“MARY AND MAX” writer-director-designer, Adam Elliot
[PREMIERE SCREENING: Thursday, Jan. 15, 6:00 & 9:30 pm — Eccles Theatre, Park City]
My producer and I make clay-animated biographies (or “clayographies” as I like to call them). As with all my films, my latest stop-motion animation, Mary and Max, has a simple plot and the structure is nothing too elaborate or terribly clever. I used to shudder at the thought of calling them formulaic but in many ways they are. My aim as a writer-director is to create a rich and engaging story and then tell it well. I do not obsess over plot and structure and I believe in writing from the heart and not from guidelines in scriptwriting manuals. Nor do I obsess over length. I try not to differentiate between my shorts and my first feature. They are all individual works that have lengths that are needed to tell their stories. I put as much thought and care into my 4-minute film Cousin as I did into my 92-minute film Mary and Max. Why do people obsess with length? Why is it some films that are short seem so long, and some that are long seem too quick? I have sat through short films that have felt like I’ve been watching Titanic three times in a row. My mother always used to say it’s “quality, not quantity.”
Anyway I digress. Have forces affecting all of cinema today affected the structure and lengths of my films? Absolutely not. If people choose to watch my films on their phones (and they do), or see a retrospective of my work at a film festival on the big screen, then that is their choice; I do not mind too much. All I hope is that they leave feeling nourished and that they feel they have not wasted their money. I feel it is an honor as a filmmaker that a complete stranger will be prepared to give up and hour and a half of their lives to spend time with my story. I have always approached my films in the same way; I let them tell me their story. I let the characters become so real that they begin to tell me what story direction we should go in. I believe that storytelling is equipment for living and that all really good stories follow an age-old pattern and rhythm. I believe that when we go to the cinema the experience is not that far removed than from when we sat around campfires in caves telling stories and yarns. Storytelling is the oldest art form and even though cinema is changing (and always has and should), the people creating the stories should not bend too much to the increasing and dramatic changes around us that seem to accelerate each year.
There are enough bad films out there that we need to worry more about creating good stories and less about how they are delivered and the form they should take. There have never been so many ways to watch a film and engage with a story. The quality of delivery has never been better; it’s a shame the quality of the content seems to have never been worse. Maybe I’m old-fashioned; maybe I’ll suddenly become obsolete? Whenever I am in doubt, I remember two things I learned at film school many years ago:
1. The three ingredients of a good film are script, script and script.
2. An audience will always forgive a bad sound, always forgive bad acting, bad special effects, costumes, set design, lighting and editing…but they will never forgive a bad story.
Hopefully these old-fashioned and possibly quirky mantras will still adhere many years into the future and that however we tell stories and whatever the length and form they come in, the essence of a good story will always remain the same. Unless we all evolve a third eyeball or ear, then our primeval brains will continue to absorb stories in the way that seems natural and intuitive; there may be hundreds of ways to engage with a story, but we still only have two ears and two eyes to do so with.