Adorably Spooky Stop-Motion Animation Explores Life After Debt
Stop-motion animator Simon Allen talks about the struggle of making 'Mother’s Peak' after having his funding was pulled.
Just as production was set to begin on a spooky stop-motion animated film about a woman who befriends the deceased, its funding was pulled. Thankfully, one filmmaker has been bringing the project back from the dead ever since. Mother's Peak is a stop-motion film that animator Simon Allen of Turrim Studio has spent over a year working full-time to create.
The film tells the story of Bee Grady, a woman who lives in the fictitious Pennsylvania town of Mother's Peak, and the kinship she develops with a spirit that eventually fills her life with darkness and danger. Although Allen has finished the raw animation by funding the project himself, the film still needs to be edited together with dialog and music, and he is crowdsourcing funding to complete the project.
A couple of years ago, Allen casually showed a friend the preliminary sets he'd built for Mother's Peak in the living room of his Chicago home. His friend was so impressed that he told his co-workers about the project and Allen was offered $20,000 to make the film for the company for which his friend worked. Numerous discussions and arrangements led Allen to relocate from Chicago to the East Coast to start work on the project, but Allen tells Creators that his plans changed during the final board meeting to discuss the details of the project. "The script was read, storyboards reviewed, and physical puppets and miniatures gawked at. For one reason or another, the executive at the table felt the film didn't resonate with the company's online audience and general brand."
While speaking to his brother about losing funding for the project, Allen decided to go ahead with the film and pay for it out of his own pocket. "He told me to abbreviate the film, to scale back, and turn a $20,000 animation into a $5,000 animation. I took that advice, teary-eyed, and I think the film is actually a finer tuned machine because of it."
When the funding was on the table, Allen had planned to rent a studio space, hire interns, and bang out the entire film in about six months. "But when that budget suddenly isn't there, the big studio you were going to rent in the city suddenly becomes that part of your brother's basement where the spiders are, where he keeps all the sheets of glass that you aren't totally sure why he has so many sheets of glass in the first place. I cleared it out, put a big carpet down, and set up shop."
In the long run, this early setback may have improved the ultimate outcome of the film by fortifying Allen's will to tell the story in the best way possible. "I figured out how to make things cheaper, how to cut corners without it suffering aesthetically. I now think that losing my budget, and having undergone that soul-crushing blow to the gut by the universe made me a smarter and more concrete artist, capable of making something out of nothing."
Throughout the animation process, Allen shared stunning images of the sets he built with the help of a few collaborators. The sets feature minute and handcrafted details, like a discarded soda cup in a stream. "I like to combine familiar stories with unfamiliar characters; a genre like 'a haunting' but set in a lower middle class town in Pennsylvania, far too often animations are dominated by spoiled kids who live in white-picket fenced-in homes with nice parents. My childhood didn't look like a Pixar movie and I hope to make films that offer alternative backdrops and characters."
To crowdsource the financial support needed to complete the project, Allen and his friend Evan Weiss put together an ingenious video featuring an interview about Mother's Peak on a bogus public access talk show called On: Animation. Although the talk show is fictitious, the video was made at a real television studio, which does broadcast actual public access interviews and community programming. "When Evan and I caught wind of their channel and videos, we both thought it would be a brilliant way to construct a Kickstarter video. Instead of looking into the camera and explaining myself, he and I would conduct a phony interview and answer the basic questions backers might have. We loved the look of the video, the cameras were slightly older and had this authenticity built right in. [...] That entire video was improv, the only thing we scripted was the character he plays, Whitney Thrickmeier: a very studious and passionate interviewer who doesn't miss a beat. We modeled him after Charlie Rose and William F. Buckley."
In a poetic twist, the idea for the plot of Mother's Peak came to Allen a few years ago in a manner as spooky as the story itself. "I think I woke up one night, I was living in a shitty apartment with my girlfriend at the time, and I had this flash of imagery about an old person who made things to sell at a flea market. An old person who lived on their own and made small, little objects and sold them, like a tinker of the old world."
Strangely enough, working on the project has made Allen's life mirror that of his own fictitious character. He's spent a lot of time making little objects himself, and now he's selling the film's miniature set pieces as incentives for funding his Kickstarter to bring his character's story to life. "The story is about parallel dimensions crossing and the things we learn once we unearth the painful past," explains a statement on the project's Kickstarter page.