ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 3.5 - AUGUST 1998
Here's A How de do Diary: May
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...
A composer arrived yesterday with the demo music for Sue's Dynodogs pilot and we both loathed it. So electronic, with no musicality at all. This was the very worst example of music for children's animation--bland pap. It made me so angry; angry that anyone would think that this could inspire children to listen to music. Why is music so often an afterthought or considered a lesser element? This was written to some sort of mechanical program with no feeling for melody or character. I fear no real instrument came within miles of the studio.
It did make me appreciate the pleasure and luxury of being able to work with an orchestra for Gilbert and Sullivan. Nothing can reproduce the sound of an oboe or violin with truth. I may only have ten players for our film, but they are there with human rhythms and unpredictability. I laugh though to think that the union says, if players play a second instrument, they get another, smaller fee. I'm glad I did not write in a triangle for a single note!
I've attacked the storyboard for Episode Four today, and this really does charge along angrily and should be fun to animate.
A three day break from G and S, and I've lost the momentum somewhat. I've also returned to work under a cloud of melancholy: perhaps it was another round of hospitals and sickness that has done this, perhaps it's the spectacularly damp and un-springlike day, perhaps it's a realization that this film is never going to be what I want it to be. How can I pay homage to G and S, and put all my passion for their work, into a mere 15 minutes? My sleep is interrupted by songs and snatches that I've left out. Perhaps the melancholy is a panic that we are only a few weeks from starting and there isn't really much to see yet. I've not even finished the storyboard. I don't even know what is the final image.
It's ironic that as I storyboard the scene of Sullivan collapsing and being put to bed, I have felt very much less than a hundred percent. That's the last thing I need now. With every day accounted for until the end of the year, I cannot afford to be ill. Maybe I should not have eaten that bacon that was a month past it's sell by date.
I was pleased to tackle a piece of staging in Episode Five that had worried me. I've solved the problem with a good piece of sleight of hand and don't need to revert to any effects. I think that Episode Five will be very moving or hideously sentimental. It's a fine line.
Still feeling somewhat under the weather and it did not make a very busy and difficult day any easier. I really do need to have some time to myself with the script, well, just time to myself. I'm feeling the pressure. It is possible that there really is only so much information the brain can hold.
Another big production meeting, and I think things are starting to get made, but at the moment it is a bit frightening that we are filming in five weeks.
Still not too well, and had to go home in the afternoon. The thought occurred to me that I was still in my 30s when I made my last film; do I still have the stamina and concentration for this marathon?
A weekend of culture lifted the spirits and recharged the batteries: Hal Prince's epic Show Boat, and a double bill of Stoppard's Inspector Hound and Shaffer's Black Comedy; this last being a piece of total inspiration, and a reminder of just how wonderful and inspiring live theatre can be. A succession of ever more manic gags left me breathless. I'm afraid no film, animated or otherwise, has done that to me. Knowing the danger of live theatre gives everything an edge missing from anything else.
I also went to a memorial service for Simon Jeffes, the man behind the most uplifting and joyous music I know--the Penguin Café Orchestra. No music has had a deeper effect on my life.
Happily, I think I have finished the storyboard today; well over 300 drawings (very basic drawings, I have to add) for 211 shots during the 15 minute running time. The average shot is just over 4 seconds. This should give things a lively pace.
Carte's bedstead has arrived, and it is quite a work of art--very exciting. Richard has managed to incorporate the letters G and S into the fine metal work. This prop will be featured a lot, so it's just as well to have all the detail. Carte's skeleton is finished, and Gilbert is nearly there. Slowly, things are happening.
On the radio at the moment are several commercials for conservatories, using `and he polished off the handle of the big front door' from HMS Pinafore. It certainly stands head and shoulders above the other jingles, but...
A few more props are appearing. Now it starts to get exciting. The cut-out of D'Oyly Carte's wife is here, looking resplendent in her wedding outfit. Just reading a book about G and S, I saw that when Queen Victoria famously commanded the D'Oyly Carte to perform The Gondoliers in Windsor Castle, Gilbert's name was accidentally left off the program. You can see that Gilbert might have been a little miffed. I remember seeing my film Next in a program as having been directed by a certain Nick Park.
The animators that I trained and Sue were taken out for a sunny lunch by Cosgrove Hall. They are all full of exciting things in development and suddenly, I felt an outsider. I really don't know what my future is after G and S.
Happy 156th birthday Sullivan!
A good long talk to Clare Kitson and I think we have sorted out a few things about the film. We are both quite happy with the title G & S--The Long and the Short of It. Not only is this a line from Princess Ida and is sung in our film, but it says something about our condensed version of their story and about the men themselves. It's also got a catchy rhythm. We also talked about the difficult subject of "Fair Moon to Thee I Sing." I do understand Clare wanting this film to have as many recognizable songs as possible, but I'm keen to make the story work firstly. And, if I'm being awkward, I think we should draw people in with the old favorites and introduce them to a few new songs. Hopefully, I was not too stubborn or difficult about keeping the score the way I wanted it--well, more than that, the way it works.
But I do hope that the film is more than just a pot-pourri of "classical Monday Pops." I've worked hard at the story and motivations and the rhythm of the piece.
Not just a British thing: A poster from a Japanese production of Warship Pinafore. Gilbert & Sullivan are loved worldwide! Image courtesy of Barry Purves.
A thought: if G and S are performing as if in a seedy vaudeville, to whom are they performing? Do I let them look at the camera, or just some focal point off screen? If I show some footlights, does this make it all too literal?
A glorious heatwave has made concentrating rather difficult. What a shame we can never animate outside.
I've been at a bit of a loss today. Timing the music and barsheets is my next big slog, but I don't get the music for a while. I tried to break down the shots into a daily schedule, and totally frightened myself. I don't know how I can do 12-14 seconds of all singing and all dancing each day. All three puppets are in nearly every shot. There is very little time allowed for costume changes or relighting. The only way I'll get this footage is if no one slows me down, and if I do my homework. My crew must be in the same gear as myself.
Glorious sunshine all weekend has seen us all coming in rather pink but cheerful. Also, I went to a ceilidh on Saturday and jigged fit to drop. I think the adrenaline is still going as I was like a whirlwind today, charging through a meeting with the VAT [tax] people, a production meeting and various other meetings. It's either the adrenaline, or I'm starting to get excited and apprehensive about the film. At the production meeting, Nick produced a lot of final artwork and Richard has several nearly finished props. We are going to get there. One of the animation students is currently testing the bouncing bed. It will be a lot of difficult and time-consuming work to get this to bounce, but I'll use it sparingly and effectively.
Headed off to south of Barcelona, to lie on a beach for a week, reading and absorbing the script--that is the intention anyway.
These are not the sunny Spanish shores that Gilbert had in mind when he wrote The Gondoliers. He would have been so horrified at the amount of flesh on display. I gather he was furious if too much of a lady's legs were shown on stage. He strove for innocent merriment the whole time, so I can only imagine that the three men in drag in Princess Ida must have slipped through on a bad day.
My mind is totally neutral with G & S lurking but not intruding. Someone at the hotel happened to be singing a song from Ruddigore, which pleased me to no end. He was British but even so. I've been carrying the script around as a prop, to give me a purpose. I'm not that good at being totally idle, or succumbing to relaxation. I'm always usually on the outside of a group of revelers, unable to join in--a bit pathetic really.
Walked about 18 miles in blistering heat and didn't get to see the script at all. Now I'm racked with guilt and panic. Whilst I'm at this remove, everything appears to be frighteningly disorganized. I don't mean because I'm not there, but because things are not getting done. It terrifies me that we are so near shooting and the basic financial groundwork of this film is a mess.
A day of the old and the new. I visited a marvelously preserved Roman Amphitheatre. I'm very partial to theatre buildings of any kind. Interestingly, here in Tarragona, they'd built a church in the arena to atone for the early bloodthirsty days. Then to Port Adventura--a theme park based on Polynesia, the Wild West, Mexico, the Mediterranean and China, and done with much taste and loving detail. Little details seemed so bizarre that they had to be authentic. Happily the performers were of the appropriate nationality. The rides incorporated the country's theme with real wit and respect. One ride was the Dragon Khan--well Barry Kahn't. The whole atmosphere was just right and there was no fear of being assaulted by a six-foot rodent wearing white gloves! A very sophisticated park and a treat.
We record the music a week today and I've never even looked forward to anything so much. It is a thrill for me to work with such performers and I feel at home with this passion and activity. Sadly, I don't always find that passion in the animation circles. On the whole, and this is awful for me to say, animators don't have the vitality and adrenaline of performers, and that's what gives me a buzz. To direct the singers and discuss the music score is a pleasure indeed.
I'm ready to go home now. I'm worried about things.
Met two pub landladies on a week away, and whilst they were not particularly G and S lovers, we did manage a very spirited trio from Pinafore, on the beach. Ah, the English on holiday...
Back in the office and a million things to catch up with. First thing was to get up to speed again. A lot of props have appeared since I've been away and they look tremendous. I'm a little worried that we haven't got the cross hatching effect totally right yet. A long bubbly talk with Clare Kitson from Channel Four. She is about to do a writing course, and is worried about having to come up with ideas in front of other people. Publicly exposing one's creativity is never easy. I think, after animating for 20 years, that I can get puppets to do what I want, but is what they do the right thing? That's the difficult bit. Still, the most painful moment for me on any film, is showing the rushes to other people. I'd like to watch them in private, alone.
Guess what? We still haven't got a title for this film. G & S--The Long and Short of It has been rejected as `G and S,' apparently, sounds too elitist. It sounded colloquial to me. We may well get back to Here's a How de do which would be too ironic.
My father died during the night--pain deprives me of any words.
A relief, or an escape, to be thinking of work today. It saddens me so much that Pa won't see the film, for which, of all the films of mine, he had so much enthusiasm. G and S has always played a part of our family life ever since I was very young. Ma was often going to see friends in amateur productions, and Pa talks of taking numerous girlfriends to the D'Oyly Carte. Both at school and University, I was constantly involved in various productions. It is only Amanda, my sister, that remains untouched by my passion for opera.
Now the music will have some very painful subtext. A last study of the score before Sunday's recording. I cannot wait to hear the orchestrations. Hopefully, I will be able to get a lot of character and detail out of the performers, as well as right notes. We really don't have much time during the recording. Four hours for 15 minutes of music from scratch is quite a tall order. What I really hope to produce is a piece that bursts with infectious energy and real joy. Looking in the evening paper nearly every National Trust property seems to be having summer G and S concerts and galas. These operas will never die.
I know of nothing as exciting as working with singers and an orchestra. Music is so important in my work and today has been quite thrilling. Four hours to record our 15-minute soundtrack may sound a lot, but it is certainly not. A lot of decisions have to be made so quickly, but Wyn and I were firing on every cylinder and more. The singers gave me so much character, and what a joy to see them in action, as good as performing their roles. The orchestra produced amazing colors. The orchestrations are a cross between Kurt Weill, Kander and Ebb, and the RSC's Nicholas Nickleby - very energetic and rich. The horn and the banjo will be the stars, though I think Gilbert loathed the banjo, judging from putting `banjo serenaders' on Ko-Ko's Little List in The Mikado (though actually this term has crept in over the years, taking over from something very racially dubious indeed). We've only done a rough mix, but we are all excited at the soundtrack. A lot of work from Wyn and I and a great deal of other people have produced something satisfyingly substantial, accessible, and true to G and S. It's funny to think Wyn and I sat round his piano nearly a year ago, wondering where do we begin!
Read Barry's previous diary in last month's issue of Animation World Magazine.
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.
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