14th BFI FUTURE FILM FESTIVAL, 2021

"WHEN I WAS AT SCHOOL I TREATED STOP-MOTION ANIMATION AND SCULPTING LIKE A HOBBY AND NEVER THOUGHT ABOUT FILMMAKING UNTIL MY FOUNDATION YEAR AT CITY & GUILDS OF LONDON ART SCHOOL."

Jessica Chowdhury
Early Grief Special
Animation 
Section: WHAT'S LEFT BEHIND

Early Grief Special screens as part of the BFI Future Film Festival from 18-21 February, free on BFI Player

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Early Grief Special takes place in a greasy spoon. It is the only place in London where people are allowed to grieve. Its purpose is to push bereaved people to feel better and move on quickly. A new customer arrives for their first meal, the Early Grief Special. They feel lost, alone and scared. Not wanting to face death and grief leads to the experience being even more strange and unsettling.

Hi Jessica thank you for talking to TNC, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?

Hi I’m very excited to get to talk to TNC, I think I’m holding up okay. Some days are lot harder than others but I’m trying to find my own ways of coping.

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?

Yes, It’s given me more time to think about new ideas. Although it’s harder to stay motivated. This time has made me realise how burnt out I am. Slowing down has helped me to get inspiration from the little things that are comforting. I’m more interested in playing around making things that I enjoy instead of fixating on my productivity and self-worth. 

Congratulations on having Early Grief Special selected for the BFI Future Film Festival, what does it mean to you to be part of What’s Left Behind section?

Thank you so much! I still can’t believe it. I hadn’t planned to submit to festivals when I was making the film. It only came about after my degree show was cancelled last summer. I thought submitting to the BFI Future Film Festival was worth a try. I’m so happy to be a part of What’s Left Behind section. I’m very excited to watch the other films. 

Can you tell me a little bit about Early Grief Special, how did this film come about?

Early Grief Special is a short stop-motion film I made for my final 3rd year project. It’s about grief, something that’s always on my mind but hard to open up about. The times I’ve tried have made me feel more scared, so I wanted to tell a story through puppets about a place for grief to be visible. Early Grief special takes place in a greasy spoon cafe for grieving people to move on quickly. It’s not a nice place to be in. It was quit therapeutic to make a safe-ish space to sit with grief and not feel ashamed. Grief is something that I feel gets ignored a lot due to how uncomfortable it makes us all feel. I really enjoyed making this film because it kept me busy throughout the 1st lockdown. 

What where the biggest challenges you faced bringing this film to life?

 

The biggest challenges were designing the characters, building the sets and animating it. I was doubting myself a lot while making this. I wasn’t sure about the story and I didn’t want it to be too personal and confusing. The storyboard kept changing. I found the animation process painstakingly tedious and lonely. It was hard to stay driven because the only thing keeping me motivated was the assessment deadline and that just stressed me out even more!

"I’ve always enjoyed watching films because they bring me a lot of comfort and I love going to the cinema."

Looking back is there anything you would have done differently on this film?

Yes lot of things! I wish I had asked for help.  That’s something I find very hard to do, especially during these weird times. I would’ve persevered more with the storyboard and not worried as much about what other people thought. I feel like I rushed the film in places and I could’ve made the pace a bit slower in some scenes. I was so worried about people finding it boring. I also would’ve experimented more with sounds and music. Finally, I wish I had spent more time on the puppets. They got worn out pretty quickly. 

What has been the most valuable lesson you have taken away from making Early Grief Special?

The most valuable lesson I’ve taken from this is to stay true to myself, be patient and that it’s impossible to please everyone. 

Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?

Strangely, I’m not so sure I have. I’ve always enjoyed watching films because they bring me a lot of comfort and I love going to the cinema. Watching cartoons like The Simpsons made me interested in animation. When I was at school I treated stop-motion animation and sculpting like a hobby and never thought about filmmaking until my Foundation year at City & Guilds of London Art School. That’s when I started to play around with puppets and model-making. Then studying Production Arts for Screen at UAL Wimbledon College of Arts got me interested in filmmaking. 

What has been some of the best advice you’ve been give?

Some of the best advice I’ve been given is to listen to your gut, take your work seriously but not yourself and to know your worth.

Also advice I’ve been given in the past that I didn’t find that helpful was “fake it till you make it” this used to make me feel bad, like being myself was never good enough. I believe that staying true to yourself is better in the long run than always trying hard to please others, it’s exhausting to keep that going all the time, you just get fed up. I still do this, it’s a tricky habit to break. 

"Ah I hope people will find a way to sit with their grief and feel safe doing so."

Should filmmakers continue to push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?

Definitely! It’s so important for filmmakers, especially young people, to push boundaries and share their stories. They deserve a space and more opportunities to have their voices heard. 

Do you have any tips or advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker? 

Yes, make the films that you want to see. When it comes to making a stop-motion film take your time planning before you start making anything. You don’t need to spend lots of money making a film, use what you have. The storyboard/script is very important so make sure it’s clear and easy to follow. Also If you’re interested in submitting to film festivals it’s good to save a bit of money for that because the prices vary. Don’t worry about submitting to lots of festivals (prepare for lots of rejections), look for a few that suit your film (quality > quantity). I submitted to ones that were cheap and/or free because I was at uni and I didn’t have a budget and funding. I just wanted to save as much as I could. 

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Early Grief Special?

Ah I hope people will find a way to sit with their grief and feel safe doing so. It’s scary to face it on your own and it’s hard when you feel alone, but there’s always going to be space for your feelings. I’m still trying to deal with this and my film is a reminder that there are no quick fixes. I don’t mind if people take away something different or nothing at all from my film, it’s just about grief and everyone feels/expresses it in their own way. Facing it is uncomfortable and hard. That’s why I love puppets because I can just hide behind them sometimes ahah. 

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