The ‘Magic’ art of puppet films

Believe it or not, Atlanta has a rich history of Puppet movies. Recent short film like The Dark Companion, Puppets of War and Shadow Puppets have made their presence known on the film festival circuit and even the sock puppet feature film from Lynn Lamousin, The Lady From Sockholm have proven to be inventive takes on the genre. It helps that Atlanta is home to the fine Center for Puppetry Arts which is very committed to the magic of puppetry.

Molly Coffee seeks to continue the recent tradition of unique and entertaining puppet films with her latest short film Magic The Gathering The Musical (MTGTM). I was recently allowed to visit the set and take a look at the project and speak her.

What made you want to make this film? 

I am a geek through and through so creating a film that takes place in a comic book shop was a natural decision.  A Magic The Gathering tournament is merely the vehicle in which our universal story is told.  Being a fan of the game or knowing anything about it is completely unnecessary.  Originally this script was written as a live-action dialogue script by Charles Thomas.  It was always intended to eventually be converted to a musical script but the idea to use puppets came from being around so many talented puppeteers in the Atlanta community.  I had seen a few very cool films that had introduced puppets into the real world; The Dark Companion by Darrell C Hazelrig and Shadow Puppets by Sam Carter.  Creating the sets from scratch on a puppet scale eliminated the problems of finding our locations and having an art background, building is always appealing because you have no real limitations.

You’ve worked with Stop Motion Animation previously. Was it more challenging dealing with puppets and puppetry artists for this project?  

Each brings their own limitations.  It is definitely not easy to create a film with puppets. It controls everything that you do.  Luckily Raymond Carr (Walking With Dinosaurs, NickJr's Lazytown) came on board as a producer and helped me skip a lot of problems when building the sets.  For example, we had to make all of the sets on risers four feet off the ground, and all of the furniture had to be on adjustable stands to give room for the puppeteers to stand underneath.  I also, very much wanted to shoot this like a film with coverage and dolly moves, which gets very complicated when it comes to hiding puppeteers.  I had to make some concessions but Raymond was integral in helping me get what I needed and his connections in the puppet community brought in some A+ puppet talent.

You have a background in production design, did that work to your advantage on MTGTM? 

Aimee Holmberg, Amber Goodrum, Beth Gleason and I have worked art department together this past year on quite a few things so it was very cool to be able to create something from scratch that was so heavy on art that really showcased what we can do.  And to know that we did it with such a small crew and small resources is impressive. We all made sure that there wasn't a dull corner in the set.  We also wanted to make sure that if we had puppets existing in a puppet world that the sets around them would showcase a lot of hand-made elements and bright colors that mimicked the look of the puppets.  Of course, this created a lot more work for us, but in the end, I am so happy with the way that it turned out.

What are you plans for the project once it has been completed? 

This is a fan-film.  We will never sell it or make it available on a pay-site like ITunes.  It will eventually be placed online for the world to see but not before we spend the next year doing the film-festival circuit.  I really want to create a TV show that is an adult children's shows.  So the plan is to put the film online about the time that we start working on that next year.

This is another project that was successfully able to raise funds via an online campaign, which is becoming more prevalent these days. What do you think was the key to your campaign being successful? 

We wanted to take full advantage of crowd-sourcing.  We spent a weekend creating a promo film for Kickstarter that was interesting.  We also tried to make sure that people got their money’s worth when donating.  I see very often online that people give away all of the money that they make in their rewards.  We tried to find the right balance.  We have also tried to update often so that the people feel involved in the process and know how appreciative we are.

What was the most challenging aspect of getting this project into the can? 

Absolutely and positively the music.  It has been a long road over many months writing the music with Michael Jones who is incredibly talented.  From composing to arranging, to converting the script to lyrics, to recording the voice actors, to mixing.  It has been a long road.  And one that we will have to spend more time with once we have the final cut of the film and go into post production sound a little later this month.  I got very lucky to have Michael to collaborate with.  We were on the same page the entire time and it was such an easy collaboration.  I was able to tell Michael exactly what I was looking for and then turn around and he had samples for me to hear.  He has a very bright future in the industry and I am lucky enough to know him right at the beginning of his career.