Emma Seach on Overlook
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Emma Seach on Overlook
Overlook, image courtesy of Emma Seach

Overlook, inspired by The Stanley Kubrick Archives at the University of the Arts London

APEngine spoke to Emma Seach about Overlook, the 3 Minute Wonder that she directed, that took its inspiration from The Stanley Kubrick Archives.

What was the brief of the project?

We were asked to go through The Stanley Kubrick Archives and find material that interested us, to make an animated film for Channel 4’s 3 Minute Wonders, as a run up to a documentary about the Archives that Jon Ronson was making.

How did you set about exploring the Kubrick Archives?

It was really free. When we first went there it was really nice because it wasn’t too rigid at that stage. We went in there and all the archivists had put out a table of things that they thought would interest us.

Jon Ronson had come to the London College of Communication (LCC) to do a talk and to show us the documentary that he was in the process of making – it wasn’t finished then but he gave us tasters of what he found really interesting. So then we went to the Archives ourselves. Once we knew the kind of things that we could find, we could ask and request everything else that we wanted.

So what did you find?

The main thing that really excited us was some photograph albums – that didn’t feel like we were supposed to see them, they felt really unpreserved. They were like family photograph albums with a child’s wrapping paper covering the album and really crumbling and falling apart with all the photographs falling out.

We went through them and there was this real feeling of nostalgia of going through them. There were Polaroid photographs of The Shining hotel, completely deserted, and all the photographs were fading because they weren’t fixed very well or they were old or stained or crumbling, which just added to the atmosphere of the image. The photos were some kind of continuity shots – it wasn’t about the actors – it was just about shooting the set, apart from every now and then you would see the odd dead body at the end of the stairs or like a shadow that has just gone across the wall. They really felt like a link between the film and the archive, with the archive being real, the film obviously not being real – but these photographs really made you feel like that place actually existed.

And that is the material you ended up using in Overlook?

Yes. There were loads of really exciting things in the archive, but that was the thing that really got us all. We we had all been there before – because everyone had seen that film – but these photographs – that are of that place – looked very different. We felt like we had been there before which made it feel real and a bit scary! As though something weird has happened there and it’s already set in your memory. That was that kind of feeling that we wanted to convey.

We wanted to create a sort of dreamlike journey. You can explore the remains of a place that doesn’t exist anymore but you know it anyway, and that’s also what the archive is. It is a house of memories. Also the photographs were all decaying, so that memory was kind of getting lost and the image was fading and then we went on to explore that idea of decay.

You made that explicit when the film first starts

That was something that came out of going through the archive and looking through all the shots. Then we found out that the set had burnt down and that gave it even more of a strange sense – there was a kind of dreadful ghost and devil feel to the place. The idea that these photos were the last records of that place outside of the film itself. They were like the last factual records of it, which kind of underlined that impermanence.

At the end you acknowledge that with a caption about the fire – did you think about whether to put that at the end or at the beginning?

That was a last minute suggestion from Channel 4 – to tell people quite blatantly about the idea.

Before, we were going to start in the archive, then move into the photographs, into the hotel, explore the hotel and then come out again through the archive so you really knew that those images were part of the archive and you were exploring. We scrapped that idea and said no, let’s just put them straight in the hotel because we thought it would be quite nice on television if you are watching the news and then suddenly you are just in an eerie hotel.

What was it like working with Channel 4? Did you have a lot to do with them and their production company?

We would present them our ideas and they would say yes or no basically. At the very beginning we did a pitch where we were supposed to pitch two ideas and they would choose one that they preferred, but we were so set on these photographs – that’s what we pitched to them and they were really happy with that. Then at another point later down the line we did a presentation at Channel 4. At every stage they were always really positive. It was very free and I think actually that was the best thing about the project.

We did have to write to Warner Bros because those images are owned by them and they were absolutely fine with us using them. There were lots of letters and notebooks that might have been sensitive to the Kubrick family – and as long as we didn’t use stuff like that and as long as there weren’t any people’s faces shown – we were fine. That’s why these photos lent themselves perfectly to the project – because we wanted a deserted, displaced image.

So you were the director and it was a group project, like a student project, did it feel like a real world kind of experience?

Yes and no. Yes in that we had a deadline. And we had a budget, but at the same time, we didn’t have to hire any equipment, or any space, and it was a very cheap project because we had our photographs. We were originally going to build a maze, use the photographs to build a maze and move the camera round it and the maze was going to be based on architectural plans of The Shining hotel. There were architectural plans in the archive and we were going to build! But it was a much cheaper and easier to build a 3D set in After Effects. So it was more of a real life project in that we had to handle our budget, but then also it wasn’t in that because we weren’t paying anyone the budget wasn’t real. We made it very cheaply.

How did the group dynamic work was that okay?

At the beginning it was great. I think we were all affected in the same way by the archive material. We all had the same ideas and everyone had their role. Hugh was really interested in the decaying surface of the images, so he was the main guy who animated the decay. He works as a projectionist, and he would burn film in the cinema. The group dynamic worked really well and I think we worked to everyone’s strengths. Andrew is a very good animator and he did the animation stuff. I was the only one at the time who knew how to do After Effects so I taught the group how to use the programme in order to get the base of the film. It was my first time directing so that was a challenge – to give people their space, not be too controlling and at the same time keeping people together.

Did you look at other work by artists who used archive material?

One of the main inspirations for the film was the film Decasia by Bill Morrison – the surface decay and the idea of impermanence.

Who did the sound?

Originally, Hugh was recording lots of voices he wanted to find out people’s memories of Stanley Kubrick. In the end, we didn’t need these voices plus the soundtrack, but I think that influenced us a lot – all of the memories that he managed to collect. In the end we used a sound artist, Richard Coles, and created a soundscape of decay and scratching.

What made you want to study animation?

Drawing is my main thing initially it was just finding another dimension to explore -  finding rhythm and music and putting time to drawings basically.

What are you up to now?

I am going to do a postgraduate degree at The Prince’s Drawing School. And I’m doing animation for a theatre adaptation of A Diary of a Madman. It’s a monologue, and all the background will be projected – so all of his delusions and illusions are going to be animated and projected and he will be interacting with the animations.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009 | Tagged with , ,

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