Editor Note:It is Friday and that means it is time for the World Famous, soon to be Intergalactic Famous, News Sushi from our very own, Hamish Downie. Hamish brings us a decidedly different slant on Pop Culture as viewed through the lens of a non-native living in Japan.
Thank you Hamish, for your insights.
Look at that? My fans are literally beating the door down for this latest column… well, I’ve got a special filmmaker and film for you this week… so let’s get to it!
NEWS SUSHI… listens…
But, before we meet our filmmaker, let’s get into the mood with this classic tune:
Ethel told the songwriters she needed one more knock out song to make “Call Me Madam” a hit on Broadway. Reportedly, songwriter Irving Berlin wrote the song overnight in his hotel room, and brought it to rehearsal the next day. When he gave her this cross-singing masterpiece she shouted, “We won’t be able to get them outta the theatre!” – which proved to be prophetic as opening night audiences demanded seven, count ’em, SEVEN, encores of this one opening night.
NEWS SUSHI… meets…
TGG: Hi Ross, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed today… so, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
RO: About me, I’m a 26-year-old filmmaker from NZ and the U.S.- I’m a dual citizen! I got into filmmaking by way of animation when I was fifteen years old– I would make cartoons in a program called Blender 3D. I went to study animation at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, but quickly realized I didn’t really care about the craft of animation– what I really wanted to know was how to tell an interesting story, so I changed my area of study to filmmaking. I ended up moving back to New Zealand after I graduated. I wasn’t interested in being on film sets, so I never really got a job in the film industry. I was a door-to-door salesman for about four years, and now I work at a website company as my day job. So I guess you could say I’ve always had a duality, not quite a filmmaker, not quite an animator, not quite New Zealander, not quite American, plus many more. That would make a great tattoo!
TGG: It really would! So, can you tell us what the movie is about?
RO: “Oops, I Murdered the Person the Person I Like Likes” is a feature-length film made entirely with cut-out paper puppets. Based on The Spanish Tragedie, a play written in the 16th Century by Thomas Kyd (a contemporary of Shakespeare), it tells the story of Horatio, servant to princess Bellimperia, who plans to kill her lover in order to take his place.
Themes include cycles of revenge and ruthlessly Machiavellian characters, and this is often played for laughs.
TGG: It’s such a unique idea – and having seen the film – you’ve made it so cinematic. What inspired you to use puppets?
RO: I was inspired to try making a film using only my drawings after seeing Superstar: the Karen Carpenter Story, a 1987 cult film directed by Todd Haynes, made with Barbie dolls instead of real actors.
TGG: And here I was thinking you were inspired by “The Thunderbirds are Go!”… so, why did you chose “The Spanish Tragedy” for your first film?
RO: I heard that an exercise that old-school screenwriters would do is copy out a favorite work of literature by hand, (Apparently, Hunter S. Thompson did it with The Great Gatsby) so I decided I would copy Hamlet word-for-word– it’s considered the be the best work of literature ever written in English, so why not? Maybe some of that mojo would rub off, I thought. During this exercise, I found out about The Spanish Tragedy, which inspired Hamlet. (I say on my website that Shakespeare “ripped off” The Spanish Tragedy, but that’s kind of an embellishment– they had a much more collaborative approach to authorship back then.) In its time, The Spanish Tragedy was like Elizabethan Titanic, people ate it up, it was performed for about 60 years. So I thought if it had blockbuster potential then, maybe it would have blockbuster potential now. I changed a lot of the story into what I thought would make an interesting film, but the original is still really good– I’ve included a modernized copy of The Spanish Tragedy in the special features, so you can check it out after seeing the film.
TGG: So it’s a puppet show? Like the muppets?
RO: I wish! “Puppet show” is just the easiest way to describe it. Really it’s drawings on sticks, moving in time with a dialogue track. Puppet show is just way easier to say. Another way I describe it is “stop motion, without the stop!”
TGG: How long did it take to make this?
RO: It took me 2.75 years, and yes, I made it in my mom’s garage. It would have taken only 1 year and 9 months, and was originally going to be computer animated, but halfway through I decided the story wasn’t up to my own standards, so I decided to start over. The only part of that version of the film which remains is a 3D model of El Escorial castle I made, which you can see in the opening titles.
TGG: That castle is incredible! I’m curious to see the original one now. So, could you give us some insight into how it was made?
RO: The image below represents, starting from the upper-left hand corner and going clockwise, the process used to make the puppets. They’d be drawn and inked, then glued to a piece of cardboard, cut out, then stored. When it was time to film, they’d be taped to a plastic curtain rod and filmed. A different puppet was used for each emotion of the character, and jump cuts were used to cut between the two different poses.
This image shows how the technique works: each layer of the shot was drawn on a different piece of cardboard, and arranged on a home-made multi-plane camera rig. Colored gels in front of lights provided the film’s rich color. The camera was able to roll left-and-right and up-and-down, to create the parallax compositions.
TGG: And you’ve got some amazing results! So, I hate to ask, but I think the ladies from the Beyond Bechdel podcast would like to know… What gives? There are only two female characters!
RO: I had to take Bellimperia’s role in a different direction due to a scheduling conflict, which is sad because the Bellimperia of the source material is the great unsung IDGAF bad-ass of Elizabethan drama. This is one of the reasons why I’ve included the source material (with modernized translation) alongside the film: so you can see what the original play was like. And if you’re interested in strong female characters, definitely give it a read. Bellimperia has the most complex wordplay out of all the characters, and, without spoiling it the last act, Bellimperia kicks ass in a way you won’t see in other play from that period.
Also, the source material is filled with gory, vivid descriptions of Hell, so check it out if that’s your thing. There’s a lot to love about The Spanish Tragedie, and I hope that people will read it because of my movie.
TGG: For all the indie filmmakers who read this… Why did you forego the festival route for your film?
RO: To my eyes, the main benefit of film festivals is the networking you can do. Since I’m so far away from North America and Europe, where most of the fests seem to be, it would be cost-prohibitive to get out to a fest and rub elbows, something I’m not the best at anyway. So a festival-based distribution plan would play to my weaknesses. Conversely, I work on websites and have a lot of direct marketing experience– those are my strengths, and I decided to adapt them to distribute the movie. Hopefully, this idea will work!
TGG: What’s next for you? Are you planning another animation/stop motion film, or will you go for something live action?
RO: I’m definitely going to make another film using my puppetry technique. I chose to make the film using puppets because it’s more cost-effective versus a live-action film. I’ve heard that a lot of aspiring filmmakers never make a second feature because they’ve maxed out two credit cards making their first. The puppets make sense for my budget and skill set, and will allow me to keep making films, which is all I want to do in life. Plus I have a lot of ideas on how to improve the technique. In terms of story, I’ve found a book I really want to adapt, but it’s one of the longest novels ever written in the English language, so it will take a couple of years before it’s ready. In the interim, I want to do a horror film. I want to see if the puppets can be scary.
TGG: Finally, how can we support you? (follow you on social media, vimeo, buy your film etc?)
RO: First off, buy the movie, and tell all your friends to do the same! The URL is:
Share it on social media, email it to friends who you think will like it, or share the link at work! Everybody knows someone who is going to love this. This will really help the next project get made. To stay in the loop, join the mailing list, which is at the bottom of my website’s homepage. That way you will find out about my next projects, guaranteed! In terms of social media, I’m most active on instagram, where make comics!
What a great interview… so good that I can’t top that… so… that’s all folks (until next time…)
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