The fourth 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... June 1st - June 5th Weeks do not come more traumatic than this one. After hearing The Last Post played by a young bugler, as my father's coffin was lowered into the ground, I have nothing left. I did come into work on the Friday, and wished I hadn't. At the moment the film looks very wobbly, with people not thinking clearly and a lot of mistakes being made--well, not mistakes so much as not being in top gear. The pressure really is on, and people aren't thinking clearly, myself included. There is so much to think about. Each department, rightly, assumes theirs is the most important department, but in practice, it can't work like that. I'm afraid people will just have to wait their turn. What I need now, is another holiday. I would love to be able to walk into the studio and just start filming. I don't want to know that the lens does not fit the camera. Nor do I want to know that every title we have suggested has been rejected--at this late stage, this is ridiculous. June 8th We moved into the new studio today. All very exciting. It was empty at nine and full of the detritus of filming by six. A real transformation. To see all that equipment constantly amazes me--so much stuff for such a small film. The people in the neighboring studios and offices thought the idea of a film going on was all very glamorous, and offered their services! When I told them it was animation, they all said, "Oh, like Wallace and Gromit." Oh well, at least they know Gilbert and Sullivan. The week ahead is daunting. How can we get ready in time? Of course, there is no chance of a rehearsal for me. I get the puppets and I start. Jean-Marc, the cameraman, arrived from Paris. I don't think the language will be a problem. Our passion for work will get us through; though, of course, Gilbert and Sullivan is a little of an unknown quantity. June 9th The place is now looking like a functional studio, and I'm not even allowing the lack of a camera or puppets to put me off. They will be here in time. We've still so much to do, but most of the sets and props have arrived and are sitting patiently, giving the appearance of something about to happen. I'm finally getting the barsheets for the first episode (again, cutting it close). I realized how complex this film is--can we do it? There will only be four of us actually involved in the shooting (Jean-Marc--the cameraman, Mark--the production manager, Karen--my P.A. and myself), with the occasional work experience person. We have a tough four months ahead. Actors always camp it up, talking about facing Everest every performance. I do understand. Had a great chat to Michael Curry, who was responsible for most of the animation in the Broadway Lion King. We are tentatively involved in a project. How I would love to work with him, but this is not the ideal project. I was alarmed at my bank balance. Surely the director shouldn't have to be overdrawn. The cash flow is very wrong here. Sadly, yet another very close tragedy hits our family. Enough is enough. As I was receiving condolence phone calls, so I am making them. A ghastly situation.
Well, we have a camera and I've seen it turning over, so that's exciting. Plus, a few lights have been pointed at D'oyly Carte's head, and it shines wonderfully. No complete puppets yet, but I saw a painted D'oyly Carte, minus his hands. He does look as if he has been troubled with sleepless nights. A loose strand of hair makes an enormous difference. Now we are getting near, it is clear we are seriously understaffed and under-financed. The constant answer of, "We can't afford it, Barry," is frustrating. To get so near a huge film but to have to scrimp on everything is difficult. Mind you, this is a relatively large budget. I suppose animation is expensive--full stop! I'm a little worried about the organization of this film. It's happening in an organic way. I could do with a bit more solid planning. What's this World Cup thing...and what were those bizarre bumble bees doing? June 11th Carte arrived and looks splendid! He's currently asleep in bed and that's the last rest he'll have for four months. I have to send him back before the big day as there's a slight fault with his complex mouth. All the various levers for the lip movements also cause the teeth to move and I don't fancy Carte hitting a high C with quivering lips and teeth. A few tantrums and moods on the set today, reflecting the Victorians (though I still don't know who's playing which role). It's understandable I suppose as we all have had so much to think about this week, setting up a working studio and sometimes communication gets forgotten. Karen's little Bethany came in singing, "to fit the bit of a wit of a chit and that's the long and the short of it" - "chit" though gets changed into something else. Help!!! I'm corrupting a minor.
Twenty-two years ago I wrote a final thesis at Manchester University entitled, "Gilbert and Sullivan in Performance." Now here I am, only 300 yards from the same university building, making a film about Gilbert and Sullivan. It's ironic that I've been round the world and end up where I started. My cousin Judy's funeral this morning was quite disturbing, but like my father's last week, everyone talked about all the good she achieved and how that lives on. I suppose this is what my film is about. The men may have gone but the joy and love of life in their music and words live on. It's a good way to be remembered. When I go I will really not leave any descendants, so I have to hope my small, rather insignificant films become some sort of memorial. The puppets finally arrived tonight and they are splendid--but I'll have to be so careful to keep them clean. Their white bits are dazzling. Also the lighting on the head is going to make them very rich and opulent. I know people associate animation with brightness and color. Not in my films!!! I love shadow and rich texture. It is looking good, but we still do not have all our necessary equipment. Why not? Our starting date has been etched in stone for four months. June 14th Jean-Marc and I worked all day in the studio, and Mark was in the office. We are nearly there and it looks ravishing. Jean-Marc and I are very excited, but of course, I've got final night nerves. We would have to start with such a complex long shot! I'll be happy if we get started tomorrow. But have I thought of everything? Please let this go well!
A bunch of "Good luck on your first day" flowers from Sue, (the director I trained up), got the day off to a good start. Very kind of her. She understands how important today is. With one turning up the pressure a bit, we managed to start at 1:30. We had a false start unfortunately. Having to do all the camera moves, light transition and so on manually, really tests the concentration and coordination. That takes all my mind--not much left for animation. However, we got 16.5 seconds done of this 33-second shot. It's hard to see what it was like as the video image is so dark; a working light would be another thing to forget. Nor was the video able to play back the music (a bit like asking a ballerina to imagine the orchestra as she dances), so...all in all, it was a strain, but I think D'Oyly Carte was thrashing about on the bed all right. A bit too much thrashing perhaps. Whilst all this is going on the financial saga behind the scenes continues to be an embarrassment. June 16th Too knackered to write much, after a truly epic day. G and S are now here and look wonderful, though I've found them difficult. I've found everything difficult. It was that day when I realized that for better or worse, I can never make the film that is in my head. Schedules, budgets, lack of equipment all see to that, but ultimately, it is my fault. I really am not the accomplished animator I am in my imagination. So much compromise: you don't always get what you want, but you can get what you need. June 17th A wasted morning trying to track down the only Steenbeck in Manchester--there's a sign of the times. Anyway, the rushes looked great, though we were unable to see them with the music. I think the story comes across! The animation sadly is somewhat rough. It's clear I'm being spread a little thin. It does have energy though. I've still not settled into the puppets yet--there's been no rehearsal time at all. Such pressure. June 18th There is such a conflict having to wear both a director's hat and an animator's hat. I want to take my time over the animation, or let Jean-Marc tinker with the lighting, but the director in me is continually having to crack on at an alarming speed. It is a shame to have to make a race out of this--I must not let that be the important issue. I feel that I have failed today as we have only done eight seconds with all three puppets singing and dancing. Under any circumstance that is pretty good going. I am distinctly hampered by not being able to animate to the music and singing. I have barsheets, but I need the shot to build up with the music, as I do it. Some of the animation was distinctly underpowered, when I tried to synch it up with a tape recorder. All this is so primitive. Poor Jean-Marc is suffering without an assistant; just someone to tidy up the miles of cables and glue everything down would save so much time. However, in spite of everything, we have 44 seconds of film this week, and it charges along. Carte started to sing today in a soprano voice--will the audience accept that, especially as he is singing tenor in a minute? Hopefully, once people work out what is happening, they'll come along for the ride. What a big world outside... June 19th A bit of a downer today--too much doubt. I've spent all these years trying to develop and be sophisticated. Sadly, the mechanics of animation get in the way. Perhaps that is part of animation: surmounting the technical side and getting some expression out of lumps of brass and cloth. I had to mark some exam papers for the University, as if I had free time. One lady said that film was the medium most free of constriction. From where I'm standing, I could not agree less. I'm sure that even Citizen Kane did not quite match Welles' vision.
The trauma of yesterday still lingered a bit this morning and I was a little tetchy. Amanda, my sister, and I had cleared Ma and Pa's house, and packed away generations of memories into a small van. We then had the sad task of clearing all the flowers off the grave and replanting it. What a sight we looked. Leaving the house was shutting an enormous emotional door. Understandably, I was less than sparkly this morning, but the three puppets got into their stride, and were quite jolly. I was a little impatient with Jean-Marc for taking so long to re-light in between shots, but he's not wasting time. It's time, of which we are so short. I was not able to stop shooting to go to see the rushes. I can't wait to see it all cut together. We now have turned a minute. Clare Kitson called and the saga of the titles continues - "Beyond the Pinafore," "Modified Rapture," and "Cultivated; Celebrated; Underrated" are the favorites now. They don't exactly trip off the tongue. A fax from Pixar, asking if I'd be interested in some teaching there. Yes, sirree!!! That's quite a thrill to be asked. I can feel myself getting nearer and nearer to computers. 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.