Academy Award nominee (Best Animation for Rejected) Don Hertzfeldt, one of the most inventive animators today, spoke with Paste about his newest short film Everything Will Be OK, which won Fantastic Fest’s animation competition.
Paste: We were talking earlier about how you can evoke emotion from these simple drawings and about “Peanuts” and how Charles Schulz did things.
Don Hertzfeldt: I was talking to someone at Sundance about how everyone in the world has enormous empathy for this character Charlie Brown who’s just a circle and a couple of dots and a squiggly line. We were talking about how that relates to Bill in Everything Will Be OK, his triumphs, his tragedies. How it has a similar effect on people. It’s been interesting to see the film on the road because it’s brought people to tears. That’s something real new for me. I think it’s the whole death thing. I tend to write, sometimes, not just what I know, but what I’m afraid of. In the earliest draft, [Bill] was going to die but that was like letting him off the hook. Death is the easy part. What’s hard is living and going on with all this stuff he’d been dealing with.
It’s probably the most fun I’ve had working on something since Rejected. I knew right away it was going to be a longer thing. Like, okay, this is just chapter one. Chapter two—it’ll be in theaters next year. And chapter three, I’ve kind of got the first bits of writing for that.
On his unique animation technique:
I’ve got an antique, 35 mm camera rig. It’s an animation stand. My best guess is it was built in the late 1940s. It was very likely the same camera that was used to build the old “Peanuts” cartoons from the 1960s.
It’s got an amazing history to it. It’s beautiful because it’s simple. Without exaggeration I can say my last two or three films would not have been possible without this camera. There’s no computer. There are no visual effects, post production, using nothing other than 1940s technology. It’s kind of a shame that you’re going to find these cameras dumped on the sidewalk in Burbank these days. We’ve got a hundred years of amazing film technology to play with so why would we want to limit all these toys? I want to see Technicolor come back. Most animators and students these days are stuck using equipment that’s maybe only three or four years old. And when you see everyone working from the same palette like that, in animation especially, you start to notice that everybody’s movies are looking the same.
I’ve had many nights where I’ll wake up and I’ll look at the pencil tests from last night and look at the piles of artwork and it’s almost like the “magic elves” came out and did it for me. I don’t know where half the ideas came from. It’s almost like they’re not mine anymore.
On the tube:
It’s very young right now, but I’m developing something for television that’s kind of top secret. It’s brand new and it’s not related to anything I’ve done yet.
You can find out more about Don Hertzfeldt’s films at BitterFilms.com.
El Orfanato (The Orphanage)
After directing one of the best films of 2006 with Pan’s Labyrinth, Spaniard Guillermo del Toro is producing rookie director Juan Antonio Bayona’s El Orfanato about a ghostly, old orphanage that keeps dark secrets. In the spirit of 1963’s The Haunting, this project is beautifully filmed with a gritty performance from Belén Rueda.
Aachi and Ssipak
Fantastic Fest ringleader Tim League believes Pixar and Dreamworks could learn from this way out Korean film. I agree that it deserves kudos for imagination, albeit a very sick one. In a future, post-apocalyptic time, defecation and popsicles save the world.
Death Note and Death Note: The Last Name
Two of Japan’s most popular films, Death Note and its sequel, Death Note: The Last Name, make for a great double feature. Manga influenced, but not animated, it follows the trail of a book that gives its holder the power to kill simply by writing the victim’s name. Although a little predictable, it's still worth a night on the couch when the DVDs come out. More sequels are said to be in the works.
The Girl Next Door
It’s interesting that the most horrific film of Fantastic Fest—an event known for its celebration of exaggerated fiction teeming with creatures of the night, sci-fi psychos and apocalyptic possibilities—is a film based on a true story. Adapted from the novel by Jack Ketchum, The Girl Next Door graphically follows the torture, rape and eventual murder of a 14-year-old girl at the hands of her aunt, cousins and neighborhood children. It is a hard one to recommend, however, in that the aforementioned films on defecation and ghosts have more redeeming value. The script is big on explaining what happened but falls extremely short on explaining why. But Blanche Baker’s portrayal of the sadistic Aunt Ruth is nonetheless riveting.