Saturday, 1 February 2014

Interview with Kerry Drumm

Kerry Drumm is an English animator, who currently lives in Melbourne, Victoria. She has a background in storytelling, film and animation, has just completed a PhD on the subject of animation, and aspires to be a screenwriter. In her spare time she works freelance as an illustrator.
     She has worked for Rising Sun Pictures, Aardman Animations, The Lampshade Collective, and Warp X, been kissed by Paul McCartney, and at one time was responsible for keeping Wallace and Gromit in good order. The films to which she has contributed include: Red Tails (2012), Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), Bunny and the Bull (2009), and the short film The Gallant Captain (2013), which premiered at the Adelaide Film Festival a couple of months ago.
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What kind of a family did you grow up with?

Music played a big part in my family, from live concerts, radio, musicals, to Top of the Pops. The family car was never driven in silence. My dad probably drove too quickly,
but, as kids, we loved it. The car would fly over this one bridge, like Starsky and Hutch, all of us head banging to Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell. I can still sing you all the lyrics to Chris De Burgh’s Patricia the Stripper, another family favourite. Headphones were an absolute must!


When did you first take an interest in animation?

Quite by accident! I was moving back to the UK after living overseas and a work colleague told me of Art University close to where I was moving to. I’ve always loved drawing, so thought I’d check it out. Part of me wanted to be a production designer and I volunteered in theatre groups building props and sets. Reading the prospectus, I stopped at the animation page and Storytelling leapt off the page. It was for this reason I applied.

Who was the teacher who had the biggest influence on you?

I remember my drama teacher Mr Fox and the performances we would do. There was no scripts or dialogue. We all wore black and the stage was in the center of the hall. It was all movement and interpretation (they say that animators are shy actors).
    Being dyslexic, I was an awful reader and I didn’t do particularly well at school. I think my peers were my biggest influence. I remember reading Cider with Rosie in a classroom and a school friend reading various parts. She so nailed it. I looked up from my book and listened. It came to life for me. 

 

What was your first paying job (in any field)?

Exiting the school building (on my last day at school), literally waving my arms and ripping off my uniform, I took an apprenticeship to train as a hairdresser. Thus began my obsession with ever-changing the colouring of my hair (currently red).

What was your first paying job in the film business?

My dream job was working for Bristol-based animation studio Aardman. I remember, when I was offered the job, standing outside their studio trying to call everyone on my phone but my hands were trembling. I couldn’t quite believe it.

Why did you move to Melbourne (the cultural capital of Australia)?

I’d travelled to Australia a number of times, but spent the least amount of that in Melbourne. Upon arriving in Australia, I moved to Adelaide and soaked up (the seaside suburb of) Semaphore. But more job opportunities kept coming up in Melbourne and it seemed like the right move. I worked with Lampshade Collective on their short The Gallant Captain. I’ve been incredibly lucky to meet and work with some amazing people in Melbourne, and like to think of it as home.


You claim you’ve been kissed by Paul McCartney. How did that happen?

I grew up in a thumb-shaped part of the North West of England called the Wirral, also the home of Paul McCartney’s family. I was buying a loaf of bread and in walked Paul with his family. It was during his time of Pipes of Peace and him working with Michael Jackson. He stood behind me at the checkout till. I asked him for his autograph on the back of my receipt. He declined, but said, 'Would this do?' and give me a kiss on my cheek. I was thirteen. I can clearly remember his jumper and long coat. Many years before that, he helped my mum up after she slipped in the snow.

Tell us how you came to be responsible for keeping Wallace and Gromit in good order, and how you went about doing that?

I worked in the Events and Exhibition department at Aardman and maintained Talk Kits containing puppets and props in cases. These travelled with directors and animators to various events and festivals. I used to tell everyone that I was responsible for sending Wallace and Gromit on their holidays. Our department also kept a watchful eye on the studio’s sets, storyboards, scripts and any other materials for future exhibitions and preservation.

• You’re a successful animator and illustrator, yet you aspire to screenwriting. Given how difficult it is to break into that field, why bother.

You tell me? It’s something I keep asking myself at 3.00am when I’m squinting and scribbling unreadable notes in the dark. Perhaps it’s another way of going back to my love of storytelling? I carried a story around with me for about 15 years, and then I had a block of time to start developing. It seemed a natural transition into a screenplay. I’d had some experience writing short animation screenplays, ten minutes maximum. Writing a feature was a massive learning curve, and was very much a case of learning as I went along.
     I consider myself extremely lucky, in that I was already in the industry with friends working in all areas of film and animation. They’ve read draft upon draft, steered me into directions they thought would help, and opened some amazing doors. Now I’m hooked, I can’t stop writing.


When working on films like Pirates or Red Tails or Bunny and the Bull, did you have much interaction with the writers/directors/producers? Any interesting stories?

Bunny and the Bull was a surreal experience. The live-action was shot during the day in a large film studio. Then during the night we’d shoot the stop-motion animation sequences. The set, built by production designers, was massive and we had to animate cars racing along a freeway. But with no access to some parts of the set,

This is a photo of one part of the set in real life...
due to its size, we had to push the cars forward using broom handles. For some of the action we used fishing wire and pulled them. Normally, for a set this size you would have trap doors allowing animators access to awkward parts of the set. 

... The first few frames show the same set after animation.

As for working on Pirates of the Caribbean, who’s going to complain about being paid to see Johnny Depp each day? Not me!

Bunny and the Bull was one of the more interesting films to have come out in recent years. How did you get involved with that project and what was your impression of the movie?

Through a friend, isn’t that how it always works? Not what you know, but who.
Bunny and the Bull allowed me the opportunity to watch Paul King direct. He's mostly recognised for his work on The Mighty Boosh



    When we arrived for our night shift, they would normally be filming. We would wait at the back at watch, until the Assistant Director would shout out that the animators were here. Everyone would turn and look at us. King would walk over to our set, run through last night's shoot and brief us. That side I really enjoyed.

    While at Rising Sun Pictures, they were working on the final Harry Potter film. At first when watching the dailies I would close my eyes, not wanting to spoil the film when it came out. They told me it wouldn’t, so I watched. They lied, it did. Now when I watch the film I see green screens and crash mats. 


    During Bunny and the Bull, we would walk around the sets to stretch our legs. They were kind of creepy in the dark. Seeing the final film I was amazed at how much a smallish set could look so big on screen. I’ve not seen it for a while, should watch it again. I suppose in this industry you’re always moving on to the next project. Family and friends took me to see Pirates of the Caribbean and I fell asleep. Not to say it wasn’t a good film, but sometimes you’re kind of over it by the time it’s done.

•  If you had to suggest just one animation book to a newbie illustrator in Adelaide, which one would it be?

Wow, there are so many to choose from. It really depends on which animation path you’re looking towards. But from the starting blocks I would say Robert McKee’s Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. I’ve only recently read this, but wish I’d read it at the early stages of my animation degree. Additionally, anything that explains the process of storyboarding.
     It’s crucial with animation to have everything locked in pre-production. It can be costly and time consuming to go back for a reshoot. Understanding how to tell your story and what it is your trying to say, is much more important than how pretty it’s going to look. Nail the story first, and then think about animating.


What are your ten favourite (favourite, not ‘best’) movies of all time?

This always seems impossible to answer as I’m always changing my mind. But, here goes, in no particular order...
Mary and Max (2009)
Nightmare Before Christmas (1989)
Moonstruck (1987)
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Say Anything (1984)
Good Will Hunting (1997)
Trainspotting (1996)
Working Girl (1998)
Flash Gordon (1980)
Fatal Attraction (1987)
I remember being invited to a dinner with some folk from Pixar. We were all discussing our favourite films. Some of my colleagues at the table giggled over a conversation a couple of months earlier about my love of Moonstruck. To my joy, one of the Pixar guests piped up that he loved it too. We both proceeded to quote the film, the granddad being the most popular: ‘Somebody tell a joke’. It was one of those high five moments!

What’s next for Kerry Drumm?

I’ve just completed a PhD, which took up too much of my time. Currently I’m trawling through the extensive collection at Victoria Library researching for a developing screenplay. I’ve a new studio space, and working on a graphic novel based on one of my stories. Plus learning, writing, learning, writing, learning...

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1 comment:

Kathy Smart said...

Good luck to Kerry.

On a side note, I loved the way one of Chris de Burgh's band members was wearing a Meatloaf T-shirt.