ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 3.10 - January 1999
Here's A How de do Diary: October
by Barry Purves
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...
That's it for Sullivan. He'll been down on the dole queue tomorrow, with all those other out of work puppets. Yes, Sullivan passed away quite slowly and subtly. They all shook hands just before he went, in a complicated knot of limbs. I'm a little worried that the handshake between Gilbert and Carte was a bit like two lovers shaking hands. It was a little too informal and intimate. This has been a rather distressing scene for me, and when I was left alone at one point, I did shed a tear. Too many resonances. I hope for all this that some of the pathos translates to the screen. Poor Sullivan did look a very weak figure. Sadly, Gilbert does not get a death scene, he just backs out of shot. But really to spend two minutes of a fifteen-minute film on a death scene is plenty already.
A few grumblings behind the scenes are clearly paralleling our characters.
Numerous organizational things got in the way of filming today and saw me in a bit of a lather. Sullivan was still fading away, and I needed to think clearly. There were a few things that I had not actually resolved before I started shooting. When was the exact moment that he died? Does Carte realize before Gilbert? Rather crucial things like this... I was up `til late last night trying to get my head round all this, but something was odd when I came to do the scene. The timings didn't seem right at all, and sure enough, the barsheets had added two seconds that were not on the soundtrack. When I'm trying to use every frame to tell a complicated story, I had to think quickly and clearly how to tell the same story in two seconds less. Two seconds doesn't sound like much, but in our world it's a whole story! So Sullivan is now just a puppet, lying stiffly on a table over there. His death is illustrated by an empty bed all immaculately made up. After all the activity on the bed, and the messed up sheets and books and stuff lying around, the stark formality of this empty bed was quite powerful. This whole scene has been upsetting to film, lasting as it did several days. On screen it will be very short, but hopefully, it will have some impact.
Suddenly the end of the film has raced upon us, and I really do feel as if my three new friends are going away. It is daft how much affection I have for these puppets, but they are part of me. After fondling them non-stop for four months, there is such an intimate bond. Hallo doctor, I really am OK, but I'll just check with my friend Sullivan.
As we enter our last week, there was a definite end of term feeling, and we were all surprisingly jolly. This of course, made it a little hard for me to get my head round things and we had THAT shot -- the shot that seems to happen in every shoot which becomes more trouble than it is worth. Gilbert bowed out, literally. This final shot of his, as he transforms back into his obituary, should have been so easy. The first take seemed OK but as I went on past it, it kept troubling me, so I decided to reshoot it. I wish I had not. Suddenly everything seemed to go wrong with lights blowing, totally inaccurate barsheets, and the like. Eventually I got through it on the fourth take, and now I'm looking at the animation and thinking it's rather odd. Actually I blame Gilbert himself. He probably thought he was getting paid by the hour and was trying to spin out his final moments. Like a bad old trouper, he was reluctant to leave the stage. If this had been a lighter scene, I should have used one of those long hooks to pull him offstage. But there he is, lying next to Sullivan, whilst Carte still has a few days to go.
Mark, the production manager, is leaving in a few days, for a job on a feature. This could leave the post-production in a bit of a state.
I went to see a ballet of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Some of it works tremendously well in dance, but some of it made me cringe. I suppose there are some emotions and situations in ballet, as there are in animation, that really do not lend themselves to representation in movement alone.
I also watched the newly released video of CATS. Gorgeously filmed, ravishingly visual, with superb make-up. It was hard to see the characters as human performers. It is a real fantasy, and my chum Sue-Jane was magnificent in her every scene. This show has tried to be animated and filmed before but no one seems to have found the right context. This version of the stage show seems the answer. But did anyone think of puppets?
I have to confess that I'm somewhat worried about this last episode. If it all fits together in the editing stage it will be a miracle. I have had to rush it somewhat, and with the general low level of light, this has rendered the video practically useless. Besides which, I have just not been able to get the video in synch with the singing -- all the singing on this episode is soft and the notes just creep in. It's impossible to tell when a note actually begins. What with everything, I don't think I've done my best stuff, which upsets me. Friday is going to be a bit nerve-wracking. The rushes will be back, but we won't really be able to reshoot anything. Please keep all fingers and toes crossed. The pressure is too much. I stayed behind `til very late again, working in a spooky silent building. It was sad to see Gilbert and Sullivan lying motionless in their boxes, whilst Carte was still leaping about. Daylight has arrived for him, but I'm not sure quite how much different it looks. Hey, we'll do some tests -- no such luck!
It's funny how some scenes have been in my head for months, even years, then suddenly that scene is here and I have to rush it through.
I was told the other day, in no uncertain terms, that I think of no one but myself. Well that's not true, but it is true that I think of nothing but the film, which may or may not be the same thing. And it is a good job that I do; otherwise we really would not be about to finish the film on Friday. I don't think anyone knows quite what an enormous job this has been for me, what total and complete commitment I have had to make to get through this film. I am writer, director, and animator to name but three of the roles I have on this film. I would like to have seen what would have happened if I had not put my own life on hold to get this done. I don't say that as a boast, just a statement of the commitment needed to get the film done.
Needless to say, I was angry at that remark.
Took the crew to see a very traditional Mikado -- some real legendary performers. What an audience though -- all blue rinse, hearing aids and frequent toilet breaks. And boy, did they know the words! I turned round to witness a sea of faces all silently and not so silently mouthing the words. I thought I was in a school of goldfish. Little Bethany sat entranced as Gilbert and Sullivan worked their not so inconsiderable magic and we came out beaming.
Our film started with us taking Channel Four to The Mikado and we finish with one. I dare say I have seen about 40 different Mikados.
Well our last day, and wouldn't you know it, the camera packs up. We'd spent all morning getting together the final complicated shot of Carte, and it looked magnificent. We began and the camera started taking one and a half frames each click. Just what we needed under such pressure. To his credit Mark managed to organize another camera within about three hours; not bad for early evening Manchester. However, it did set us back, and we did not start shooting the 16-second shot until about ten p.m. We shot the last frame at about two a.m., and I'm afraid we were too exhausted to be jubilant, though Jean Marc had gone through some sort of pain barrier and was maniacally excited for a short period. We did feel like a real crew eating our take-away food in the middle of the night. We were definitely aware that something was coming to an end. I hope this last shot looks as good on film as it does to the eye.
I think I must have been grinding my teeth with exhaustion and nerves all night as a tooth fell out quite spectacularly. There we go. I've still not been jumping up and down celebrating the end of the film, as through various things going slightly wrong we've not had the final rushes back. We're sitting in limbo, but we have had to strike the set and lights anyway. A bit risky.
Barry Purves with his pride and joy -- the Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte puppets. Image courtesy of Bare Boards Productions.
Half way through the day the rushes arrived and it was all hands to the pump. This final episode was a little more problematic to cut together due to the rather inaccurate barsheets. I've made a few errors in timing during the filming, but it's quite a strong episode, if rather downbeat. We put the credits on and they look pretty classy though somewhere in between designing them and getting them filmed, a few misprints have appeared. This is where, as usual, the film looks in a very delicate state and all I can see are the bad bits, and the bits that I can no longer correct or control. What I don't see at this point are the good bits, and there are some of those. I think what has happened on this film, which I am pleased with, is its musicality and the way it all looks so spontaneous, and flows seamlessly from scene to scene. We also have a slight problem with the music, in that the master has some apparent distortion.
So I may sound somewhat down tonight, and in truth I am, but a few days from now, I won't be able to wait before I can show it to people, which is a good sign.
Whatever happens, it is certainly a very unique, lively and classy film. Whether anyone will understand it, I don't know, but I do think they will be carried along by it. It will certainly work best as a complete 16-minute film, as opposed to the smaller chunks.
I can't believe the travelling I have over the next few months, squeezed in and around post-production. There's Spain, Italy, Buenos Aires, Argentina, San Francisco, California, and Australia. Not bad. The photo album will look great but sadly the bank balance will not. Still it is thrilling to be asked to these places on account of these films. Karen's away in what's left of Florida so I got a bit bogged down in all the day-to-day, nitty gritty of things in the office, but it was good to get on top of returning phone calls and mail. The film has been a little quiet for me today. With an office in Cosgrove Hall, it's odd to be in the midst of so much activity, business and teamwork, without actually being part of any of it. I seem to be like a maiden aunt who people come to for advice, but at a distance. That is my problem really. I don't feel I belong to any group or team. Bare Boards is such a small unit. I would so like to be at the head of a permanent group, growing together, and inspiring each other. I suppose I partly don't belong because my films don't fit into any category, nor does my working pattern. I always feel on the outside. I've never been much of a team player (though I wish I could have danced in A Chorus Line), but I think I can make a good team leader. I am in such an odd position, where people do not know what to do with me. Big companies seem to admire my skills, but can't see how they could fit into their films. It is good to have so much respect, even better if this translated into work. I suppose I haven't made it easy for myself by clinging stupidly to some sort of standard or to things that have some own personal interest.
We had David Holt and Daphne Oxenford in to do various grunts and groans and dialogue extras for the film. I do so love working with actors as we both speak the same language, and have the same passion for words and nuance. I was delighted by their fresh reaction to the film, and the sound engineer, Alistair, was totally bowled over by it. We are getting closer to completion, but I'm still a little worried about all the grading and creative work that has yet to be done. I'm worried, I suppose, because those things are happening out of my reach. An incredibly busy day with too many other things going on.
We started the foley sessions this morning -- this is one of my least favourite parts of production. As we make the sounds I can't see that they will ever sound convincing or match the visuals. Invariably I lay too many sound effects on , but with this film the music has to come first and be heard above everything else.
Within four hours of jangling some small bells for Sullivan's death scene, I was lying on a hot beach in Sitges. Sometimes it is all too easy and not a little disorientating. Anyway, I'm here at the Film Festival to give a talk alongside the MacKinnon & Saunders exhibition. I must say that the exhibition looked magnificent. There is some truly great work there.
This is such a glorious place, and you can hear the stress coming out of me like steam escaping from a valve. Quite a few interviews to be done, all with the same question -- `How do you know how much to move?' My talk was surprisingly well attended and what I showed of G & S was well received too. El Mikado is well known here, as is Pirates, in Catalan of course.
When I was free, I was straight down to the beach, and collapsed into a deep, deep sleep. Now I look like a lobster. Oh, the British abroad! Really I should be busy schmoozing and trying to sell myself, but I have switched off in a big way. What a year it has been, and it is ironic that I was here in Sitges just before the film started, drawing the storyboard.
Too much all in one day. This Sitges festival really is the friendliest and warmest I know. The location helps somewhat. It treats animation with as much respect as live-action features (though looking at our films next to the big blockbusters, ours really do not amount to much).
More time on the beach, and more TV interviews, then to the prize giving do. This was actually staged around a real boxing ring and match, with all the jury and staff as the ringside spectators. Somewhat surreal but it worked. Marie Paccou's `Un Jour' won the animation, deservedly, and the brilliant `Cube' won best film. I couldn't help but pounce on the director and enthuse all night. After the prizes they showed `Apt Pupil' - a slightly odd experience as the main young actor sat restlessly only a few seats away.
At the reception afterwards, I was a bit of a butterfly, but had great chats to a group from a Barcelona Film program. Everyone seems familiar with Achilles and Rigoletto. The champagne must have gone to my head as I remember doing an impression of a Mars Attacks Martian, by way of Norma Desmond.
Not being a party animal, I could not go to the all night party, but did pause to think that whilst my films do not earn enough for me to live on, they do give me this. And the view of the Mediterranean, as I write this, is priceless.
I should have helped dismantle the exhibition, but I'm afraid the beach and exhaustion got the better of me. The joy of just lying there, without the familiar pressure of worrying about the next shot, was glorious. I could feel my shoulders descending to where they belong. All signs of the festival had vanished during the night, and as if to mark the end of the sunny fantasy, the heavens kicked up a storm of King Lear dimensions. I've never had such an unhindered view of the sea during a storm. It was as though Him up there was saying, `Huh, a festival about special effects! I'll show you special effects!' And He did.
Left Spain early and back to a surprisingly sunny Manchester -- of course, it feels as if the last few days were a dream. Certainly it was a lifestyle that doesn't have much to do with reality, but it was fun. Phones, e-mails and faxes all demanded attention, and it's an odd feeling that at the moment I can't do anything practical on the G & S film. Things are happening to it in various corners, but, for the moment, I am at a distance to it -- except I'm still fretting about it. It would be good to think that I might work with some of the people I met over the week-end, especially Vincenzo. His film Cube shares a lot with animation, in that it takes an extraordinary concept, removed from reality, and plays and twists with it.
The Titanic video was released today. This really has to be the all time quick seller. When I bought it from my local small Woolworths, they had sold over a 1000 by lunchtime alone. It is an amazing film but A Night to Remember and the Broadway musical of Titanic, though short on convincing spectacle, make up for it with sheer emotional power. It is amazing that, though there have been larger tragedies and horrors since, it is still the Titanic that captures our imagination. It has every element for the perfect event. The thing that keeps me awake at night is that I'm sure there must have been some people still alive, trapped in cabins with pockets of air, that went down inside the ship to the bottom. One can only hope that the cold and pressure got them quickly.
Again a morning of catching up with office stuff, and making contact with friends and colleagues I have not spoken to since before the film, and that's a long time.
A good and very animated conference call to America about a small project that I would like to do, but under different circumstances. Sadly, I'm not sure the timing or the budget will work. I have some real decisions to make about the future. Things cannot stay as they are. There may be an option to get involved with something prestigious, but rather unimaginative, and one where I can't put in much creativity or expression. It would, however, give me some security and a lot of support. Or I can hang around, slowly going under, waiting for something a little more exciting and adventurous to develop out of all the possibilities.
Glancing through some old scrapbooks (like D'Oyly Carte), I was guilty of a bit of hubris. I came across some of my old reviews, and frankly some of them are quite amazing. I swear that I did not write them myself, and if I did, I could not have written them this over the top. It's a bit sad then that glowing reviews do not guarantee any employment. They all seem to talk about the films being `feverishly inventive' or `breathtakingly imaginative' -- which is odd as I really do feel that it is my imagination that always lets me down. I feel I can go so far, but not far enough to be totally original. I feel the films are somewhat conservative really.
An interview this morning with Jonathan and David, who write for the Gilbert and Sullivan News. Showing them the film in this state was the ultimate test, which, happily, the film passed with flying colours. I also showed it to a rival producer who was quite flabbergasted by it. I'm enjoying showing it to people, but am frustrated that there is still so much work to do. I'm frustrated that the schedule keeps changing due to so many people being involved.
Various chats to people at Cosgrove Hall about the future... Went to see Opera North's The Bartered Bride. The director had found a brilliant context to make this opera work, but sadly once he'd established that context, it didn't go anywhere. I'm afraid that the direction of the story was actually quite appalling. It's presumptuous of me, but I do feel I'm ready to be let loose on the operatic stage. Someone give me a chance please.
Still juggling an enormously varied amount of tasks at the moment, which makes focusing on any one thing somewhat difficult. I shall be glad to have Karen back in the office -- besides sorting me out, the office is very empty without her.
Laid a few more sound effects and they are all helping. I'm trying to be bolder than usually, and not just lay obvious and literate ones. There are a few illogical sounds going in that help make a point. Standing back and looking at the film, I am very pleased with its structure. It does follow the classic Shakespearean five act drama. Above all, I am pleased with the seamless way in which it flows. I'm also pleased that people, who have watched it so far, forget that these characters are puppets. They may not be realistic but they are certainly credible. I'm not sure it's because of the quality of the animation, but more because whatever they do, they do it with real conviction, and that is the secret I think. They believe in what they are doing, and their eyes always suggest they are focused on something, or at least involved in some activity. There is a lovely rapport between the puppets. I miss them.
I saw the first still from Mike Leigh's film. It was of Timothy Spall looking truly magnificent as the Mikado, and very historically authentic. It would be so obvious for our film to go out with theirs. Saw a pretty damn impressive amateur production of La Cage aux Folles, with Jane, from Cosgrove's, kicking her legs up with great panache and racing through dozens of extraordinary frocks. A very slick evening, but I have to confess that I hate that musical with a vengeance, and many apologies to Jerry Herman for that remark. In spite of the enormous skill involved, it is so trite and antiseptic a treatment of its subject. I remember once seeing this with an audience applauding their local bank manager, or whoever, as the barbed, warm-hearted drag queen on stage, whilst sneering at a real transvestite in the audience. Only connect! This makes me sound snobbish, as the packed audience was having a marvelous night out. Sorry, but give me the apparently difficult, tuneless Mr. Sondheim any day. Now those musicals really are works of art and a satisfying night at the theater.
An exhausting day in London, putting the film together. This is literally the first time any of us has seen a single frame projected, and it does look stunning. The grader could not see any major problems, which is comforting. On a big screen, of course, every twitch of hair and clothing is exposed. Then to Men in White Coats, who have been doing a small amount of corrective work. They really enjoyed working on this, and were singing along. I had intended to stay down and see a show, but I was lugging around too much luggage, and gratefully headed home, though not before I'd had a wander around seeing various people in Soho. There is such a buzz there, and I kept bumping into people involved in exciting projects. There is no doubt that people, whether they be man, woman, dog or gerbil, at the height of their creativity, are enormously attractive. Looks have little to do with it. Talent is the biggest aphrodisiac for me, and the lack of it, the biggest turn off. Today, I was surrounded by talent. What frustration.
A quiet day except for a dozen or so charities calling, all claiming that I'd agreed to sponsor them -- it must be the run up to Christmas. The joke is that we've not been in touch before, but they do keep trying to pull a fast one. It's not that I am mean, but no charity that phones up trying to con me out of £500 is going to get very far. If you challenge them, the phone gets puts down very quickly. What cheek. Still adding a few more sound effects -- the cannon roar after Pinafore works very nicely, as does the chiming of the clock with each credit. Our credits have always been slightly unusual. It is of course usual to have music all the way through the credits, but I have music all the way through the film, so my credits need to be slightly different. I do like the idea of the credits being an extension or comment of the film. Our Rigoletto ones were beautiful, and so very right.
Was rather shocked to read of the death of a real legend of British dance -- Christopher Gable. He was only 58 and had been at the height of his creativity with the Northern Ballet Theatre. He was also a man I'd known on and off for twenty years, especially over the last couple of years when we'd spoken about writing a ballet. I did write it, but it will never see the light of day now, as it was right up Chris' street. He was an amazing man, a real versatile talent, whose work ranged from Ken Russell's film The Boyfriend, to his amazing days at the Royal Ballet, to Ibsen at the Royal Exchange. So much talent and warmth, all gone. Very sad.
Karen and Bethany are back in the office (looking so tanned and glamorous) and some order has been restored. At least I can see the top of the desk now. Nibs and I did a final short foley session -- my double-jointed fingers cracking finally coming into use. So that's all the sound laid, we now have to listen to it all together. I dare say that it will sound something of a cacophony at first.
The stills we had chosen out of all the dozens we took came back, and there are some simply stunning individual ones of the chaps. One of Carte as a Yeoman is uncanny. He does not look like a puppet at all. You can almost see him breathing. It was a posed one, but still manages to look as if he has been caught in the middle of something.
Sat here on a balcony overlooking the Adriatic (OK, so it's dark now, but it's still out there). A very long and tiring journey with Amanda to Pesaro, Italy, but worth it. A gorgeous town and a great thrill for me as Rossini lived here. It's Rossini House, Rossini Theatre and so on, but a thrill all the same. We were worried at the lack of posters for the festival, but hey, it's free for the public. The theater was full and what an amazing range of programs.
As soon as we were here there was even a call from Hollywood about a commercial to start as soon as possible. Well, I'm busy until February. Could I rearrange all these commitments? Well, no actually. They are just as important to me, and they are already arranged. I really do not have any spare time until February. I seem to remember before that Hollywood told me to drop everything. It was even suggested that someone else do the post-production on Achilles. (Who?) So I did drop everything and sat in Hollywood waiting for weeks for a Mars Attacks script.
I may have it all wrong, but money is not motivation enough for me. Something that is interesting -- that is my motivation.
Too much for one day, and what a day. A day crammed with real art and culture. After a quick paddle in the Adriatic (ouch!), Amanda and I did the sights of Pesaro -- highlights being Rossini's home, the square and numerous patisseries. It was thrilling to be near to Rossini. What a man -- he made all that glorious music, gets bored and dedicated his life to food.
Hopped on a bus to Urbino -- an astonishing fortified Renaissance city, where the Ducal Palace contains so many famous paintings. What a treat. Ucello was born here, and Raphael. The architecture has been respected today and can you believe, no McDonalds. Hurrah. Very little in the way of boardings or neon. A glorious inspirational town -- yes, it did inspire. It made me want to reshoot Rigoletto now that I have the true feel of Renaissance Italy. A million other films jumped into my head. None of them were commercials. Sadly, I don't think I've ever had much enthusiasm for commercials.
Back in Pesaro my talk went well. Even with the time delay, as I was translated whilst I spoke, the audience was right there with me and boy did they love the film -- even though it was G & S which must have been a complete mystery to them. Here's a first. Instead of an autograph, I was presented with a baby to kiss!
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.
Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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