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An Interview with Christopher Kezelos

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For the uninitiated, Christopher Kezelos is one of the most interesting and innovative stop-motion filmmakers to emerge from the last few years. His debut stop-motion film, Zero won a ton of awards back in 2009 and quite frankly looked far too amazing and accomplished to be a first attempt at Stop Motion. Zero screened in over 50 festivals and won 15 awards including ‘Best Animation’ from LA Shorts Fest and the Rhode Island International Film Festival.Last year Chris impressed again with his second stop-motion short, The Maker which also drew a huge response from both critics and the public alike. It has currently screened at over 60 festivals and won 10 awards, including the ‘Grand Prize’ at the Rhode Island International Film Festival and ‘Best Animation’ at the CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival.

Chris took a few moments off his new film to answer a few questions about his inspiration for the films,how he went about funding them, and gives his view on what makes the difference between a good animated film and an award winning one.

What drew you to choosing Stop Motion animation?

While I adore all forms of animation, it basically came down to what I could achieve with my skills and resources. I’m not an illustrator so 2D was out, nor am I skilled in any 3D programs. But I do have a history of making live action shorts so I’m comfortable working in a physical space with sets and lights. I’m also crafty with my hands and have access to tools and a workshop. In the end, it was the only medium that made sense.

Zero was your first animated short, back in 2009 can you tell us a  bit about the story and how you came up with it?

There’s a film festival in Australia called Tropfest that elects a ‘signature item’ each year for you to include in your submitted films. On the year I wanted to enter, the signature item was the number ‘8’. At the same time, I was also very interested in macro photography and wanted to find a way to include the rich textures and short depth of field in my filmmaking. These two events were the catalyst for the story of Zero.

“Zero” (2009)

For a first foray into animation, Zero is incredibly accomplished, how did you manage to make your debut film so outstanding?

I spent a lot of time perusing stop motion websites and forums learning as much as possible. I’m also a stickler for detail so tried to make everything as perfect as I could given the time and budget. But ultimately I have to credit a good friend of mine David Cox. He’d made an amazing stop motion short for his college graduation, so I asked him to join our team. He’s a jack of all trades and brought so much skill and creativity to the project.

So lets talk about The Maker, its a very different film altogether to Zero, how did this come about?

I have a friend Paul Halley who’s a classical music composer. His music is beautiful and I wanted to bring more attention to it so convinced him to pay me to make him a music vide clip! At the same time I’d come across an Ohio based puppet maker named Amanda Louise Spayd. Her creations are creepy and enchanting and in my mind, perfectly matched one of Paul’s compositions. Before contacting her, I wrote a story with her characters in mind set to the movements of the music. I also wanted to keep the budget as low as possible, so envisaged a story with only one room and two characters. I sent my pitch to Amanda who was excited by the project and agreed to get involved.

What changes were made between the two films, how did what you learn on Zero effect how you approached The Maker?

The main difference was confidence. With Zero, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but with The Maker I was able to approach it with two years of experience under my belt. The biggest change in our production technique was using magnets to keep the Makers anchored to the set, instead of nuts and bolts as we did in Zero. Magnets allowed us to work much quicker, but presented their own unique challenges. The other big change was keeping things a lot simpler. Zero had 15 sets and over 27 characters. In contrast, The Maker had 1 set and two characters 🙂

It seems to me that Zero and The Maker share a similar visual aesthetic, was this a concious choice? Is there a house style for your work or do you approach each film differently?

I tend to gravitate towards a darker, quirkier look so I guess over time, this has created a bit of a house style.

You have had great success at festivals with both Zero and The Maker why do you feel this could be?

I believe it all comes down to story. There are loads of amazing animations on the festival circuit that look as good as or better than my stuff, but story wise, they don’t resonate. Both Zero and The Maker tug at the heart strings and leave you wanting more.

“The Maker” (2011)

Most recently, The Maker has also been selected for the ShortList Film Festival, tell us a little about this….

The ShortList Film Festival is an exclusive online only film festival run by The Wrap News, a major Hollywood industry news site. It’s by invitation only and they select 12 award winning films to compete in competition. We’re also using this opportunity to launch our film online. People can check it out atshortlistfilmfestival.com/films/maker. If they like it, we’d really appreciate their vote to help us win the Audience Award!

Short films are notoriously hard to fund and very difficult to generate revenue from. How easy is it to get funding for these films?

Over the years, I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars funding my own films, but more recently I’ve turned to alternate sources. Zero was funded by Screen NSW and The Maker was funded by the composer of the film’s music. These days I think it’s easier thanks to crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter. If you browse the short film section of their site, you’ll see loads of films being funded for modest amounts of money, which is plenty. I’ll definitely be considering this approach for my next project.

“The Maker” (2011)

Your company Zealous Creative has handled a lot of live action adverts and corporate videos over the last ten years, how has that helped / moulded your way of working when approaching animated short films?

Live action and animation are completely separate beasts, however there is a little overlap. For starters I was able to use my Cinematographer Matthew Horrex who seamlessly went from lighting live action sets to miniature stop motion sets. Then there’s making sure the story is as strong as possible and making your edit as tight as possible. I suppose the fundamentals of filmmaking remain the same.

You’re currently working on a new project, can you tell us anything about this?

Yes, we’re developing a feature film version of The Maker. We address questions like, who are The Makers? Why are they doing what they’re doing? What happens to them after the short film ends? We’re currently looking for a feature animation producer or production company to get involved.

Sounds great.

If you’ve yet to see Christopher Kezelos’ amazing films you can check Zero out at zeroshortfilm.com. You can see The Maker at  shortlistfilmfestival.com/films/maker. After viewing, don’t forget to vote for this amazing film!

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