VIFF 2018 Interview: THEO AND CELESTE director Hannah Dougherty

“This film is about how far you will go for someone you love. Theo and Celeste play a game of ‘would you still be my friend if’ to test their new friendship and their hypothetical questions become reality, forcing them to confront their deepest fears and strongest yearnings.” Director Hannah Dougherty on THEO AND CELESTE which screens at the 2018 edition of VIFF.

Congratulations on your film playing and welcome to VIFF! Is your first time here and are you planning to attend your screenings?

This is the first film I have screened at VIFF, unfortunately I am in London at the moment at another festival and then I will be going back to the other side of the world for projects in Australia, the program looks amazing and I’m sad to miss it.

So how did you get into this business? Talk to me a bit about how you got your start and what you have worked on in the past.

I studied film production in Sydney and after I received my degree I started working as a freelancer on television commercials, music videos, short films and fashion films. I am now represented as a director and a cinematographer and I have worked on many short films that have screened in a few festivals but none have been as personal and significant to me as this one.

How did this project come together for you? Give me a rundown from the preparation, to shooting, to post-production to now!

My co-writer, Duncan Ragg, and I pitched the idea of the film to TedX Sydney 2018 to be part of the Humankind film series. After we were selected we had one month to complete the film which was ambitious. We worked closely with the production designers at Brass Tacks to paint sets and prepare for the shoot, the stop motion was filmed for twelve hours a day for six days and the live action scenes were shot over the course of one day. The post production was completed by The Editors; I normally edit all of my own films and it was an absolute joy to give the footage to a fresh set of eyes to gain a new perspective on the story. A composer, Wil Hughes, that I work with regularly made the beautiful score and we worked up until the last minute on the sound mix with Joseph Dutaillis. Everybody who worked on the film donated their time and resources and I am still amazed at the incredible amount of love and generosity that went into getting it made.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you? How much coffee are we talking about here?

Making a stop motion film requires a lot of patience and dedication, it’s imperative for me that the story is important to you, that you feel like it is a story that will contribute something meaningful to the audience. It’s about creating a space where the viewer can lose themselves in wonder and transported to a different place, that is what drives me and keeps me going when I have been standing for hours on end clicking a button. We also drank a lot of coffee and wore pyjamas on set. That helped too.

What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?

There were a lot of challenges and rewarding moments with this project, the short timeframe and small budget were definitely difficult but do not stop a film from getting made if you have the motivation. An interesting challenge that I had not expected from stop motion was that when you begin a shot and you don’t have time for a second take and because each shot takes four hours, sometimes you have to go with small things that go wrong because it takes too long to go back and start again. For example, in the opening shot some birds fly around the characters and the flight path we worked out turned out to be too close to the puppets, once we figured this out we had to make sure that Celeste put her hand up to shield her face from the birds which almost hit her and that is the shot that’s in the film, it is very carefully planned improvisation, two things which conflict with each other. The most rewarding moments continue to happen every time someone has a surprising response to the film, because all audience members carry their own perspectives and ideas about the story and it’s very interesting to hear the varied reactions. 

I’m about to get technical, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie; what camera did you film with, your relationship to the director of photography and how the movie was photographed.

I filmed with a Sony A7s mii; I love using this camera because it is a bit more work than a RED or an Alexa to make the shot look cinematic and beautiful, so I learn a lot every time I use it. The stop motion was created with still images, we would move the puppets slightly and take a new photo and then move the puppets slightly again. We used only a few lights and changed the set up every time the time of day in the film changed and the sky backdrop is one very long painted set which we would pull down as well. The live action scenes were shot on the same camera in a studio space with an even larger painted backdrop. As a painter and an animator I was impressed by the animated film Vincent and the visual style is very much inspired by that.

After the film screens at Vancouver, where is the film going to show next? Theatrical, online, more festivals?

The film will be screening at Indie Flicks in London and has been submitted to a few other festivals so I’m excited to see where it will be taken next.

What would you say to someone who was being disruptive through a movie?

“Would you mind not doing that please?” Because I was brought up by teachers and am general a pretty polite person.

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?

Give yourself a challenge, something you think you won’t be able to do, and attempt it. Don’t be held back, if you have a story you really want to tell then do what you can to learn how to tell it. Find the people and the stories that motivate you and inspire you and give your time to those people and those stories.

And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?

I have far too many favourite films to pick just one, but the best films that I have seen so far this year would be THE SQUARE and THE DEATH OF STALIN. I will always be a fan of the absurd and the truth.


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