A little bit more rambling from me before I get to the questions! Michael brought this project to my attention, and after watching the pitch video, I decided that an Interview would be a great way to go about discussing his project. It is something a little different, and honestly, that is what makes it so much more worth looking at. The topic he is covering, honestly takes a lot of courage to address, so...yeah, please read this, and consider backing his project HERE!
ME: To start things off, what inspired you to create this film?
MICHAEL: Overall, the film was inspired by massive changes that were happening in my life at a particular time. I had recently gotten out of a very long relationship with my absolute best friend. Simultaneously I had returned home after being away at college for a while. Once there I started to realize that my mother was not in a preserved state like I had left her, not forever the blonde-bobbed forty-something from my childhood, but like all of us, continued on aging. That stirred up a lot of other old emotional baggage regarding the loss of my Aunt several years back and how I saw her mortality reflected in all of us. And it was at this point that I truly began to realize that these fixtures we believe to be so permanent in our lives are also very temporary. These people, these places, these moments that essentially make us who we are come into our lives and then fade away. And for better or worse, we are forever changed by them. That no matter what, there is no going back. Only forward. Sad, I know haha. But in a way also promising. Such is the nature of change I guess.
ME: Why Stop motion animation?
MICHAEL: Stop-motion animation has always captivated me. Growing up, I loved the aesthetic quality of animated pieces like The Nightmare Before Christmas and the old holiday specials that were created with stop-motion. They all had that great "hand-crafted" look to them. You knew that those small figures, those scaled-down whimsical sets actually existed somewhere. And the imperfections within the animation only made them more special. More unique. And sort of creepy. As a kid it was like seeing your toys come to life. Nowadays everything is about achieving that "clean" look. Animators work tirelessly to get computer animation smoother and smoother, and somehow I find myself kind of turned off by it. I have always been a nostalgic person. Very obsessed with the past. And I find myself, as a filmmaker, constantly wanting to return back to stop-motion because of all of those nuances that made it so special. Because of that distinctive aesthetic that now has become nostalgic in itself as the medium fades away. And as the film has a lot to do with childhood, with returning to the past, I can't think of any better way to capture the spirit of it better than through stop-motion.
ME: Can you tell us anything about the story of the film?
MICHAEL: Sure! The film focuses on a young man at a turning point in his life. Like many early twenty-somethings he is lost in this limbo-esque gap between childhood and adulthood in which substantial changes occur in our lives. For him it is both a separation from his first boyfriend and a fear of acknowledging his mother's deteriorating health. In order to relieve himself of his emotional strain he creates an idealized, artificial version of his past in which everyone and everything that change has threatened to take away exist in perfect harmony. Yet once in this world he is faced with the question, "Is the fear of letting go worth losing the new opportunities that life has waiting for us?"
ME: Are there any movies that you'd claim as influences on your project?
MICHAEL: Definitely! Plotwise, I think the personal spins I have put on it, the boyfriend and the mother, are uniquely my own. But I have always gravitated towards, and been inspired by films that focus on imaginary escapism. Growing up I had a very colorful imagination, and I used it a lot. I guess I still do. So films like Where The Wild Things Are and Pan's Labyrinth resonate with me and inspire me massively. Also, I am very inspired by that "hand-crafted" sound-stage feel that movies used to possess. Similar to stop-motion, that aesthetic quality that something in a film was actually there. That it could be touched. That it wasn't created on a computer screen. And that quality, for me at least, often gives those film a very dark and creepy layer. Movies like The Labyrinth and Edward Scissorhands have definitely influenced the aesthetic of Stitch in this way. Also in my choice to go with stop-motion. And then of course a ton of actual stop-motion movies. Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline, Paranorman, Corpse Bride, Frankenweenie.... on and on and on.
ME: I find it interesting that you are crowd-funding a college project. A brilliant idea, do you believe that sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo will forever change, or have already changed the landscape of the college project?
MICHAEL: You know I think that all depends on the filmmaker. It's interesting you bring that up because I have had multiple people over the last month express surprise over my using crowd-funding for a college project. I never found this odd. Because when I'm in school its basically a given to utilize these tools. We have full lectures on how to effectively use them. Especially within the thesis program I'm working in at Emerson. So I do think it has definitely forever changed the landscape of the college film project because it allows us to connect with and inspire people like never before. And to collect money through such a simple, organized, and fast system. But I say it depends on the filmmaker because I have also seen a lot of campaigns either flat-out fail or used as a tool solely to bring in donations from close family and friends. What I have found thus far in our crowdfunding efforts is that if you are looking to get fully funded, and not solely by way of rich Aunt Helen, it takes a maaaaassive amount of effort and hours to get the word out and inspire people to contribute. So I think the amount of time and dedication a team is willing to put in really dictates the usefulness of crowdfunding.
ME: There are hundreds of film projects being crowd-funded right now. What sets yours apart from the crowd?
MICHAEL: There are a few distinct characteristics. First, I think that the overall themes of our film connect with people on a very basic, universal level. Old, young, gay, straight, white, Asian, Latino, African American, it doesn't matter. As humans, we have all dealt, not only with the bitter-sweet nature of growing up, but also with the pain and possibility associated with change. It's a relatable phenomenon that we all share. Yet I have come across very few projects that deal with this massive quality of the human experience in such a raw, honest way. I can't really say if thats better or not. But I have always created works that attempt to extract elements from profound experiences I have shared and project them purely into my work. I don't see that very much anywhere else.
Also, as a filmmaker my work is often both nostalgic and dark, combining childlike simplicity with very adult themes. Stitch will be no exception to this, with the combination of this very whimsical childlike world as an escape from these heavier adult issues. Then we are taking that concept even further by incorporating animation, a medium typically reserved for family and children's entertainment.
And then we have the film's relevance to the LGBT effort. Stitch focuses on an honest and poignant relationship between two young gay men. Unfortunately, oftentimes in mainstream media gay characters are used merely as stereotyped, cliched figures, devoid of any depth or complexity, to accent a preexisting plot line. In 2013 this simply shouldn't be. As a gay filmmaker I want to create honest representations of gay life that speak to my experiences. It is our hope that creating works like Stitch will aid in the fight to remove this stereotyped and offensive lens through which mainstream media perceives gay life. I can't say I've ever seen an animation of any kind attempting that.
ME: Stepping back to the Stop Motion concept... That must be intense. What unique problems would you say this presents over shooting a regular film, or even a standard animation?
MICHAEL: It definitely is a process. A labor of love lets call it. One of the biggest problems with shooting stop-motion animation is keeping consistency in your images. Lighting consistency. Fluid movement. Preventing camera jarring. As each frame is shot individually, it brings up a wealth of issues concerning errors like this that may occur between each shot. And it really only takes one frame out of whack to draw the audience's attention out. For the test animation I did last Spring, a 5 minute piece, I shot over 6,000 images. Obviously that leaves a lot of room for error.
Also time. It's a very time consuming art form. Hours and hours and hours invented into working with tiny sets and tiny actors for very short amounts of footage.
Oh, and working with your actors as well. As you physically manipulate these little guys you are forced to think of bodily movement, and how we express emotion through it, in an incredible in-depth way.
ME: From the site, I see that there is a pro-LGBT slant in this project. Do you think the current controversy surrounding LGBT rights will help or harm your project?
MICHAEL: Interesting question. I'd say it definitely goes both ways. I won't be going to Chick-Fil-A for a contribution, that's for sure. Our LGBT edge will definitely discourage a lot of viewers right off the bat who simply cannot see past their prejudice to appreciate art and storytelling. But our edge has definitely also brought our film to the attention of many, many people that otherwise may not have found it. People who have expressed great support and love for the film for its bravery in depicting gay characters yes, and also for its overall story. And when it comes to my artistic expression, I'd much rather stay true to myself and my experiences than sell out for the sake of distribution. That's a big part of the issue I think. Until we make an effort as LGBT individuals to fight to get our stories out there, we can't possibly hope for change.
ME: Considering the media portrayal of the gay community, how do you feel about their portrayal, and does your film seek to change that perception?
MICHAEL: Ya know, its sort of a tricky question. The LGBT effort has obviously come a long way in its grueling fight for equality. Yet we still have a long way to go. When it comes to mainstream media, the representation of LGBT life is still extremely stereotyped. And while I think it is safe to say that as a community we love the influx of positive LGBT representation in film and television, we also need to be aware of the spectrum of said representations. I grew up on shows like Will & Grace and Sex and the City and I adore the gay characters from those shows. They make me smile. They make me laugh. But the sad fact is that very few honest representations of gay life actually exist within mainstream media. I think now is the time when we really need to start looking at the lack of real life LGBT content in the mainstream and we need to work to change that. Change it by telling our stories in the most honest way we can. By refusing to sanitize the intimacy of our lives because it might make others uncomfortable. My film seeks to make these changes in the world by presenting a gay relationship in this manner.
ME: And my favorite finisher... Any advice to future film-makers?
MICHAEL: Gah what a question haha!! Simply speaking from my failures and triumphs thus far, I would give 3 pieces of advice:
1. Create honest content that is a reflection upon experiences you have lived. Experiences you know.
2. Keep creating! Never stop! Write, film, draw, draft, read, blog! The more practice you get the better your work will be. Yeah, you're gonna stumble along the way! But every stumble makes you stronger.
3. Don't ever be afraid to create. Just because people might not understand something you make doesn't mean its wrong or bad. Who knows! You might be the next artistic visionary!
Thanks for your time, Michael. Once again. Click HERE to check out his project. And if you are still not convinced. Check out his pitch video below.