Monday, 9 May 2016

Dunham on Dunham

There's no real material on this blog about the coming together of Klementhro, my fifth film (fourth that's seen the light of day) presently touring scenic Switzerland and having recently screened at ITFS Stuttgart. Those who've seen it can probably appreciate why I haven't loaded the blog with production materials as it's undoubtedly the most minimal of all the films I've done and there isn't really a lot to document, it just sort of plopped out of me.
I did get interviewed about it (by the multi-talented artist Anna Henckel-Donnersmarck) at Stuttgart on the night of the screening and during the filmmaker brunch the day after, however, and I pocket-recorded them both in case they turned out podcast-worthy. They didn't really, but I thought I'd slap up a transcript in lieu of any other explanation or backstory for the film here. There are a couple of plot spoilers I guess, but plot is such a loose concept in the film that I don't think it'd be a big deal, so do plow on if you feel you can handle it:
Ben, you did the animation, the music and you were the producer...what did Sue Dunham do?
Yeah...well, I am she, and she is me. It's a pseudonym – Sue Dunham/pseudonym...?
(justified audience groans)
I know. That just undid all the actual laughs the film got. It's a name I use for projects very rarely when I produce something that isn't the kind of thing I usually do, which this film definitely isn't.

And what kind of films do you usually do?
Heh...films that kind of make sense, I guess? This was something that kind of popped into my head, pretty much exactly as it turned out. And I thought I'm an animator, sort of. Let's see if I can make that into a film and if it would be watchable at all. And that's what you got.

I googled 'Sue Dunham' this morning to find out what other films you did under this pseudonym and all I found out was that Lena Dunham is suing somebody, but I couldn't find your other projects.
Well, the second film I did, there was two versions of it, and the first version was a Sue Dunham film. Then I kind of changed it up and when I re-released it, to slightly better success than the first, I changed the director credit back to me. But occasionally there have been little art projects or things that are more for younger or general audiences, where sort of in my head it made sense to do under a different name because the stuff I do under my own name can be quite dark, I suppose, or perceivably 'adult'. So it's sort of about different headspaces, I suppose.

And 'Klementhro', is that a real name?
No, it's actually made it very easy to track how well the film is doing, if you make up the title, because then if you Google it there'll be nothing else but your film, which can be quite helpful. So yeah, made-up name, made-up sounds, in keeping with the whole made-up logic of the film, I suppose.

There are so many places you could take the character(!) Yeah, I think it's sort of a one-and-done, we've accompanied him on his journey sufficiently.

And you work in many different fields, you do graphic novels, you've written a book on animation – I hope you have it with you, so we could sell it?
It comes out in September. The book was actually the thrust behind making this film because the whole point of the book is about independent, auteur animation, it's about how, at this point, it's a much more feasible thing to be able to make our own films outside of a studio system; so many amazing films have been coming out. So it's sort of a book of case studies predominantly, and a cultural study, and sort of an academic textbook as well, so I'm hoping it will have some resonance when it comes out. Lots of amazing people have helped with it coming together.
But I was about a third of the way through the manuscript of this book, where the overall message is “Hey, you're an animator? You can make your own films!” when it struck me that I hadn't actually done that myself in five years. Even though it's not a book about me and my films, I kind of felt like if I made a new film I'd feel like less of a hypocrite, to actually do what I'm saying people can do. I had very little downtime last year, around a week and a half, so this thing happened in that week and a half. And, y'know, it's gotten into festivals, I'm sitting here with you guys which is amazing, audiences seem to get it which is a surprise...not that I don't give people credit to understand it, it's not a smart film or a conceptually avant-garde film, but I always thought it would be more irritating than anything else.

So what kind of reactions were you hoping for?
Well, the surprise I have found is that when the character dies at the end – spoiler alert – people oftentimes are like “aww” - like they kind of don't want him to die. And I thought that people would be so annoyed by this character that they'd actually be cheering on the drowning at the end. Whenever I see my films in festivals I find there are always things that you think people will respond to that don't necessarily get the response, but then people will pick up on something that was almost an afterthought, so that's always a nice thing.

And you've been to a few screenings with Klementhro before, I believe?

Were the reactions different from screening to screening?
For this it's actually been more or less the same. It's a very tense first half, because I think there's a point where people are like “Is this gonna be the whole film?”. That I think came from - because I also co-run an animation magazine in the UK, it's an online magazine, and we go to festivals all the time and see so many films each year, and the greater percentage of them are very good but you do get some that are just unrelentingly repetitive and almost unfair to have to sit through! So a part of the film was sort of a reaction I suppose to that, to make a film with that kind of character and then kill them off, or put them through some troubled waters. So it's a bit of a bait-and-switch: The first half you can usually sense some tenseness in the audience and then as soon as it goes off in this different direction I think there's a kind of relief and that maybe gets a bit more laughs, because of that.

And what is that magazine?
It's called Skwigly. There are cards in the foyer! I assume a lot of people here are into animation, we're absolutely wild about it, obviously. It's full of interviews, we do podcasts, little video documentaries, news, reviews, we do a lot of festival coverage, so it's a big passion project of ours. As I think is the case with a lot of animation websites or blogs out there, it's something that keeps an enthusiasm going, because we all work in animation ourselves, so to have another area of animation to stay excited about, sometimes when your day job is working on a commercial for travel insurance or banking or whatever, it's nice to have different areas of the industry to focus on at the same time.
(To audience) Any questions or comments?

Audience member with great taste: For anybody who doesn't know Skwigly, it's excellent.
Thank you very much!

Audience member #1: I was wondering if you'd ever planned to animate the rowing in any more detail?
Yeah, had there been more than a week and a half I think I would've done a bit more. In my head, that loop was gonna be a bit more playful, his head was gonna loll about as he rowed. But it turned out to be just a minimal loop

Audience member #2: It's perfect as it is.
Thank you! Well, also he'd be paddling around in a circle, because he only rows on one side of the raft, so he's going nowhere fast. Because there are no real backgrounds you don't know much about where he is or where he's going, that helps keep it vague. But that loop is probably the most animation – we were talking earlier about what does and doesn't qualify as 'animation' in a film, this film is basically a drawing! Y'know, with lip sync and a couple of frames of animation, and the ghost sort of has a wobble to it – that was basically it, to think of the easiest way to put together this story quickly but make it watchable.

You did all the voices?

So you really did do everything? 
Pretty much, I think for this type of film bringing on other people would've been surplus to requirements. I also wanted to do it as an exercise in staying out of my head and just doing something without overthinking stuff like “Well, this bit doesn't actually make sense, so what if I change this, add this, maybe do some more animation here...”, because I do that a lot with my films, I tend to over-embellish them early on and then inevitably have to pare them down later. So this was sort of a discipline exercise, to keep it as minimal as possible, so in that respect it really was easier to just knock it out in Toon Boom over a few days. And it was sort of a secret as well, which was an easy thing because it happened so quickly, so it was quite nice to let people know I had a new film long after the fact, when it had actually been picked up. 

So there ya go, a little bit of light shed on the wily Klementhro and his antics. As I mentioned it above I may as well reveal that the publication date for Project Group-Hug (real title: Independent Animation: Developing, Producing and Distributing Your Animated Films) has indeed been confirmed as September 22nd and you can go ahead and pre-order it on Amazon! Exciting times indeed. 
There are still a couple of stages left before it goes to print and the cover on the Amazon listing is a TBC mockup (though as an Adam Elliot devotee I obviously like it a lot) but all seems to have come together smoothly. I'll reserve my insufferable gushing about the experience until closer to the release date but needless to say it's been one of the most professionally rewarding projects I've worked on to date and I can't wait to share more about it with you all.

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