How we meander as we make way. Working when we want to run away, telling an honest story, meditative animation on loop.
E. L. Doctorow once said that "writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your head-lights, but you can make the whole trip that way." You don't have to see where you're going, you don't have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.
Last week I walked out of the grocery store with a full basket on my arm.
I woke in the parking lot as if from a dream, realizing that I hadn’t paid. Yesterday, I almost poured chicken stock into my water canteen. This morning, my upstairs neighbor: you left your keys in the door.
I’m back from California where I was with my parents, who’ve not been well. Strange, to get a glimpse of the end to the longest thread in your life.
To match state of mind, my newly-vaccinated body is sore, reluctant, distracted.
The antidote is to quietly take the keys out the door, close it, and put Studio Ghibli Nature Loop on repeat.
Also, read. I’ve been belatedly taking in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. There’s a lot of wisdom in there about storytelling, and it applies to animation, too.
Stories are sentient.
At least, this is how I think we have to approach them if we want ‘em to feel alive.
I talked about this during the making of Chamoe, and it always feels good to be reaffirmed by another artist in the context of her own particular practices.
I’ve learned, time and again, that I can’t shoehorn a story (or anything) into what I want it to be. I mean, I can. It might even be engaging, and find success, like Yanagihara’s A Little Life, but it wouldn’t be true to itself. (I owe you a rumination on this.)
As I mentioned last time, I’ve been digging deeper into Masks, a concept I’ve been exploring for my next animation project.
You’re witnessing early months of messy story-making that most artists don’t let you in on, because it’s a delicate, personal, tiresome, and chaotic process, and it can be much like watching someone drive through a long night into cul-de-sac after cul-de-sac before finally discovering a through-road—or abandoning the car altogether.
While this newsletter is about revealing and sharing the mess between beginnings and ends of projects—I’m gonna continue to mix metaphors here—I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t worry about opening the blinds too early.
A few ways I try to protect the lil germ as it takes shape: talk about it in recent-retrospect; share what it is now, versus speculate; focus on process versus idea. It’s not an exact science of course; it’s more about feeling than thinking.
Anyway, going with the flow but wanted to point this out to you—from the depths of a pretty big cul-de-sac.
Lending light on the road
The next step in exploring Masks has been to line a scene from the “storyboard:” a girl wakes from a dream, hears strange sounds, gets up. Beside her, a mask. She takes it in hand.
Color test (first 114 frames):
I’m testing the limits of this loose style, using fast, messy strokes and mixing color on a single layer (unlike in Chamoe, where there were multiple layers per frame). You can make the girl out in the murky darkness, but night presses in from all sides.
I’m working, sitting, listening.
Chamoe in Festivals
Imagine This Women’s International Film Festival took place in Manhattan and I was able to catch the screening of Chamoe, schmooze with other filmmakers, and eat nice bagels before I left for California.
The organizers have a lot of heart and it shows in both the programming and events. I do think their online platform is clunky, difficult to use, and confusing. Hopefully things improve in coming years.
Chamoe also screened at Little Wing in London last week. It seemed like opening night (as well as the rest of it) was a smashing success—I wish I could have been there.
A lot of us are going through a tough time right now. I’m gonna end with an oldie but a goodie that’s sure to make us laugh out loud. Hell, we need it.
If you feel like becoming a paid subscriber to support this publication and my creative work, that’d also feel pretty great. This issue is free, but many have sneak previews and bonus content under a paywall. Interstitial issues like ruminations, plus occasional print goodies, are mostly member-only.
Comments and likes are always welcome ✨
Hang in there.
Folks, I realized that "Studio Ghibli Nature Loop" had two links in it—a Tweet for the first two words, and the actual HBO loop for the last 2 words 🤦🏻♀️ Tricky, tricky. I meant to link to this: https://play.hbomax.com/page/urn:hbo:page:GYZKhfgtUd5MEwgEAAAAr:type:extra but!
Turns out it's on Youtube too! I'm going to correct the web version of this issue with that inline, plus I saw that I was missing a subjunctive; also corrected.
I edit every issue so many times and yet! Always something.
The worries about opening the blinds too early, and the feeling of driving in circles. I really needed this today thank you!