Feature Films

A great big PuppetVision Movie update

By September 18, 2014 January 5th, 2015 No Comments

How does that Diane Warren song go? It’s been a long road…getting from there to here…

The journey of making PuppetVision: The Movie has been long indeed. It began almost three years ago and I can honestly say that it’s been the best, but also the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do professionally.

Like any project, there have been lots of highs and lows, and the last year in particular has been filled with lots of challenges. Although at times it’s felt like all we’ve been doing for the past year is working on funding applications, there has also been a lot of actual work going on…and I do mean a lot. A lot of research, a lot of interviews, a few research trips and an incredible amount of puppet, prop and set building.

Here’s a quick look at some of what’s been happening…

Puppet Building

After a flurry of filming in Canada and Europe in late 2013, the first half of 2014 was spent hunkered down in the studio, designing and building puppets, props and sets for the film.

In addition to interviews, archival footage and clips of live performances, there are several original puppetry sequences that will appear throughout the film, each of them created using an entirely different style of puppetry. It’s been a massive, years-long process to design, build and execute all of these sequences. Right now there are close to two dozen puppets lying around the workshop in various stages of construction with another 30-40 yet to be built.

Despite the size of the workload, I’ve really been enjoying the build for this film. On most of the projects I’ve been involved with in recent years I’ve served as a director, producer or Special FX Supervisor, which hasn’t allowed me to do much hands-on work. However, the limited budget on this film means I have to roll-up my sleeves and make a lot of things myself, which has been a real joy.

We’re working in such a diverse range of puppetry styles – everything from finger puppets, to glove puppets, marionettes and animatronics – that nearly every day is a totally new learning experience. It’s been a bit like getting a complete re-education in puppetry and I’ve been loving (almost) every moment of it.

One of the major sequences of the film that we’ve been busily designing and building characters for is devoted to Punch and Judy and their progenitor, Pulchinella. Part of this work involves building a full-scale Punch and Judy booth (puppet stage) and a much smaller “puppet scale” theatre for Pulchinella, which you can see in the process of being distressed and painted above.

Morgan Bargent, who is writing and producing the film with me, also happens to be a extremely talented painter. She’s been doing much of the faux finishing and distressing that’s needed on various props and sets that are being built. In the spring she also took up the task of producing some lovely hand painted backdrops for the film that are loosely based on actual theatrical backdrops from the late 19th century, including the one seen above.

Stomping our way to Chicago

After months and months of working in the film’s cozy little studio designing, sculpting, painting and writing seemingly endless funding proposals, Morgan and I were thrilled to hit the road in July to visit G-Fest, the world’s only Godzilla festival. We were there to learn more about Tokusatsu, a Japanese term meaning “special filming” that is used to describe films and TV shows like Godzilla, Ultraman and Super Sentai (better known in North America as “Power Rangers”) that are created using miniatures, puppets and other practical effects techniques.

A huge thank you goes out to J.D. Lees and the rest of G-Fest organizers who were so welcoming and helpful as well as the entire crew from Dojo Studios, who graciously let us hang out on set while they filmed their latest Tokusatsu video using some incredibly impressive creature suits made by Jacob Baker.

The joy of acceptance and the agony of rejection

Since the inception of this project, I’d always hoped to bring it to the National Festival of the Puppeteers of America, which next year will be held at the University of Connecticut. This is not only because it’s really an ideal audience for the film, but also because it was very much inspired in part by my experiences attending PofA Festivals in the past. Portions of the documentary were also filmed at the 2013 PofA Festival, so in many ways, showing it there would have brought the journey of making it full circle.

Unfortunately, last week we were rejected by the festival’s Artistic Committee.

It’s hard not to be a little bit heartbroken by the decision, but there were over 100 other applications, so I’m sure many deserving projects won’t be included. I also strongly suspect that our chances may have been hurt because I wasn’t able to submit a complete cut of the film for consideration due to the timing of the application deadlines.

Despite the disappointment of not being able to share the film with all of our PofA friends next summer, I’m thrilled to announce that we have been accepted in Europe!

I won’t be able to provide more details until the organizers make official announcements some time in the coming months, but we will be bringing the film to several festivals and events in the U.K. and Europe next year. In fact, we’re in the early stages of planning a tour of sorts, so if you do live somewhere in Europe (or anywhere else really) and are interested in having a screening near you, please get in touch.

One more thing…

I have to once again say a huge thank you everyone – friends, PuppetVision fans, our wonderful crowdfunding supporters and especially all of the incredibly talented artists who have participated in this project so far – for all your love, support and patience.

Making this film has been a bit of a long and at times very difficult haul, but I’m thrilled to be picking up momentum as the race towards the finish line begins!

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