Tuesday, June 09, 2009

AFF Filmmaker Follow Up with Josh Raskin

Josh Raskin has been making sounds and pictures for as long as he can remember. After a four year romance with the new media program at Ryerson University in Toronto, Josh appears unwavering in his tendency to keep doing so. With a small number of short films and a growing arsenal of misguided musical forays under his belt, his affinity for appropriating old things, mucking with them, and reupholstering them in terrifying new ways remains persistent throughout his work. When not making sounds or pictures, Josh spends his time sharpening his dangerous ping pong skills, taking alarmingly long baths, and avoiding getting a proper job. He also enjoys Indian food, The Beatles, sleep, girls, bicycles, girls on bicycles, wine, cats, Super Nintendo, accidents, swear words, tea, Biggie Smalls, and lists of things he enjoys. 

AFF was happy to catch up with Josh and discuss the amusing and remarkable story of "I Met the Walrus" which screened at the festival in 2007.

 1. Tell me about your film that screened at the festival.

"I Met the Walrus" is a short about a boy who snuck into John Lennon's hotel room in 1969 for an interview. The film takes the audio recording of this interview and sullies it with animation.

 2. How did you get involved with this project?

Jerry, the boy who snuck into John's hotel room, grew up to be a lawyer who found me and asked me to make a movie about his experience. He originally wanted to do a feature length documentary, which terrified me a bit, so I pitched the idea of animating directly to the interview and throwing everything else out the window. To my shock, he was all for it.

 3. “I Met the Walrus” has a very peculiar type of animation. Did you see this type of animation when you first heard the recording? Or did you go through several other versions before deciding?

This was the only version. There was no real testing phase and no storyboards. I wrote an animation script outlining everything that would happen onscreen, James Braithwaite made all the drawings, Alex Kurina made all the digital bits, and then I made it all wiggle around with a computer. I wanted to put the viewer inside the head of a 14-year-old kid faced with their rock god idol, who was probably too overwhelmed to process the meaning of John's words. So the idea was to make literal visualizations of the words flow into each other without interpreting their meaning. The resulting style seemed like the only reasonable way to do it.

Stills from "I Met the Walrus"

 4. Do you feel that putting this famous encounter to images was important?

I think the interview is a pretty amazing historical document. John's words seem as relevent now as when the interview was recorded in '69. So the chance to create a vehicle for people to hear it was a huge honor. But I don't think it needed to be put to images necessarily. Animation was just the only way to tell the story we wanted to tell. It also gave us the opportunity to animate cats having sex, which was impossible to pass up.

 5. The film eventually received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Short in 2008. Did you know that the film would be so well received when making it?

I had no idea what people would think of the film. Making it was such a slow, personal process that by the time it was finally finished I wasn't sure it would make any sense to other people at all. But it was done the way it had to be done, and the rest was out of our hands. The fact that people have responded so well to it never ceases to flatter and confuse the shit out of us.

 6. How much did you collaborate with Jerry when animating?

Given that we were working with something so personal to him, Jerry was unbelievably trusting. He would stop by every few weeks to see how things were going, we'd show him a few seconds of animation, he'd giggle like a school girl and run off again. Somehow we had gained his absolute faith that if left to our own devises we wouldn't bugger the whole thing up. 

 7. Do you feel that your participation in festivals was important for the success of “I Met the Walrus”?

I feel that our involvement in festivals was a huge part of the film's success. Outside of festivals, there aren't many places that showcase short films... other than the internet. But the best way to see a movie will always be in a theater. 

 8. How have you changed as a filmmaker since making this film?

Making this film was pretty cathartic for me. There's a lot in it that I needed to get out of my system. If anything, completing it made me a lot less interested in doing another animated film. I'm pretty excited to move on and try other things.

 9. Was there a film or films that inspired you to get involved with animation?

I grew up on Monty Python, so I guess Terry Gilliam was a big influence in terms of animation. But I was just as influenced by The Beatles, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Michel Gondry, Indian food and girls.

A still from "I Met the Walrus" depicting John Lennon's comments on the meaning behind The Beatles tunes.

 10. What are you working on now?

I'm working on a record. I steal other people's music, bash it into tiny bits, then put it back together to make new songs. It sounds a bit like what would happen if Axel Rose, Thom Yorke and Biggie Smalls had sex with each other.

Watch "I Met the Walrus" (5:15)

Its not too late to enter your film!

Late post-mark deadline: July 3rd

Very late deadline: July 15th

Just one more you reason you should be at the Austin Film Festival & Conference in October...

This year's panel discussions will feature case studies of the writing and script-to-screen production process with the writers and creators for such films and shows as Twilight, "Lost", Valkyrie, Watchmen, The Secret Life of Bees, "Mad Men" and the HBO hit series "Entourage".

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