Three Directors Discuss Their Not A Monty Python Animated Film
DS: This film jumps from absurd, to serious and back to absurd in the blink of an eye. How did you put together a linear story from such an odd piece of source material?
JS: As far as a process, we had a process which we all agreed to. We were three directors, so it was a two-to-one voting process. There was never any fighting or run-ins because if Bill had an idea and Ben didn’t like it, instead of them fighting with each other, they’d turn to me for arbitration. I’d have the deciding vote. Or, it was the other way around in different situations. I think it actually added to the creativity. Instead of fighting, you end up discussing and persuading.
BJ: As far as tone and approach, the ultimate arbitrator was Graham himself. We always had the book to go back to. Quite often when we were wrestling with difficult decisions we would step back for a moment and realize that Graham had been there before us. We’d look at how he dealt with things when he laid out the story in the book. Sometimes it was different than what we were doing but quite often it was Graham that we turned to.
BT: It being an animated film rather than a book, there were some structural issues that we had to work on. Mainly, we really wanted to have the alcoholism, which he struggled with and kept secret, to creep up on the audience. It’s the first thing in the book, laid out straight away. We wanted that to come in and almost shock the audience. Up to that point, it’s been fun, it’s been funny, it’s been a roller coaster. The suddenly, boom, he’s in trouble. He’s not well. He’s suffering.
DS: Why make this film now? This material has been around for more than two decades.
JS: I’ll answer that in two ways. First of all, all the other Pythons had this afterlife. They’d all been able to enjoy the success of Python in ways that have led on to other things. In Graham’s case that never really happened. He died too young. For me, it was a good time to do this project because there was a danger of Graham being forgotten really. On the production side, ten years ago, using all these varied styles, it would have been too expensive and far too time consuming to make a feature length animated film on the kind of budget we were working with.
BJ: Something as experimental as this, I don’t think until now you would have been able to have such a span of animation studios, from one like Superfad doing massive CG stuff to one guy, Steven Lall, doing stuff in his mum’s kitchen.
BT: As to why make this now, I think it was very important to celebrate the 23rd anniversary of his death (they all laugh).
DS: Was there any part of this film where you wondered, “What have we gotten ourselves into” and conversely, when you thought, “OK, we can pull this off?”
JS: I think we took a big risk when we sat down and decided we were going to make this film. But, I don’t think there was ever a sense of unease among us. We were all super confident and incredibly naïve (more laughter).
BJ: I also think that the guys we got to do the animation, we had so much confidence in them, seeing the work they had done, it just felt we were in the hands of the right animators. We had such a good team we figured we were all going to make this work.
JS: What we really had to get used to was that each of these companies had their own approach and their own style. Some of them would be very collaborative with us, sending us drawings which I guess they expected us to comment on. We’d just say “Oh my, that’s fantastic. Just get on with it.” Others would keep things much more to themselves. One very quiet animator named Matthew Walker over at Arthur Cox, we sent a behind the scenes guy to interview him and when he asked, “How’s the relationship going with the directors?” Matt said, “Oh, it’s easy. I just don’t show them anything.” (everyone laughs) Of course while this was going on that summer we were asking ourselves, “Oh, I wonder what Matthew is up to?” Of course he had just won an award for his film John and Karen and so we knew his work was going to come back fantastic.
BJ: Other people wanted more collaboration. The interesting thing for us was understanding the different processes used by the different companies.
BT: The person you should speak to is Justin Weyers. He dealt with all the technical problems. (more laughter) He had to teach them all 3-D.
JS: We didn’t have to deal with any of that (everyone laughs).
BJ: Creatively and because of Graham’s writing we knew that the different styles were going to work.
BT: Giving the animators such free reign to work with the concepts and tone we wanted to create worked really well. In the end, Justin brought it all into one space in his studio [Made Visual Studio] where we managed to work with the Adobe software system and the 3-D.
JS: We were spared having to deal with a lot of the technical stuff and that allowed us to focus on story.
DS: Why do this in 3-D? How does it improve the film?
JS: We conceived it as a marketing gimmick (laughter). We were lovingly going to be jumping on last year’s 3-D bandwagon. In terms of getting the project moving it was a good marketing idea. The wonderful EPIX HD people with their 3-D channel came on board. Don’t forget, the film is in theatres and EPIX HD on November 2nd by the way. It did help get the project moving. We were a bit skeptical about the effects of 3-D on the storytelling in the beginning. When you’re dealing with animation, many of our animators draw flat animation. It was a question of giving the little bit of extra depth to the world the characters were inhabiting. We didn’t want a film where things would jump out at you from the screen.