Inside the World of L.A.’s Puppet Filmmakers
|WIP Featured Artists Meirav Haber, Kevin McTurk, and Sam Koji Hale|
A movie must be completed before its screened, right? Not according to Graphation.
Last night, in Downtown Los Angeles’ Hive Gallery, the independent film group kickstarted their first installment of Works In Progress by presenting three unfinished films to an audience. The focus of the WIP series is less on product and more on process.
“We want these things to be educational,” Andrew McGregor, who comprises half of Graphation, explained during an after show interview. “We’ve shown finished works in the past, and the questions are always, “How did you come to this conclusion, this destination?” We want to be a resource to the creative community. With the digital revolution, you can make your own movie with an iPhone, but what does that actually mean unless you know how to shoot a film with your iPhone.”
McGregor, clad in a cacophony of of patterns and capped by his signature, Jughead-esque felt crown, hosted this evening of movie demystification with his creative partner Josiah Golojuh. This initial WIP showcased a troika of filmmakers specializing in puppet based storytelling. Several dozen attendees crowded into the gallery to watch these artists present hand crafted claymation characters, field questions concerning their creative journeys and screen rough scenes from their infant projects.
|WIP Co-Founder Andrew McGregor Surrounded By Graphation Collages at The Hive Gallery|
The filmmakers were a heterogenous mix of varying ages, experience levels, and genders. Kevin McTurk started his career in creature effects, working on movies such as Batman Returns and Jurassic Park. His first endeavor at puppet animation, The Narrative of Victor Karloch, was a horror short featuring the talents of Christopher Lloyd and Elijah Wood. This work earned McTurk a grant from Heather Henson, daughter of Muppet creator Jim Henson. The funding encouraged him to continue his “Spirit Cabinet” series with his current project, The Mill At Calder’s End.
|Kevin McTurk Showing A Puppet From His Work In Progress “The Mill At Calder’s End.”|
Fellow panelist Sam Koji Hale also began his career via a Muppet connection.
“I didn’t really think about puppetry as a career until I was in art school,” says Hale. “My mentor said, “Why don’t you do a puppet show?” I went out and found the San Francisco Puppet Guild and the first meeting I went to I met Dave Goelz, who plays Gonzo the Great. I got to meet Gonzo. That was a great first experience, the beginning of my journey.”
The journey led him to create the award winning fantasy Yamasong, and his current project, the steampunk revenge short Monster Of The Sky.
|Puppets From Sam Koji Hale’s “Monster Of The Sky.”|
Meirav Haber, the neophyte of the trio, specialized in sculpture before a chance meeting with Robot Chickenanimator Richard Zimmerman inspired her to take a stab at puppetry. She’s since cut her teeth on stop motion animation with her work in progress Stan, the claymation tale of a man bearing an unfortunate resemblance to Satan. For Haber, animation is the next logical evolution for her craft.
“My sculptures have a lively quality to them,” says the Israeli born artist. “I’m almost trying to fool the eye to make you think that they are real. Its a step in the right direction to bring my sculptures to life.”
It’s this realistic quality that influenced Graphation to select puppetry as the theme of their inaugural WIP.
“I think we’re seeing a Renaissance in puppets,” muses Golojuh. “With puppets, there’s a tangibleness, a reality. You know its a puppet but there’s more life in it because of that tangibleness. A puppet is a performance. A digital effect needs to be over the top to be good. You know there’s nothing real.”
Hale delves deeper, citing humanity’s collective unconsciousness in the importance of this discipline. “Puppetry is one of the earliest forms of storytelling. Village shamans would use puppets to pass on knowledge,” he says. A notion echoing the educational theme of WIP. Hale also credits another prominent art form for inspiring Monster Of The Sky. “I wanna do knock-down, drag-out, classic Jack Kirby, comic book action. Like smashing people through walls and blasting them with energy. I had this image of a woman flying in the center of a storm, with energy in her eyes and lightning flashing around. Like X-Men’s Storm.”
|Meirav Haber With Her Puppet Stan|
These allusions are appropriate, seeing that Graphation originated as a superhero themed film festival aiming to translate shorts into graphic novels. McGregor and Golojuh continue to publish original comics, some of which directly benefit charities such as the Tiziano Project and the Mario Lemieux Foundation. Graphation also produces superhero collages, which are hung prominently at the Hive Gallery.
Like a kid excited to read the newest issue of Batman, McGregor eagerly anticipates the next installment of WIP. “We want to bring these back in four months to see how they’re doing, if their Kickstarter campaigns were successful, all that,” he says. “Then, four months after that, hopefully their films will be done. Ultimately, we can show people around the world, ‘You can make your movie. They did it, there’s no reason you can’t.'”