The Oscars: Finding The Lost Thing
Andrew Ruhemann, director and co-founder of Passion Pictures, likes to tell the story about how he discovered Shaun Tan's wondrous book, The Lost Thing, at the Bologna Book Fair, and was instantly was drawn to the illustrations. He knew then and there that he wanted to make a short about this Australian boy who finds a mysterious contraption with tentacles and overcomes a world of indifference. Tan was recruited to collaborate and the co-directors discuss their filmmaking journey.
Bill Desowitz: Shaun, were you resistant to adapting your book?
Shaun Tan: I would say more skeptical. It's a story that I'm quite close to and is very personal to me and I've heard of so many horror stories from illustrators and cartoonists.
BD: But you were obviously impressed with Passion's work?
ST: Yeah, that's what made the difference, actually. Speaking, in particular, with Sophie Byrne, who became the producer and being sent the show reels from the company and getting a sense of what they do. And realizing the versatility of their craft.
BD: Talk about the two challenges: capturing the look and making it dramatic.
ST: It's hard to translate a story about apathy onto film. That's where the storyboarding process came in and it was quite extensive and involved.
Andrew Rehemann: I suppose, yes, I did. But that didn't mean there weren't issues, which Shaun just laid out. But, on a whim, I'd gone to the Bologna Book Fair just to scout things, and there was his book right in the middle of a foyer on a stand. You could see it from 50 yards. And looking at that, I thought it could translate into something on the screen. But as we got into it, we both realized the challenge of capturing the essence of it, which is anti-dramatic, yet keeping it engaging.
BD: But you have a sense of mystery in wanting to know more about this creature.
AR: We hope so.
BD: And the look of it is so rich and evocative of everything from Edward Hopper to Yellow Submarine to all the other steampunk influences.
AR: That's all true but what's intriguing is that it still looks so incredibly original. That's what grabbed me in Bologna.
BD: Shaun, what was it like for you to participate in the making of the film?
ST: Quite, quite interesting. I never found it boring, which surprised me because I usually don't like to revisit old works. This one, I think, was quite easy to tap back into because, of all the worlds that I've created, it has the most appeal to me, in part, because the story is so concise and mysterious. But the world around it is very well thought out, and you only see slices of it in the book. And I think that held me in good stead because I had so much material to resurrect and I was able to expand on some concepts. As Andrew was alluding to, there is something that is deadpan and deliberately quiet. At the same time, it needed an injection of life, which we got from the collaborative process.
The other problem was aesthetics, of course, and turning that into something achievable. That meant working digitally and three-dimensionally, which was a big challenge and required a bit of inventiveness and basically redesigning everything.