In Conversation: Sue Goffe and Grant Orchard, Studio AKA

Hi Film Folk!   

Welcome again to our Film Doctor interview series. This week The Film Doctor Team had a nice chat with Sue Goffe and Grant Orchard of the triple BAFTA-winning Studio AKA about their recent BAFTA win for short animation, A Morning Stroll, and their trip to the Oscars.

So we hear A Morning Stroll was a labour of love, how did you set everything up to have a finished film?

Grant –  I suppose it was a labour of love. We had no commission or funding, it was done because we were curious to see how this idea would pan out. Initially we thought it would be around 6 months of work for the studio; and that was based on a system whereby anyone who was in-between commercial jobs would work on the film, even if it was just for a couple of days. As it turned out that was overly optimistic. The studio’s been really busy, so utilising people on their downtime was infrequent at best.  In the end it took two years to complete, with Sue showing steely determination and bad-assness in her quest to get it finished; basically in the last 6 weeks she dedicated a team to it just to get it over the finishing line and submitted for Annecy.

And you set the project up with a view to festivals?

Grant – Yes. As soon as the structure took shape I felt it would be a good fun film for people to see at festivals. The whole project was designed to be unexpected, surprising – and I think that suited a festival crowd. That’s why we were so desperate to finish it for Annecy.

A MORNING STROLL SCREENGRAB

Sue, how did your experience differ from Jojo in the Stars and Lost and Found?

Sue – JoJo in the Stars was our first experience of having a short film being produced in the studio and we were complete novices. It took 2 1/2 years to make, was in and out of the box in-between our commercial projects and really not an ideal way to make a film. The CG software kept being upgraded too which was an added complication.

Lost and Found was a more structured process – we had a small amount of finance from our co-producers, plus a broadcast deadline imposed so it was vital to keep a dedicated crew on the film for the entire schedule.

With A Morning Stroll we did at least have the benefit of previous experience.

It was well structured and Grant was really efficient in the way he laid all the scenes out. He created a rule that each act had to be structurally the same which meant that it was easier to distribute around the studio.

Unlike our previous films we chose to do some R&D along the way and give staff the opportunity to learn new skills on the production. So, although it ended up being a 2 year schedule (because it was made in our downtime and we had a busy run with commercials) we achieved more than just a short film in the end.

Grant, you managed to say a lot in such a short space of time (7 mins) what was the development/writing process of A Morning Stroll?

Grant – I suppose the majority of development time and writing happened in my head. Over the course of a week, I guess, the whole idea formed and percolated.

Then it was a question of getting it down on paper. I didn’t write it down as a script, because there’s not much of a story to be honest. I wrote a brief structural outline and then got straight onto making a rough animatic. Really rough and really quick. So that was the writing period I suppose. After getting the timing and action sorted out it was a question of designing everything, which again embellished the idea and brought new stuff to it.

How did the US Academy differ from the UK in the run up to the event? Did you campaign much over there? What was your process? Learn anything valuable?

 Sue – In the US it seems much more necessary to create a buzz around your film in the run-up to the awards. Thankfully we were introduced to an amazing publicist, Fumi Kitahara, and she made our lives bearable navigating us around the rather surreal (but quite exciting) circus that surrounds the Oscars.

Did we learn anything valuable? Hmmm, we certainly learnt how to smile and nod continuously. I think we quickly understood that a spotlight had gone on over our studio and we had a limited amount of time to make use of it.

Grant and Sue at the Oscars.

What are your thoughts on the UK animation industry today? We assume you’re for the tax relief?!

 Grant – Absolutely! It seems crazy that what was applied to the live action industry wasn’t applied to animation. When you see the rude health that’s in, and how desperate it is for UK animation production the whole decision seems nonsensical. I’m hoping it was an oversight on the government’s part and can be reversed.

I mean our film was made by a whole bunch of talented people in the UK, yet any funding that might come from its success will, as it stands, have to be spent abroad to make any larger projects feasible. We’re determined to keep production in the UK for any longer format work we get, we just hope it will be possible.

 

What is the best place to start for aspiring animation writers/directors/artists?

Grant – Whoah, big question. I’m not sure, I know what worked for me, but it might not work for everyone. My start was made up by a lot of good fortune and timing more than anything. Basically I started at the bottom, it just happened to be at a company that was really good and evolving at the same time as I was.

Maybe it’s a case of trying out everything and saying yes a lot at the start of your career. Experience is just as important as talent.

 

If you cast your mind back to when you had no experience whatsoever, did you ever have a plan B?

 Grant – No – I’m no good at anything else.

  

What’s in store for you next? Are these shorts part of a bigger plan? Or a love affair on top of your thriving commercials work?

 Grant – I’m currently working on a new short and a series. Commercials always take priority though because there fun and our core business.  Ideally I’d like to keep it all going – the films inform the commercials and vice versa. It’s a healthy state.

 

 A MORNING STROLL is available now on iTunes along with the other Oscar nominated shorts 2012.

 A MORNING STROLL - Oscar Nominated Shorts

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Have a great week!
 
The Film Doctor Team
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