Interview with Filmmaker Tom Tanquary (HAND DRAWN LIFE)

HAND DRAWN LIFE was the 2020 feature film DOCUMENTARY Festival winner.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

At an very early age I became aware of the comics, or funny pages in the paper. They were this wonderful world that came to the house every day. As I got older, I fell in love with Pogo. But I noticed the way Walter Kelly drew his characters they seemed familiar to me from TV news shows, which I also loved to watch. That connection made both the news and cartoons more interesting. I ended up in a career as a journalist and film maker. I just always wanted to give back to an art form that gave me so much joy, inspired my career, and still inspires my work to this day.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

I started off just shooting “test” footage to get a work sample. From there I thought I could raise the cash to make it a real production. No one would give me money. But I met historian RC Harvey in the process. He was such a character I just had to keep going. That was 11 years ago. The film was shot on 6 different cameras and 5 different formats over the years. The post for it took 2 years alone.

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Sequential art

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

It is easy to say money because that is what so many things come down to. But really it was access. Worming my way into such a private and insular society, and gaining their trust, took most of the time and effort. With few exceptions, these artists are very closed off from any semblance of celebrity. They work at home and live very ordinary lives. They are the ultimate observers and rarely the participants. And I was the ultimate outsider.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

Of course, I was blown away by their comments. And I have to say, a bit surprised at how young they were. I wasn’t sure talking about such a seemingly old art form would have any meaning in this age of light speed communication. But they all showed a deep understanding of what I was trying to say/show. They could see how this form isn’t stagnant. That it changes and evolves with the times. That we are all truly hard wired to think and see in sequential art regardless of the medium. And that it takes a real talent to do it in 4 simple boxes and a few words. They got it.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

Once I came to understand the relationship among the artist, the newspaper, and reader, I knew I had to just connect the dots. It made for a longer film but to truly appreciate the art form you needed to see it from a higher altitude, a bigger picture. The story had a natural beginning, middle and end with everything connected. It might be old fashioned to be that linear, but sometimes that’s the best way to explain something.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

It’s cliché but Citizen Kane. There are 100s of great movies out there but it always helps to review what so many consider the best… because perhaps it is.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

It’s great there’s place like FilmFreeway to take so much of the work and frustration out of the submission process. Not to mention making us aware of all the festivals and outlets there are for our work. What a wonderful service.

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

More than likely The Rolling Stones “Give Me Shelter.” It came out at a very transformative time in my life and sort of set the scene for the rest of it.

10. What is next for you? A new film?

There’s always another film in the works. I also have several production partners and we’re pitching shows and docs in Hollywood all the time. It’s what you do here. More importantly though, I’m now a professor at Chapman University’s Dodge film school. What I hope I’m doing there is inspiring young talent to reach for the impossible and create the next generation of master works.

By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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