STOPGAP IN STOP MOTION played to rave reviews at the November 2018 Experimental FEEDBACK Film Festival in Toronto.
Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?
Stephen Featherstone: “Stopgap in Stop Motion” was actually a commission. I have a studio in the art centre in the town that I live in and Stopgap Dance Company have their production offices in the same building. One day the producer for Stopgap, who I knew from meeting him around the art centre, approached me and asked if I could make a promotional film for the company that combined live action and animation. I knew from the moment he asked me that it had the potential to be a very creative and exciting project so I had no hesitation in saying that I could and accepting the commission. That, by the way, was the entire brief I was given so how I interpreted it was entirely open, which obviously made it an attractive project to be involved with as well.
2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?
I have no idea. I teach film and animation full time in a university so the film was made around that job over quite a long period of time. I worked on it whenever I could: before and after going into the university, at weekends and during the vacations. The film uses a cut out technique and, like a lot of animation processes, making the components to animate with was very time-consuming. A friend helped me with making the cut outs, especially by producing large batches of the rectangular cut outs that represent the photos in the film, but most of the intricate cut out figures I made myself. The animation was shot in doubles so 12 cut outs were needed per second. Each of the figures tended to take about 10 minutes to cut out (that doesn’t include the exporting of image sequences from the live action footage, adjustments in Photoshop, printing and sticking to card etc) and the cut outs of the dancers who used wheelchairs took about 20 minutes to make (I didn’t factor in the spokes of the wheelchair wheels when I proposed the idea of using this technique). There are a couple of shots in the film that feature six cut out dancers on screen at the same time. Although they are only 2-3 seconds long they took me about 9 continuous hours each to animate. I had to do 5 takes of one of them before I got it right. One day I might use these statistics to try to work out how much time was spent on the film but, as I said, at the moment I have no idea.
3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?
4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?
The making process I just described. This was the first time I’d used this technique so it was a case of working it out as I was going along. After the first couple of days of shooting animation, which did not go very well, I thought I may have taken on too much, but I was aware that I’d made a commitment to producing this film so I just knuckled down and got on with it. I also filmed it in the university animation studios and was having to shoot it when they were not in use by students and sometimes around other activities that were not conducive to intricate animation work. There was major rebuilding going on in the room next door during one shoot that took place in a university vacation. That was when I was shooting one of the 9 hour shots that I mentioned, so one of my takes failed because the builders tripped a fuse on the electricity supply to the lights. That’s a tad frustrating when you’re 5 hours into a take.
5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?
What was interesting and very pleasing was that the reviewers in the audience focused entirely upon the content of the film and treatment of the subject matter and didn’t talk about any of the making processes I’ve just expounded on. Very often feedback or questions about the film start with the making technique, which is great too because a lot of effort went into it so it’s good to hear what people think about it, but the film had a purpose which was to promote Stopgap Dance Company, their inclusivity and the individuality of the dancers, so I’m very happy that the feedback from the audience was very positive about that and that the ideas in the film came across.
Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:
6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?
Again, I don’t really know. The dance company’s website is designed to look a bit like a scrapbook and my idea was that the photos that are being used in the scrapbook come to life. However, I made a short proof of concept film for Stopgap’s producer to get approval for the approach I wanted to take and he said, “That’s great, it looks just like our website”, so I think I had the idea before I’d actually seen the website. The idea for the photos being on desks and table tops and surrounded by stationary and other objects came from Stopgap’s production office which is very idiosyncratic and cluttered. In fact, all of the packets of tea that are seen in one shot are actually borrowed from their kitchen. I was also inspired by the dancer’s rehearsal spaces which can seem similarly disorganised. I was interested in the idea that the harmonious dance performances emerge from this creative chaos.
7. What film have you seen the most in your life?
I show particular clips of films many times to teach students about them so some of these I’ve seen again and again. The particular piece of film I’ve returned to most often myself could be the hall of mirrors sequence in “The Lady from Shanghai”. I find that incredibly inspiring and it sets a standard for creativity in some respects.
8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are your feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?
I think it’s great and very user friendly. “Stopgap…” is the first film that I’ve entered into festivals via these online platforms and FilmFreeway is easily the best in my experience. All the information you need is upfront and accessible. Once you’ve uploaded your film and the supporting materials you can submit very easily. I’ve pretty much given up on the alternative platforms because they are nowhere near as transparent and easy to use.
9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?
I don’t really keep a tally of this kind of thing. Also, music is less important to me as a medium than film. That said, the bands that I’ve stayed with over the years are The Fall and Portishead and both exert an influence in different ways. There is a live version of “Roads” by Portishead that is the song by them that I’ve listened to most often. Harder to say with The Fall because they were so prolific and I go through phases of listening to different periods of their production but “Bombast” has always been a favorite.
10. What is next for you? A new film?
Yes, I’m working on a film at the moment that extends the cut out from live action technique that I developed in “Stopgap…”. I’m thinking of using archive footage (although I may shoot live action material) to make a fictional piece based on found writing.