May 28th, 2015
ShortFilmWindow is actually a conspiracy (by short filmmakers - that is us) to help filmmakers gain complete control over the distribution of their material. By doing this, we hope that filmmaking will be as democratic and as ubiquitous a pursuit as any other art form. For this purpose, we always like to meet people who have managed to successfully create a brand for themselves, people who have leveraged their craft and the surrounding technology to create a self-sustaining pipeline of film production.
This week we would like to introduce you to PES (pronounces as one word). If you do follow the world of short films, PES is no stranger. He makes rather short, 2-3 minute stop motion animations and has been nominated for Oscar for his 95 second short called Fresh Gaucomole. He enjoys a cult following and has lots of ads coming his way. In short, he has an ideal life where he can focus on his craft, without compromises and at the same time, raise money and sustain his life as an artist.
Recently he made his new film online called Submarine Sandwich. A harmless 2 minute film, took him 6 months of preparation and 7 weeks of shoot (the irony of stop motion is the more real and effortless it looks, the more effort one needs to devote to it). Our team got really excited when he agreed to do an online hangout with us, answer our questions and also of the animators who have been following his work for last 5-6 years.
The online jamming session happened Monday morning at 9 and it was really fun to discuss with him – how he started, found his voice and created his brand. It was sort of a free flowing conversation and it is difficult to lay it down as Q&A. We thought, best is to present the material the way we arrived at it.. Hopefully, the filmmakers will gain a useful insight and find a way to apply it to their own work.
On devoting my life to my own ideas …
"I madored in English Honours and worked for an advertising agency in New York. I was always an artisitic kid, painting drawing all the time, and my parents supported my interest in fine arts. In college and I studied all forms of print making and would write and illustrate own books. I used to like making “stuff”
Post my graduation in late 1990s, I went to New York to work in advertising agency and was exposed to world of short film cinema. It was a great time and lot of independent artists were creating some great work. I found interesting and highly engaging content - short films, music videos and ads – especially Sweden and Netherlands.I gradually found all my artistic endeavors coming together in film as an art form. I quickly realized that the medium of today is film as distributed through internet.
Some of my initial films were live actions available online. I gradually began to realize that I wanted to make my life as an artist…wake up everyday and make what I want to make… and devote my life to my own ideas… I was keen to find my own voice."
On not having expertise over painting and drawing…
" I was aware that I was not the greatest artist – I didn’t have too much expertise over the medium of painting and drawing and I knew what I did wouldn’t make a great art – I was looking for a place where I can be unique, an area that was new and fresh and not done before… I came across the work of Jan Švankmajer. I found him exploring lots of ideas that I felt immediately that they meant something to me..I took inspiration from his work but I didn’t enter so much of surrealism as he did as I like definitive narratives …But coming across his work was a turning point..I went and bought all his work (those days were the VHS) and devoured them all."
Roof sex with 2 chairs and doll furniture from EBay…
"That was my first animation film. I was not formally trained in animation. I just studied stop motion films I liked and understood some principles and learned and watched the masters- brothers quay and other stop motion classics.
There was a time I ordered doll furniture of ebay my roommate thought I was going crazy and weird…but I did lots of practice on them, shot them and exposed the film and watched it on projector and learned from my mistakes incrementally. In the process I realized that it came naturally to me and it was exciting to bring things to life.
That was a time before youtube so I made a Quicktime file and sent the video across to friends via email. And it became famous, just by word of mouth. I felt a great joy to realize that an idea came out of head and I could put it into the world and millions of people could see it. Internet was this amazing place where you can put out an idea and watch it affect people.."
Avacodas that looked like grenades…
We went on to discuss about how he use simple everyday objects and transform them into something else and we were discussing how he arrived at interesting substitutes for real world objects..lots of the things got traced to his exposure to art as a kid, and his experience in learning print making, understanding textures and patterns.
"I think lots of it comes from my own sense of humour – things reminding me of other things.. Mostly it starts with one idea that I really really like I find a home for it…e.g Avacodas that looked like grenades… It is intuitive but I also evaluate the objects and I normally do a rough shoot before I do the final one so that helps.."
On short and rewatchable and on hardwork that goes in – animatics and shot breakdown and on being FEARFUL..
"I used to visit lots of film festivals and felt that filmmakers are greedy and wanted to express shorter ideas in longer time. I used to find that disrespectful – to the audience and towards the idea. I wanted my films to be short and rewatchable.
I also like to know and plan in advance – so I always use the props of the films and do a rough shoot for a week – cut it together and work it out before I actually start the final shoot. This exercise is probably the most important step for me as I know the shots I want and during the shoot all the creative attention goes to how to make the shot better. So much in stop motion is spending energy in right places and not wasting it and gaining confidence through preps.
I am actually also driven a lot by fear. I am very fearful one day, two years later I am gonna wake up and say I can't believe there was a better idea or easier way to do that and I missed it. So I like to be thorough and make sure that I don’t leave out anything.
Submarine Sandwich took 6 months of prep and 7 weeks of shoot. We shot 1 shot per day and there were in all 31 shots..There as one shot with the lava lamp that took 2 days of set up as I had to get it right in the first take else the lava lamp becomes cloudy and it was a long take."
"I have been very conscious about housing all my work in one location so that people can get a sense of body of work. I also work towards having a logo at the beginning and end of my film so my film becomes recognizable. During early days when we distributed quicktime instead of having it on youtube, people would steal your film or there was no way for people to call you – So I used to put my name on it to have it as a a signature. As the number of films started increasing, my body of work became a brand."
Adam versus Pes versus PES
PES’s actual name is Adam Pesapane and we probed him about having his work name as PES.
"It was a conscious decision. I belonged to Italian American family and literally noone could pronounce my surname right. My friends used to call me Pes.
When I started making my own videos, I didn’t want to put my full name. I wanted my name to be short memorable brand and at the same time I wanted it to belong to me. The Idea of capitalizing was a twist – I recognized the similarity between my name and the candy PEZ. (At this point he shows us a photo of the candy). It’s sort of a twisted candy – where the candy comes out of the throat of little cute people – weird candy but kids love it. I thought my work around that time was also like that as I played with similar props. So I designed my logo in a similar way and it surely became a hit."
We went on to talk further on making feature films and the challenges of working with an external producer and other logistical burdens. He also touched briefly on his successful kickstarter campaign to raise money for Submarine Sandwich. On an animator’s question he answered about challenges of animating with a human being in the frame (pixilation).
He was also keen on visiting India and seeing more films from here. We also spoke about how in ShortFilmindow we are trying to create a page for every director with a timeline of his/her work and the idea of short film makers sharing their audience.
All in all it was a fun conversation and a great start of the week for us. Hope you guys like it. Please let us know if you want to participate in future such hangouts with successful short film directors. Mail to shortfilmwindow at the rate gmail dot com.