Having worked together for many years in different roles, Gus Filgate & Paul Miller embarked on a new adventure as co-directors in 2010. We catch up with the duo on their first short film Florette which won huge praise on the YDA shortlist this year; a black comedy that draws its inspiration from their own influences in the weird and wonderful world of stop-frame animation. You can see the full-length version on the YDA dvd of the shortlist.
Where did the idea to make this film come from?
Paul: The idea to make an animation came from a conversation Gus and I had about wanting to make a film for ourselves, I’d just come off a job that involved a lot of animation where day by day I took on the roll of lead animator. It was a foody job and I was moaning about the fact the food looked terrible compared to the stuff that Gus shoots. We just thought it would be fun to make something.
Gus told me about a shoot he did once which was a super close up of a strange mushroom which looked like a woman in a dress. I came back with a rough storyboard about dancing vegetables being hacked to bits by knives. It was a bit of a homage to Jan Svankmajer really, a bit gritty and old school.
You have worked together for 10 years in a different capacity, how did the dynamic change working together this time?
Gus: After we had done a few 3am finishes, and after our beards grew a bit and we started to smell, Paul and I learned telepathy, so that by the end we were like one person (who is quite smelly).
Paul: I thought we worked together really well right from the beginning; Gus is naturally quite a collaborative director I think, so the switch to co-directing felt really easy. We both had a very similar idea of what kind of film we wanted to make and we both enjoyed the freedom of not having a client so it was all just good fun.
Did you enjoy using stop animation as you havenʼt done too much of it before and itʼs quite a long film?
Gus: Animation is a mixture of problem solving, tedium, discipline and attention to detail. It is excruciatingly slow and painful. Yet somehow it is exiting and creative and a real buzz. This tiny little film took such a huge amount of time and effort to make, yet I have to say I loved every moment.
Paul: Yeah the animation was fun, it is total control over every frame. It suits control freaks like me and Gus. We got better and better at it as the filming went along. Strangely the longer it went on the less we would cut corners and we would spend even more time doing a shot. There is a huge amount of prep in each shot… the rigging, the photography, the lighting and then the mapping out of the action. When you get to taking that first shot it’s quite exciting hearing the shutter go.
Did you use any techniques youʼve never used before?
Gus: Yes. With animation, techniques become utterly crazy.
It takes you into some very strange places like trying to invent a stretchy ruler to help with smooth acceleration, like having to theorise about how an elegant sexy female broccoli might walk down a staircase, like persuading our regular film crew to be a herd of panicked vegetables whilst on lunch break so we could study them, like having to learn the ʻscriptʼ for each of eight or nine pieces of veg and stick to it over the nine hours it might take to execute a single shot.
Paul: All of it was new to us. We had some great fun with some exceptional lenses like the Excellence and the Probe for getting some of the shots. With the animation we used a technique called Go Motion for the knives to give them that smooth swishy feel. It’s very different to how the vegetables moved and it created a massive logistical problem in terms of rigging. The knives were hung off a magnetic board over the set that enabled them to swim around wherever we wanted allowing us to shoot the Go Motion.
Will you work as a team again or was this a one off? Whatʼs the future of the Florêtte collaboration?
Gus: As our Florêtte film essentially has little purpose this is an interesting question. But it has definitely awakened a love of the proper craft of animation in both of us. Animation we see nowadays is so damn clever, but what we like is the stuff with no CG polish and no virtual-camera 3D drama. There are limitless opportunities for storytelling within old school stop-frame, yet it is largely overlooked in advertising as a medium. More to follow? I hope so.
Paul: Gus and I are both keen to make more films. It’s been great seeing Florêtte do so well in the festivals. I guess it’s a case of clicking with another script.
Any other interesting stories of the shoot?
Gus: It struck me as quite bizarre that our broccoli, our leading lady, did in fact need to be treated just like a leading lady on a standard film set. It was hot, so she had to be kept cool at all times lest she wilt; which meant the moment she was finished in front of camera she had to be laid in a cooling bath with an ice cold cloth over her face, and popped in the fridge for half an hour to recover. That way she would come back on set fresh and perky and ready for action.
And of course she needed a body double… The body double I did NOT fancy, she was a bit yellow and cheesy and definitely limp. Based on this obvious parallel we considered shooting a load of off-set interviews such as vegetables as actors, talking to camera and being bitchy etc. I still kinda wish we had!
Paul: During the shoot we filmed ourselves doing the actions like vegetables for us to analyse frame by frame to see how the action should play out in the animation. Once, on a commercial shoot we were doing we got the entire crew to run around in the garden at lunchtime. Everyone had their own hoola hoop to make them vegetable shaped whilst we chased them with a huge knife cut out of poly. It was hilarious to see how much they all got into it.