What I Learned From Puppets: Lessons From Anomalisa

September 9th, 2012: I didn’t realize that this day was going to change the course of my life for 3 whole years. For 3 years I lived in a bubble… a miniature bubble, at that.

I may not know the rules to the Game of Thrones or what happened to Shia LaBeouf, but I can tell you exactly when the binder will run out on the 3D printer. When it finally rains in LA, I can tell you exactly where the leaks will be in the building. I can tell where to go to buy more fabric to make more of Lisa’s shirts. I can tell you that you are doing a great job and I can’t pay you your full rate but we need you on our team.

When I look back at all of our challenges, I say to myself, “was I on a reality show?” I don’t even know how to share this experience. I don’t know how to convey the level of stress, the feeling of uncertainty, the fear that at any minute everything that we’ve devoted ourselves to will come crashing down.

From L to R: Animation Supervisor Dan Driscoll, Me, VFX Supervisor Derek Smith. Photo Credit: Nate Joski

Making a stop motion indie feature is guerrilla film making, times 10. What can I fix using duct tape? How can you reuse the duct tape? How can you fix something without any money? How can I BE creative?

Well I found that being nice gets you a long way AND sending a vendor a dozen cheese rolls from Porto’s in place of a very late past due payment can get you some more time.

I found that when a giant repo man pounding on the back door telling you to move a car so he can repo the storage container holding all of your sets, you look at him in the face and say no you’re not and hand him your personal credit card to cover the bill.

I found that on sleepless nights, I can troll eBay to find and buy old machine parts to use as camera rigs.

I found that when it rains, it leaks and all you can do is cover up the set and ride it out.

Chasing leaks on set. Photo Credit: Nate Joski

Words cannot describe what it was like working with such an imaginative force like Charlie and Duke. At times it was extremely frustrating and others times it was invigorating, refreshing, and dare I say fun. I feel like we complemented each other and pushed each other to work harder and to try harder. There were many times when I felt like I was letting them down: when I couldn’t get the rights to Casablanca, when the armatures we just paid for crumbled in our hands, when we lost our animators, and when we fought.

I felt like a big failure. I felt like I was letting everyone down, I felt like I was the weakest link and that I did not deserve to be there. Then I would go in to a stage and I would see the animation. I would see all the departments working so hard to create such a beautiful moment and I was a part of that team.

Clockwise From L: Animation Supervisor Dan Driscoll, Me, DP Joe Passrrelli, Moco Operator Dick Kaneshiro. Photo Credit: Nate Joski.

Stop motion is so magical. When you step on to stage you are transported to a miniature world with a perfectly made bed with refreshing drinks with tiny landscape paintings. We worked together like a collective animation ant farm to create this world and it wasn’t always fun. It was hard. People quit. People said we couldn’t do this. People wanted me fired. But I hunkered down. I believed in what we were doing and I rolled up my sleeves and pushed all the naysayers (including my own voice) out of my head.

I learned that you have to trust yourself. You have to believe in yourself. You have to make your own opportunities. You have to work as a team. You have to keep pushing forward even if everyone around you is telling you no, including yourself.

Scheduling with Production Manager Nathanael Horton. Photo Credit: Chris “Toots” Tootell.

I have never been so proud of myself… not in the arrogant, “yeah I’m a badass” sort of way, but proud of myself because I believed in me. I trusted myself. I listened to my gut feeling. Three years later, I’m proud of the film we made. I never imagined we’d be sharing an Oscar nomination with one of the biggest, most successful animation studios on the planet. But we’re still the underdogs; again it’s our tiny movie against the naysayers but I still believe that we have a fighting chance. No matter what happens, I’m deeply impressed with what we accomplished, and delighted to be here at the finish line, taller, stronger, and hopefully a little wiser. Really all you can do is try.