Oscar 2012: Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis Talk Wild Life
AF: We do like to push ourselves artistically. We did push ourselves pretty hard on this film. I don’t know whether that’s evident or not. You’re always trying to find a balance between your intellectual, rational side and your instinctive side. When do you let your instincts run and when do you force structure and logic and rationality onto it. It’s particularly interesting when you include an element and you don’t actually quite know why it’s there. And then it becomes clear to you down the road. For us, the firing of the bullet was like that. We always wanted to have the firing of the bullet in the film but we weren’t 100% sure why. Then after we finished it, our executive producer David Verrall came up to us and said, “I get the bullet. It’s futility.” And we thought, “Oh, that’s nice. That’s true, that is futility.” But, you just keep including it because some part of you insists on including it but your rational mind is saying, “I don’t know. What does this do? Is it advancing anything? Is it telling anything?” I look forward to getting into those types of questions again on the next film.
DS: Who does what on your films? How do you divide up the work?
WT: It’s truly collaborative in that we both do everything. It’s not divided into one of us animates and one of us paints. We did brainstorm together on the script. We both animated more or less equally. We do have our own strengths and weaknesses that we try to take advantage of. Certainly on Wild Life Amanda had a better grasp on painting it in gouache. I was much better on the When The Day Breaks-style painting, which was much easier for me. Working with a water-based medium on Wild Life, I hadn’t had much experience with so I think Amanda was definitely the better painter. She did more painting than I did, where as I did more of the editing, the construction of the story, the sound. I didn’t do the final sound but I did a lot of the sound work throughout the process. But everything was consultation. Sometimes we both worked on the same shot. One would start, one would finish, one would add something, one would fix something the other did. It was a very back and forth process.
AF: The other part of the collaboration that was very valuable was moral support. I’m sure you know, it’s a very long process, very tedious and difficult sometimes to sustain interest in the project. We had producers that were very helpful that way as well. They have an objective eye. I find that the two of us are more than the sum of our parts. We’re better together than we are individually.
DS: What are you stylistic influences?
AF: An illustrator we looked at a lot in making Wild Life was Maira Kalman. She has illustrated a lot of books, some of them for kids. She has a very low key, gouache painterly style. There is humor in her paintings. She’s very masterful, quite naïve but very adept at the same time. She paints a lot of things like rooms and objects. We looked at her paintings a lot. One of our primary influences would have to be Caroline Leaf in the sense that I only realized just recently that our style of storytelling and the kind of films we make owes an awful lot to her. She is such a master storyteller and has made such a fantastic body of work that it’s always a source of inspiration. For Wild Life, one of my big influences was a book by Wallace Stegner called Wolf Willow that talks about living on the prairie. He distills so many thoughts about being a prairie person that I’ve never been able to articulate. He was certainly an influence from way back on this film.
I think the style of filmmaking comes from a tradition that is very Canadian, that comes from people who have been at the NFB over the years that we can’t help but be influenced by. Apart from that, there is a bunch of Canadian literature that has an austerity to it that is influential to us. They show small moments in life rather than the bigger strokes. Also, some of the characters in the film are people we would have just in the beginnings of our memories. I remember a grade 5 teacher, in elementary school, who was the most terrifying Scottish lady. She had a big pile of red hair and she was just a very angry and stern person. I realized that the Scottish lady in the film is absolutely her. I remember that going into grade 5, I had made the aesthetic decision to continue printing instead of handwriting because I liked printing better. We get into this classroom and she is just in a towering rage and she screams, “Which ones of you are still printing!” I took up handwriting immediately. Every Canadian has had at least one Scottish teacher.
Dan Sarto is the publisher of AWN.com.