SHORT FILM FESTIVAL 2021
Imagine Hitchcock's THE BIRDS but with mattresses instead of crows: a humorous stop motion thriller following one woman's fight with urban fly-tipping.
Hi Gemma thank you for talking to The New Current, to say you put the 2021 lockdown to good use is a big understatement, how did you motivate yourself to be so creative?
I got into a routine and couldn't stop. I become obsessed with things quite quickly. Mattricide was my graduation film so I had a crazy tight deadline (5 weeks!) There's nothing more motivational than a deadline.
Mattricide is your graduation film from Aardman Animations Academy, what was this experience like for you?
The Stop Motion certificate course at Aardman was amazing, although it was all done online it didn't feel like it. I have become good friends with some of my fellow students and some don't even live in the UK. We were sent a lovely kit and armature to work with and had one to one tutorials. My tutor (Will Beecher) was nominated for an Oscar during the process so it was amazing to be working with such great people. The highlight was seeing Pete Lord animating Morph.
Congratulations on having Mattricide selected for British Shorts 2022, how does it feel to be at the festival and part of such an amazing line-up of short films?
Thank you. I am honoured to be selected for British Shorts again, they are such a lovely warm team and always have a brilliant selection, so it's very flattering. I have to say, despite living in pandemic times, there are so many brilliant films this year. I really wish I could've come to Berlin in person.
With everything that is going on due to Covid how essential are festivals like British Shorts Berlin in continuing to provide a platform for Independent British short films?
As far as I am aware BSB is the only overseas festival that selects only British films. Now that we are officially Covid Island and have the embarrassment of Brexit, it's so nice that someone out there still likes us. Since Covid, many festivals are creating a hybrid platform where audiences can view both online and in-person, I have a feeling this method may stay and that's really positive. All festivals have the potential to go global.
What was the inspiration behind your screenplay for Mattricide?
I live in Walthamstow (East London) where the streets are adorned with abandoned furniture. For some reason, mattresses dominate the area. There was one particular mattress on my street for months and it was in a different place every day. I loved the idea that it got up to mischief, like kicking bins over or being a Peeping-Tom when nobody was around. I've been photographing them for 12 years and have collected over 700 images. Since 2011 I have created an abandoned mattress calendar and it's still really popular. I have loads of overseas customers and I love the idea that someone in Wellington in NZ is looking at stinky London mattresses on their wall.
Did you have any apprehensions about taking on so much including building all the sets, props and puppets?
I was terrified about building the sets. It was my first time. I come from a theatre/stage background, which is probably why they are mostly flat like stage backdrops. I had to make an animated mattress and the thing I struggled most with was deciding whether it was a puppet or a prop. I definitely spent too much time fabricating when I should have been animating.
Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?
Yes and no. It's more important just to have a good story. So many films try to push boundaries for the sake of it. Just tell a great story and take us on a journey.
Have you always had a passion for animation?
Morph was my first crush. I wanted to live in that world with him. I was obsessed with the idea that all my toys came to life when I wasn't looking and that's probably where the inspiration comes from. I am obsessed with perfectly scaled miniatures, they give me the fuzzies. Playing with stop motion puppets is like playing with dolls - just a bit slower. I think we never truly grow up.
You're a self-taught stop-motion animator what was it about this genre of animation that spoke to you?
There's something about the slightly jerky movement. Jan Švankmajer's Alice blew my mind. The haunting movement and sound effects are mesmerising. You can't create an atmosphere like that in any other form of animation. There's also something so wonderfully charming about knowing that every fraction of a second someone painstakingly set up that frame, they probably pulled a back muscle or had a puppet face-plant 10 times but they got it to work. I believe you have to be a great empath to be an animator, really anal and enjoy being alone. Regrettably, I'm all these things.
"It felt kinda lame but then you realise that almost all human movement is based on a bunch of pendulum swings. Every time I animate, my mind goes back to that pendulum lesson."
Has your approach to your writing and directing changed since your debut short?
Mattricide is the 4th short film I've directed and I still haven't learnt to plan properly. I do LAVs now (live-action videos) - it's when you act out the scene you want to animate so that it helps you get the movement more naturalistic. You also find little subtle human touches in LAVs that you wouldn't have previously thought of adding, such as an eye roll or a little sigh. They are obviously cringey to watch back but I highly recommend them.
Is there any tips or advice you would offer someone thinking about getting into animation?
Learn about timing and weight - that's the main foundation. In my first week at the Aardman Academy, we did a pendulum swing. It felt kinda lame but then you realise that almost all human movement is based on a bunch of pendulum swings. Every time I animate, my mind goes back to that pendulum lesson.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Mattricide?
Hopefully a fear of abandoned furniture.