Early in June I received a phone call from my good friend Tom Philion, the CEO of United Arts Council for Greater Greensboro. Tom and I have worked on many projects over the last dozen years or so, always to good end. This call started a conversation about promotion ideas for the up-coming 17 Days arts event in Greensboro. After some thought, I came up with an idea for a stop-motion piece with a story of a stagehand who, after making a blunder, saves the day. Tom was intrigued enough to give me the go ahead, so I started assembling a team to produce the 30 second film “Set the Stage“.
After a call to fellow filmmakers Stephen and Marie van Vuuren, I had the start of what would become a fantastic and enthusiastic team of stop-motionists (I think I may have coined a new term). The team was rounded out with Emma Hadley, an art student at VCU, Daniel Irons, a film student at SCAD, and Lynn Wagoner. I am grateful for all of their help, this project would not have come to life without them.
With Marie as lead set designer helped by Lynn, Emma doing the design and construction of the props and figures, Stephen working out timing and technical issues during the shoot, and Daniel handling the camera and lights, we had all of the aspects of producing a lovely project. Now keep in mind – this is a lot of work for six people! We had a total of almost 30 days of work – from planning to editing – by the time it was completed.
My inspiration for the story comes from an experience that I had many years ago while working as a stagehand on a fashion show. The pre-set was for the front rag to be in the up postion, set parts in place and lighting set for the first scene. Perhaps five minutes before showtime, with a full house, I needed to be in position in the wings stage right, but I was in the wings stage left. The only way to get to where I was supposed to be was to walk right across the stage, in full view of the audience. I was halfway across when I realized maybe it would have been better to walk upstage behind the backdrop. I was mortified, but I kept going on with the confidence of a 23-year-old. Of course, I walked right into the director who was waiting in the wings. This experience contributed to my style of directing, which helps keep me calm, even when not all is perfect. Like our animated hero, a figure of notoriety that goes way beyond Greensboro, I went on to help save both the day and my respectability, and I am reminded that we often get a second chance to prove our value.
The set features the number 17 as you would expect, a tip of the hat to our friend Harry Blair and the beautiful Greensboro Oak Leaf design he created around 1985 for the Carolina Theater, and many of the feature performers and art that will appear during the festival.
We all had a hand in the animation. On the opening shot, we had the camera dollying, focus pulling from a chandelier moving up and out of frame, people in the audience sitting down, and the curtains opening. That was the shot with the most different movements, but perhaps not the hardest shot to pull off. We have different answers for that depending on who was the main animator for a given set-up. While on there can always be a bit of tension with the difficulty of some of these shots, everyone had fun is ready to produce another stop-motion soon, well, maybe in a few weeks, or perhaps a month.