Tumwater native and former Olympia punk rocker basking in Oscar glory

March 2, 2011 

Tumwater native and former Olympia punk rocker basking in Oscar glory

Oprah Winfrey, right, hands Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs their Oscars for Best Documentary Feature for "Inside Job" during the 83rd Annual Academy Awards on Sunday evening at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. Marrs' first job out of high school was at The Olympian.

ROBERT GAUTHIER/LOS ANGELES TIMES

A Tumwater native and former Olympia punk rocker is holding Oscar gold today after winning the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature on Sunday night in Hollywood.

Audrey Marrs, a graduate of Tumwater High School and The Evergreen State College, won the Oscar, along with director Charles Ferguson, for their film, “Inside Job,” about what caused the 2008 financial crisis.

The pair had previously been nominated for “No End in Sight: The American Occupation of Iraq.” That 2007 film chronicled the policy choices made by the Bush administration prior to the Iraq War and during the first few months after the invasion.

In a phone interview Tuesday from her Beverly Hills, Calif., hotel room, Marrs, 40, said she was tired but very happy. “I went to bed around 4:30 a.m. (Monday). I don’t really remember how I got there.”

Oprah Winfrey presented their award Sunday night. Marrs said she still can’t quite make sense of the experience. “It was more surreal than anything I had experienced in my life.” She said it took her a second to realize she had won when Winfrey made the announcement.

The chance to meet Winfrey added to the excitement. “When I got on stage I told her, ‘I love you,’” Marrs said.

Director Ferguson gave one of the most memorable acceptance speeches of the evening. “Forgive me. I must start by pointing out that three years after a horrific financial crisis caused by massive fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that’s wrong,” he said to loud applause.

Ferguson is no anti-capitalist. He sold his tech company, Vermeer Technologies, to Microsoft in 1996 for a reported $133 million. Marrs is the chief operating officer of Ferguson’s film company, Representational Pictures. Her road to that position was anything but conventional.

After high school, Marrs worked for The Olympian, where she wrote obituaries and sold classified advertising. She held jobs at KBRD-AM and the record label Kill Rock Stars. She also got involved with the Riot Grrrl music scene in Olympia.

She played bass guitar and keyboard and sang with bands Mocket and Gene Defcon. “There’s no fear about starting something with people in Olympia,” Marrs said.

At 30, Marrs relocated to San Francisco to study contemporary art curating. But shortly after arriving, she was invited to spend a year touring with Riot Grrrl band Bratmobile.

“After that, it was time to get a real job,” she said. She answered a Craigslist ad for a man needing a personal assistant. That man was Ferguson. After three very difficult interviews, she got the job. Soon, she was assisting him on his first movie, “No End in Sight.”

During production of that movie, she continued to pursue her masters in art curation at California College of the Arts. “I knew it wasn’t my lifelong dream to be someone’s assistant,” she said.

But one day Ferguson and Marrs realized that she had ceased being a personal assistant and instead had become a movie producer, she said. She knew right then and there that she had found her career. “Literally, in 24 hours I had decided I didn’t want to do contemporary art. I realized that film is just a better fit for me.”

Marrs said she’s addicted to the rush of communicating with a mass audience – a taste she developed while playing in those Olympia punk bands. She describes movie producing as “working with a creative person who has a vision and your job is to figure out how to manifest that vision in a tangible form – a film.”

Ferguson, with his business background and interest in political science, knew he had to make “Inside Job” when Lehman Brothers collapsed. Despite the complicated subject matter, Marrs said they didn’t dumb down the content in the movie.

Marrs said she’s going to continue working with Ferguson, but they have not chosen their next project. They also are adjusting to life after the Oscars and the new doors that might open for them. “We have resources now we didn’t have.”

Despite their success with documentaries, Marrs said they might make a thriller next. She said they hope to alternate between documentaries and narrative features.

Marrs isn’t the first in her family to achieve notoriety. She’s the younger half-sister of artist Stella Marrs, who is known for her clever retro note cards and is a resident of Buffalo, N.Y. Audrey Marrs lives in New York City. Another sister, Leona Marrs, played with the punk rock band Pretty Girls Make Graves.

And where will the younger Marrs put her new gleaming Oscar?

“It’s going to look quite strange in my small East Village apartment. I’m going to have to figure that out,” she said.

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541 craig.sailor@thenewstribune.com

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