The sixth installment of Barry Purves' production diary as he chronicles producing a series of animated shorts for Channel 4. An Animation World Magazine exclusive.
Editor's Note: Lumps, warts and all, for eight months Barry Purves will share his personal production diary with us for his current project with Channel 4, tentatively titled Here's A How de do. This film will take a look at three men: Gilbert, Sullivan and Richard D'Oyly Carte. D'Oyly Carte brought Gilbert and Sullivan together and formed the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, which performed Gilbert and Sullivan operas for 100 years. While the trio worked together for roughly 25 years, their relationship was strained at best. How will the production of their story go? All we can do is read along monthly and find out...
Download a Qucktime movie of Barry Purves' animation of D'Oyly Carte dancing with Gilbert and Sullivan. 1.1 MB. © 1998 Bare Boards Productions/Channel 4.
A day off, and what do I do but go to the International Festival of Gilbert and Sullivan. Friends of mine were in a rather hastily hobbled together Pirates, but it still worked its magic. My friend Jill, playing Ruth, had a rehearsal just four hours before the performance, and that was it. I know she knows the role, but it must be terrifying going out there not really sure what everyone else is doing. The festival had some real legends of G & S just wandering `round beautiful Buxton, but oh, there were some seriously obsessed, dangerous, and being honest, rather sad fanatics. I know G & S is a big part of my life, but there are limits...My passion is for the craft of the operas and not really about something lacking in my life. Too often, this manic obsession is not based on an appreciation of the skill and craft of the actual operas, more it is like belonging to an exclusive club or clique. It's about a fetish. There's an element too of the fans possibly achieving some sort of greatness by association due to the accessibility of the operas. (This written by a man who has made a career out of making films that are based on other people's greatness and trivializing them!) This compulsion is a very complex thing and peculiarly British. Actually, Saemi, my Japanese friend, told me in a letter today of the fun she had at "Warship Pinafore" and how G & S are very much loved by the Japanese (though The Mikado was banned until 1945).
We finished Episode Two today and the rather spectacular transformation into the auditorium. So much work and it was gone in just a couple of seconds. I wish there had been more time for the animation and a bit of preparation, but as I have said so many times, the music carries it through. Oh dear, that is becoming a feeble excuse.
I was looking through an old script that I'd written years ago, and there was a long discarded outline for "Next 2 - Here's a how de do." I'd totally forgotten that the idea had been around quite so long. It was almost identical in intention, but I'd clearly written it for a much larger budget and longer film. Sadly, it had some wonderful ideas that I'd lost somewhere along the way. It's too late to incorporate them now, but the film is working as it is, anyway. Jo Cameron Brown, who had sung on our piano demo, saw the two episodes so far, and picked up on all sorts of things, which no one else had seen.
Cut together Episode Two and it works very well. The Mikado scene transformations are seamless and very satisfying. We tried to get ready for Episode Three. The puppets are being changed and having their make-up redone, so no shooting! But I slowed things down as I'd had a ghastly night with food poisoning or something. The Mount Vesuvius springs to mind. I had to go home in the afternoon and retire under the duvet with the grateful cats. It's a bit worrying that I'm falling to pieces already, and we're not even half way through. I am truly worn out and can't catch up with things. The thought of an imminent world tour is a bit scary!
A dynamic but rather clumsy start to Episode Three. I really should not have been in work, as I felt worse than awful, but in the lack of an understudy...
The video was giving me more black frames than usual, making me lose any sense of rhythm (a bad workman always blames his tools), and I made numerous mistakes, which I have tried to make work. Oh, to have the luxury to reshoot for artistic reasons. With us all under so much pressure, and the subsequent sniping and general grumps, for the first time it was not a pleasure to go into work. Ironically, despite my mood, D'Oyly Carte was at his happiest. In fact, my drinking champagne acting seems to suggest he was an alcoholic. He has been so athletic and jolly today, unlike me. I'll try to get a good sleep tonight (but there is the homework, letters, life and so on to catch up with), and bounce in tomorrow full of energy, enthusiasm, and above all, ability.
Still not feeling a hundred percent, but I was back with a vengeance. I've been trying to work out why this particular film is taking such a toll on me. Possibly, it could be the nature of Gilbert and Sullivan themselves, who squeeze more words into a second than anyone else; this, along with every movement being choreographed, is extra hard work, but worth it. It is certainly livelier than my other films, with the characters not pausing for breath ever. This is time-consuming. Then there are complex costumes and props which also slow us down, but it's probably more that I've got less support and equipment than I've had before -- for nearly every new shot the lighting has to be totally rejigged as we just do not have enough to go round, for example. There is so much other stuff that Jean Marc and I have to do, just to get ready, that the actual important shooting time has been cut drastically. Possibly too, I don't have the stamina I had a few years back, as life has been somewhat complex and wearing, filling up an already over-full brain. All in all, I suppose I'm sad that too many other things conspire to prevent me from concentrating on the actual shooting of a film that needs more concentration than any film I've done before. A shame really. The answer is to delegate of course, but delegate to whom?
However, I was cheered up tonight by a visit from David Steadman, a conductor long associated with the D'Oyly Carte Company. He was thrilled with everything he saw, and laughed heartily at a lot of the in-jokes, and the whole concept. It's true about `six degrees of separation,' linking us through six stages with anyone we care to name. Through David, I was suddenly linked to Gilbert and Sullivan themselves. David had called the widow of Isidore Godfey, who was the music director for the company for several decades; the company was then run by Bridget D'Oyly Carte, the granddaughter of D'Oyly Carte himself, and so the link goes on. Quite thrilling really.
I don't think even the hardest of souls will fail but to be carried along by the infectious liveliness of the start of this episode. We did a very bizarre shot yesterday, but it did contain the image that recurs in all my films, that of one character actually giving life to an inanimate other. Here Carte became a rather manic puppet-meister, having the lads exactly where he wanted them. I'm not sure my floppy puppet acting was as floppy as it could have been (it's difficult with old fatty Sullivan having no waist to speak of), but it does work and we pull a little twist with it. The camera was right in the way for me, but it looks okay. Sadly, there's no room in this film for my other favorite image, that of a human body, preferably naked, with an animal or bird head on. Quite why I find this image so powerful, I do not know. Over to you , doctor...
Another long letter from Saemi in Japan, full of wonderful articles about Gilbert and Sullivan's successful history in Japan. I'd love to direct a production over there.
In spite of me being spectacularly ill, and having to change from one episode to another, it has been a good, but tremendously stressful, week. Still, we've got some good footage out of it. We are half way now officially, but I've not shot half the film. There is no physical way to shoot faster.
Having burnt the old buttocks whilst doing a bit of naked weeding yesterday on my roof garden, I was a little tender today, but then that's more information than you need to know.
Some clumsy organizational logistics got me off to a very slow start, but I have surprised myself by doing a more than adequate shot. The three chaps have danced to one verse of the Princess Ida, "Oh don't the days seem lank and long," and it has turned out wonderfully. This whole episode has gone into a new plane. It is very lively, and those puppets are throwing themselves around. Their antics disguise the lack of camera moves, and certainly the film does not seem static. My peculiar way of linking shots, of really pushing a move through two consecutive shots, gives such spontaneity. I love it when animation does not seem planned and plotted. I don't mind if heads go out of shot, or a limb misses a shaft of light -- in fact, I try to do that deliberately.
With all this running around, I still managed to do 12 seconds, but hey, look at the time, and look at my disheveled face.
Our work experience lad this week, Steve, is having problems understanding Jean-Marc's gallic mumblings. Plus, Jean-Marc snaps a bit, but it's quite lighthearted. Steve is certainly keen to help.
Christopher Gillet, our tenor, and his family called in to see us. They were all amused to hear Dad's voice coming out of a rather manic puppet. It does give me a thrill to work with artists of his caliber, though I fear that thrill was lost on the crew. Chris has just finished working on an opera for Peter Greenaway. Ironically, there were a couple of articles a few years back, calling me the Peter Greenaway of animation. I wish.
Not a particularly scintillating day, with 12 seconds of not particularly scintillating animation. If the audience did not look at the printing on Carte's bed sheets (of reviews of the operas and bank notes) as he flung them back, they might think the characters have developed a rather unhealthy fetish for sheets. There's a lot of staring and fondling going on. I'm sure this film, with a different soundtrack, could be riddled with innuendo. I do love it when puppets are tactile with each other, but this could easily be misread.
I had a panic over all the weekend that I'd been so busy on Friday's shoot trying to get the rhythm right, I'd totally forgotten to lip synch all three characters. I just could not remember moving the mouths. Come Monday morning and of course, I'd not forgotten, but it was a little alarming to have no memory whatsoever of something I'd been working so hard on.
A good chat to Paul Berry last night -- sadly, I seem to have missed out on a perfect project. The BBC are doing a four-minute film on the complete history of their children's puppet films. Now if anyone knows anything about condensing things...but there we go, I was not asked. I have been asked to run another animation training scheme. I don't think I could do that again sadly.
A good day, with no atmospheres or anything. I've just buckled down and thrown myself into it. As a result, there's been some good animation. Dear Sullivan certainly had a spring in his step. He did a step-ball-change with such elán, that I was very impressed. What with Carte doing a backwards somersault onto the bed a few days ago, I'm really throwing these puppets around, and being so bold. It seems to be paying off. I keep saying how lively this episode is, but anyone who watches the tape smiles away. I don't think this film is rib-tickling funny, and there are no actual gags, but I hope it is witty, wry and warm. If I'm being honest, it's probably Sullivan's glorious music that gives the film its energy. I'm so lucky that I haven't had to work with some of the composers who've done music for recent films. No names mentioned, but some soundtracks recently have been jaw-droppingly awful. There is no way that I could listen to that 300 times a day, as I do our soundtrack.
The more I listen to Wyn's music editing and David Firman's arrangements, the more I keep hearing things bubbling away underneath, or echoes from something earlier. I just hope this music is not squashed in the dubbing process, as has happened to me before. Seeing Sullivan prancing around with such grace today, made me realize why, in spite of all the ridiculous effort, I do this silly job. To give credible (not realistic, but credible) life to a lump of latex, brass and cloth is a wonderful selfish joy. I shall miss these boys and their friendly bickering. I think I am closest to Gilbert and his haughtiness, but I like Sullivan for trying to please, and Carte for forever trying to keep the peace. In fact, all these are three different sides of me.
August 13th and 14th Two days in one as, how rash of me, but I went out for a drink with a chum. Two hours of a social life and everything falls behind. There is so much to do each evening for the next day -- if I miss those hours, I can never quite catch up. I don't know how directors on features manage, but then I assume they have some help.
After the invigorating day on Wednesday, these two days have been a bit of a let down. I've certainly got the footage out, but it was all a bit mediocre. Again, I found Gilbert flapping his arms without it meaning anything. It looks good, but...I hope that won't be the general feel of the whole movie. Certainly this episode looks good, with the chaps running around like crazy, but does it actually mean anything? I think it's clear the characters are in high spirits, but is it clear why? I'm enjoying this episode, and there are some lovely visual and musical moments. Sullivan is quite funny singing about how his "uniform" attracted the lady groupies.
Heard from Channel Four who like Episode Two, thank goodness, and they definitely want the film as a compilation. I think it will work better as a complete film, and not just one episode a night.
I'm treating myself to a half-term cultural break in London with Oklahoma! and Jean Brodie. I can't wait. Of course, come Monday I'll be awful.
I got "Queen Victoria" ready for her big moment next week, but I think I'll have to quickly find a replacement, as she looks tiny, even next to Sullivan. Sorry, Vickie love, you're too short and fat for the part. Next!
Quite a weekend and how I had been looking forward to seeing Oklahoma! As the orchestra struck up with a series of ravishing and inventive stage pictures, I was giddy with excitement (and not a little nervous as I'd taken my sister who has been previously immune to the charms of musicals and opera).
Breathtakingly original touches all the way through, and I could feel my sister warming to it and loving all the movement and color. "Wait until she sees the ballet, and the `Farmer and the Cowman' number," I thought. Well, sadly, she is still waiting. The show stopped dead, just before the ballet. Amazingly, the audience of mainly tourists thought this was the interval and clapped wildly. Did they not think the music had a certain inconclusive feel to it; what with stopping mid-bar? The technology of the National's amazing revolving stage got in the way and lost all power. That was that. No chance of catching up with it again. My sister is left on the edge of her seat wondering what did happen, and feeling very cheated. You don't expect that at the National, but it did look to be a truly great redefining production of a show that has always redefined musical theatre. There are said to be so many firsts about Oklahoma!, some of which are a little far-fetched, as Gilbert and Sullivan had pushed those barriers some 60 years earlier. Okay, G & S never used dance in this way, but they dared to start a show with an old lady alone on stage -- for Aunt Eller's butter churn in Oklahoma! swap Phoebe's spinning wheel in Yeoman. Both teams used a chorus as never before. Both also used the songs to develop the situation and character. Rodgers and Hammerstein reaped the harvest of the seeds sewn by Gilbert and Sullivan. One way or another, we owe so much of modern musical culture to G & S. Our language is full of Gilbertian phrases, whether we know it or not. Maybe I could do a film about Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Caught Fiona Shaw as Jean Brodie in the evening -- a magnificent fluent and witty performance, and what it had to say about enlightening people was so true. This production was not afraid to show Brodie's potential danger, but it did revel in the infectious thirst for knowledge with which I could so identify.
About 70 seconds of rushes this morning. Without the sound laid to them, they look rather odd -- just what are those characters up to? Music makes sense of their bizarre movements. We were a bit worried that the contrast, color and brightness seems a little erratic. I'm worried in case we are pinning too many hopes on the grading in two months. We are not allowed any post-production tinkering, so everything is going to be very raw and real. Quite satisfying, but also quite dangerous. I would like the benefit of some electronic assistance to tidy things up.
As Gilbert stood haughtily to one side, watching Queen Victoria (a new taller and slimmer version) knight Sullivan, I suddenly felt a parallel in my own life, but I'll have to be a bit oblique here.
I bought a wonderful book at the weekend -- Understanding Animation by Paul Wells, who I know. I'm flattered that he dedicates a whole essay to my film Screen Play, and analyses it in such great detail, comparing it to Stanislavskian techniques. Paul clearly sussed-out what I was trying to do, but I'm not sure I would have been so articulate and profound as he was. There is a danger sometimes, that critics can analyze a gesture too deeply. The fact that a character pauses for a second may not necessarily have any significance other than that was the only way to get the footage out that day!
Saw The Avengers last night. What an atrocious movie, and a disgrace to the series that inspired it. Here is a fine example of what is wrong with so many films. The original TV series was a masterpiece of wit and invention, imaginatively rising out of tiny budgets. As I've said before, necessity really is the mother of invention. Here Hollywood threw so much money at it, and it's a mess. The Avengers was never about special effects. It was far more subtle and clever than that. Sadly, a big budget killed its very essence. I think the same happened with Mars Attacks. A homage to cheesy B-movies might have been more imaginative with a relatively cheesy B-movie budget. It might have forced everyone to be that much more inventive. Since when did big explosions have the same effect as wit and pure creativity?
A long shot in the morning of Gilbert at his most sarcastic and bitter. I think I managed to catch all the rhythms and innuendo in Steven's wonderfully animated delivery. I needed to keep Gilbert as still and controlled as possible, as the music was hardly there. I do find the small actions so difficult. A puppet suddenly dies if it's held for too long. It's a very fine balance to get right. Poor Gilbert, I have made him not a terribly endearing character, but then I'm not sure he was. I think he must have been cold and aloof -- maybe that's why I keep identifying with him!
A couple of reshoots in the afternoon. This is a luxury, and here, this was for lighting reasons. Sadly, and predictably, the animation looked dull second time round as I was trying to match the continuity rather than let it flow as usual.
The Iolanthe set is lurking, ready for the end of the week, and looks quite spectacular.
Sandra Dugdale burst in, in a whirlwind of colorful joie de vivre. As she watched the puppets singing with her voice, she hooted as only she can.
Our work experience this week, Andrew, is so full of enthusiasm. It's great, but embarrassing that he's already done a paper about me. He's so enjoying being here.
The crew saw a less than pleasant side of me today. I have been very grumpy, as I am when things prevent me from filming. The lighting took forever today, as literally, every light has to be moved for each new set up. We do not have enough to be able to have a versatile permanent set up, like a theatre lighting rig. I eventually got filming in the afternoon, on a sequence that had kept me awake last night, fretting. This was several shots of Queen Victoria dancing with Carte and Sullivan. I did not enjoy filming as there was too much going on in the studio, making concentration difficult. However, the end result looks quite jolly, and through sheer hard work, I managed to get the rhythms just right, and all the choreography fits the complex beats. Watching it without music, it looks a little rough and basic, but with the music it does work. We were finally brought the new recording system, but no-one was quite sure how it works, and I'm not sure there is enough space in my head to learn a new and complex routine. Call me a Luddite, but better the devil you know. I have kicked up a fuss about the present recorder because it gives me so many black frames, but it works with the music. The new system seems to have trouble with the music. A bit drained tonight, but I think my dark mood has gone. It does not show on screen though. I suppose the pressure just gets too much sometimes.
A more cheerful day, battling with the logistics of shooting out of sequence due to costume changes and so on. Sullivan had a quick trip round Manchester, and came back dressed as the Fairy Queen from Iolanthe, and he looks suitably...well, words fail me. As he was hanging from a wire, looking a parody of Wagner's Brunhilde (as Gilbert had intended, and Sullivan hints in the music), something was nagging in my head. Why did this seem so familiar? Where had I seen a man with a mustache dressed as a bargain basement Brunhilde? Suddenly, it hit me and I laughed aloud, confusing the crew. It was me! In a commercial some ten years ago, I spent a day hanging from a wire dressed as Brunhilde. This film is, whether intentionally or not, having so many echoes of my own life. As I've said before, each of the three characters are all aspects of me. The transformation into the fairy sequence is working well, with Gilbert's thoughts, and his jealous spite, coming across very clearly. However, it's the four second shot of Carte and Sullivan dancing with Queen Victoria that cracks everybody up. It borders on camp, well, not camp, but pure silliness, pure Gilbert and Sullivan really.
Paul Berry came in again today, and was amazed at how much we had done since he was last here. He seems to love it all so far, and has picked up on all the things where I'm being, if not groundbreaking, at least a little adventurous. One way or another, there is no other film like this. Happily, I don't think you need to know anything about G & S to get pleasure out of it.
An enormously difficult day tomorrow, getting Big Ben set up. I'm a little anxious about all the flying, and how much I will be able to control the puppets.
Went to see the set of Rotten Ralph, Cosgrove Hall's big, new series that started filming this week. It looks wonderful, so clean, fresh and lively. It pleased me to note that I'd trained Sue, the director, and Jo and Steve, the animators.
Immensely pleased with The Iolanthe tableau, though it took all day to set up. We, with the As and When Men, have created something so spectacular with the simplest of means. Suddenly, the three men are dressed as fairies and flying over a panoramic view of London. Very simple, and very effective -- which is why my company is called Bare Boards. There was a saying in theatrical circles, that all you need for a show is bare boards and a passion. I have the passion, and the bare boards. I love starting with an empty space and creating illusions. I never try to create reality, but the illusion of it. These three men are not really flying over London, as I have made the rod supporting them very thick and obvious, but for a moment I give the illusion of them flying over London. I find this much more stimulating, and I hope the audience does as well, by having to use their imagination.
Incidentally, Bare Boards was the name of the Manchester University drama department's student magazine. There was a character in it called Howard Uno, who lampooned the staff and students rather ruthlessly. One week, in a medieval mystery play whilst playing the Second King on the way to Bethlehem, I dried. The First King had gone off prematurely and had literally left me speechless. My reaction to the prompt was to say, "Pardon?" This moment, in front of tutors, not only got me into the Howard Uno cartoon strip, but also convinced me that I was not the great actor I had hoped I would be. But the Bare Boards name stuck with a good way of looking at things -- creating rich imagery with utter economy, by using the imagination.
An enormously long and strenuous day, but also slightly disappointing. I have probably overreached myself with this shot of the three men, as fairies, flying over London. It should have had the "wow" factor, but it was probably too ambitious for the time and facilities we have. Twelve seconds with everything happening; lights, camera moves, flying figures, twinkling lights all proved too much for the collective concentration. I'm sad that my acting was a little basic.
I had so been looking forward to this shot, and knew how to make it funny, but the lack of a sophisticated flying rig, well any rig actually, made the whole thing very pedestrian, as it were. Still, we got through it and it will come as quite a surprise at the end of this episode. Sad to think of all the effort involved in shooting for ten hours, and a single frame can ruin all of the work and probably has. If anyone in the audience had a mind to, there is a subtext to be read in the actions. It does symbolize their situation.
I have a friend over from Stuttgart, Andreas, who has probably seen more animation than anyone. A real fan. His idea of a holiday is to come and help us. I'm grateful for the help, but I feel guilty that I've not had the time to talk my way through the process with him of what we are doing. Still, he was busy twinkling away the lights of the city. But I hate to be seen as less than sociable and affable. As I got home tonight at some time past 11, I had no conversation or anything left, other than the need to do the work for tomorrow. Such effort -- is it worth it? We'll see in a couple of months (if I'm still surviving).
I now have a rather bloodshot eye from staring at too many lights.
Someone please tell me that the end result is worth all this stupid amount of effort and angst. I'm afraid it's the fairies again. I really could have done with much more preparation for this epic, under any circumstances, scene. I'm afraid they are all hanging in the sky twitching away -- not quite the grace and elegance I could have done with more time. It's a challenge to keep them as fairies and as Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte, and I'm not sure that I've met the challenge. I'm worried that we'll have some reshoots here due to some lack of concentration elsewhere, and probably with me.
I know I'm naïve when it comes to business, but something in this equation does not quite add up. I've had the busiest last 12 months ever, what with running three training schemes for a director and six animators, a bizarre commercial for Holland and now this big film. A decent amount of money you would think, but I've not actually seen it. It's all been assimilated into getting the company up and running. This is fine, but it doesn't feed the cats. We are not too organized in regards to all this, and unfortunately, my mind is only in G & S land. There are labors of love and there is getting rewarded for working hard. I think we would have some surprises if people were paid on this film according to the actual work they put in...Some people involved are working their socks off for very little reward, and other people are not.
A complicated bit of logistics with the Big Ben set. As it disappears, literally, in the middle of a shot and we remove it, I had to make sure everything we've shot on it was okay, as we cannot set it up again. Our rushes are developed in London, 200 miles away. As you can imagine, we can only send away as infrequently as possible. Happily, the sequence is more or less all right, so we carry on tomorrow.
I'm still a little disappointed with this Iolanthe sequence, as the music is so glorious, with a wonderful aggressive rhythm. All the months that I have been imagining it, it was going to be athletic and lively, with the fairies swinging all over the place. Sadly, the reality is a little different and duller, but I think in the context of the whole episode it will work very well. It is certainly an unexpected sequence, and does get the point of the characters' differences over clearly. I got myself in a bit of a mess with the rhythms of:
"Go away MadamI should say MadamYou display MadamShocking taste."
I was animating to the beat of the repeated use of "madam," but really, and this is so obvious if I'd listened, really listened and read the score, the accent is on the repeated rhymes of "ay." Still, so much arm flapping and wing fluttering is going on that no-one will notice. I'm just a little sad as I love this musical section and I've been so scrupulous with the beats so far.
Chatting to Sue about her series, and they are having ghastly problems with the computers and technology. The machines keep crashing and so much disappears forever.
Wow, what an epic 19 seconds today. This shot of Carte coming out of The Iolanthe tableau did not turn out quite as I had intended. Originally, I'd planned that we would feel sorry for Carte that Gilbert and Sullivan had walked out on him. But Carte led me a different way as I did it -- it's now more Carte saying, "Listen, I have a right to be pissed off as well as you two." This works very nicely, and he certainly did look grumpy. It was such a hard shot for me, coordinating things through pure guess work, as we could not even try to plot this shot as things were built and dismantled as we went. I did get into a bit of bother and feared the shot would be lost, but I gave myself a stiff talking to, and got through it. The music gives it a great structure. Once again, music and movement as one -- it's so exciting when there is such harmony, especially after slightly mis-timing things yesterday.
I must say both Carte and myself were glad to get the feet on solid ground again.
I was a little amused as I got to the barsheeted section of, "A Policeman's lot is not a happy one." Sadly, probably one of the most famous phrases of the English language had been barsheeted as "A Policeman's life..." I don't know what it says about the people I work with, but it's a little frustrating. I'm glad Gilbert's internal rhymes of "lot" and "not" are so appreciated! Well, hopefully, that's Episode Three done, and it's certainly lively, visually surprising and bold, plus tells quite an accurate story. This will have been the hardest episode. Still Sullivan with Queen Victoria makes me laugh -- it's just right, and I can't say that too often.
Well that's Episode Three cut together, and I showed it to various directors at Cosgrove Hall, and they all burst into spontaneous applause, which is comforting. Seeing all three episodes makes sense of everything. The thing people seem to have picked up on and like is the way it flows as if it has been shot on three cameras. It certainly has an energetic spontaneity to it, and hard to believe that there are only about five camera moves in it. In spite of all our problems and the stress, there is something a little special going on here. I wish I could show it to my Ma and Pa. They would love it. I remember the pleasure Ma had from working on Screen Play, and the pride I had from her being involved.
The logistics of having the puppets reskinned and recostumed over the weekend were complicated by most people being at the Mardi Gras in town. I was, sadly, born only with the "work hard" part of the "work hard, play hard" equation. Perhaps, even more frightening, it's the same thing to me. Even whilst the whole of Manchester is on some high spirited binge, I came home and worked on the storyboard. Huh!
Sondheim summed up the obsession, the loneliness of being stuck in a creative project, in his musical Sunday in the Park with George. As Seurat wrestles with the minute detail of a hat:
"Finishing the hat How you have to finish the hat How you watch the rest of the world From a window While you finish the hat... ...But the woman who won't wait for you knows That, however you live There's a part of you always standing by, Mapping out a sky Finishing a hat Starting on a hat Finishing a hat Look I made a hat Where there never was a hat."
Sad, really. With the sun shining, and knowing that everyone else was out having fun, we were less than enthusiastic at work. It was therefore ironic that Sullivan was singing: "Away, Away, Ere I expire. I find my duty hard to do today."
Still we got 14 seconds done, with Sullivan being even grumpier than we were.
Read Barry's previous monthly diaries in Animation World Magazine, starting with the June, 1998 issue.
Barry Purves is a Manchester-based filmmaker. Through his production company, Bare Boards Productions, he has directed several stop-motion animated films and commercials, including Next, Screen Play, Rigoletto and Achilles.