Interview with Filmmaker/Animation Graham Hartlaub (CONTENT)

CONTENT played to rave reviews at the June 2022 FEEDBACK ANIMATION Film Festival.

What motivated you to make this film?

a. I firmly believe that the current use of the word “content” isn’t just grammatically incorrect, it’s unfaithful to the idea that everyone should be credited correctly for the work they do. You’re not a “content creator”, you’re both a podcast host and a gamer. You’re not a “content creator”, you’re an animator and a cinematographer. To me, it’s ironic that people want to be credited for the work they do, yet they give themselves such a broad and unjustified title. Your work isn’t “content”, it’s a podcast episode, it’s a music video, it’s a live-stream. You do a bunch of stuff! Be proud! I often think that saying something such as “Wow, I really like your content” is like looking at a Van Gogh piece and saying “Wow, I really like the paint”. Not only does “content”, in that context, not make sense, it’s just wrong. To quote Inigo Montoya, “I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

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

a. From idea to the finished product, almost exactly one year to the date. I got the idea in May 2021. However, I didn’t get to animating until ten months later. One month of animating, one month of editing, ready to print.

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

a. a start

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

a. Since I only had to deal with myself during production, I never really faced any obstacles production-wise, thankfully. However, on a technical level, figuring out the handheld camera effect was a great challenge. I got the effect by getting my camera on a shoulder rig, like I would on a live-action set, and filming large tracking points taped to the walls of my dining room, which I figured had the same dimensions as the grungy room where the film takes place. I first had to experiment and see which kind of shapes my computer could easily read as trackers, but then I would have to wait forever for my computer to track those points and render that effect. If I didn’t feel the need to do this, it would have saved me a month of work, but I loved what the effect did and I am looking forward to seeing how else I can incorporate camera trickery into animation.

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

a. The reactions you provided were extraordinarily kind! I am honored and grateful for the positive feedback. I would have absolutely welcomed constructive criticism as well, but I am very glad the feedback was presented as it was. I have so many other ideas involving this kind of style (cutout animation resembling both stop-motion and hand-drawn mediums), and it was nice to hear that people responded positively to the simplicity of the look as well as the complexity of the emotions I wanted the characters to express. Folks described the style as both “simple” and “realistic”, which is exactly how I want my animations to be read as.

Watch the Audience Feedback Video:

6. When did you realize you wanted to make films?

a. Do you remember that movie 9 from 2009? A Shane Acker film produced by Tim Burton? I was in fifth grade when the first trailer dropped for that movie. A dark, gritty, animated film backed up with a Coheed and Cambria track was the perfect thing for fifth-grade me to see because it told me that animation (a form I held deeply close to heart for a reason I could not yet comprehend) could reach darker areas of both the story and the soul. It felt like the movie wanted to grow as much as I did. That really inspired me. I want to make audiences feel that their movies (animated movies, family movies, etc.) are growing up with them, not just treating kids like kids, and adults like adults.

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

a. Either The Road to El Dorado or How to Train Your Dragon. I love, love, love those movies.

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

a. Having a film shown and hearing feedback directly from an audience (virtual or in-person) is invaluable no matter what stage you’re in. Somewhere in my heart is a narrative style that I think I know full well, but have yet to fully decipher and translate into a real motion picture. Presenting Content, having it shown, and hearing folks’ initial reactions as to whether or not I’m stepping in the right direction is immensely helpful. Again, one person in the feedback compilation liked the simplicity of the animation and another liked the complexity of the emotions which does, in fact, tell me I’m on the right track. Thank you very much for accepting this wacky, wacky thing.

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How have your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

a. Sadly, FilmFreeway gives me bad news more often than good news, so I’m biased. However that’s the nature of the beast. Your use of the platform is fully justified.

10. What is your favorite meal?

a. Spaghetti (with red wine!).

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

a. My next step is diversifying my skillset. I am very excited by the style used in Content (cutout animation blending elements of both stop-motion and traditional animation), and I will undoubtedly continue to expand upon that, but if I want to make a living by being an animator, I need to explore more of what stop-motion can do, so I’m building ball-and-socket armatures, fabricating costumes, designing sets, learning 3D animation, animating at different frame rates, skyping animators who are currently working, going back to basics and self-imposing exercises based off the famous “12 Principles of Animation”, and making, making, making. I also have a host of feature film ideas I want to get written and if people like Content, they’ll be thrilled at what the features have in store.


By matthewtoffolo

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

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