"ANIMATION ALOWS SO MUCH FREEDOM WHEN IT COMES TO STORYTELLING AND WHILST IT DEMANDS SO MUCH DISCIPLINE, IT'S SUCH A REWARDING METHOD AND HAS MADE ME APPRECIATE AND ENJOY THE FILMMAKING PROCESS SO MUCH MORE."
Sara Hirner & Rosemary Vasquez-Brown
Glenn is a woman on an unwholesome mission, but just how far will she go to conquer the clique—and social media at large?
Hi Sara & Rosemary thank you for talking to TNC, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?
Thankfully, we have been very fortunate during this strange time. We’re both based in Sydney, Australia, where the COVID-19 response has been pretty strict and responsible. While we’ve had so much online festival success this year, we’re yet to attend one in person! The team at Sundance have been so organised and diligent in making the online festival as good as it can be, and we’re thrilled that GNT will be a part of that.
Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?
It’s definitely given us more time to focus on our creative endeavours. I think we often take creative inspiration from outside, but this year has given us an opportunity to take inspiration from inside instead. We’ve been consuming heaps of media, as has the rest of the world, which always influences our creative output.
Congratulations on having GNT selected in the Animation Spotlight section at Sundance 2021, what does it mean to you both to be part of such an amazing lineup of short films? Thank you, we are absolutely thrilled to be in Sundance! Being held up alongside such incredible animations makes it even more special. We got to have an early look at all the shorts in our program - we laughed, we cried and were so inspired by the diverse range of styles and stories that Sundance has chosen. For our first film to be next to so much talent and range means a lot to us personally and professionally.
How did GNT come about and what was the inspiration behind your screenplay?
GNT was inspired by conversations we’d have with each other and friends, and the lengths we would go to in order to validate each other's most outrageous curiosities and insecurities. We started with the characters and their interpersonal dynamic. We’re meeting Glenn, Nikki and Tammy at a time where they’ve sort of outgrown each other, but still have a lot of friendship history that they’re reluctant to let go of. For us, this always created a really interesting, realistic tension between the girls and their weird world. We started making comics with them, so when it came to writing the script we already had a plethora of ideas bottled up.
What was the experience like co-writing and directing GNT?
Our strengths and weaknesses are often opposite, so we were lucky in that respect. We had worked together on a few projects (including the aforementioned comics), and knew how to get in our flow. We have really different ways of thinking and creating, but both trust each other's work and creative instincts deeply. It made for a very fluid and genuinely enjoyable time. Even in the really challenging parts (of which there were many) we manage to find some symbiosis.
How flexible are you with your script, do you prefer to stick to what was planned or do you allow yourself to go in surprising or new directions?
We had a pretty strong idea of how we wanted it to go, with an aim to be inflexible and stick to the script. Needless to say, that fell apart pretty quickly. We wrote so many scripts - all initially spanning 20 minute episodes, that we knew we would have to condense down to 4 minutes if we wanted to make anything within our means. Our initial 4 minute film had an entirely different ending, which we decided to chop and change significantly. Our voice actors ended up being so impressive with the delivery, that a lot of their improvisation and flare made it into the final sound edit instead of our written lines. Stepping away from the plan, allowing everyone involved to bring their own creativity and adjusting to feedback tended to work best for us. I think we ended up being much more flexible than we originally intended, and for the better!
What was the biggest challenge you faced making this film?
There were a few major challenges. Deciding on a visual style that could compliment the characters and their world was extremely difficult. We didn’t want anything to look like a compromise visually, even though there were two sets of hands at work. Sound was another big one. We don't come from a sound background and were not well versed in the technical side of recording. It took us making a lot of errors before we made the decision to bring a professional sound designer (Jules Wucherer at Uncanny Valley) onto the film. All that stress paid off; our voice actors transformed the characters, and we love the sound scape.
Should filmmakers push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?
Stories can take so many ideas and forms, but pushing boundaries is definitely central to our own film making practice. For us, a film is more interesting if it is pushing its own limits, whether it be through style or story. We wanted GNT to sit on that edge between funny and off-putting. Turning something that is relatable and exaggerating it into the ridiculous is an especially fun way to push boundaries and keep an audience engaged.
How important is the collaborative nature of filmmaking to you?
Collaboration is everything to us, and extends through the entire making process. We were very lucky to have made this film in our Honours year at UTS, so we had constant feedback from our peers and teachers. This has definitely influenced the way we go about making now - from our very initial seedling ideas, we are already chatting, giggling and bouncing off each other. Our skill sets are quite different, so in order to physically animate the film, having the both of us is essential to achieving a finished product. Collaboration is about more than just multiple hands at work though, it’s about allowing each other (and this includes anyone else who may be working with us) the space to bring their own creativity to the project. It’s a way to filter through and strengthen ideas. At the end of the day, a film is made measurably better by layering different ideas, perspectives and truths.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
Sara: No, not at all. I loved watching movies growing up, and I doodled constantly, but i can’t say I was one of those kids who was making little movies for my friends (although Rosemary kind of was!). I think the passion came much later for me. When I started studying animation I became more aware of how diverse animation can be as a medium, and the kinds of stories I wanted to tell. I think I also needed that structure and feedback to help me develop my ideas and give me a foundation for self-discipline. Passion is awesome but the animation process takes such a long time that I think you need some other fuel to get you over the finish line.
"Being brave is critical to me as a storyteller - if I’m not scared then I’m not challenging myself."
Rosemary: Growing up my cousins and I would put together short skits or horror movies that made absolutely no sense but always made us laugh. Even today I enjoy making ridiculously bad short films with friends out of boredom. Hence filmmaking is very much a passion of mine personally and professionally. At a young age, I too was constantly drawing and sketching and eventually the two passions for films and drawing led me to animation. Animation allows so much freedom when it comes to storytelling and whilst it demands so much discipline, it’s such a rewarding method and has made me appreciate and enjoy the filmmaking process so much more.
Has your approach to your films changed much since you started out?
It’s always changing. One of the beauties of animation is that there are just so many options and materials to play with. We are continuing to learn and experiment with different styles and ways of storytelling. As the approach to making develops, often the characters have a natural progression too, so hopefully in the future we can take the ‘GNT’ characters to even more ridiculous corners of their world.
What is the best piece of advice you would offer an emerging filmmaker?
Rosemary: Maybe obvious advice, but take time to focus on your story and your characters before you start anything else. Take from real life when creating characters, because real people are always the most interesting ones. A solid story and interesting characters makes for the best films.
Sara: Mine would be to assess feedback and adjust to it. There were so many times while making the film that we received feedback we didn’t want to hear, and it was really hard to adjust to. Considering that audience and the feedback they give you, allows for a much more inclusive and clear story. It’s a privilege for people to be engaged enough in your work, that they want to give you criticism, so show it to as many people (preferably with more experience than you) as you can in the beginning stages.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from GNT?
Hopefully it will make them giggle, or at the very least leave them questioning their decisions on social media. We hope they leave wanting more!