Catya, first let me congratulate you on the completion of this film. They say every film made is a miracle and you have created two films so far out of a trilogy. Meeting MacGuffin is the second film in the series and Hanging by a Thread is the first. Did you originally conceptualize this idea as a trilogy?
Thank you so much, Denise. It sure feels like a miracle every time I finish a film!
Yes, I had the idea to make a trilogy of shorts from the very beginning because I was certain that the futuristic universe that I was going to create with its unusual characters like Clothespin Freaks, Groundhog Climatologists, etc. would need time to develop and to find its audience. I also planned that Las Nogas, the last short in the trilogy that I’m working on right now, would be proof of concept for the feature with the working title Las Nogas: The Beginning.
You chose to create these films in stop motion, renown for being the most time-consuming, difficult, and most tedious genre of animation one could attempt. Why have you chosen this specific discipline for this trilogy?
Indeed, stop motion is a very hard technique that requires, among many other things, a lot of patience. It also helps if you have an obsessive-compulsive personality and if you love detail-oriented work. Needless to say, I fit both characteristics. Despite advancements with computer animation, I find that there’s much potential in stop motion animation particularly when you arrive at it from the visual arts. I’ve been a sculptor, painter and mixed media artist all my life. Although I’ve always felt most inspired by film and filmmakers, I didn’t branch out to stop motion animation and film because I wanted to try out a new medium. I got to it because, throughout the course of development of my diverse art creations, I became compelled to bring the Clothespin Freaks to life and give them a voice of their own. For me there was undoubtedly no better medium with which to accomplish this than with stop motion animation and film.
How long does a short film, in this case 9 minutes and 58 seconds, take to complete using the stop motion technique?
It took me three and a half years to make Meeting MacGuffin. I started it in 2013 while Hanging By A Thread, the previous stop motion short and first in the trilogy, was still screening at film festivals and museums worldwide. In March 2015, I started a successful crowdfunding campaign for Meeting MacGuffin which ran for three months. Production began in June 2015 of which Production Design (the making of all the characters, props and sets) took the longest, and in April 2016 — a bit more than halfway through production — I had enough footage for the trailer and promotional material. I finished filming the last sequence on New Year’s Day 2017. Postproduction, including editing and final mix for sound and music, was completed one month later. I released the film on February 2nd, Groundhog Day.
The animation style is riveting and strange in a mesmerizing way, but your film’s peculiarities don’t stop there. There are characters like talking Lost and Found signs, Clothespin Freaks, and Groundhogs with extraordinary climatology knowledge. How do you think up these elements?
It all started with the urge to produce work that reclaims the use of once-feminized materials, like thread, fabric, and clothespins. Before I invented the Clothespin Freaks I was working on art projects in which clothespins transcend their original function by relating to the human body. The pivotal moment causing me to create the actual Clothespin Freak character was when I started to look at the small clothespin as an analogy for the human body itself. Emphasizing the small and unassuming things in our lives, rather than the technological advances which have come to dominate our lives, I started to create the 78 “Clothespin Tarot” drawings, each of which centers on a specifically-made clothespin figure and an environment with manifestations of the original Tarot card implications. More projects with the as-yet “inanimate” Clothespin Freaks followed as they kept evolving and their universe expanding. I saw a lot of potential in these characters that I made of clear clothespins, dolls’ body parts and sewn body parts. Using the “four-eyed” Clothespin Freaks as my alter egos I envisioned that I could enlighten and entertain the viewer while emphasizing the importance of one’s imagination in our chaotic and mystifying world.
When I felt that the ultimate artistic challenge was to bring the Clothespin Freaks to life, I turned to animation and film. As the Clothespin Freaks moved into their futuristic environment with its own set of laws and rules, I ran with them and never looked back. In this post-apocalyptic alternative world, groundhog climatologists who not only predict the weather but also come up with solutions to fix it, and talking signs who don’t stand idly but lead the way to a better future, made total sense to me.
The apocalyptic storyline of Meeting MacGuffin reveals a world where humans have exterminated themselves due to their inability to care for the precious natural resources the earth gifts them. Are you optimistic that this fate can be averted for us humans and our planet?
The premise in Meeting MacGuffin and the entire trilogy is that 500 years from now, humans have “fallen apart” and only exist as body fragments. But there’s hope in that humans get a second chance by coming back as “Homeys.” So, yes, I’m optimistic.
My films are allegories of our times. They’re meant to wake us up in an enchanting and entertaining yet non-patronizing way. There’s no doubt in my mind that humans are the main cause of why our planet is in such a dire state. Is it too late to turn things around? I don’t know. And because I don’t know, I want to be hopeful. I want to believe that the desire and necessity to do better for the sake of all of us creatures on this Earth propels us to become less selfish and greedy.
Incidentally, a filmophile, who had just seen Meeting MacGuffin at the Filmets Badalona Film Festival in Spain, shared with me that he had never seen an apocalyptic film with a hopeful message until he saw Meeting MacGuffin. He was thrilled and said “You must be the first filmmaker that has created the ‘hopeful apocalyptic subgenre’ to the ‘apocalyptic genre!’“ That made me really happy.
Do you see the threat to our planet as the most severe danger to our existence? How much responsibility do filmmakers have to address these issues?
Absolutely. Our existence is in peril because we’ve abused and continue to abuse our planet. We’re our own enemies.
Our culture is obsessed with media. Everybody is watching something at all times.
Film is a powerful tool capable of reaching millions of people in an instant, so in that sense, I do think that filmmakers have a responsibility. There are films that simply wish to entertain and that’s totally fine. But when a filmmaker uses her work to reflect and comment on a particular issue of the contemporary world and culture, her artistic vision can educate and enlighten the viewer, therefore allowing for the status quo to be questioned and possibly changed. That’s called protest art. I consider my films, and all my art projects, for that matter, to be protest art because they really reflect our times.
Who do you see as the audience for this ecological apocalyptic trilogy?
Anyone who’s concerned with the natural environment and the place of humans within it can be drawn to this ecological apocalyptic trilogy. Generally, people who like protest art also like the shorts trilogy. Even those who may not agree with the trilogy’s premise have found it interesting and entertaining and are open to a debate. In my audience are people of all ages from all walks of life who love genre films, sci-fi and fantasy in particular, and who share my passion and appreciation for handcrafted stop motion animated films. Critics, artists, filmmakers, filmophiles and cinephiles who pick up on the Hitchcock nods in my films and like surrealism are attracted to it as well. Viewers who enjoy quirky characters and imaginative, humorous storytelling that reflects on serious issues have found the trilogy very appealing.
We watch the Clothespin Freaks on a mission to rewire the pieces of what is left of the human race. The fragments of humans you chose to have scattered about the land are the brains, pelvises, and feet. Is there a significance to these body parts that you wanted to accentuate?
When choosing the human fragments, I asked myself what parts, at a minimum, would be needed to build a semi-functional, stable body resembling a human being. I decided that feet, pelvises and brains would do it. Feet are our instruments to make contact with the earth, they make us grounded. In fact, I gave the Homeys rather large feet because I wanted to comically demonstrate that these new humans are much more grounded than their predecessors. Pelvises, the vessels for reproduction and sexuality hold our emotions, and brains symbolize human cognition.
Why is it important for the Clothespin Freaks to resurrect a race that was so stupid as to cause its own demise and did that much damage to its home planet?
Beats me. It’s a mystical question only the Clothespin Freaks will be able to answer. Just kidding! I guess the romantic and idealist in me embraces the concept that an alien two-headed breed, that’s so apparently “freakish” and yet so much smarter (after all… two heads are better than one) and kinder than us, such as the Clothespin Freaks, would find us important enough to give us a second chance to redeem ourselves by making things right on our home planet while we (hopefully) still can.
How do you design a fantastical world of characters never before seen, with poppy sound effects and mesmerizing animation but at the same time keep the story grounded and very relatable to us humans?
It was very important to me to make this fantastical world relatable to humans. After all, the story is about us and our impact on our environment. The actors played a big role, so to speak, in accomplishing that. Their wonderful voices brought a wide range of human emotion to the unusual characters which made them believable. Some dialogues made comical references to other movies, like the one to Frankenstein when one Homey says: “It’s so good to be alive!” Another example is when a female Homey, endowed with a Marilyn Monroe-esque voice, says: “Oh, it’s so good to see you‘all.” The music was crucial as well. I was lucky to work with composer and musician Zac Zinger on creating the right score for the film. I decided that a musical arrangement slightly reminiscent of Danny Elfman would help to ground the story even more and make it identifiable within the genre of animation. The viewers would be more likely to connect as they may be familiar with Elfman from other animated films like Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas.
Are you inspired by dystopian stories and, if so, which authors/books are your favorites?
My all time favorites are Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Time Machine by H. G. Wells and Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World.
You accent the quirky characters and animation with a brilliant sound design that somehow encompasses both the hope and the tragedy your story tells. What direction did you give to sound designers to accomplish that?
The sound designers I worked with were outstanding. They have collaborated on many animated films and know what’s involved. They also completely got the serio-comic flavor of the MacGuffin story and understood that it had to express both the hope and the tragedy. It was a thrilling sensory experience to work with the Foley artist Matt Davies. We would discuss at length and in detail characters and scenes in order to get as close as possible to their specific “flavors,” textures, and sounds. Our inquiry would always start with the question: what does the character or scene sound, smell, feel like? Matt would take my answers and translate them into the appropriate sounds with whatever means or materials possible. A truly fascinating process.
Richard Steven Horvitz and Misty Lee voice your main narrators of the story, bringing their respective characters to life. How do you cast for an animated film?
I had a very clear idea of how I wanted my puppets to sound. For example, the bird character Hitch, a cross between a vulture and a parakeet or “vulkeet,” who, as the “Director” within Meeting MacGuffin “frames” the film by appearing at the beginning and at the end of it, had to sound like Alfred Hitchcock! It was not easy to find an actor who could match Hitchcock’s voice well. After searching for “Hitchcock voice imitations” online and calling a few agencies, I finally found John McBride via Voices.com.
McBride’s voice imitations are really good. He also did a Sean Connery impression for Sprout, the Homeys’ hair maker, and voices for some of the male Homeys.
The wise, dapper, blue-eyed groundhog climatologist Gormal MacGuffin called for a fine voice and a British accent. The voiceovers for Martin, the gecko in the GEICO television commercials, were just what I had in mind. One of the actors who played the gecko is Richard Horvitz who’s known for his outstanding voice work in Angry Beavers and Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. I sent Richard the script and a few sketches of the character through his agent and he loved it.
For the female protagonist, the animated sign and Gormal’s companion named LF (acronym for Lost & Found), I imagined someone resilient, smart, cheerful, and enthusiastic: a go-getter with a feminine but strong voice. Richard Horvitz’s agent recommended the awesome actress and voice talent, Misty Lee.
I’m happy to say that both John McBride and Misty Lee are coming back in Las Nogas as Hitch and Alma respectively.
Will you continue to work in stop animation for your future projects or do you like to experiment with different film styles?
Absolutely! I love stop motion animation. It’s a medium with endless possibilities that’s perfectly suited for me. But having said that, I’d also be open to collaborating on projects like documentaries or mockumentaries that combine animation and live action.
Have you ever shot or would you like to shoot a film with live actors?
Yes, my very first film, The Reading (2011), is a stop motion animated film with some live action mixed in; the live actor I worked with was the cheapest one that I could find, namely me. I’d really love to shoot a stop motion animated film with live actors where the actors would be animated or pixilated, like in the films of Norman McLaren and the Bolex Brothers. Pixilation is a stop motion technique where live actors are used as a frame-by-frame subject by becoming a kind of living stop motion puppet.
When can we expect the third film in this trilogy? Did I hear there is a prized script already finished?
I’ve just started production on my third film Las Nogas. Most of the puppets, like the Clothespin Freaks, Homeys and Gormal MacGuffin, are reprising their roles from Meeting MacGuffin but needed some “restorative” care. Hitch and Alma had to be reconstructed as they’ve evolved significantly since their last appearances in Hanging By A Thread and Meeting MacGuffin. Important characters, like the Bees and Queen Bee are completely new.
Making the puppets is very time-consuming as they’re all handcrafted and it takes time to make them well. I’m currently in the Production Design stages constructing the sets and making all the props. This stage will probably last up to 9 months. As of now, the expected release for Las Nogas is 2021.
Yes, you heard correctly. In July 2019, I finished my short script for Las Nogas and in August I submitted it to the Academy Awards-qualifying Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival for their 2019 Screenplay Competition where it just won the Grand Prize for Best Animation Script.
I’m thrilled about the award, but I’m equally or even more excited about having started conversations with producers and investors about my stop motion feature Las Nogas: The Beginning, which is currently in development. So, while I’m already at full throttle on producing Las Nogas, the last short in the ecological trilogy, my ultimate goal is to bring the Las Nogas: The Beginning stop motion feature to the world. Producing a feature, and, on top of that, a stop motion one, is a whole different beast. But 2020 is here and the conversations have started. I’m full of enthusiasm and ready to take on this new challenge.
You can learn more about Meeting MacGuffin on the film’s website, Facebook, and Wikipedia page. You can stream it on Amazon Prime and watch the trailer on Vimeo. To see what else Catya Plate has done, take a look at her profile, website, Twitter, and Instagram. Learn more about Denise by visiting her profile.