OUR BED IS GREEN follows a young woman named Cecily who goes to Realm, a virtual reality facility that is quite transparent about the erotic potential of its services. Wall to wall, Realm is lined with tempting previews from its menu of stock experiences. But it also offers something more: with the help of powerful data-mining technology, customers can create virtual facsimiles of real-life places and people. This hyper-personalization is what attracts Cecily. The short is largely about repression, obsession and how advancing technology intensifies these feelings. But it also took on a secondary narrative about feeling sort of overwhelmed and trapped in your own head because I was alone 90% of the time while working on it. Isolation has of course become a regular state of existence for so many in the past year so I think people will connect with this story now more than ever.
Having its World Premiere in the Animated Shorts Compeition at SxSW Online 2021, we talk with OUR BED IS GREEN director Maggie Brennan.
Welcome to SxSW and congratulations! Is this your first SxSW experience?
This is my first time at SXSW. Our Bed Is Green is my thesis film so I’m fairly new to the film world in general. I’m really excited to meet other animators and filmmakers.
How did you first hear about SxSW and wishing to send your project into the festival?
I looked up short films I admired over the last few years to see which festivals they played. My thought was, if I admired these films, perhaps some of the festivals they played would be a good fit for my work. SXSW was on almost all of those lists so, yeah!
Tell me about the idea behind OUR BED IS GREEN and getting it made!
As I mentioned, Our Bed Is Green was my thesis short so I really wanted to create something that represented my interests in terms of visuals, sound and storytelling as much as possible as a sort of “debut” into the world of filmmaking. Prior to animation, I mainly drew comics and most of my work tended to be “speculative fiction” so the narrative sort of came out of a few different ideas I had had for comics. That said, a lot of what is in the film felt a bit more far off when I started it but are now very visible aspects of our current world so I no longer consider this short to be “speculative.” Beyond the narrative, I knew I wanted to score at least some of the music for the film myself so a lot of the story and visuals developed around ideas for sound and music. Once I had thumbnails, concept sketches, story beats, and a script, I did a lot of storyboarding and experiments before fully committing to animating. Since frame-by-frame animation is labor intensive, I really wanted to have everything intensely developed in early stages because there would be less time to re-do things. Thankfully, I had the benefit of great classmates and teachers to guide me especially during story development and other pre-production phases.
Who are some of your creative inspirations? Any particular filmmaking talent or movie that inspired you for this project?
I think Satoshi Kon is probably the biggest influence on this short in particular. He’s one of my favorite directors. I’m really inspired by a lot of artists and work but a quick list would be: Seiichi Hayashi, Olivier Schrauwen, Sally Cruikshank, Xaime Hernandez, Yoshitoshi ABe, and Masaaki Yuasa.
How did you put this together from a technical viewpoint and any challenges in making it?
I used Harmony ToonBoom for the character animation and then Photoshop to create backgrounds and textures for the characters’ clothing. Then After Effects for some extra effects and animation. I experienced some technical challenges at the start because I was working on a pretty old, slow computer so previews and renders were especially very slow. Eventually, I boosted my setup a bit and things went a little smoother. The other main challenge was just that I was working through school so I had minimal time to put everything I imagined into the film and wound up taking a lot more time on it than I originally anticipated.
Being all virtual this year, what do you hope to get out of the virtual SxSW experience? And where is your project going next?
I just really want to meet other people working in film who may become friends or collaborators. Off the top of my head, I think the next festival the short will be featured in is SIFF.
What would you suggest to film festivals as a way to show more short films or make them more accessible to audiences across the country?
In my experience, shorts blocks are usually scheduled at the same time as a feature and people tend to gravitate toward the feature. The cool thing about the virtual environment is that people don’t have to make as many choices between screenings because there are fewer time restrictions. With SXSW, my short premieres and then stays up for the remainder of the fest. I’d be interested to see how/if that replicates itself in in-person festivals.
If you had one piece of advice to offer someone to get their start as a creator or filmmaker in the industry, what would you suggest?
Don’t get discouraged if you haven’t met certain goals by a certain age. Don’t mold your style around what seems to get attention on social media. Don’t be down on yourself for having a day job. Do explore different art forms. Do give yourself breaks and time to do nothing. Do make work with friends even if it’s “just for fun.”
And finally, what is your favourite short film of all time?
Ah, I don’t think I can definitively say a favorite of all time by “Quasi at the Quackadero” by Sally Cruikshank was the first animated short I saw that really broke my brain and made me interested in pursuing animation. Up until that point, I mainly watched anime and it was cool to see something so fun and loose. It’s so different from anything I make or generally love but something about it just blows my mind!
This film and many others like it will be showing at the virtual South By Southwest taking place March 16-20th. For more information and to register for the festival, point your browser to www.sxsw.com!