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Interview with “Tram” director Michaela Pavlátová

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michaela-pavlatovaMichaela Pavlátová is a Czech filmmaker and animator, having worked in animation since graduating from Prague’s Academy of Arts, Architecture, and Design in 1987. Her films, which include the Oscar-nominated Words, Words, Words and Repete, delve into the unconscious of desire and human relationships, often with a humorous but wonderfully original personal take on the human condition. Primarily a 2D animator, Michaela has progressed from using traditional hand-drawn techniques to Flash animation, developing her style to become one of the most pioneering and well-known female animators in the industry. As well as creating her own short films, Michaelea teaches and is an active member on many international film festival juries.

Her most recent film Tram, created in 2012, won The Annecy Crystal and has been screened in dozens of festivals across the world. The short film commission by Sacrebleu Productions in France as part of their Sexperiences Project, follows the day of one lonely tram conductress on her morning route as her imagination and fantasies overcome her, leading her into a daydream with a comical climax. Skwigly had the great pleasure of talking to Michaela between screenings, as she was performing her jury duties once again at this year’s Bradford Animation Festival.

Thank you very much for talking to Skwigly today, could you start by telling us a little about how you became involved with animation?

I didn’t intend to study animation but I wanted to go to the Academy of the Arts in Prague after high school. I wanted to go into painting but there wasn’t enough space in the class, but there was animation, which required some of the skills I already had, so I thought I’d sneak into the school through the animation door. So I started studying without really valuing it much and soon realised how great animation is – the independence, the creativity and that God-like feeling as you create everything in a world that wouldn’t exist without you.

Much of your work is based around the theme of sexual desire and relationships between women and men, can you explain why this theme interests you?

It interests me in live-action films as well. I am interested in more physiological films based around people rather than fantasy stories. For me reality is the biggest inspiration because you don’t have to go far to get themes, it’s only how you perceive it. Of course, I haven’t seen all the events in my films firsthand, but you can see a couple or something and make up the stories about them from their situation.

What inspired the situation of the tram?

It was a bit different in the case of this film, it was a commissioned film from Sacrebleu Productions. They wanted me to create a film to be part of a collection of short films about female erotic fantasies (The Sexperience Project). They contacted different female filmmakers and I was one of them so I created Tram as a kind of pilot film for the whole project.
Inspiration came from them to create something about female erotic fantasies, which sounds fun, but it’s not very easy to come up with a story. I came up with many ideas, but to make a story that would last five minutes was much harder. I didn’t know what to do so I turned to the music, often for me the music is the inspiration, I’ll close my eyes and listen to the music in my head. I knew I wanted to create something funny more than erotic, so I was listening to some of my favourite soundtracks for inspiration, whilst listening to a particular track I got the idea for the tram and its driver.

Can you tell us a little more about Sacrebleu Productions and involvement with the film?

They are a French production company, but the idea came from the head of a wonderful German woman who is the artistic director. She was originally a film editor and photographer, she came up with the idea of making erotic animated films about female sexuality and came to Annecy to ask people to work on her idea. As a producer, she thought using animation would be better as she believed that if it was in live-action no one would want to see it. After this the head director of Sacrebleu became interested in buying the idea. They have a few awarded films, they normally work with French teams but sometimes they ask for people from abroad to make films for them. I hope they continue to be very successful.

Was the tram conductress based on anyone?

She is just symbolic of normal ordinary people, she isn’t directly inspired by anybody but most of the tram drivers I’ve encountered normally seem to look the same – middle-aged women who are perhaps a little overweight – and you think to yourself what joy they could have in their minds with their fantasies.


‘Tram’ (2012 Michaela Pavlátová/Sacreblue Productions)

Tram performed really well at festivals, what reactions have you got from audiences?

It was interesting that all the reactions were great at the beginning, it was screened in France at Annecy and then it won a lot of awards, because it was a bit of a shock for jury members. Then a couple of months later it was going around the festivals and I started to get questions and complaints or comments about its sexuality. I was shocked as I never thought of it as sexual; I forgot it was sexual, as to me it was rhythmical and funny. In France people are a lot more open to accept these themes, as they’re all part of their culture.
I have noticed that the people who don’t appreciate it generally are young people, especially young males or young girls between 11-20 years old, because at that point in their life sexuality is the most important thing to them. They are somewhat unable to poke fun of it. In fact our daughter was watched with her friends and I was in a separate room listening in; I knew the reactions to the film, what part they were at, but there was silence. When they were leaving the room, they were all trying not to look at me. My daughter explained it was difficult for them as I seemed to be ridiculing something they took seriously. Of course, sometimes older people are offended, but then again sometimes the oldest people are the biggest fans.

A few female festivals have also picked up the film; The subject is, of course, quite gender specific. How do you feel about female-only festivals?

It is a big advantage for us as females, as we can send our films to these as well as all other festivals.  I’m not a big fan of female film festivals unless they’ve invited me to be on a panel, like Tricky Woman in Vienna. I don’t want to just see a small selection of films, I want to watch the best films, all films. Sometimes female festivals make sense, but more so in live-action films as these women are daring enough to do anything, often without a massive budget. There aren’t as many female directors, often funding isn’t given to them as for some reason funding bodies think men are better with film production. So I enjoy going to female film festivals, as the stories are all taken from a woman’s point of view. I know I probably make films for women as I always have more women coming up to me after screenings but I would hope everyone could find something in my films to enjoy.

How was the film created?

It was a simple technique; it was created in Flash, on many layers. At first I though that this would be quick as there is only one character and all the men look the same. But then I realised that everything is moving and bopping and all the movement is happening one after the other. Her body for instance is separated into different parts – her first breast, second breast, legs et cetera – and they all work off each other. It was difficult to sequence and still get that feeling of bouncing on the tram, even though it was only one woman and the same men being driven along. Then afterwards texture was added in After Effects. 

Conductress on her TRAM

‘Tram’ (2012 Michaela Pavlátová/Sacreblue Productions)

There was also an interactive comic book on Facebook tracking the tram conductor on her route to Los Angeles, what was the thought process behind this?

I wasn’t actually very involved with this project, the studio asked if they could do it. I was too busy but gave them permission to do so as they needed it immediately. But it is nice that you’ve noticed it, as I didn’t think many people lnew about it. If I had the time I would love to make everything about the tram conductress interactive – I’d show her home, her bedroom, her living room, like with my short film project Laila.

What are you working on next?

At the moment I’m struggling with a new live-action film. I have worked on normal live action films before, I was only the director as the scripts were written by someone else but I rewrote them. I decided there would be no animation in them, they were sort of social dramas or artsy films. So now I want to write something by myself, put some animation in it and make it more funny. My background is in short films, my mind is short, short thinking with short results, so to have one film with one story that has to be interesting is so difficult.
I’m also working on three animation projects. When you start something you always think it will only be a ‘normal’ film. I’ll come up with the idea and then instantly I change into a jury member or a teacher and I’ll think the idea isn’t good enough. I’m overly critical of myself but I love animating so I keep going. One of the projects is about Kafka, another one is about body language and the other is about relationships and dating.

You can find out more about Tram and Michalea Pavlátová’s other films on her website

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