Every year there are short films that even though they only are on screen for a few minutes, they will stick with you for a very long time. In just 10 minutes “Head Over Heels” accomplishes that with its fantastical story of a married couple who have drifted away so much that one lives on the ceiling and the other on the floor. We were able to talk with writer/director Timothy Reckart about his Jimmy Stewart Memorial Crystal Heart Award-winning short and the challenges of telling a story with inverted gravity.
Heartland Film Festival: You have made some stop motion short films before, but this one is much larger in scale and ambition. What was it like working on “Head Over Heels” as opposed to the other ones? How long did it take to make?
Timothy: “Head Over Heels” is definitely the biggest project I’ve tackled so far. The major difference for me was the size of the crew I was working with. All my previous projects were mostly solo projects with the involvement of just a few other collaborators. This film, on the other hand, was a collaboration from start to finish. We had a full team of eleven NFTS students, plus dozens of volunteers, which made for a crew of about fifty people. Even then, it took six months to build all our sets and props, and another six months to animate. From development through to the end of visual effects and color grading, it took us 15 months to make “Head Over Heels”. For me, the big difference was the shift from making decisions on my own to guiding the decision-making of my team. That’s the real job of a director, and when you are lucky enough to have a talented crew, it’s much more fun.
Heartland Film Festival: What were the most difficult things to animate in this story?
Timothy: The sense of weight and gravity in any animated film comes through movement. Porky Pig can feel light as a feather if he tiptoes across the screen like a ballerina. So the major challenge I faced in animating this upside down world was to convey the inverted force of gravity. It had to be tangible and instantly readable so that the audience would intuitively understand the twisted laws of physics. There are a few moments early on that signal how objects can switch between gravitational fields: the picture frame, the refrigerator, the pancakes and eggs… But beyond that, I had to make sure the characters schlepped their own weight whether they were upside down or not. It took a little extra thinking and cocking my head sideways to figure it all out. And it didn’t help that the whenever the wife was positioned upside-down, her head was likely to slip off and fall to the ground!
Heartland Film Festival: What are the strengths of telling a story with no dialog?
Timothy: While I was developing “Head Over Heels”, I wrote dialogue in early drafts to help myself understand the story clearly. But it never quite felt right, I think because the concept of living upside down said so much without using words. The method of storytelling had to stay faithful to the visual metaphor. That challenge was really constructive because one strength of a film without dialogue is that it forces you as the director to think visually. Figure out a way to communicate this character’s thoughts using a picture, whether that’s through blocking, composition, color, lighting, or whatever. The added payoff is that audiences who speak totally different languages have equal access to the story, and that is certainly the case with “Head Over Heels”, which has won audiences prize in Brazil and in Japan.
Heartland Film Festival: The house such an intricate home with all sorts of knick-knacks from their life. Was it fun to come up with such a lived-in place?
Timothy: The intricate level of detail in the set dressing was a labor of love by our production designer, Eléonore Cremonese. The ideas she presented to me were informed by her research into architecture and interior design, but she was also guided by the characters. I was thrilled to see her delving into the back-story, often more deeply than I had while I was writing it! She visualized the conflict of personalities as a conflict in space: the husband’s indoor workbench crowds out the wife’s makeup table, for example. And these two props in particular tell us about each character’s history. The workbench suggests that he used to work as a handyman, and the makeup table is the kind you might see backstage at a ballet performance. All of the props Eléonore designed (and almost everything was designed from scratch) add to the story in some way. As a director, when you work with someone like Eléonore, you aren’t only creating a film – you also get to discover it.
Heartland Film Festival: Are you at work on your next project?
Timothy: I’m developing three new ideas at the moment: one is an adult web series in claymation, another is a children’s TV series, and the third is an animated feature film. But since finishing “Head Over Heels”, I’ve been spending a lot of time promoting the film on the festival circuit, so I haven’t figured out which idea will actually be the next project.
Heartland Film Festival: What have been some moving films that have inspired you as a filmmaker?
Timothy: The Pixar short “Partly Cloudy” was a direct influence on “Head Over Heels”. I nearly cried at the end of it; it was such a powerful story about the sacrifices you have to make when you love somebody, and I wanted to make a short film with that kind of emotional payoff. There is a real art to moving an audience without being sentimental, and the films that manage to do it are really memorable. I also think of Wall-E, Children of Men, and Whip It as films that surprised me and opened me up emotionally.
You can purchase tickets for “Head Over Heels” which will play with the programming block “Festival Awards Shorts 1” for the following days…
– Friday October 19 at 10:45 a.m. and 4:15 p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14
– Saturday October 20 at 12:30 p.m. at AMC Showplace Traders Point 12
– Sunday October 21 at 7 p.m. at AMC Showplace Traders Point 12
– Monday October 22 at 4:30 p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14
– Tuesday October 23 at 2 p.m. at AMC Showplace Traders Point 12
– Friday October 26 at 11:30 a.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14
– Saturday October 27 at 11 a.m. at AMC Showplace Traders Point 12
Interview conducted by Austin Lugar