Film: Interview - Jonah D. Ansell

If I told you about a 2D animated short film for adults based on a poem (yes, I mean the whole thing rhymes) about a cadaver waking up to say goodbye to his wife, would you find it interesting or just laugh? 
What if I told you it starred everyone's favourite blogger/Editor in Chief of Tavi Gevinson, Back to the Future's Christopher Lloyd and Academy Award winner Kathy Bates and was written and directed by Jonah D. Ansell? Would you think it was too good to be true? 
Did I mention the soundtrack is Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" covered by Tavi Gevinson?

I assure you all this is true, Jonah D. Ansell's Cadaver combines all the things above to create a unique film, curious enough to keep it in your mind once you heard of it without dismissing it as simply strange. A cadaver awakens after his heart get's taken out, he claims it belongs to his wife and sets out to give it to her, only to discover a truth in death he never saw in life - a dark romantic story in a time of commercialised love.


When and how did you become interested in filmmaking?

Creativity was always something I pursued in the margins of my actual life.  At six years old, I picked up my first baseball and didn't put it down until I was 21.  I was a pitcher.  I had a fastball that attracted pro scouts.  I had a fastball that propelled me to college.  Life forces you to specialize.  At a very young age, I began to define myself (and society began to define me) as a baseball player.  And yet, I had this robust other side of me that I had no idea what to do with.  I loved humor, writing, and making stuff.  I was raised on Eddie Murphy, George Carlin, Chris Rock, early 90s SNL (Dana Carvey, Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, Kevin Nealon, Phil Hartman, Norm Macdonald) and movies like Stand By Me, Big and Home Alone.  When other seventh graders started toying with cigarettes and Zima, my friend and I would shoot slapstick movies in our front yard with my dad's video camera.  And not like some sort of cool, nostalgic 16mm camera, a really shitty early-90s video camera.  As an undergrad at Amherst College, I launched a satire magazine, very much in the vein of The Onion.  After graduating, I launched my first company.  We sold NCAA apparel into Walmart and college bookstores across the country.  We started a humor magazine to market the products (which weren't selling terribly well).  Very quickly, we realized, the writing was more fun than the selling.  We sold the company to National Lampoon.  I went on to film school at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts to get my MFA to turn the margins of my life into my actual life. 

What makes a film good to you?

A good film yanks you from wherever you just were, explodes you into a new world, and spits you back out with the ability to more deeply understand wherever you just were.

Which filmmakers do you admire/influence your work?

My storytelling influences go beyond film.  I'm inspired by filmmakers, musicians, comedians and innovators -- pretty much anyone capable of leading honest and incisive dialogues about the nature of the human condition.  If I had to name names, I'd say David Byrne, Chris Rock, Larry David, Alexander Payne, Miles Davis, Robert Zemeckis and John Lasseter.  I'm also really grateful for my elementary school teachers who fostered (what I now recognize as) a prolifically creative learning environment.  Mrs. Sorenson, Mrs. Weertz, Mrs. Knight, Mr. Ellwanger -- and who could forget Mrs. Gilkey for letting me paint that first dinosaur mural on the wall when I was five years old.  I am also indebted to my college advisor Austin Sarat -- who use consistently used films as lenses to explore politics, law, and culture.  And of course, Barry O'Connell, the faculty advisor of a satire magazine I launched in college, who told me that the magazine wouldn't be a success until it was kicked off of campus.  Some people are lucky enough to meet someone who encourages them to push the envelope.  Barry encouraged me to shred the envelope. 

When and how did you decide to make the poem you wrote for your sister into a film?

I don't think there was one moment.  The story just had this inertia I could never escape.  

Why did you decide to make an animated film for adults?

I've previously written and produced live-action films, such as FIRST BASS, but I knew from the start CADAVER was a magical, fable-like story that would best be served by animating it.  I believe that many of the material constructs of adulthood are false, hollow and laughable.  I like to create films that make adults feel like kids.  At the same time, I like to use levity to explore complex themes of adulthood.  Animation allowed us to do this.

Is this your first animated film?

I actually created a short stop-motion video as an invitation to my wedding.  

Who did the illustrations and what was it like working with an illustrator? 

Carina Simmons, a remarkably-talented artist from Seattle, designed the characters for Cadaver.  She has a lush, dark and gritty sensibility.  She was integral in creating the film's emotional tone.  She visually ignited the voices to life.  Eric Vennemeyer, a San Francisco-based filmmaker/artist, led the art direction and drew all of the non-character assets in the film.  Eric is one of those awesome people whose brain is brimming with so much information that you are grateful that he's putting that insight toward art.  He is an ubertalented perfectionist, a multi-tooled threat (writer/artist/actor/director) whose hand-drawn images remind me of the etchings of Daniel Hopfer.  Eric helped visually layer the work to give it an ancient, timeless nature.  Finally, Abe Dieckman, animated the film using Adobe After Effects.  Abe was secretly our "other lead actor" -- he breathed as much life into the words and images as any of the actual actors.  Abe and I communicated very closely about how to achieve the physicality of the hand-drawn images.  He was instrumental in giving the characters their fluid, unique movements.  It was a wonderful collaboration.  When looking at the final film, I see all of the artists vividly in it.  We've become great friends and we're already collaborating on new projects.

What was your favourite part of making Cadaver?

The collaboration, by far.  I've had the privilege of working with imbeciles.  It makes working with truly-gifted partners all the more meaningful.

How will people all over the world be able to see the film?

We will release the film for digital release sometime later in the year.  Until then, we encourage friends of the film to "LIKE" us on Facebook to get updates on festival screenings and behind the scenes footage of the making of the film.