Interview with Filmmaker Oscar Lewis (1916)

Oscar Lewis’s amazing short film “1916” was the winner of Best Animation at the August 2016 Animation FEEDBACK Film Festival. It’s a terrific portrayal of our memories during a dramatic moment in our life. This film should be seen by everybody!

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Oscar Lewis: ‘1916’ was my first year film at the Royal College of Art. The November of 2015 – a month into my studies – London was filled with the memorial red poppies of Remembrance Day. I was quite moved by the ceremony of it all, and inside of the Royal College was a plaque dedicated to the students who enlisted during World War One and lost their lives; I’d walk past it every day to my studio and I decided then, that my next film would be about the First World War. Although instead of making a film about the war itself, I wanted to personalise the story to something I could personally relate to – something we can all relate to – the memory of someone we have lost. It also occurred to me that the year I would finish production (2016) would mark the centenary of the first time conscription was extended to married men with families in 1916. So in a way, the motivation for the film was a product of my environment at the time.

MT: From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

OL: So I suppose the initial idea struck me on rememberance day (11th November 2015), but I didn’t start animating until late January and finished around march. The turnaround for this project was very short and I was perhaps a little ambitious making a 4 minute film in this time, but I couldn’t condense the story any further and so the whole time from idea to finished film was about 4/5 months, having said that the actual animating took around 2 months which I did entirely by myself, every second of the film has 12 original drawings. So over two months I produced over 2000 drawings (so a lot of sleepless nights).

MT: How would you describe your short film in two words!?

OL: Charcoal memory

MT: What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

OL: The music and the dialogue of the film were real concerns for me from the start, I knew I could do the drawings but the music and script seemed a little more difficult to achieve (this was my first time writing a script). I first imagined the film to be carried by a Benjamin button song called ‘Cuckoo’. It went perfectly. I tried so hard to obtain the permission but they simply would not budge on the copyright. So I gave up on that, and I befriended an excellent composer from the Royal College of Music (Markus Zierhofer) who not only wrote the score for the film, but arranged to have a live orchestra play the music. As for the script, I was waiting and waiting for my script-writer to hand me something and I eventually decided to give it a go myself. I think that was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made because now, writing scripts is one of my great new passions. I failed English at school and never thought I had any talent for it, but thinking of words that fit with visuals seems to come more naturally to me.

MT: What were your initial reactions when watching the Toronto audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

OL: I was very touched. I’m not sure how to properly express this, but what I appreciated above all else is the fact that it was understood – I mean really understood – more so than anything anyone had said about it before or since. I made this film because I wanted to explain how you often don’t realise when something life changing is happening. And that memory is fragmented and imperfect like a ‘bad flick book’. I thought that was a very good observation. The fact that people openly said they were moved by this film really meant a lot, I don’t have any affiliation with WWI (obviously), but I know what it’s like to feel loss as a child. The farewell which you never dreamt meant goodbye.

MT: How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

OL: In a very simple way, the idea came to me because I was moved by something going on in my surroundings. And also, I felt that during the great precessions and ceremonies in London, that we still feel and care and remember the lost lives of a hundred years ago. But what is more poignant to me, is the millions and millions (an entire generation) of fatherless children that were created by the war.

MT: What film have you seen the most in your life?

OL: I think this is a great question and I would love to lie and say something I think is beautiful like Eternal sunshine or Mary and Max or anything by Wes Anderson. But the fact of the matter is that when I was a child I probably watched Dumb and Dumber at least 40 or 50 times, my brother and I knew the entire script and used to watch it with one of us playing Harry and the other playing Lloyd, speaking over the top. Films have always meant a great deal to me.

MT: What is next for you? A new film?

OL: I finished my grad film at the Royal College about two months ago, called ‘The Waves’, although it was well received and I received my MA with it, I felt strangely unsatisfied. Instead of the charcoal in ‘1916’ I animated this film in oil paints, the work load was at least tripled because of this for the same length of film (4mins). It’s a film about an artist struggling with a mental illness. As he paints onto the canvas we see flashbacks of his childhood as he explains the differences between the then and the now. So what I am up to now is re-working and tweaking that film ready to send off to festivals. Hopefully you will screen it next year! And then I’m not sure. I just hope to always be making films.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK of “1916”:

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Fesival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

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