Short Stories: What are Short-Form Filmmakers Up To?

Jon Hofferman surveyed a host of filmmakers to find out what we can expect from them in the near and distant future.

Bruce Alcock's 2005 award-winning film At the Quinte Hotel (above) played at more than 50 festivals. He's now working on a four-minute short, Vive la Rose, a co-production with the NFB. © 2005 Bruce Alcock.

Bruce Alcock's 2005 award-winning film At the Quinte Hotel (above) played at more than 50 festivals. He's now working on a four-minute short, Vive la Rose, a co-production with the NFB. © 2005 Bruce Alcock.

This being the month dedicated to themed stories about features and shorts, the AWN editors thought it might be a good idea to touch base with some of our favorite shorts directors to see what they were up to. We sent out about 30 inquiries and received about half as many replies. While both Caroline Leaf and the Quay Bros. informed us that they're not presently engaged in an animation project (too bad) and Michael Dudok de Wit alleged that it was too early to talk about his new film, other animators provided us with reports that ranged from a few semi-coherent lines to more elaborate descriptions of their current projects. Here then, mostly in their own words (with occasional editorial emendation), are their responses. (Note: Anyone interested in the activities of the Canadian Chrises [Hinton and Landreth], Wendy Tilby & Amanda Fortis, and/or a number of other NFB animators are directed to Janet Hetherington's recently posted story.)

Bruce Alcock

Bruce Alcock has worked primarily as a commercial director, utilizing live action, CGI, drawings, photo-animation, film scratching, clay, and anything else that might serve to produce an image. His 2005 film At the Quinte Hotel played at more than 50 festivals and won a number of awards.

"I'm working on a four-minute short right now, in co-production with the NFB. It's called Vive la Rose, and it's based on a French Newfoundland folk song. The actual recording of the song features Emile Benoit, who was in his nineties at the time and died soon after the album was released. His wavering voice and the really emotional recording make this a lovely, very moving piece. It's a very sad tale of unrequited love and the death of the woman the singer loves, who he calls "a Rose de les villages," or the Rose of the villages. Right now we're in storyboard and animatic development, as well as some technical pre-planning. The action will be combined stop-motion objects and painted/drawn paper, all shot on location in Newfoundland (off the East coast of Canada) using available natural light."

Cordell Barker's third short film project, tentatively titled Runaway, isn't as silly as his previous films. © National Film Board of Canada, 2007 in production. All rights reserved.

Cordell Barker's third short film project, tentatively titled Runaway, isn't as silly as his previous films. © National Film Board of Canada, 2007 in production. All rights reserved.

Cordell Barker

Cordell Barker is the director of The Cat Came Back (1988) and Strange Invaders (2002), both of which were nominated for Academy Awards. He has worked on numerous TV ads in Canada, the U.S. and England, and was a director and animator for the TV series "O Canada" (1997).

"My third and current short film project is tentatively titled Runaway. In a nutshell, it's about happy passengers on a runaway train. It was inspired by my perception that a very wide swath of society seems to be merrily floating along either totally oblivious to or in complete denial of our runaway ride. The film will be driven by a very rhythmic soundtrack composed by Benoit Charest, the composer who created the great sound on Triplets of Belleville. This project isn't quite as goofball as my previous two films, but as you can never fully escape your own sensibilities, it should still hopefully have a satisfying lack of earnestness.

"This film is by far the most complicated of my three films. The concept obviously necessitates animating a lot of extra characters and while this alone is a daunting enough chore (especially for someone who is not a natural drawer), while I'm juggling the primary animation, I'm simultaneously directing my animation assistant, coordinating the CGI sections of the train action, working with the musician and constantly re-structuring the animatic. I'm trying to simplify the story, as I'm struggling against contrivance and an overload of plot points that can naturally pepper a film like this. At times it really feels I've bitten off more that I can comfortably chew. This is all in and around my working on commercial work to help pay the bills. I'm hoping (determined) to finish all of the animation this winter so that I can emerge from the winter, butterfly-like, in supervisor mode on all the colour, compositing and audio in the push for the finish. Looking forward to the end of a monster."

Latvian-born animator and illustrator Signe Baumane made The Dentist (above) in 2005, and is currently returning to a project she started that same year entitled Birth. © Signe Baumane.

Latvian-born animator and illustrator Signe Baumane made The Dentist (above) in 2005, and is currently returning to a project she started that same year entitled Birth. © Signe Baumane.

Signe Baumane

Latvian-born animator and illustrator Signe Baumane is the creator of Five Fucking Fables (2002), Dentist (2005) and Teat Beat of Sex (2007), among other refined and reticent films. She has worked extensively with Bill Plympton and has curated many independent animation programs.

"I just finished a lot of things: Veterinarian (17 min.), produced by Rija Films in Latvia, which took four years to make; Teat Beat of Sex (15 episodes), a half-hour of animation in just four months; The Very First Desire Now and Forever (1 min.). All made in 2007.

"Instead of taking a break, I am getting back to a project I started in 2005 -- Birth. It's a story about a very young woman (she's 17) who is pregnant and afraid of giving birth. She goes to older women for consolation and advice, but the stories they tell scare her even more. It sounds dead serious and sad, but it isn't. To me it is about our fear of change and the inevitability of change. Hopefully you'll cry while laughing

Martine Chartrand was 11 years old when she first heard the song MacPherson by the poet Félix Leclerc which has inspired her newest project. © National Film Board of Canada. All rights reserved.

Martine Chartrand was 11 years old when she first heard the song MacPherson by the poet Félix Leclerc which has inspired her newest project. © National Film Board of Canada. All rights reserved.

"We recorded voices (really good actors!) in summer 2005 and I have animated about 10 minutes to the track. Last summer (2006) about 20 interns colored all the drawings in Photoshop. I have to animate two more minutes, do the backgrounds (in watercolor) and edit. Sound and music. Jerome Foundation supported the project, which is a rare treat.

"I am about to venture into a feature, which will take some time because I have to finish Birth first and then write a script. How about that!?"

Martine Chartrand

Martine Chartrand studied with Alexander Petrov in Russia, where she learned the paint-on-glass technique of animation. While helping with the development of Petrov's The Old Man and the Sea, she made Black Soul (2001), which won 22 awards, including a Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.

For MacPherson, Chartrand is using oil paint on glass. She animates frame by frame, working alone, © National Film Board of Canada. All rights reserved.

For MacPherson, Chartrand is using oil paint on glass. She animates frame by frame, working alone, © National Film Board of Canada. All rights reserved.

"I was 11 years old when I heard for the first time the song MacPherson by the poet Félix Leclerc and I found universality in his poetry. The song tells the story of a black log driver who risks his life clearing a log jam. Twenty-five years later, I found out that MacPherson had, in fact, been a talented Jamaican chemical engineer and friend of the Leclerc family. MacPherson's passion for literature and his travel stories inspired the young poet to leave his native Quebec to offer his talent to the world.

"I'm making a 10-minute film at the NFB, using oil paint on glass, that tells the story of the two men and their friendship, portraying log driving as a metaphor, uniting life, love, death and jazz. I animate frame by frame, working alone, and some sequences are quite difficult, such as the drawn camera moves involving textured mountains, flowing water and balancing log drivers. I intend to finish in a year, but I still have forests to draw, rivers to animate, an inspiring engineer to create and a singing poet to bring to life."

Paul Driessen

The director of more than 20 award-winning films including the Academy Award nominee 3 Misses (1998), Paul Driessen began his animation career doing commercials and worked on the Beatles' 1967 film Yellow Submarine. In 1987, he received an Annie Award for Distinguished Contribution to the Art of Animation.

"I'm working on a couple of projects, all in different stages of progress. My first film, to be finished shortly, is called The 7 Brothers (working title), and is shot partly in live action, partly in animation. It will be 12 min long. I wrote the script and did the animation (some kind of fairy tales gone wrong, very wrong), while my son Kaj, who is a live-action director, will shoot the live images sometime in December. CineTé is producing it. After waiting for many years to find sponsors for this project, we finally got a tight but adequate budget from Dutch and Flemish film funding agencies. We hope to finish the film early February 2008.

"Another project, all animation, called The Story of O, is probably going to be a Canadian (NFB) and Dutch (il Luster) coproduction. The story deals with a certain Mr. O going into therapy and finding out about his life. And a third project, inspired by the work of my friend Marv Newland, involves many animators from different countries. The stories are written, we found all the animators, but are looking for the money (what else is new?).

"I realized that the more I have to wait for budgets to come through, the more ideas I come up with for new projects, films I really think worth making."

Ian Gouldstone, director of guy 101 (2006), which won the BAFTA Award for Best Short Animation Film, has a notebook bursting with ideas for a whole array of short films. © I.W. Gouldstone.

Ian Gouldstone, director of guy 101 (2006), which won the BAFTA Award for Best Short Animation Film, has a notebook bursting with ideas for a whole array of short films. © I.W. Gouldstone.

Ian Gouldstone

London-based animator Ian Gouldstone is the director of guy 101 (2006), which received the BAFTA Award for Best Short Animation Film, among other honors. He has worked at M.I.T.'s Media Lab and is presently engaged as an entrepreneur.

"At the moment, my notebook is bursting with ideas for a whole array of short films. A number of them are smaller projects that probably won't make it off my computer. However, they are all feeder material for a couple of larger films that I have been developing since guy101.

"One of those ideas is a short film about child and adolescent obesity. While the topic appears to be in vogue at the moment, I think we're being fed an extremely simplistic view of it. Indeed, it will probably end up doing us more harm than good in the long run. So with my new film, I'm hoping to challenge those crude messages by reflecting the true complexity of the topic on physiological, psychological, and sociological levels. Of course, this kind of complexity is not easy to communicate really effectively. My tests thus far have indicated that I need to develop a whole new visual and narrative style. Scary, but I'm sure that means I'm heading in the right direction!"

Don Hertzfedlt just released a special DVD of Everything Will Be OK (above) a few weeks ago, and he's about two months away from finishing animation and photography on OK's second chapter. © 2006 Don Hertzfeldt/bitter films.

Don Hertzfedlt just released a special DVD of Everything Will Be OK (above) a few weeks ago, and he's about two months away from finishing animation and photography on OK's second chapter. © 2006 Don Hertzfeldt/bitter films.

Don Hertzfeldt

Director of the Academy Award-nominated Rejected (2000), Billy's Balloon (1998), and the recent Everything Will Be OK (2006), which received the Jury Award for Short Filmmaking at Sundance among other honors, Don Hertzfeldt is also the co-creator with Mike Judge of the touring festival "The Animation Show."

"We just got Everything Will Be OK out on a special DVD a few weeks ago (www.bitterfilms.com) and I'm maybe two months away now from finishing animation and photography on OK's second chapter. That should be in theaters somewhere in 2008. I love OK, but now that I've got the introductions out of the way, we're able to fall much deeper down the rabbit hole... As usual I've been rewriting and changing things around as I go, and I can't remember any film mutating so much as this one has. It's a strange and beautiful animal, but I think it's my new favorite and now just a matter of giving it a smooth landing.

"I've meanwhile started developing a new thing for television. It's still very young and very secret and I'm looking forward to diving in as soon as I have the time... it's the sort of thing where at the very least it's gonna be an incredibly interesting failure."

Igor Kovalyov

Igor Kovalyov is the director of many multi-award-winning films, including Hen, His Wife (1989), Flying Nansen (2000) and Milch (2005). Since 1991, he has been employed at Klasky Csupo in Hollywood, where he has been intimately involved with the Rugrats.

"[Igor Kovalyov ((works on)) next personal project] -- tentatively titled She doesn't yet love: a love triangle, a story of passion ((attachment // bonding)) and soul-searching, touched with mystery and existential tension -- and presented ((played out)) in sharp-edged graphics, ((somewhat)) deceptively mimicking, ((to a degree // in a way)), live-action narrative (strategies)…}"

Marv Newland

Marv Newland is the creator of the very short film Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969), which became a cult classic. He has produced and directed many animated shorts, as well as the longer-format Tales from the Far Side (1994), which won the Grand Prix at Annecy. His films tend to be highly personal.

"Currently working on a film titled Postalolio. The film is pencil-and-paper animated, then traced onto postcard blanks, watercoloured, stamped and mailed to Frederator in New York. Every frame of the film will have gone through the mail. Some of the postcards have been mailed from foreign countries to add colour and variety to the stamps and cancellations. The music is a tune by the late jazz guitarist Joe Venuti. I am animating most of the picture, and watercolouring all of it. Dieter Mueller and Peter MacAdams, two well-known International Rocketship animators, have each contributed a scene or two. The picture should be completed in early 2008."

Janet Perlman premiered The Nose at this year's Ottawa Animation Festival. The film is loosely based on the story by Gogol and features

Janet Perlman premiered The Nose at this year's Ottawa Animation Festival. The film is loosely based on the story by Gogol and features "stink-o-mation." © Janet Perlman.

Janet Perlman

Frequent NFB director Janet Perlman is the creator of the Spheniscidae classics The Tender Tale of Cinderella Penguin (1981), which was nominated for an Oscar, and Penguins Behind Bars (2003). She has also made a number of other award-winning films that don't involve flightless birds.

"What I've been up to, from A to Z:

"A) I've just completed some animation for Acme Filmworks/Firelight Media on Native American history, to be shown on American Experience. The animation illustrates the experiences of children in Indian boarding schools, inspired by children's drawings that were done on old ledger paper.

"B) I am completing a children's book called The Delicious Bug, based on my National Film Board film Dinner For Two. It is about two chameleons who create havoc in a peaceful rainforest. It will be published in 2008.

"Q) My company, Hulascope Studio, is seeking funding and broadcasters for Penguins Behind Bars, a proposed adult series featuring a cast of caged vixen she-penguins (www.penguinsbehindbars.ca)

"Z) This past Ottawa Animation Festival saw the world premiere of The Nose, a film loosely based on the story by Gogol. It features the technique of "stink-o-mation," whereby scratch-and-sniff cards are distributed to a nervous audience, who are prompted with onscreen cues to sniff the approprate scent for a complete naso-sensory experience. This is a work-in-progress that is so experimental and independent that even I don't understand what it means or how it was made."

Joanna Quinn, director of Dreams and Desires: Family Ties, is in preproduction on a new short, a combination of three Dreams and Desires scripts. © Beryl Productions International Ltd. © Beryl Productions International Ltd.

Joanna Quinn, director of Dreams and Desires: Family Ties, is in preproduction on a new short, a combination of three Dreams and Desires scripts. © Beryl Productions International Ltd. © Beryl Productions International Ltd.

Joanna Quinn

Joanna Quinn has been chronicling the adventures of her alter ego Beryl since her first film, Girls Night Out, in 1987. Her films have won multiple awards, including a BAFTA Award for Best Short Animation Film for Dreams and Desires: Family Ties (2006). She is also the creator of the Charmin bear.

"At the moment, [partner Less Mills and I] are working on the preproduction for our next short, which seems to be developing into a combination of three Dreams and Desires scripts, 'Beverly Thrills,' 'Affaires of the Art' and 'Ber Essentials.' This will mean that the overall film will probably be about 30 minutes long. I'm doing character designs and storyboard development and Les is redrafting and adapting the scripts, and trying to raise a meaningful production budget. The film is a development of ideas featured in Family Ties and still employs the video diary format, but with some license for historical flashbacks to Beryl's early childhood, her original ambition to go to art school, and her eventual working and family life, leading to her later renaissance as creative Filmmaker/Artiste. It will introduce a range of new characters including Colin, Beryl's geeky son, Julie, her fashion-crazy daughter, and of course her eccentric sister Beverly.

"We also continue to do the Charmin campaign of animated commercials for the U.S.A., Canada and Mexico."

Patrick Smith is busy with his next independent short Masks, a traditionally animated collaboration with recording artist Karl von Kries. © Patrick Smith.

Patrick Smith is busy with his next independent short Masks, a traditionally animated collaboration with recording artist Karl von Kries. © Patrick Smith.

Patrick Smith

Artist and animator Patrick Smith has created a number of award-winning shorts, including Delivery (2003), Handshake (2004), and Puppet (2006). In addition to his films, he has received accolades for his Public Art Installations, which have appeared without warning in New York.

"The studio is busy with my next independent short Masks, a traditionally animated collaboration with recording artist Karl von Kries, who did the score for my first film Drink back in 1999. I told him to write and perform a type of score that tells a bizarre visual story, and I would illustrate whatever images came to mind. Actually, I believe I told him to 'consult the devil' if he thought that would make it more interesting. He went on to give me one of the most twisted and intense audio tracks I've ever heard, so now I'm animating some truly disturbing and strange animation to match. It's basically a warped Fantasia, using experimental contemporary music instead of classical. The result has been the tightest story I've ever thought up, using imagery and animation that has really been pushing my limits as an artist. I've showed some pencil tests to a few people, and the general reaction can be summed up with the quote, 'that's some fucked up shit, man.' My producer thinks I'm on drugs, and my girlfriend doesn't trust me anymore. Look for it in 2008, I think it will stand out a bit (www.blendfilms.com)."

Steven Woloshen

Steven Woloshen has created documentary, animated and experimental films, including Cameras Take Five (2003), and has lectured and written on the subject of animation and experimentation. In recent years, he has hosted many cameraless animation workshops and has been twice nominated for Quebec's Jutra Award.

"I've taken a bold step and entered Concordia University's Master of Fine Arts program in Cinema. It was in the film production program in 1980 that I first found my love for handmade filmmaking. Now, with 24 films behind me, I want to take an experimental step to the left (or right) and create short films with found footage glued onto the animated frames. This is unusual even for me. The sound: maybe music, maybe... who knows. The finance: Maybe everybody reading this can donate a dollar to my quest.

"I'll let you know how it goes."

Koji Yamamura

Koji Yamamura's award-winning films include Bavel's Book (1996), Mt. Head (2002), which was nominated for an Academy Award and won the Grand Prix at Annecy in 2003, and Franz Kafka's A Country Doctor (2007), which won the Grand Prize for Short Animation at Ottawa.

"I am working on a TV commercial for Daido Life Insurance Company right now. And I have made another new short film, A Child's Metaphysics, which is 5 minutes long. That and Franz Kafka's A Country Doctor, plus three other films including Mt. Head, will be screened as one program in a movie theater in Japan beginning November 17. I am now very busy preparing for the show..."

Many films from the filmmakers featured in this article can be found on the new Animation Show of Shows box sets now available in the

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