The animation producer spoke to us about collaboration, BAFTA nomination and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Abigail Addison as drawn by Kate Anderson
What’s your connection to the British Council? Any possible future collaborations in the pipeline?
I have been fortunate to be offered a travel grant to attend Clermont-Ferrand Short International Film Festival this year with I’m OK, a film my company Animate Projects co-produced with artist Elizabeth Hobbs and Jelena Popović from the National Film Board of Canada. And the British Council supported me to attend Clermont-Ferrand in 2017, where I pitched the project at the festival’s Euro Connection marketplace event. I also went to Annecy last year for the Worldwide Premiere of the film with the support of a British Council travel grant. Oh, and 8 shorts I‘ve produced were included in British Council’s UK Animation 2018 catalogue, and I also penned a small piece about programming in it. So all in all lots of connections, and hopefully more to come.
What are you working on right now?
I am finishing up two films, Bloomers by animated documentary maker Samantha Moore, made with Swedish composer Malin Bång; and The Flounder by Elizabeth Hobbs, made with German composer Carola Bauckholt. The films were commissioned by Klangforum Wien, and will premiere at the ECLAT Festival in Stuttgart, plus we will be taking the films on a UK-wide tour later in the year. I’m about to go into production with artist Dominica Harrison on an exciting short called Dacha, which is being supported by BFI NETWORK. Plus, I’m working with Richard Squires on touring his creative documentary DOOZY around the UK this summer, and am developing some new animated shorts programmes to tour.
What/who originally turned you onto film?
As an uncultured teenager seeing Czech artist Jan Svankmajer’s Alice late night on Channel 4 opened my eyes to the possibilities of film and animation as a way of bringing the dark recesses of your mind to life. Here Alice is played by a real child who is led on a journey around a warped version of her home after she decides to follow a taxidermied rabbit that comes to life. It’s so wonderfully disturbing. Everyone should watch it, though maybe not before bed.
What has been your career high so far?
The recent discovery of our BAFTA nomination for I’m OK. I only realised we’d been chosen when my chum and regular collaborator Chris Shepherd sent me a congratulatory text. Still pretty much on a high about that news!
What was your first job in the film industry?
As a youth I would never have dreamed that I could have worked on anything as cool as a film or animation, so wasn’t aiming in that direction. My careers advisor suggested becoming a librarian, but I thought I might try to work in theatre production or arts administration. My first job that paved the way was working as an Assistant in the Visual Arts department at Arts Council England where I met my colleague and pal Gary Thomas and got involved in this weird and wonderful scheme called Animate… then I spent a short time at the UK Film Council… and then Animate came back into my life when Animate Projects was established. And the rest, as they say, is history.
If I knew then what I know now…(a key piece of advice you’d give to someone starting off in filmmaking)
Collaboration is key to filmmaking. Get to know writers, composers, editors, cinematographers, sound designers, producers, animators, production designers etc, and ask their advice early on in the development of your project. Particularly people working with sound. It’s easy to get caught up in the creation of the visual aspects, but the sound needs to be as strong.
What is your favourite British film? Why?
Carol Morley’s The Alcohol Years, where Carol goes back to Manchester to interview people who knew her in the early 80s. She creates a portrait of her younger self, spun from the unreliable memories and opinions (good and bad) of other people. At the time it was one of the few films that foregrounded a woman’s sexuality, and bisexuality, made by a woman filmmaker. At times it’s really funny, and at times really uncomfortable to watch, as people reveal things directly to the camera that most people would find difficult to hear about themselves. It’s smart filmmaking with heart.
If you could have directed/been involved with any film ever made, which one would it be? Why?
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It is so well made and on such a tiny budget - that production design, that score - it’s a masterpiece in horror filmmaking. I’d like to travel back in time and be able to stop those fresh-faced filmmakers giving away their IP and working with a dishonest distributor.
What’s the first film you remember seeing? What was so memorable about it?
The Dark Crystal as I was terrified by the evil Skeksis characters. I know now they’re only puppets! Jim Henson’s puppets were always so amazing to watch; look at the creatures that they created for Labyrinth too.
What’s your favourite line or scene from a film? Why?
“What are they doing? Why do they come here?”
“Some kind of instinct? Memory? What they used to do? This was an important place in their lives.”
Basically all of the scenes with the zombies in the shopping mall in George A Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. It’s a real gore fest, and it satirises consumerism beautifully.
Favourite screen kiss? Why?
It would have to be the French kissing scene in John Waters’ Cry-Baby. Not the scene where Cry-Baby is teaching Alyson to French kiss, but the scene after where all the characters in the dance hall are slow dancing and French kissing in really over the top ways. It’s really gross and it’s really funny, like all of John Waters’ fabulous films.
Who’s your favourite screen hero and/or villain? Why?
My heroine would have to be Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver in Alien, as she is smart, tenacious, fearless, and manages to outlive all of her male colleagues, which wasn’t the norm in film back then. Villain, the wicked Baby Jane, played by Bette Davis, in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? as she is so cruel and violent to her sister and looks terrifying (in a good way) as she continues to dress as a child star as a middle-aged woman.
Who would play you in the film about your life? Why?
Ideally Elizabeth Hobbs would animate it, and create a fun, stylised portrait of me. Else Tilda Swinton as she is such an amazing actor; I was blown away when I first saw her performance in Orlando.