Interview with Kris Lefcoe, director of TINY RIOT PROJECT

TINY RIOT PROJECT director Kris Lefcoe.

Sundance Channel recently sat down for an interview with Kris Lefcoe, the director of TINY RIOT PROJECT. What started as a music video for a small Canadian band ended up installed at some of the most prestigious art galleries and venues in the world such as Art Basel Miami, Havana Biennale, and Galerie Tomas Schulte Berlin. Watch TINY RIOT PROJECT at Sundance Channel’s Digital Shorts.

What was the inspiration for TINY RIOT PROJECT?

: A few years ago I had a vision of an army of Care Bears and Coppertone girls attacking kids. I wanted to re-contextualize these sweet and cuddly icons as a bastion of corporate power. I ended up dropping the Coppertone girls and going for more of the Saturday morning cartoon plushies.

Why did you choose stop motion over other forms of animation, even live action?

Lefcoe : Stop motion is just so charming, so endearing. The viewer is drawn into this magical world, it’s irresistible. So it was the perfect medium, a surprising juxtaposition with the violence and political critique in the film. But it’s dangerously addictive. After shooting it, I wanted to shoot everything in stop motion.

Who were your collaborators on this project and how did you like working with them?

Lefcoe : I had such a great team on this project, it’s crazy, because we spent an entire month shooting in a wet cold basement for virtually no money.

Monica Guddat was the DP, she did such an amazing job on the lighting. I had all these complicated lighting effects in mind (fire light, police lights, etc.) and Monica figured out how to achieve them using basically some scraps of gel, card and tape we had lying around! A truly inspired job.

Rick Gilbert was the Production Designer (also the Producer and Art Director for GREEN PORNO), and he went way above and beyond finding the most amazing little props, set dressing and wardrobe for the dolls. He became obsessed with miniatures on the show, I think he’s starting a production company for miniatures and stop motion.

Brian Haimes and Helene Park were the animators. They are both so talented and brought so much to the film. I actually found them on Craigslist!! And they totally made the project come alive. I really want to collaborate with both of them again, looking for the next project.

Rose Kallal was the Art Director, she’s a Brooklyn-based artist whose work I’ve always loved, she did the projected backgrounds, and even more importantly, provided us with her basement in Bed-Stuy to shoot in.

The band in the film is based on Uncut, a Toronto-based band, and you can hear their song on the soundtrack. The project began as a music video for them, but it went so well I was convinced to turn it into a short film.

Ryder Graham at Gluefactory in Toronto provided the score, including the “tv-commercial white-noise” sound that represents the riot squad. Ryder also composed some really amazing music that didn’t end up in the film. Sometimes you only realize in the edit, or the mix, that less is more. But I hope I can work with Ryder again and have a better venue to showcase his composing chops, he’s really talented.

Guy Maddin put me in touch with Andy Malcolm at Footsteps Studios, which is a magical Foley farm near Toronto. They did the foley track, which I love, and can’t wait to work with them again.

Animator Helene Park finessing a protester’s hair and clothing.

Production Designer Rick Gilbert secures the set.

Do you envision a follow-up piece to TINY RIOT?

Lefcoe : After shooting this, I was absolutely obsessed with doing more using the techniques I’d learned. I designed a follow-up music video for Uncut that took place in a New York subway train, and I’m still fixated on creating a stop motion subway train, all in-camera, with functioning lights and everything. The reflections and light play on the windows would just be so cool.

I’ve also been working on a project about an agent provocateur, a well-meaning cop who infiltrates a group of anarchists and activists, only to fall in love with one of them and switch allegiances. It’s based on the true story of NYPD agents who infiltrated groups of potential protesters in the lead-up to the 2004 Republican National
Convention in NYC. They even sent undercover agents to Montreal to befriend bands scheduled to play anti-Bush rallies, hoping to quash protests before they could even begin! As a Canadian living in New York, I was totally blown away by this story, which was on the cover of the New York Times but went away quickly. So after shooting TINY RIOT PROJECT, I began to imagine this story as a stop motion series because it’s so fun creating riots in stop motion. The problem is stop motion is so slow and painstaking it’s hard to finance. Especially with a political angle. But I’m looking for an outlet for it!

A web of carefully placed gaff-tape strips acting as lighting flags. Director Kris Lefcoe captures the frame.

What projects are you working on now?

Lefcoe : I’m very focused on my second feature film, HOW TO CHANGE EVERYTHING WITHOUT DOING ANYTHING. It’s a comedy about a pathologically distracted girl who accidentally starts a cult. It’s sort of a cautionary fairy tale about the information age. There is an animation element to it and I’ll be collaborating with Sarah Larnach, an illustrator who does all the artwork for the band Ladyhawke. I’ve been getting development financing and hopefully we’ll be shooting in 2010.

I also just finished a short clip called NEW YORK BALLS which is a melancholy comedy I’m hoping to turn into a broadcast series. I’ll put the clip up on MySpace or Vimeo once the sound work is done, which will be any day now.

As an independent filmmaker, how has the current economic climate impacted your work?

Lefcoe : It’s always been hard to finance independent films, especially the kind I make that don’t tend to be genre films, or blend genres. But these days, it’s virtually impossible. It seems you can only make a film for less than 500k (ie. not paying anyone) or a huge star-studded genre or tentpole family film for over 50 million. That eliminates most of the films I love. But I think things are changing, as we figure out new ways of finding our audience and distributing indie films. This was already happening before the economic meltdown, the smaller distributors were going out of business, and the movie business is facing the same “threats” from file-sharing that has effectively brought the music business to its knees. The question is, how do you produce films when content is basically free?

Virtually every filmmaker I know has turned to the web looking for an alternative to the dinosaur theatrical distribution system, including me, reluctantly so! Everyone was getting excited about new possibilities for quick production and distribution of web series, etc. The problem is, as we’re all learning, there is no money there. We can’t pay our crews, or ourselves. We need to produce the thing out-of-pocket and then sell it later and hope to make our money back. So it’s great for people trying out their first production, but, for those of us who do this for a living, it’s a nightmare. One option is branding : associating a product with your film or series so it’s basically a commercial for the product. This is a terrible position for artists to be in. Just like bands who feel like the only way to eat is to license their music for commercials because music sales just don’t pay the bills anymore. Nobody bats an eye, “sellout” doesn’t even exist anymore, it’s like it’s the only option so why discuss it. But I think it still needs to be discussed. Because, even when you think being sponsored by a “brand” doesn’t have to effect the content of your work, there is an insidiousness to corporate messaging in our society that is frankly terrifying. Brands add the word “green” to their product and people believe it’s not still destructive so they buy it. But I could go on and on about this, it’s a complex issue and the truth is the question of how artists finance their work and the moral / political implications of sponsorship have existed for centuries. Just look at the history of Renaissance portraiture…!

Is there any advice you’d like to offer up to those who aspire to become filmmakers, writers, directors?

Lefcoe : Focus on what you’re trying to say, not on being a director because you want to be a director. Find a community of like-minded artists and help each other. Fight the power!

To view more of Kris Lefcoe’s work, check her out on Vimeo and MySpace.