Logline: The story of a knight who saves the day, using not his sword, but classical ballet.
Length: 6 minutes.
Director: Lana Schwarcz
Producer: Atalanti Dionysus
About the director and producer: (25 words each, if same person 50 words)
Lana Schwarcz performs as actor, puppeteer, stand up comic and corporate entertainer. She writes and creates all her own award-winning work, including the design and build of puppets and sets.
Atalanti Dionysus is an award winning producer who has produced diverse programs across a number of platforms; high end Television Commercials, Music Videos, Documentaries, Short Films, and Feature Films.
Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists): Yes, all of these!
Funders or production company: Lana Schwarcz and Atalanti Films.
Why did you make SIR DANCEALOT?
Well I hadn’t made a puppet film in quite a while, and I had made the Dancealot story up for a Live Puppet Slam show, which went down quite well with audiences. I sometimes get tired of performing small pieces live as I want to move onto other new pieces, and there is certainly never any financial reward for doing them, but the stories of the old pieces keep being called upon, so I will occasionally make a film to keep them alive.
I sent the script and some pics of the live piece to Atalanti, and we had always wanted to make a film together (the two of us, and Alicia Stafford, our Art Director) since the three of us worked as project officers at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. Atalanti loved the script and we went from there.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
I suspect you would watch it as a captive audience member in a film festival somewhere as part of a greater program – It would have crept up on you unknowingly, and suddenly you’ll find yourself grinning at the sheer cuteness of it all, and you’ll feel happier for having seen it.
I’ve never seen Sir Dancealot as a “destination film”, but rather something that makes an impression once it’s been foisted upon you. It’s a fun little story that definitely has its deeper darker themes if you choose to really look past the jauntiness of it all, but that wry and sardonic sense of humour was really more for me than my audience – it lies underneath it very very gently.
If you do want to get the second layer of meaning though, watch out for lines like: “Saving damsels used to be so underground, and that’s what made it cool. But now it’s become so mainstream, they’ve even got a damsel-saving school!”. These are peppered throughout the film, for the more discerning viewer.
How did the script develop from idea to completed film?
It started life as a short live piece that I performed at cabarets and puppet slams.
The second half includes some heated production meetings where my DOP and I (love that guy btw) argued about whether we should shoot green screen or not. He was dead set against it, which was a nice idea, but ended up being an absolute NIGHTmare in post with rotoscoping, which was why it took us almost a year to finish it after we finished shooting.
I made all the puppets – about 17 of them from memory? – in about 2 weeks. I’d normally take 2 weeks to make ONE puppet so there was a lot of frantic sculpting, moulding and casting going on in my studio, and Atalanti brought in some helpers towards the end to get them all painted in time.
If there was funding, obviously that wouldn’t have been an issue, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do to get it done right? We needed multiples of certain puppets – there were THREE Sir Dancealots – one stiff one with an armature wire through it set in a pirouette pose (we then spun him around underneath the set so he had to be very stiff), one Dancealot who could talk, and one Dancealot who couldn’t talk but had full movement through his joints.
I also cast extra legs and feet, and arms – the close ups of some dance moves had to all be done with the legs unattached to the body. We also had doubles of many other characters, as well as the corresponding shadow puppets that had to look somewhat like the 3D characters.
In the meantime, The Seam (our Art Department and a fab collective that Alicia is part of) were busy making our small sets from found materials and on as much of a shoe string as possible.
We shot the whole thing in 5 extremely long 14 hour days. We fed our people well and looked after them, but everyone worked for free. We had a pretty big rotating cast and crew, and we set the whole thing up in my studio in Sunshine (thanks to Sunshine Arts Spaces).
The cast and crew had to rotate cos we couldn’t pay anyone and you can’t expect people to work on something for free for the full 5 days, and so there was a fair bit of teaching of puppetry skills going on from time to time as people came and left.
Our team was super. Really, I couldn’t have asked for better. Everyone put in 100%. I will say this though, except for two people (the DOP and one of our rotating puppeteers) the entire film crew and cast were female.
We didn’t set out to actively only work with women, we really did want to work with equal gender split, but it turns out that we couldn’t get men to work on it at all, as they were all too busy being actually gainfully employed.
So thank god for that gender pay gap and disparity in the industry right? If the industry actually employed more women, we’d have had no one to work on the film. It’s almost as if they KNEW we needed people!
(Seriously people, hire us. I’m broke.)
Then we lost our original editor who was a gun at rotoscoping, and we just couldn’t find anyone to finish the film – it needed serious post to rotoscope out hands and rods in the wider shots (the only other way to get hands out of a puppet scene in a wide is to green screen it, which we obviously didn’t end up doing).
Then we FINALLY found someone to take pity on us to edit it, who didn’t really have experience with rotoscoping, but he’d give it a go. I had already logged and edited a rough cut, so it was just a matter of finishing (obviously we also did a post synch ADR record and once we had a fine cut, Derek Rowe did some lovely plinky plunky music (my exact direction to him – plinky plunky music) to finalise the audio and that’s pretty much it.
In short, we relied on the kindness of many many strangers (friends who are just a little strange) to get this sweet little film made. I feel like Atalanti and I may have bled out of our eyeballs throughout a lot of it.
Is this a personal or a universal story for you?
I guess it’s a bit of both. I sometimes look at the film as a more artful expression of my eyes rolling back at some aspects the theatre/dance/art world. There is some darker commentary there – for example when Maid Winnabeer’s newest contemporary dance piece, “Prone” is lauded and praised widely, even when her piece is an hour of her literally lying prone on the stage for an hour.
I mean, clearly, that’s a gross exaggeration – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dance work of a person lying prone for an hour - but it is genuinely me expressing my frustration at some of the stuff that does get funded and supported.
But DANCEALOT’s story is also a universal one – he’s the Billy Elliot, he’s the Ferdinand the Bull who didn’t want to fight but wanted to smell the flowers, he’s the every person who has felt they were something outside of what everyone wanted or expected them to be. That’s a pretty universal story. The fact that he can krump really well just sets it in a place that is more unusual.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
Only great feedback which is lovely. I wish that translated into dollars to pay my heating bill, but for now it at least warms my heart which is a good start. People laugh. They get it. They love it.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
No. I’ve always believed it was an entertaining and very cute little film, and it still is.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on this platform?
We would like to raise some money for it. Atalanti and I are still very much in debt after making it, and gosh would it be lovely to have it pay its own debt off. We’d love to talk to more people about other puppet films we’d like to make, and we’d certainly be happy to sell it to a network.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
Gosh. Anyone and everyone. We’ve become so used to doing this on our own that any and all help is a godsend.
What type of impact and reception would you like this film to have?
Laughter. Lots of it.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
Why do we need to place films into boxes?
Let me explain: Puppet films are not animations, but nor are they live action. A 6 minute puppet film took us 5x14 hour days to shoot with a big crew (not including preproduction or making of sets and puppets etc).
This means it sits in between the amount of time that stop motion takes to shoot and the amount of time live action takes to shoot, so no one knows where to place it in terms of either funding or screenings. I think we should be bringing puppetry back into the consciousness of the film going public.
What are you developing or directing now?
I am currently preparing to tour my big 75 minute solo theatre show about Breast Cancer around the world.