Head Over Heels, a stop motion animation film nominated at the Oscars for Best Animated Short, is a story about an estranged couple, Walter and Madge, who can't agree which way is up: He lives on the floor, she lives on the ceiling. Director and writer Timothy Reckart talks with Verily about the film and what it takes to keep the flame alive after the wedding vows (hint: it's not a honeymoon).
Verily Magazine: You directed an Oscar-nominated stop motion animation film. I’m envisioning you shouting at clay puppets but I feel sure there is much more involved. What does your role as director entail?
Timothy Reckart: You’re closer than you may think! An animation director does all the same stuff as a live-action director: I work with the production designer to create the set, with the cinematographer to set up camera and lights, with the composer and sound designer to create the sound track. All of those collaborations are aimed at telling the story through every dimension of filmmaking. And of course, that includes acting. Animated films do have acting: the difference is that the performance is shared between the animator and the voice actor. So directing animation is only different from live action insofar as performing through animation is different from live acting.
VM: Films such as Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit (my personal favorite), directed by Nick Park, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, directed by Wes Anderson, have forged the way for motion stop animation in the box office. Still, computer animation seems to be favored in mainstream media. What inspired you to choose motion stop animation as your specialty over something like CGI?
TR: This was a really big year for stop motion. Of the ten animated films (shorts and features) nominated for an Oscar, half are done in stop motion. It is the best represented animation technique at this year’s Oscars! I think after 15 years of seeing a lot of CGI in animation and special effects, audiences are hungry for something that feels handmade and tangible. That’s also why I’m attracted to stop motion as a creator. There’s this exaggerated sense of reality that it gets because of the intense focus on these tiny objects.
VM: Head Over Heels has no dialogue, but between the poignant sighs and a few choice hocked loogies, I didn’t miss the talking at all. Tell us why you choose to exclude dialogue from this story.
TR: Dialogue just didn’t feel true to the concept of our film, which already says so much about the relationship between the husband and wife. Dialogue wouldn’t seem to come from the same film. It was challenging to tell the story without words, but it has had a huge, unexpected payoff for the reception of the film around the world. It’s been embraced by very diverse cultures: for example, we’ve won the prize for audience favorite at festivals in Brazil, Japan, and Texas.
VM: What makes Walter and Madge’s story important to you?
TR: The story is about the effort and sacrifice that a loving relationship needs in order to keep going. I think we often see romances and friendships that wilt and die off because no one bothered to care for them. With this film, I want to remind people that it’s worth the effort. When you love somebody, a sacrifice is not painful—it’s joyful.
VM: Is Madge the story's hero?
TR: I think both characters play a necessary role in bringing the relationship back to life. Madge makes the final move that brings them together, but Walter is the one who gets the ball rolling. He breaks the silence.
VM: In the United States, nearly half of all first marriages end in divorce. Tell us how this reality contributed as a backdrop to Walter and Madge’s story.
TR: When you look at romantic comedies, you are almost always looking at films that deal with the beginning of a relationship, when chemistry is really the dominant force. Hormones, nerves, and a desire for the unattainable do a lot of work. A lot of times you really do “fall” in love, the same way you’d fall out of a chair. It doesn’t take effort. But that stage of love doesn’t last. Once that initial blush fades away, love becomes a choice and an act, rather than an emotional state. I don’t think Hollywood films deal with that very often, and I think it has given Westerners a warped view of how relationships are supposed to work.
VM: In one hilarious yet frustrating scene, Walter attempts to re-ignite the romance with Madge. Unfortunately it doesn't go over well. Do you think women often misunderstand men’s good intentions?
TR: I think misunderstanding is a constant fact of relationships, romantic or otherwise. Even in the political sphere, on the level of society at large, we have a problem with left and right misunderstanding each other. It’s a real problem. Ultimately this inability to understand others is a result of self-centeredness, and Madge eventually manages to break free from that.
VM: Many of our readers will want to stay tuned for your next creation. Can you tell us a little about your next project?
TR: The Oscar nomination has been a great introduction to the Hollywood scene, but it’s still so early that I’m not sure exactly where that will take me. My dream is to be working on animated TV and feature films, so I hope that will be in the cards.
To watch Head Over Heels or any of the other Oscar-nominated Short Films, see the list of theaters near you.
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