IFTN caught up with Cartoon Saloon’s Louise Bagnall to find out more about her Academy Award® nominated animated short film ‘Late Afternoon’ ahead of her trip to LA for the Oscars ceremony, which takes place on Sunday, February 24th.
By Nathan Griffin
Written and directed by Cartoon Saloon’s Louise Bagnall, and produced by Nuria González Blanco, the hand-drawn digitally animated film was produced by the Kilkenny-based animation studio behind Oscar-nominated animated features ‘The Secret of Kells’, ‘Song of the Sea’ and ‘The Breadwinner’. It was funded under the Screen Ireland and RTÉ joint-funded Frameworks short film scheme.
The 9.5 minute film is a poignant examination of identity and memory loss through the eyes of Emily, an elderly woman journeys into her past, reliving moments from her life and searching for connection within her fragmented memories. Renowned Irish actress Fionnula Flanagan, who worked with Cartoon Saloon on 2014’s ‘Song of the Sea’, voices the lead character, Emily. The music for the film is by Colm Mac Con Iomaire.
A Creative Director at Cartoon Saloon, Louise graduated from IADT, National Film School with a degree in Animation in 2007. She has designed characters for International Emmy nominee ‘Puffin Rock’ and worked on the Oscar-nominated features ‘Song of the Sea’ and ‘The Breadwinner’. She has directed a number of other short films including ‘Donkey’, ‘Loose Ends’ and ‘Cúl An Tí’. She is currently working as Assistant Director on Cartoon Saloon’s upcoming feature film ‘My Father's Dragon’, directed by Nora Twomey.
‘Late Afternoon’ won the IFTA Award for Best Animated Short in February 2018, and has gone on to screen at over 80 festivals worldwide to date, securing many further awards and an Oscar-qualifying win for Best Animated Short at the Tribeca Film Festival.
IFTN journalist Nathan Griffin spoke with Louise ahead of her trip to California.
IFTN: Congratulations on the Oscar nomination. You were over in LA last week and scheduled to head back again this week. How has the experience been since the news of the nomination?
Louise: “It's been pretty amazing. Very hectic, kind of overwhelming, but you can't really complain because you're getting to do things that you never even thought about before. Being able to go to the Oscar lunch and meet all the fellow nominees and going over to LA for these trips, it's not part of your normal working day. It's very exciting. It's also just the added attention that the film gets and then all the crew who worked on it and knowing that the film is getting a big reach. It's very exciting from that point of view, as well.”
IFTN: You have previously worked on features such as ‘The Breadwinner’ and ‘Song of the Sea’. How did the experience of working on your own project differ from previous projects you've worked on?
Louise: “On those previous ones, Breadwinner and Song of the Sea, I worked across different roles. On The Breadwinner, I worked as a character designer and things like that. For me, Late Afternoon was the first bigger project I made as a director in Cartoon Saloon. It wasn't my first time directing a short, but it was definitely the biggest project that I've undertaken myself. Obviously, making it in the Saloon meant that you were also getting the backing and the support from everybody here so that made a big difference too.”
“Really, the shift for me was working on those really big projects, like the feature films. That was a great learning opportunity and a chance to work with directors like Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey. That helps you to have the confidence then to go ahead and make your own directing and writing projects. That was actually a nice path for me, in getting to the short film.”
IFTN: It's an incredibly poignant subject matter. Can you tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind it?
Louise: “The reason I wanted to start making the film in the first place was really a desire to explore this inner life of a character, especially this woman who we learn about her life as she remembers it. Partly, the other inspiration, especially for the character herself, Emily, was probably coming from my own recollection of my own grandmothers.”
“They both passed away before I became an adult. In my own memories as a child, I remember them being these sweet, old ladies, but I didn't necessarily understand fully all the things that they had done in their life, or who they were before I was on the scene and things like that. I really wanted to just try and explore a bit more of what's hidden underneath the surface, in that sense, and the kind of life that people might have lived that you just don't know from the outside. You don't know from the outside unless you really dig in.”
IFTN: Fionnula Flanagan features as the voice of Emily in the film. How did she get involved in the project?
Louise: “Fionnula was fantastic. She did a voice on Song of the Sea. We had a contact for her based on that but it was still like we were reaching really for the biggest name we could. We really thought she would be a great fit for it, but we also weren't sure because we were just a little short film, but she was great. She was brilliant to work with. She came on board very early on.”
“Once I knew she was going to be the voice of the character, Emily, it was even easier for me to write that voice because in my mind, I could hear her saying it so she was great to work with and really felt like she brought a lot of warmth to the character and a lot of personality, just even in the small amount of dialogue that she had. It was great.”
IFTN: Late Afternoon has become the flagship for the Screen Ireland Frameworks scheme having come through its ranks. Can you tell me a little bit about how you and Nuria first decided to apply for the scheme and how you guys got together?
Louise: “Basically, I had the idea for the film maybe even two years before I applied for the Frameworks but I hadn't really pitched it to anybody and I hadn't put it together in any concrete form. Once I heard that the Frameworks deadline was coming up that year, I decided that I was ready. I did know what I wanted to do with this film. I was waiting until I was sure and I was sure.”
“What I did first was I pitched it to Cartoon Saloon, where I was working, just to see if they wanted to go in on the pitch with me as the production company. Because Nuria works here as well, then I approached Nuria and asked her if she wanted to be my producer. Actually, I pounced on her. I said, "Nuria, I really want you to be my producer for this project. Please do it for me." She said, "At least tell me what the project is first." I pitched her the project and she was really happy to come on board as the producer.”
“From then, we went in together. I wrote the script and she, obviously, helped with the production stuff for the application, but we did it. We probably did the full application in the space of two weeks. It doesn't have to be a long, elaborate process. I decided to write a script, for example, rather than doing a full storyboard because I thought if it works as a script then I know I'm not just relying on these nice visuals to make it work.”
“We tried to be clever about our use of time. Also, I knew what I wanted the film to be. I think that helps as well. I was really passionate about trying to get it made, but the Frameworks is great. It's really a fantastic avenue for people who want to make animated shorts because it's something that doesn't exist everywhere. It certainly made it possible for us to make this. I just don't know how we would have made it without the Frameworks.”
IFTN: Colm Mac Con Iomaire's score is fantastic and almost interacts like a character in itself. Can you tell me about the process of developing that music and how much of an importance you placed on it?
Louise: “The music in the film is really, really so important. I always knew it would be. The film is relying on a lot of visuals in order for people to understand what's happening to Emily. We're trying to sell this feeling of floating and also going backwards and forwards in time. There was a lot of things that I knew that the music could help to get us to feel the right response at the right times. After we submitted the Frameworks application, we'd been thinking about who we could get for the music.”
“I had just been to see Colm Mac Con Iomaire playing in Kilkenny, actually. He was playing a gig there. In my mind, afterwards, I thought, "God, He'd be great because his music is beautiful and he has such emotions within the music. Without any lyrics, there's so much emotion in there." We managed to be able to get in contact with him shortly after. Amazingly, we were totally over the moon as he said he would be interested. When we got the funding, we brought him in and talked him through the project. By that stage, we had even more artwork and things to show him, he really understood what we were going for. He got what the project was really about.”
“While we were working on the production of the short, he started working on the music and he would send through samples of the music so we could get a feeling of where he was going with it. Every couple of months, we would send through an updated animatic and edit so that he could see, time-wise, where we were looking for the music and how long the film was and things like that.”
“We worked backwards and forwards a bit over the month of production. Then right towards the end, he came in and he made sure that the music was working with the final clip that we had and recorded it and got it mixed. He was just great to work with and the music came from him - I knew that I wanted the feeling that his music brought.”
IFTN: So the music was evolving throughout the development of the project.
Louise: “Yes, exactly. The main areas were the memories but then we were trying to figure out if we would have music going throughout the whole film or the music would come in and out. The music now, it really takes off when she's in the memories, but there is a tone and a musicality to some of the other scenes, but much lighter, much brighter.”
“It allowed the film to breathe a little bit. It also means that when you go into the memories and you can hear the music coming up, it gives you a sense of contrast and it gives you that feeling like it's about to start again and that's all very important.”
Cartoon Saloon’s ‘Late Afternoon’ will compete at the 91st Academy Awards in Los Angeles, California on Sunday, February 24th.