Interview with Filmmaker Michael Anthony McDonough (WOOD EP. 1)

WOOD: EPISODE 1, 5min., UK, Animation/Sci-Fi
Directed by Michael Anthony McDonough
Wood is an animated adventure series that tells the story of a dystopian future in which humanity has been re-purposed.

Get to know the director:

1. What motivated you to make this film?

Wood started out as a music video produced for a friend around 9 years ago. The artist wanted another drab music video that would predictably be shot in the woods near London, so I suggested exploring animation. I developed several small 3D wooden bots across Maxon Cinema 4D (my main tool of choice) who would allow me to weave a story and world around the song, interspersed with footage of the artist of course! When finished the music video was picked up by a record label over in the states, so technically these little characters where on a screen-loop in some mid-west diner booth many years go, albeit briefly. Not long after this I decided I couldn’t just leave these cute characters to the portfolio archives as they had been well received by those who enjoyed the music video. So started a long, stop-start process of refining a narrative, key characters and fundamentally a world for these characters. As a 3D and Motion Graphics artist I started out with a very design-led rather than story-led approach which as you can imagine hit the buffers. Learning from this I started to pull in script writers, actors/voice artists and also post/music/vfx talent to continuously refine the world around these characters, a world that eventually become known as ‘The Wood Universe’. We’ve had a few spin off’s for the project such as ‘The Flooobs’ and ‘Byzantium’, all of which taking their design style and rigging approach from the original core Wood characters. The project is a journey for me too as over the last 10 years of negotiating challenging design briefs and even more challenging clients as a designer I’ve transferred my growing knowledge and creative skills to The Wood Universe project, all the while trying not to be too elaborate or too design-led and remember people mainly want to see a good story!

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

The project is ongoing. I’ve built most of the world and around 60% of what was originally intended to be a 35 minute movie. We decided to break the project down into episodes to allow us to gain more traction more quickly and it is hoped build a fanbase and general audience. Up until now, on and off ‘Wood’ and the encompassing ‘The Wood Universe’ collection of projects has been in production for 9 years. Most of the effort probably in the last 4 years to pull it together.

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

Exciting, different.

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

Time and hands. As an independent creative living in Central London you’re under pressure to prioritise client-led work so this will always pull on how much time you can devote to passion projects, projects you hope will one day replace the day job if they can be scaled up off the back of some success. The Wood Universe is very much still a passion project but we are looking continuously for ways to monetise our efforts whether that be working with agencies who like the style and have their own projects with a budget or more recently 3D printed characters from the project and other potential merchandise. Ultimately financial backing and a few extra pairs of hands on the 3D and motion side would be a boost!

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

I smiled, and I don’t like to get too excited because I often prefer to hear the negative feedback too as at that allows you to see where you are going wrong. Generally though I smiled because it’s not easy to get an honest answer from people on creative stuff. As we know, without spending thousands on marketing the social media algorithms ignore you from LinkedIn in to Instagram so getting feedback is hard.

Watch the Audience Feedback Video:

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

I didn’t. I trained to be an architect in northern England (I’m from Liverpool originally) but a few global economic crashes and a change of career direction later I decided to build my own business as a 3D, Motion and Spatial design artist. Film naturally drifts into this for editing, sound, music and other pre/post production. I’m a sci-fi fan too so that helps!

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

Christ, that’s hard! In the genre of sci-fi I’d say I like films such as Aliens, Prometheus, The Star Trek 80’s movies, stuff like that. Epic, sometimes optimistic but always adventurous big movies with big music and where possible some humour. I think these days sci-fi’s have great effects but sadly a lot of the stories are forced, contrived and dull. The needs to be a return to just good story telling.

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

I think if you’re not already there could be a more obvious way of taking film makers with great projects at the seed stage in their development and connecting them with those who have the financial capability, know how or both to take something like The Wood Universe and turn into the next Pixar! Make no small plans!

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

Honestly, it at times feels like a pile-on, with many festivals harassing you for money via discounts, festivals that I’m not that sure have even viewed the filmmaker content. I’ve had around 70 messages to request I submit my work to a festival but in many cases they take the fee, but don’t select the film. I think this is off putting for those starting out in film making or those with a small budget so perhaps something more honest and simplified needs to emerge for submitting projects.

10. What is your favourite meal?

I’ve been dragged into the world vegetarianism lately, so the jury’s out.

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

Next we are going into production on Episode 2 of ‘Wood’, the script and storyboard is almost ready and we have some professional eyes to look it over ahead of animating. Given we have an immense library of scenes, characters and generally smooth workflow for the project we envisage Episode 2 will be quicker to execute, fingers crossed!


By matthewtoffolo

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

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