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15th LICHTSPIELKLUB
SHORT FILM FESTIVAL 2022 
Interview

Neeraja Raj 
Everything Is Good

Comedy / Sci-Fi / Experimental / Drama / Animation / Music Video
Tue 25.1. 20:00 / Kino Zukunft

A young woman finds herself coping with the creature that is living in her home, growing steadily stronger.

Hi Neeraja it's great to talk with you again, how have you been keeping during these continuing strange times?

 

It's been a very interesting year! I still don't know how we've got to 2022, where did the time fly? I've been keeping well, thank you. Recently, I got to travel around Europe & the Middle East for the tail end of the festival circuit for my previous film 'Meow or Never'; I'm very grateful I was able to do that despite the times. As much as I enjoy an online screening, it is another feeling altogether experiencing your film with a real-life audience, seeing their reactions, having conversations with fellow talent afterwards. Film truly bonds us all.

 

The last time we spoke it was for Meow or Never which went on to be shortlisted for the Student BAFTA and won the Women in Animation Best Film Award and Digicon6 Asia Silver Award, what has it meant to you to get this type or recognition for your film?

 

It's been an amazing feeling, to be honoured in so many different places around the world. What I cherish more than the titles are the connections and friendships I've made with people oceans away from me, who related to my film and reached out - it truly means a lot in this time of isolation. I was really proud Meow or Never was able to touch people's hearts during this time. The accolades only further help me get my film to more eyes, so it's always so exciting!

 

Does winning such prestigious awards add any additional pressure on you? 

 

It still feels incredulous to me that my work garners attention like this. As for pressure, I feel that regardless of the awards. I'm a bit of a perfectionist, so I'm always striving to make the best film I possibly could. I believe film is so important - and it's been a part of human consciousness for as long as it has - because we are able to examine different ideas through the lens of a story. It allows us to change and have our worldview challenged, without having us to go through every single human experience. When I'm telling a story, my biggest source of pressure is making sure that I'm telling it correctly, that I'm able to convey every emotion across. 

 

Your latest film Everything is Good is going to be at the British Shorts 2022 in Berlin, are you excited to be part of this incredible lineup of films?

I can't believe my luck that my films have been shown at British Shorts Film Festival sequentially two times in a row - Meow or Never was screened last year and Everything is Good is being screened this year. What an honour. Everyone in the lineup is so talented and it's so cool to see the genius of other filmmakers. I feel like I am always super inspired whenever I attend a film festival, there are just so many amazing creatives putting out strong material into the world. It really makes you think.

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What was the inspiration behind Everything is Good? 

'Everything is Good' was partly inspired by a news article I had read years ago, about a homeless woman in Japan who had sneaked into a man’s house and lived undetected in his closet for a year. She was caught on CCTV cameras that he'd set up after he became suspicious when food mysteriously began disappearing. 

This film came about as a part of NFTS's course where we had to sit with a writer, and each of us had to bring a character to the table; mine was the monster, her's was the young woman. As we collaborated, the goal was to build a deeper level of philosophical conflict in our story. By finding the conflicts in our own lives and writing them into the story to deeply examine them, we crafted the script. The topic of mental health was something that was important to us.

 

What made you want to tell this story using stop-motion?

I chose stop-motion as I loved how viscerally tactile it felt to animate the wiry body of Depression, the weight of the young woman's pain and the lack of the spring in her step. It is really a cathartic experience to be able to experiment and animate in real-time - materialize the metaphor of Depression, so to speak. I really enjoyed spending time with my production designer and model makers as well; crafting the little house, the cute puppet, the terrifying character of Depression and more. I believe this was the perfect medium to tell this tale.

 

How much more challenging is stop-motion compared to other forms of animation?

I love to play with different mediums, but stop-motion is definitely one I'm fond of. I think all animation is extremely time consuming and labour intensive - you need a lot of patience to be in this field. The challenges of stop-motion in particular are how you need to abide by the rules of gravity, the motion of time, hot sets, the unpredictability of how your shot would go due to natural occurrences that are outside of your control. There is a certain sense of letting go with stop-motion; oftentimes, mistakes that occur while shooting adds to the beauty of the shot. It feels handmade and authentic - sometimes you can even see the fingerprints of an animator at play! 

 

As an NFTS graduation how valuable was this experience for you and how did your time at NFTS help prepare you for your filmmaking journey?

The NFTS is a great school for learning a lot very quickly. You form a lot of great lifelong connections as well, with fellow creatives, it's really a melting pot of talent from all over the world. I think the school really taught me how to push my abilities to the best of my capabilities, tested my resolve and helped me understand how to tell a good story. The tutors are top class and they really make sure you have all the tools required to go out there and make a good film. I highly recommend the school to anyone who wants to level up in their craft.

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"People will tell you all sorts of things, but at the end of the day, if you think you can do something - go and show the world you can."

What was the first animation you saw that left an impression on you and inspired you to want to get into the industry?

I'm afraid I'll have to give a very cliché answer to this: it is Disney. I grew up consuming Disney films, especially The Little Mermaid, Mulan, Beauty and the Beast; they'd be on repeat every day I came home from primary school. I've got really supportive parents as well who let me draw and paint and film to my heart's content, so my childhood home had art all over its walls (framed art! I didn't draw on the walls themselves, haha). I think art & film have always been a part of my life so it was natural to continue to do that.

For any emerging animator out there do you have any tips or advice you would offer them? 

I think my main advice is and has always been: stay true to yourself. Tell authentic stories. Be bold. Take risks. People will tell you all sorts of things, but at the end of the day, if you think you can do something - go and show the world you can. Also - practice! A lot. And always have fun.

And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from Everything is Good?

I think there needs to be more of a conversation about how mental illness is just as common as physical illness. There is a serious issue with the fact that if we can't see it, we assume it's not real, which is not the case at all. I want this film to remind people to check in on themselves ever so often, take care of their headspace, always seek help if it gets too much.