Jilli Rose, Director: STICKY (Animated Documentary Short)
1Q: Tell us a little about the origins of STICKY, from concept to financing.
Sticky is an animated documentary telling the heart-warming conservation success story of the stick insects from Lord Howe Island. These insects were thought to be extinct until a tiny population was discovered in 2001 on a single bush on the world’s tallest sea stack. It was a story I had never heard till I stumbled across this article:
I read it and was thunderstruck. I couldn’t believe that such a mind-blowing story had happened right down the street from me (I lived very close to Melbourne Zoo where the insects were brought for captive breeding). The insects were perfect scrappy heroes, their story more like a fairy tale than real life, complete with exile on a secret island. I contacted the people mentioned in the article (freaking them out a little with my enthusiasm), shelved the script I was working on and started research for Sticky. The most influential part of preproduction was a visit to Lord Howe Island; it’s easily the most startlingly beautiful environment I have ever walked through, but the lowland forests are eerily quiet and still. It’s so obvious, even to an untrained eye, that there’s something dreadfully wrong with the natural system there. At that point I became really passionate about the story. I assembled a team, we crowdfunded, received a grant from the Awesome Foundation, and now that the film is complete Melbourne Zoo have pitched in to help with our film festival costs and to launch Sticky in their spectacular butterfly house.
2Q: What was your best and/or worst experience while making STICKY?
It sounds disingenuous but this project has actually been wonderful start to finish, with every single plan, wish and hope working out. We’ve been freakishly lucky and have ridden a massive wave of support, much of which has come from the science community. I’ve met wise, generous, funny, energetic people, had fantastic, ridiculous fun filming for rotoscoping wearing cardboard costumes (it was exactly like sweding in Be Kind Rewind), animated directly to heartbreakingly beautiful cello music (http://kristinrule.bandcamp.com/), seen baby stick insects at the zoo that had just hatched that day . . . I think the biggest discovery for me has been how much I love the process of making documentaries. Filming, interviewing and animating Sticky has left me with this impression that we all have stories, millions of them, it’s what we’re made of, and even the most reserved of us will light up and speak with drama and urgency when asked about them.
It’s terrifying showing something so personal to a group of strangers – really exposing – but this is such a gorgeous story, I know people are going to respond to it. I think they’ll be won over by the beauty of the film visually and by the tenderness the scientists display towards these little animals, and surprised by the emotion they end up feeling for the plight of this group of stick insects living such a long, long way from their home.
4Q: Although short films are my favorite, they often have little chance of being seen by a wide audience, and an even smaller chance of gaining you fame and fortune. Now that you’re in the “easy” stage of filmmaking, the high of showing your film to an audience, was the making of STICKY worth it? Will there be more films from you in the future and would you stick to the short format?
As a viewer, I agree, there’s so much to love about shorts, and as a creator, I really like the challenge of getting an audience hooked and a story told in a short slice of time. One of the benefits of working in a field with a limited audience and market is that it’s really free – like a massive sketchbook – it feels like everybody’s trying things, making glorious discoveries, messing up, figuring it all out – it’s raw, experimental and fun, with heaps of elbow room. Who wouldn’t want to work in that environment? Of course I’m coming back for more! I’m developing a science-based, animated TV series for kids this year and another fully animated short documentary as well. Was it worth it? Totally, absolutely, I wouldn’t have missed this ride. It’s so exciting to see the film heading off into the world to do whatever it’ll do. So far it’s been watched by schoolkids in the Seychelles, scientists at the UN, and even David Attenborough (who enjoyed it very much, we heard) – I encourage feedback, so I’ve been getting lots of mail.
I’d thank the venues: the cinemas that are reviving the practice of screening shorts before features, the festivals that include shorts programmes, and the Academy for continuing to provide the short animation category, which is a such brilliant springboard for independent animators. Then I’d try to encourage filmmakers not to worry too much about the market for their film up front and to let their emotions guide them more. Those stories that hit you between the eyes, thrill you, make you feel like a kid, move you to tears or enrage or delight you, those are your stories to tell. All of that emotional energy can’t help but come out in your film and who knows what that’ll look like or where you’ll end up, but bottom line: you’ll have shown your heart to the world, and I for one want to see it.