Find out why audiences are buzzing about this one.
Interview with "Working Order" production company Gentleman Scholar
By David Eingorn
Gentleman Scholar is a Los Angeles-based production company founded in 2010 by Will Campbell and Will Johnson—or the Wills, as they are known. They identify their company as a band of like-minded storytellers and solution-based artists. Gentleman Scholar Art Directors JP Rooney and Jordan Lyle also participated in this interview.
Are you comfortable with being called The Two Wills?
WILL CAMPBELL + WILL JOHNSON (WILLS): We are. At first, we weren’t sure how to react, but it’s something that we’re used to now, and has really grown on us. If you were to say, “Will” in a crowd, we’d both turn our heads anyway, so why not combine the two of us?
How close is your collaboration? How do you divide up the work?
WILLS: Incredibly close. Since we’ve been sharing the same office for so many years, it’s gotten to the point that we can finish each other’s thoughts or know how to concept along a similar path so that both our creative thoughts are fulfilled. We work so closely together that we let the divide-and-conquer process happen organically. Because we’re both critiquing each other and everything all the time it never really feels like we’re relinquishing much when the other person is working on something. We try and always be super open to the other’s input.
Do you have separate areas of expertise?
WILLS: I think it’d be more accurate to say we had more distinctive focuses when we first entered the industry. We love to try new things so much that it was only natural that we’ve now completely crossed over into one another’s genres. Now it’s a matter of collective storytelling, getting on the same page, and finding the best technical approach to bring the concept to life as opposed to the other way around.
How did you divide up the work for “Working Order”?
WILLS: We worked extremely closely in the very beginning to create an abstract base that we could evolve from and create visually engaging images to follow loosely with Dora’s beautiful words. Once we had a concept moving in the right direction, our Art Directors, JP Rooney and Jordan Lyle, jumped in and really ran with the concepts – building on ideas that worked really well and substituting other imagery for moments that needed help. The process was very fluid, and people jumped in and out over the course of the piece, which helped with its abstract core.
JP ROONEY: For most of the project, we wanted to have our talented people do what they do best, whether that’s 3D animation or lighting. At times we were pushed out of our comfort zones and had to implement new techniques and new software, to land on the final product.
JORDAN LYLE: From design through production, it was always a tradeoff, really, of who was available to work on it between our other projects.
Did you choose the Dora Malech poem, or was it chosen for you?
WILLS: We chose Dora’s poem. It quickly jumped into our shortlist of poems that were available and we were really excited to bring our visuals to the written words.
Was it what you expected from your experience with poetry? Do you read contemporary poetry? Any favorites? Did you do any research?
LYLE: I’m not an avid poetry reader, but I think this poem was a refreshing re-
introduction to the nuances of poetry, and how one can be led to different imagery with wordplay. Our research initially was surface level – finding the meanings of unfamiliar words, breaking down the cadence of the poem, etc. As we delved deeper, we were certainly more in tune with the energy and essence of this poem.
What is Dora’s poem about in your own minds? What do you like about it?
ROONEY: “Working Order” is as obscure as it is vivid – which was an interesting challenge to cleverly and adequately capture, whilst also very freeing because we had the opportunity to make the imagery anything we wanted to. Ideas of memory and emotion were very present in our interpretation.
You do primarily commercial work?
WILLS: That is correct. We also love telling stories in any capacity, be it short films, music videos, gifs, or any other form of expression.
How was working on the Motionpoems project different from your commercial work?
ROONEY: The difference was a complete creative license, which can sometimes be a good and bad thing. Having some form of restraint often helps projects develop, but in the case of Motionpoems, our restraint was in the painterly style. I think the main difference was not really having a client that we checked in with – we had to be our own client, which meant executing a different type of criticism on our own part.
Do you think filmmakers are locked into either commercial or noncommercial work? Why, or why not?
ROONEY & LYLE: No, it’s the type of work that filmmakers choose to take on that really defines them. Over here at Gentleman Scholar, we agree that the most well-rounded filmmakers participate in both commercial and non-commercial work, as each can push and develop different parts of their creative process.
Did you discuss your film with the author at any stage?
ROONEY & LYLE: We didn’t. We chose to keep true to our own interpretation and process.
What are the stages in your creative process?
ROONEY & LYLE: All in all, we operated on a healthy relationship between design and storytelling in the early phases. Designing, brainstorming, and storyboarding – always adjusting to better craft our story. Different camera moves and compositions tell different stories, and we would try to have a solid body of design before preliminary animation and full-on production. After having that foundation, all that was left was to make it.
What was the most difficult aspect of making the film?
ROONEY: Simply put: time.
As a studio, we set certain deadlines in our production of this piece, especially in regard to the 3D team [which were met]. We didn’t anticipate that the hand-painting and cel animation would be as labor-intensive as it was. From the Art Directors’ perspective, we had other commercial work that we were running after the initial deadlines were met, so we poured a lot of our free time into delivering good quality visuals.
LYLE: Time: Juggling other projects and still remaining dedicated to our motionpoem and determining when to stop tweaking and adding. The painting was tedious and an interesting mental challenge because it was something we had never attempted before.
What are some other technical aspects that you’d like to describe to a nontechnical, but interested audience?
ROONEY & LYLE: In the most easily digestible terms, we created a solid base of moving imagery to work with and meticulously added several layers of carefully placed paint strokes.
As for the poem, aren’t you concerned about the naked bee keeper being stung?
ROONEY & LYLE: Our reading of the poem was about memory, particularly an abstract memory that the woman had about a previous relationship. Sometimes these memories paint beautiful pictures, and at times painful reminders, but typically they are never 100% one or the other. Displaying the beekeeper as vulnerable was important for our interpretation of the poem.
LYLE: I can only imagine it would be an interesting life, being a naked beekeeper.
What do you like most about your film?
ROONEY: As creative people, we had a chance to push ourselves and dive into new territory. I like how it gives a new life or different vision to someone else’s work.
LYLE: I personally like the texture and life that the painting conveys. The tactile approach was not only important to me in the process of making, but I think it helps other viewers to tap into something relatively familiar. Every time I watch it, I see something exciting – some combination of strokes and colors that intrigues me all over again.
Are there other filmmakers and designers whose work you admire? Who are they?
ROONEY & LYLE: Sure. We are all film and animation nerds, and love the work of many of our contemporaries alongside us today. That said, we dug deep into some non-animation references, such as Francis Bacon, the surrealist painter, Roberto Matta, and filmmaker Chris Cunningham for inspiration.
David Eingorn is the Editor and Founder of poetryseen.com, a poetry video website embracing all styles and forms of poetry. Send him your short videos of poetry readings and poem films (less than 5 minutes) at poetryseen.com. He is also the author of the e-chapbook, Impossible I (theredceilingspress 2013). – See more at: http://www.motionpoems.com/working-order-bonus-materials#sthash.nka3oWrP.dpuf