoming documentary film. Believe it or not, there's is a doll corpse in this one. Any guesses to where it is?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Rough Cut Documentary Film Screening of Her Miniature Life of Crime: The Frances Glessner Lee Story

We are thrilled to announce that we have completed a cut of our documentary film,  Her Miniature Life of Crime: The Frances Glessner Lee Story!

You can check it out and give us your feedback if you are in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area on Tuesday, May 26, 2015 at 7pm.

The screening will be held at IFP Minnesota: 550 Vandalia Street, Suite 120, St. Paul, MN 55114

All are welcome.

From the documentary film, Her Miniature Life of Crime: The Frances Glessner Lee Story

Friday, May 15, 2015

Frances Glessner Lee and why I still care by Susan Marks

Over the years of working on several different film projects on Frances Glessner Lee, I've become the unofficial keeper of her history. And I'll keep her history until history stops forgetting her.

A few years back, I made the documentary film Of Dolls & Murder about Frances and her extraordinary Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. I was so captivated by this woman who is as mysterious as her Nutshells. 

The one and only Frances Glessner Lee 


Her imagination. Her talent. Her sheer genius. How could the world not know about her? Sadly, I think I know the answer. From the 1930s until her death in 1962, a relatively small group of people respected and acknowledged her enormous contributions in early forensic science. And those people were the men who attended HAPS (Harvard Associates in Police Science) - the seminar series she created to help foster relationships between law enforcement and the medical community in the pursuit of justice.

Everyone else generally dismissed Frances. Especially her colleagues at Harvard. A lot of people placated her only because she donated so much money to the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard - where she was generally viewed as a meddlesome old woman with money and not enough to do. (Her words)

She was a truly woman ahead of her time and this threatened people. She never gave up and this irritated people. Things were rarely good enough for her and people resented her for it.

And when she died, the forensic academic community - the community she helped pioneer - allowed her name and contributions to fade away because they simply didn't think she was worthy of credit.

HAPS members, however, are another story. They keep her memory alive.  But memories aren't quite enough for a screenwriter and documentary filmmaker like me, are they? I needed photos, documents, newspaper articles, letters, and interviews with family members and people who can speak to her impact on criminology.

When my filmmaking partner and I made Of Dolls & Murder, we had to partially abandon our original vision because we could not find enough of the kind of information I listed above. We were proud of what we created but regretted that we couldn't find enough details about Frances Glessner Lee's life.

So I started to fantasize about the Hollywood version of her life - staring some amazing actress like Cate Blanchett as Frances Glessner Lee.  So I wrote the screenplay, Dollhouse of Death and it turned out better than I could have ever imagined. If this film ever gets made, there is no way history could ever forget about Frances Glessner Lee again.

And now we are almost done with our follow up documentary Murder in a Nutshell because we were lucky enough to unearth some pretty compelling new material about Frances Glessner Lee.

Her story just keeps getting better and better. Frances spoke so eloquently for the dead and I feel privileged to speak eloquently for her.

One of the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death by Frances Glesssner Lee -
photo by Susan Marks









Thursday, April 30, 2015

My friend's new show Ziegfeld's Midnight Frolic in NYC

My dear friend and collaborator Cynthia von Buhler has a new Broadway show and it's nothing short of phenomenal! You must go! (You may remember Cynthia as the subject of our documentary film, Inside the Speakeasy Dollhouse)

Here's the NYT review

And here's some photos I snapped from last Friday's show.



















That's Cynthia in the beautiful green dress.

Cynthia's husband Russell Farhang (black tux) plays Mr. Ziegfeld so well - so charmingly!
Did I mention that you must go?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Of Dolls & Murder screening in London!

We are so excited to be screening Of Dolls & Murder this Thursday (4/16/15) at the Wellcome Trust in London! If you don't have tickets, sorry to say it's too late. Read about it here. If you go, drop us a line and let us know what you think! Also, if you want a DVD of your own, click here.