'An Open Door' is our latest Film of the Month

02 Mar 2020 in Film of the Month

11 mins
'An Open Door' is our latest Film of the Month

We're delighted to announce that our February 2020 Film of the Month winner is An Open Door, from filmmaker Jack in West Sussex. This marks Jack's second Film of the Month win, following his triumph back in April 2019 with Suburbia. Watch his latest winning film above.

An Open Door (Engaging for 11+) is a surreal Claymation following a newly born clay figure and his attempts to follow his dreams, whatever they may be...

Every hour locked away in the garage was well worth it. This was smart, fun and brilliantly animated!

Film of the Month Judge on 'An Open Door'

We got in touch with Jack to find out more about his film.

Congratulations on winning Film of the Month for a second time! How did your previous win with Suburbia impact you?

Thank you very much! It's an absolute privilege. Winning for Suburbia impacted me hugely, primarily because it was the first time my work had truly been recognised by any form of film organisation or audience outside of my immediate acquaintance; it felt as though my work was actually having an impact and had a genuine sense of importance behind it, which filled me with huge amounts of enthusiasm for my next works, such as An Open Door. 

The Film of the Month award is exceptionally valuable in my opinion, as it gives a voice and platform to those who may typically struggle to find one and grants them the inspiration and support that they need to continue making their films. The award also encouraged me to continue sharing the film; giving me the confidence to submit Suburbia to a plethora of different film festivals, of which it has now screened at three, including the St Andrews film festival in Scotland, and even a festival in West Bengal, India!

What gave you the idea to undertake an animated film this time?

Well, the film was made as part of a stop-motion animation unit for my Creative Digital Media Production course at my college. However, we were given free-reign to focus on any plot, characters, or genre we desired, and to use any form of stop-motion animation. 

Given that I had previously wanted to make a film surrounding the core narrative, themes, and ideas present within An Open Door, but had never found the right platform or style to shoot the film in, I took the college assignment as an opportunity to explore this extremely strange and visual idea in a manner that could only be achieved through a medium as idiosyncratic as stop-motion animation. 

I decided that animation would allow me to make a film that, much like Suburbia, was reliant solely on the language of visual storytelling (which greatly excited me). And whilst stop-motion limited me significantly through its time-consuming characteristics and physical restrictions, I enjoyed the challenge as it forced me to be creative and focus upon the most important aspects of the narrative without any distractions or limitations supplied by live-action filmmaking.

What were some of the challenges of making An Open Door?

The biggest challenge was most definitely the visual storytelling aspect of the film, for I was telling a complex and fast-paced plot through very limited props, characters, and settings - all without dialogue or any real context in any capacity. I had to ensure that the audience would understand what is happening at all times without becoming disengaged or bored by the film. Likewise, I had to convey important information purely through visuals, such as camera movements or character interactions. 

A particularly difficult scene was the ‘paper writing' scene, where I had to convey what the conflict was, what each character wanted, and what each character was doing, all without dialogue. It was challenging, but I enjoy a good challenge, and in many ways, it made me a more efficient and more thoughtful visual storyteller. 

Another massive challenge was the animation itself. This was the first time I had ever even attempted stop-motion animation, and when beginning the film, I could hardly even animate a character walking, let alone a complex set-piece as seen in later sequences of the film. This is why the film opens on a shot of a rolling ball, for whilst it was crucial for the narrative and themes, it also supplied me the opportunity to get to grips with the techniques of stop-motion. I essentially had to learn how to animate as I went along, so if you watch carefully as the film progresses you should be able to see my animation skills progress with it!

Did working in animation teach you anything for when you go back to live action filmmaking?

Working in animation taught me a great deal about filmmaking, whether that be live-action or animation. As anyone who has ever worked with stop motion knows it is a long and tedious process, yet it also grants you the opportunity to truly take a step back and consider every small aspect of the film. You are literally going through and perfecting everything frame-by-frame, and thus it is incredibly rewarding for filmmakers with a particular vision or style. 

You can really express yourself through stop-motion animation, and more importantly, it teaches you to take your time with your films. Now whenever I am on set, I try and take a step back, much like I would when making my stop-motion film, and really think about each and every decision that I make.

And as aforementioned, it aided greatly in building my visual storytelling skills which are frankly crucial to any great director or filmmaker. All in all, my time working in animation was perhaps the most challenging yet educational filmmaking experience I have ever had, and I will be utilising countless techniques that I learnt on this journey within my future films!

An Open Door is very open to interpretation. Are there any messages you're particularly keen for an audience to take from it?

Well, I certainly have my own personal interpretations of the film, but I wanted this narrative in particular to be really quite ambiguous. I'm a big supporter of the idea that it is not the artist's interpretation that matters - but the audience's, and that it is far more interesting when audiences are given the opportunity to think for themselves and consider on their own terms what they think the film is truly about. 

Though, if there are any messages in particular that I hope the audience picked up on, it's the theme of ambition/dreams, and the price you pay in order to achieve such dreams. Where earlier in life it all seems so simple: you voyage through a set of doors (or milestones), each leading to a final destination or goal all to avoid a sense of meaninglessness or ambiguity in life; which terrifies us (or at least, it terrifies me.) 

Yet, as life unfolds, circumstances get complicated, many other doors appear, many other paths, and some realise that this ‘dream' door never truly was something reachable or satisfactory, and some spend the rest of their days chasing something they could never truly achieve; never being satisfied; always so close to perfection… whilst avoiding the many doors that surround them. 

You could argue it is a pretty pessimistic viewpoint. I'd argue that there is a sense of catharsis in the final revelation, however, and it's not all hopeless. I'm a fairly ambitious and passionate person, so this film at its core was me deconstructing my ambitions and goals and attempting to figure out why I had such a drive to achieve, and what it truly meant for me… though, as I said, there are many questions in this film that are left intentionally unanswered. Some that even I do not know the answers to, so please interpret away! Make this film your own.

If you could make An Open Door again, what would you change and why?

I think if I were to remake the film there is not too much I would alter narratively speaking. I would mainly just focus upon perfecting the animation. I was a complete amateur when beginning the film, and I feel that revisiting it with more experience now under my belt would allow me to be able to animate some far more engaging and visually appealing imagery. Though, in some ways, the amateurish-quality, much like many stop-motion productions, is the key to its charm. So maybe I wouldn't touch the animation! Who knows… but I would certainly like the revisit stop-motion. It is a fantastic medium that doesn't get nearly the amount of attention and credit that it deserves.

Are there any filmmakers who influenced An Open Door?

I would say the main influence for An Open Door was the work of Nick Park,  purely through his groundbreaking Claymation work on Creature Comforts and Wallace and Gromit. I wanted to emulate the manner in which he animated his characters in such a way that made the audience instantly connect with them purely through the way they moved and interacted with their environment. Gromit, for example, never speaks, meaning that Park would often have to use creative visual techniques in his animation to convey his inner thoughts and feelings. This inspired me greatly and aided in forming my techniques for animating the characters within An Open Door. 

Another massive inspiration was Stanley Kubrick; in particular his groundbreaking film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Most obviously, I adored the choice of classical music throughout the film, creating a sense of grandeur, importance, and scale, which against the backdrop of a plain white background, a few clay models, and a few worn-down wooden doors, aided massively in making my film feel as though it had a similar sense of cinematic grandeur. Likewise, the sense of a profound voyage that 2001 conveys through this unknown and terrifyingly vacant setting in order to discover something profound about both the protagonist and the audience at large felt like it would translate perfectly into my own film; and thus was a massive inspiration for me.

What three tips would you give to someone about to make their first animated short?

Firstly, and most importantly, I would say have fun with the animation. Don't get too caught up in the technical side of stop-motion, for whilst it is massively important, it can also be immensely tedious and frustrating. Be creative! Have fun with it and don't set a time limit for yourself, take your time, work out what works for you, and enjoy it! 

That being said, however my second piece of advice is that alongside this creativity, there is a time where you must acknowledge that animation, and particularly stop-motion animation, is a very difficult process. So - learning some of the basics of model making and stop-motion techniques certainly does not hurt! For instance, knowing how to build an armature; knowing what equipment and software to use (I highly recommend Dragonframe); knowing how to animate different stages of walking/running; and even the more technical mathematics side of things (though this is only really needed for very challenging movements/shots). Learn what frame rate you are using, and what distance you need to move your model between each frame to reach the speed you desire. It's hard and it's technical and as aforementioned it can be exceptionally tedious and exhausting but learning these basics can also be incredibly rewarding.

Finally, I must stress that you should not overlook camera movement (and cinematography in general!). It is easy to get swept up in the modelling and animation, but like any other form of filmmaking, animation is a visual medium, and your camera is one of your greatest assets. Indeed, you are no longer confined to simplistic camera movements frame-by-frame you could create a complicated dolly or tracking shot, you could raise your camera to do an aerial or even attempt to focus rack or experiment with depths of field. Stop-motion actually allows you to move your camera in a huge array of unique manners that would be impossible to achieve in live-action film. 

So, rather than ignoring cinematography, embrace it! Work the camera into your film to create a real sense of visual style that could only be achieved through stop-motion. I also think it's important to add not to forget about sound! Sound is 60% of what we see in film and in stop-motion - and it may as well be 90%. 

Sound can bring your models and characters to life and create a sense of tangibility, despite any quirks within the animation itself. Try watching Wallace and Gromit without any sound on - it's an entirely different experience. It feels empty and disengaging, and the idea of models being models and not thinking/feeling characters suddenly becomes wholly apparent. Sound creates a tangible and immersive world for the audience and should certainly not be disregarded or overlooked.

Jack's film will now be showcased to over 300,000 film club members online and all of our Film of the Month films are now on the Into Film YouTube channel, and he has also secured a £100 Amazon voucher to help further develop his future films. Think you could win Film of the Month? Find out more about how you can enter our ongoing Film of the Month competition.

If you've been inspired by An Open Door then make sure to check out the following films:

  • Mary and Max (2009, 12, 88 mins) Engaging for 11+
    A witty and touching Australian Claymation about two unlikely pen pals with a unique connection.
  • Alice (1998, PG, 82 mins) Engaging for 11+
    Czech master of surreal animation Jan Svankmajer brings his dark talents to a magically creepy, loose adaptation of Lewis Carroll's loopy fantasy Alice Through the Looking Glass.
  • A Town Called Panic (2009, PG, 75 mins) Engaging for 11+
    A toy horse, cowboy and Indian go on a series of strange but immeasurably fun adventures.
  • Ray Harryhausen The Early Years Collection (2005, U, 106 mins) Engaging for 7+
    A collection of early fairytale adaptations, demonstrations and interviews with the celebrated stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen.

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