In Conversation: Will Anderson

It’s time again for another one of The Film Doctor Team‘s extremely popular In Conversation talks.

Last year, we talked with BAFTA short animation winners Grant Orchard and Sue Goffe after their win, and so it seems only fitting that we catch up with this year’s winner – writer/director/actor/cinematographer/editor/animator of the multi-award-winning The Making of LongbirdWill Anderson.

Ainslie Henderson and Will Anderson with their short animation film Baftas
Ainslie Henderson and Will Anderson on BAFTA night

Congratulations on your BAFTA win (and all the others!) 

Now you don’t get to win a BAFTA at 23 years old, with all those credits, without having a very strong work ethic. What’s your story? How did you get here from there?

I suppose I live it.  I work all the time, as hard as I can.  I studying at the Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) straight after secondary school, and focused all my attention on Animation, with the film ‘The Making of Longbird’ being my graduation project in the final year.  I guess I really like working, and working with other people.  The people who were involved in the film are very skilled, so as a new Director I guess it was my job to get thier best quality performances out of them, across all platforms.  Since then I have been working freelance, whilst trying to develop my own ideas.


Have you always felt a natural, unstoppable compulsion towards creating films?

No! I really haven’t! To be honest, I didn’t really know what I was going into when I started the animation course.  I was particularly interested in the medium, but wasn’t thinking I was a storyteller.  Turns out, this is probably the most important thing you can do in relation to your work.  When I started to make films they always had comedy in mind, 2 of which were used as presentations as part of a best man speech at the time.  I think what I love is making people laugh.  When developing my degree film, it became very exciting when you consider many of the avenues to explore in communicating story.  It becomes complex, moving, and more real.  Animation isn’t real though, but it is made real.


Longbird is about an ex-celebrity Russian cartoon bird staging a comeback. What gave you the inspiration for it?

Researching the history of Animation.  I remember reading about how early drawings had been found which appeared to make up a moving sequence, dating before the animators who pioneered the medium.  It made me think, there could have been so many influential people working with Animation that have slipped away, this could be real.

I love European Animation, and thought that I could squeeze in a legend from its history.


What was your script/idea development process like? Do you have a specific structure you work to?

For Longbird, the idea development was pretty enjoyable, my script however was sporadic.  I was pretty easy going whilst developing the idea, I think its important to really take on anything at this stage, but obviously deal with things thoughtfully.  I pride this part in speaking and discussing with others, one person of which was Ainslie Henderson (the co-writer).  It’s really important for me to be able to work with someone else in developing ideas, I’m not great at that when I’m isolated.  The script was written with rough dialogue, as I knew where I needed to get to, but really came to life when I started working with the voice actor, Vitalij Sicinava.  Vitalij’s input was so important in the success of this film, and having the freedom to ad-lib arguments enhanced the film.  What I’m getting at is I work to a moving structure, I reference life in my work, and life changes, surprises, and challenges.


What were the main benefits to having the Edinburgh College of Art involved (as much/little as they were) in creating the film? Would you have been able to make it (or something else) without that network/teaching/kit etc?

I consider the ECA to have really shaped what I do.  As I mentioned before, it was there that really developed the storytelling side of things.  It is a pretty special environment to be around.  A place where ideas are nurtured, and cared for.

My film was mainly made on my computer, so I guess I could have physically made it elsewhere, but the film would have been very different.  The film is about being in a studio environment whilst developing a story for an awkward character.  It was a reflection of where I was at the time.  I still make films out of that environment, and they are enhanced by the experience of working in a studio environment at the Art College.


Were they helpful in your awards strategy?

Not hugely, it became very clear that individuals have to plan there own festival strategy.  To be honest, I didn’t think Longbird would play anywhere, and definitely wasn’t thinking that it would win any awards.  This isn’t what I made it for, I made it because I love making things.


Was the choice to blend animation with live action there from the off or did it naturally evolve?

It was there from the beginning, and has actually stayed with me since.  Animation means to give life, so putting it into a recognisable reality makes a lot of sense to me.

For ‘The Making of Longbird’, I knew from the beginning I was interested in making a behind-the-scenes documentary, and I knew that I needed clear, strong characters.  When I put these two things together it was clear where I was stylistically.  Longbird is real now, so I have to deal with it wherever I work.


What was your work flow/process? Did you have any specific rules in place to stop you having sleepless nights? Or methods of keeping a distance/perspective on the piece?

My workflow is very fast. I am an impatient person, and like to see things move quickly.  The process of how I work is deliberately fast, as I’m not particularly precious about it, I do it to get better.

In making films, there are always sleepless nights for me.  I think it’s part of being a writer.  I remember waking up in the middle of the night drawing a picture of one of the opening shots of the film in my sketchbook.  I think the whole ‘distancing/perspective’ thing I deal with by working with other people.  If there’s more than one pair of eyes (and ears!) on it, then there’s less chance of it slipping away.


Longbird has swept up a whole heap of awards. How did your first win feel? And as they started to rack up did you feel secure of winning more? Did a certain momentum build behind you? 

The first win was the Short Grand Prix at Warsaw Film Festival, it’s world premiere.  It was shocking.  I was completely blown away to win an award there, and especially an award that made it qualify for the Academy Awards the next year.  Shortly after that I went to DOK Leipzig festival in Germany, where it won the Grand Prize for Animation, as well as the audience award.  Then I was really shocked!

After that it really did take on a life of its own, but I never expected go on to win at any of the festivals.  The quality of the films I’ve witnessed at a lot of festivals was incredible, so never think that mine stood up against many of them.  I’m pretty modest, as you may gather… that’s a Scottish thing I think!


Has it always been an intention (or was it a specific intention for this film) to win awards/play festivals? If so, did you prepare anything in particular to usher fate along its way?

Nope, it was never an intention of mine.  The important thing in making it was enjoying the process, and working with other people to make a film that held together, and that was hopefully enjoyable for any audience that it may encounter.


Did you get to visit any/all of the countries the film played in? Did you see any different attitudes to either festivals or films from country to country? Any interesting stories while out there?

I visited Germany 3 times (Leipzig, Dresden, and Stuttgart), France (Annecy), and of course the Scottish Festivals in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The reaction to the film was very different overseas to over here.  The film actually didn’t get many screenings in the UK at all for months and months after it was completed.  I gathered that its length, and Eastern European theme maybe isolated itself from UK festivals.

The reactions in Germany were amazing, I was stunned at how vocal they were about it.  I had people recognising me on the street shouting “That’s the Longbird guy!… Such a Silly boy!” I really love how films give you an identity when travelling to festivals, it’s a really special time where you meet people and make friends.

Funny story about Annecy in France… The film screening was quite stressful, the Grande Salle is a huge theatre, and my film is 15 minutes long.  It didn’t seem to get a great audience response.  I then was walking back to the hostel late at night where I found myself in a headlock with two french guys shouting at me to give them cigarettes.  Dogs were barking and jumping on me as they protected there masters.

“I don’t smoke!”

They eventually loosened thier grip and let me go.  Maybe they were in the theatre and didn’t like my film?! Maybe not.


We have read somewhere that you plan to take Malkie (the character above) out for a feature film excursion? Or are, at least, planning a feature. What can you tell us and how are you going to go about making it happen?

Malkie being involved in a feature is not true.  But he is involved in a TV series project I’m working on, and have been for nearly 2 years now.

Ainslie and I are working on a feature project, and are developing our relationship with KoLik Films in Edinburgh.  Co-owner of KoLik, Cameron Fraser, is producing another short with Ainslie and I, and is involved in developing the TV and feature projects.  His extensive knowledge of the animation industry has already supported what we do, and we are excited to be working with him, among other staff at KoLik films.


What else is next for you?

I’m into getting this Television series going.  Unfortunately these things take time, but rest assured I’m working away in the background trying to make it happen.


One piece of advice for anybody, from any walk of life, wishing to do anything?

Enjoy what you do.  It’s sometimes hard, but if it was easy it wouldn’t be worth it.  Push your work as far as it goes, and don’t be afraid to share it, we don’t make things for ourselves we make them for the world to see.  Be bold!


Thank you, Will. We hope you’ve enjoyed our chat with Will Anderson Film Folk! For previous ‘In Conversations’, look here. We’ll leave you with the teaser trailer for The Making Of Longbird. Keep your eyes peeled for its release!


The Making Of Longbird // Teaser Trailer from Will Anderson on Vimeo.

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