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Cannes Film Festival
24th Cinéfondation 2021

Lina Kalcheva 
Other Half
National Television and Film School 
linakalcheva.com
United Kingdom - 13 min

As an Individual Being in a world comprised of Merged Couples, Ren longs to find his other half and become complete.

 

Hi Lina, thank you for talking to TNC, how have you been keeping during these strange Covid times?

 

Hello! Thank you for reaching out. I’ve been doing okay – thankfully I was only in lockdown during pre-production of Other Half, and we were able to continue the project in person since the summer. However, the restrictions meant that for a year and a half, I had absolutely nothing else going on in my life except for the film – so now that it’s over, and everything is slowly opening up again, it’s strange to get reaccustomed to all the different things I can do with my time!

Have you been inspired to take on any new creative opportunities?

 

I was fortunate to begin work on a job for a natural history film right after finishing Other Half – just some animated shots and graphics, which I’m working on with my classmate Ida. It’s been a really fun and interesting project, and a nice breath of something a little shorter and smaller – without having to worry about every element of production as during my graduation film!

 

You've just finished your MA in Directing Animation from the National Film and Television School, what has this experience been like for you?

 

A complete rollercoaster! It’s been the most creatively challenging and exhausting experience in my life and I have learned so much. I made my best work here, and I met people I will hopefully keep working with on many other projects!


Congratulations on Other Hand being selected for the 24th Cinéfondation, what does it mean to you to have your film part of this year's festival?
 

Thank you! It still feels so unreal – every person on our team worked incredibly hard, it was tough and time-consuming, and with covid of course there were constant setbacks. The recognition and validation from being selected feels like everyone’s hard work has paid off and was worth it because the film is resonating with people.


Can you tell me how Other Half came about, what inspired this animation?

 

We were inspired by the origins of love described in Plato’s Symposium – that we were originally “double” creatures – with two heads, two sets of limbs and so on, and the gods separated us because we were too powerful. This is why we need closeness, intimacy as if to grow back together into one. So that’s where the idea came from – representing love as two beings merging into one and sharing a body throughout their relationship. We thought the physicality of it – the way the “merged beings” looked – could visually say something about the relationship: codependency, a power dynamic, where the source of a connection is. With the original inspiration, framing the story with references to heroic quests and mythology felt like a really natural and fun thing to do!

 

What was it about Laura Jayne Tunbridge’s screenplay that interested you so much?

 

During development, I worked really closely with Laura and Michelle, my writer and producer. It all started with meetings where I would bring short films or art books I really liked or found inspiring and then we would talk about what resonates with us and where the crossover is, where there’s something we’re all passionate about. I had a vague idea that I wanted to do something fantastical or occult to do with a relationship, but it was the three of us working together that really made it what it is. I had worked with Laura on a previous project and knew I wanted to work with her again – she is extremely talented and always makes sense of my thoughts even when I don’t exactly know where they’re going. She encourages making things as weird and surreal as I like but can always connect it to something real and human in the script, that people can relate to emotionally, whether they are into fantasy and weirdness or not. Michelle is a really creative producer and always came up with ideas and solutions that had the emotional core of the film in mind, and made sure we never compromised on a part of the story of the world that was important to us. 

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Do you allow yourself much flexibility with a screenplay or do you like to stick to what has have written?
 

For me, in animation, the script is a very fluid thing. From the beginning, we would have a meeting, Laura would come in with a script, I would come in with drawings and Michelle with notes and we would reshape the story over and over again until we got to a place we were happy with to start storyboarding. But even then, once I started properly drawing out each scene, I would get an idea, or encounter a problem, and we would make further changes to the script. We even made a couple of changes during production when we thought something could be tighter or clearer. I tend to stick to my animatic quite closely once I’m happy with it, but definitely adapt the screenplay while it’s being developed. 


Have you always had a passion for animation?
 

Yes! When I was little, in Bulgaria we didn’t have a lot of channels that would show cartoons, but I remember we had an English version of Cartoon Network. I didn’t understand what anyone was saying but still watched for hours and made my own versions of the stories. And I’ve always liked drawing and painting, but animation didn’t completely click for me as something I really wanted to do until I saw more physical, tactile, experimental stuff – that’s when it started feeling like I could see myself in this field. 


How different was your approach to Other Half compared to your previous films?

 

Very different! I’ve never directed such a big team before, it’s only ever been four or five people at the most. It was also the longest film I’ve done, both in running time and the actual length of the production. I’ve been in school for a long time and this was the last thing I would ever make as a student – so I felt a lot of pressure to really use everything I’d learned, and learn a bunch more in the process. Not to mention that the standard for NFTS grad animation films is really high, so I wanted to live up to that. 

 

I guess that mostly came through in the technique we chose – a hybrid stop-motion/ multiplane/paint-on-glass. It was really challenging but I found that for a long project, I need the challenge to be able to stay focused. Every new environment meant we had to have a completely different approach to design and lighting and with my designer Eva and cinematographer Ebba we made water and underwater scenes, a starry sky, glowing doors and forced perspectives that drove us crazy trying to figure out. For me, this meant I couldn’t just go on autopilot and run with it, we had to constantly come up with new tricks and solutions to make it work. It was hard, but really gratifying once a really tricky shot was done. 

 

It was also the lengthiest and most extensive post-production I had done on a film, and I found out how much I loved it! I’d had some experience with post-production collaborators before but never to this extent, and it was incredibly freeing and gratifying to stop thinking so much about the technicalities of animating but more about bringing it all together, choosing moments and emotions to emphasise. Alex, Zoltan and Oliver (my editor, sound designer and composer) transformed the film in the best way possible and made me see it as a new thing – and I definitely needed that after the lengthy production period! 

"I had a vague idea that I wanted to do something fantastical or occult to do with a relationship, but it was the three of us working together that really made it what it is."

Is there any advice or tips you would offer a fellow animator?

 

Keep trying things you don’t know how to do! It can be scary, but the animation is a medium where you can always come up with a clever unexpected solution for something. As someone who gets a lot of comfort from knowing exactly what they’re doing, I’ve found that starting a day where I have no idea how to pull off a shot until we start putting it together means I’m always engaged and curious about the work – and I end up surprising myself with what’s actually possible to accomplish. It’s so important to trust in your own skills and the skills of your collaborators, who have invaluable points of view and will always have a different and unique way to approach a challenge. 

And finally, what do you want audiences will take away from Other Half?

 

I suppose to think about how often we change and sacrifice in relationships just because we have a need to be with someone, to prove that we’re good enough, or similar enough, or useful enough to them to earn their affection. Validation coming from someone else’s approval will never be enough to make up for our own fears and insecurities, and the relationship we have with ourselves shouldn’t be compromised for the sake of a romantic relationship with someone.