Connective Narratives

Sona enjoys a simple self-sufficient life in her ramshackle countryside home. But now her neighbours are being forced to move, and industrial constructions emerge on the horizon.

A: No Place Like Home tackles some interesting global topics such as the rise of technology and industrial construction, whilst weaving in a personal narrative about relationships. How do you think these two lines of story connect and complement each other?
CB: To Sona, Mairi is, in a way just another aspect of her environment. And so she sees her the same way as anything else that doesn’t fit in with how she wants things to be, such as the encroaching industrial constructions or her imminent eviction: something she doesn’t want to have to acknowledge or connect with. The difference is that Mairi is another human being who tries to connect, and Mairi feels Sona’s act of pushing her away, and reacts inquisitively, so Sona is forced to interact in a way she is not familiar with. Sona seems to be in denial about her eviction, but in the end she will have to come to terms with this, as well as her stubbornness to connect with Mairi.

A: Where did the idea for the film come from?
CB: I was reading a lot about the highland clearances, and felt inspired to write a story set in a space that portrayed similar issues to those that were happening at that time in Scotland. I decided to bring the writing into an unspecified period of time and place, because I didn’t want it to feel like this was in the past, or that these things don’t happen any more, because they do. It could really be anyone’s story. This way I hoped the audience would feel more connected to the film.

A: Why do you think that animation is an important genre, especially in terms of grasping large-scale and universal issues?
CB: With animation anything is possible. Whole worlds can be tailor-made to a story’s particular needs. It lends itself well to universal issues because from a purely visual perspective, characters and settings can be designed in a way that is so abstract that nobody is alienated from the story.

A: Could you describe the physical process behind the short, including the construction of sets and other technical elements?
CB: After the script and storyboard were complete, Áine Woods made the puppets, working from concept sketches. Using the mood boards, set designs, story boards, and taking into consideration the scale of the puppets which were at the time still being made, the production designer Ailsa Williams and I worked together to decide what needed to be where, what parts of the set where interacted with and needed to be animatable. Ailsa was able to translate all of this into fully workable sets and props.

I really love reusing old things and recycling materials in stop motion sets, so where possible we did use a lot of found objects for the props, fabrics and materials used were all recycled, much of the wood for the set walls were repurposed from old sets. Ailsa has a great way of making a set look believable, the props really relaxed into the sets, they all looked as though they had been there on the shelves and in the garden, they had a life in that world. When the time came to prepare for animation, Mihail the director of photography worked tirelessly, setting up lights with perfectionism to coincide with the story’s mood, time of day, and space. He would set up the camera for each shot, programming in any focus pulls or camera moves, ready for animation. And always on-hand if there were any technical difficulties.

During the animation process I worked from the animatic for shot length and timing. We used Dragon Stop Motion Pro and all the animation was shot frame by frame at 12.5 frames per second, with the exception of camera moves and focus pulls. We had recorded the actors previously, so for shots with dialogue the audio was loaded into Dragon, which allowed me to lipsync the puppets individual mouth shapes to the phonetics. Fire, water and smoke amongst other things were added later in post-production, with help from very talented Hazel Leszczynska.

A: What do you think constitutes a successful animation?
CB: I think if the audience doesn’t loose interest then that is a good sign. I know if the audience is sleeping then that is a bad sign. So for me the story comes first, it should be strong and clear, watching it we should be able to feel some kind of connection, something relatable or familiar. The sound is equally important, music sets the tone of the scene, it tells the viewers how to feel. And if it is visually interesting on top of these things then I think it is very successful!

A: As well as screening at ASFF, the film has screened at Edinburgh International Festival and Glasgow Short Film Festival. Could you describe how such experiences have helped to develop your career and what they have meant in terms of showcasing your work?
CB: I think showcasing work at festivals is very helpful for developing as a filmmaker. It is a great platform for your work to be seen, where you can receive feedback from people, not only verbal, but the way the audience reacts to your film is the best way to see what parts of the film are engaging, and what is not working. Getting positive feedback from others can boost confidence and motivation. As well as this, recognition from film festivals generates awareness of the film, if it does well, it can send a filmmaker on their way to being held in high esteem, which of course helps with their career.

A: Could you talk about the funding behind the short, and how you approached BFI network?
CB: The funding came about through applying to a programme run by Scottish Film Talent Network: a partner of BFI Network. I applied for Scottish Shorts, which is a comprehensive short film development and production programme for new talent. I think about 15 film projects were selected to go through the development process. We had workshops every few weeks to develop the script, and at the end of this process six projects were chosen to be commissioned, No Place Like Home being one of them.

A: What do you have planned in terms of future projects?
CB: At the moment I am doing freelance animation work, and I don’t have any fully formed plans for projects yet, but I would love to make another stop motion film soon. It is the medium I love to work in so much. I do have the beginnings of a story, so lets see what happens in the future!

No Place Like Home screened as part of the Animation Category at ASFF 2016. Entries are open until 31 May.

1. Cat Bruce, Trailer for No Place Like Home. Courtesy of Vimeo.