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Interview with Anna Mantzaris (‘Enough’/’Good Intentions’)

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Back in 2013 we talked to a new film director about her first film But Milk Is Important, a charming tale co-directed with Eirik Grønmo Bjørnsen during their time at Volda University College about a man suffering from agoraphobia and a cute white monster who pushes him to work through it.
Five years on, director Anna Mantzaris has worked on multiple films big and small, having personally directed not one but two new short films – last year’s multi-award winning festival hit Enough and her final graduation film Good Intentions – during her time at the Royal College of Art. Anna’s films have a soft but darkly beautiful humour to them,  lightly intwined with melancholy and whimsy, her timing and sense of the human condition drive often surreal narratives that clearly resonate with audiences.
With the international premiere of Good Intentions taking place at the esteemed BFI London Film Festival this weekend, Skwigly were keen catch some time to talk with Anna about all things fluffy and felted.

Enough was your first film since your very successful short film But Milk is Important, what was it like getting back into filmmaking?
Milk was my first film ever and it was very successful, so in the beginning it was a little bit scary, because a felt a bit of expectation and pressure. But I also really wanted to go back into filmmaking again so I decided to try to shake that off me and enjoy the process. I also tried to do something that is not a continuation of Milk, but a quite different format and story. Once I got into it it was really fun.
As a mix of observational humour and beautiful craft, how did you come up with the idea for Enough?
I didn’t come up with this idea straight away. I knew it had to be something short because of the time I was given. Initially I wanted to do something about someone rebelling or breaking themselves free. After starting to develop my idea I realized that it would fit as a series of small moments of people acting on their inner urges and impulses. In retrospective I think that moving to London also inspired me to this idea, hehe. There are so many people, sometimes stuffed together in crowded places.
Your design has moved on a little since Milk but your characters are still chubby and loveable, what inspired this design approach?
Personally I don’t feel like I have one particular style, I think it depends on the story and project. But I have always loved chubby, awkward characters and I like to try new things. For Enough (and Good Intentions) time was a big factor, so I knew I would not have time for something very advanced. I wanted the characters to feel a bit awkward and soft, to contrast a bit to the more harsh or darker things in the films. Felt and wool was something we’d worked on a bit already in Milk, so I felt quite comfortable with it, and the nice thing is that you dont ned to cast or mold anything. For Enough I was also inspired by the chubby, sad, grey and mundane characters of Roy Andersson, and I also love the puppets of Oh Willy.

Good Intentions character puppet (courtesy of Anna Mantzaris)

Good Intentions has a similar feeling to Milk in terms of being quite psychological but it is also dealing with morality. What is it about these subjects that interests you?

Maybe it’s different seeing it from the outside, but for me creating it I don’t feel as though Milk and Good Intentions have one theme or subject. They both started out from quite different starting points. With Milk we wanted to do something with a man and a creature, and their relationship. And with Good Intentions it started more with the idea of the genre/mood and to play with the theme of guilt. Having said that, I’m normally drawn to themes that have to do with emotions and being human.
Did I notice a little Easter egg nod to But Milk is Important around two minutes in?
Hehe yes, well spotted!
How did you develop the story for Good Intentions?
I wanted to try to make something more like a thriller or a ghost story, and a bit more surreal and ambiguous in the story, but still with one main character. With that as a starting point I wrote the story together with my boyfriend Hugo. I really liked the idea of guilt taking over you and almost eating you up. Even if the situation in the film is a bit more extreme, that she doesn’t know how it went for the other driver after the car accident because she just drove off, and she starts imagining and seeing him in different situations. I think many can relate to the feeling of feeling really guilty about something and getting a bit consumed about it, and almost a bit paranoid like we think other people know what we did. When we did the script the story was much much longer at first, but when we started to time it and edit it into an animatic, some characters and scenes had to go.
You had a reasonably large and notably professional crew for Good Intentions, how were you able to recruit such talents and what was it like to direct and work with them?
I was lucky to animate on Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs between my two years at the RCA, and there I met a lot of great people. Once I started my second year I really wanted to try to direct more of a proper little team. I would really like to keep directing in the future and I think that doing almost everything by myself is not sustainable, so I wanted to use this opportunity to push myself and take it a step further. I was really happily surprised by how much people were up for working on the project for a small salary and I was really thankful for that! It was a great experience, and we had a great team spirit, but it was also demanding in a different way. With more people there is a different pace and you need to keep a lot more things in your head at the same time, and being able to make quick decisions. And, while having your mind in many different places, also remembering your vision for the project. But I had a fantastic and enthusiastic little team, both of people that I got to know at Isle of Dogs, and some that I had worked with before. I also felt that it helped the film because they also chipped in with great ideas and thoughts for the project.

Set for Good Intentions (courtesy of Anna Mantzaris)

The music was lovely and really set the tone for the film. Having worked with the same composer on all your films, what kind of direction do you give and how has this relationship evolved over the last three films?

Thank you! I really love the music too, and I agree that it does so much for the film. It has been really fun working with Phil (Brookes) on many projects now. All of them quite different. Normally I more or less have a vague idea for the music – it can be really hard to put in words but I try to do it as well as I can, and I can also send a couple of different references. But I like to leave it a little bit open for the composer to interpret and put in his own ideas as well. Once we have a first draft, sometimes there are only a few changes made to how it is at the beginning, and sometimes we try a lot of different things and push it around until it feels right. I’m very happy that Phil has patience with all that I want to try! I think it turned out great and it has gotten really good responses. Every project is different, but I think the relationship has evolved in a way that we have a good communication and understanding for each other. I feel comfortable that he will always have some great ideas, and I also know what he is capable of so I think I dare to be a bit pushy and ask for changes until we reach the best result.
You returned to felting for both films, what is that you love about working with this material and are there still things you find challenging when using it?
I think felt and wool looks really nice in the camera, it catches the light really beautifully. To me it gives a lot to the character, like a softness and texture compared to, for example, a hard surface which, although easier, can feel a bit stiff. As I mentioned before, it’s also a quite fast technique for making the puppets, when you don’t have so much time. The limitations are that it would be quite tricky to make face replacements, as it would boil a lot. Maybe it’s possible but it would need a lot of testing. Even though I really like the material, I love to try different stuff and I don’t think everything I will be doing will be like this, but it will for sure be something that I return to now and then.
Enough recently had a Vimeo Staff Pick Premiere after a strong festival run and multiple awards, how did you and the team feel about this and did this have any effect on making Good Intentions?
It has been great! Me and the rest of the team have been really happy about it. It turned out to be a good online film as well since it’s quite short, direct and funny. For me personally it has almost been a little bit of a relief, since I was a bit nervous to do a second film. I think it definitely had a positive effect on making Good Intentions in the sense that I think it made it easier to get people on board and help out with my new film. Everything from working on the film – even though the conditions were not the best – to getting a discount on armatures and a bit of sponsorship for the film. But also because it was so successful, at some point I was thinking Should I be making another funny film again, instead of a more serious one? But it’s fun to explore different things!

Good Intentions thumbnail sketch (courtesy of Anna Mantzaris)

Both films where made whilst studying at the RCA, why did you decided to come to England to study and why the RCA?

I had been working as an animator for a few years, which I also enjoy, but I wanted to go back to directing and I found it hard to find the time and inspiration while working. So I decided to do an MA to just buy myself time to focus on my own work for two years and get a push to get started with it again. I had heard good things about the RCA and I liked that they had less of a classic film/animation school approach.
What support did the RCA offer and what did you discover about yourself and your work whilst there?
I think the thing that was the best, except from the fact that you had a deadline and really needed to produce something, were the personal tutorials with some of the tutors. There are some really great tutors whose way of thinking I really liked, and I think it opened up and affected my approach to my work. It was a more loose approach and not so much a recipe to follow for how to make a film, which I really enjoyed and I think it helped me.

Good Intentions (Dir. Anna Mantzaris)

Good Intentions is following in Enough‘s footsteps as far as its positive start on the festival circuit. With it about to premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, what are your hopes for the film and what responses from the audiences have you had so far?

It’s very different from Enough so I’m quite curious how it will do. I hope people will like it and that it will have a good festival run. When Enough was doing its run I was working on Good Intentions and didn’t have time to travel to festivals, so I hope to have time to travel to some this year! It has not been shown in any festival yet, but it got a nice little staff recommendation from BFI as one of the nine best short films to watch out for at the festival! Hopefully if Good Intentions goes well too, these two films can also help me get funding for future projects.
What’s next for you?
At the moment I’m doing some character design/development for a Swedish stop motion documentary (not directed by me) and I’m still recovering a bit from the intense process of finishing Good Intentions. There are some loose projects in the air where we will see if they will happen or not, but they are still secret. I have also just been signed by Passion Animation so I hope that will bring some fun projects in the future. I would love to keep making my own stuff while also directing some commissions.

Good Intentions shot setup (courtesy of Anna Mantzaris)

Are your working on another film and if so how do you intend to do so?

Not yet but I definitely want to! As I said I’m still recovering a bit from my previous film but I will start thinking about a new project soon. I hope taking some time off to go the the BFI festival will also give me some new inspiration. It was good to go to the RCA but now I really want to make a project where I have a bit more time, especially for the pre-production, so I definitely feel eager to create something new!
What’s your next film going to be about?
We will see, but I hope something that is a bit sad, dark but also funny 🙂
The world premiere of Good Intentions will take place at the BFI London Film Festival as part of their Real Horrorshow programme, taking place 3:30pm October 14th at the Prince Charles Cinema and 6:15pm October 18th at the Rich Mix Cinema.
For more on the work of Anna Mantzaris visit annamantzaris.se

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Was interviewed earlier this fall by the generous Ben Mitchell of @skwigly. Our discussion on making indy animation… t.co/HE74sUnU1u
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@joannaq @skwigly Phew! That was close. I feel it will be ok now 😉
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