When I saw MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH MARRIAGE was playing Tribeca I reached out to Signe Baumane to ask if I could interview her. She was a bit taken aback since I literally did it moments after it was announced. She said she would be happy to do so but I had to wait until the Tribeca plans were set.
The interview eventually happened, with me sitting in an 18th century graveyard two blocks from where the Tribeca screenings were happening in Manhattan and Ms Baumane on the phone while motorcycles and trucks roared by and church bells rang out.(Issues with the sound of the recording is the reason the interview is only being posted now)
I have been a fan of Ms Baumane’s for years . I’ve met her at several conventions, I have signed DVDs, art work and I’ve backed her films (Including this one.) She has always been a wonderful person to talk to taking the time to truly engage with everyone before her.
My conversation back in June was a delight. It was one of my most favorite interviews I’ve ever done. While I asked a couple of prepared questions most of it was actually just us talking. Had there been no time limit I suspect we could have gone on for a good while longer because everything she said brought up more things I wanted to know about.
For those who don’t know the film is the story MY LOVE AFFAIR... is the story of a young woman whose life is shaped by the relationships in her life. It’s a musical with moments, especially the ending, that would kick ass on the Broadway stage.
I want to thank Mr Baumane for taking the time to do it. Some day perhaps we can do it again.
UNSEEN: Thank you for the film I absolutely loved it. I don’t know if you remember I contacted you on twitter
SIGNE: I do remember that. You have a very memorable last name Kopian. That’s Albanian…
UNSEEN: Actually we’re Ukrainian
SIGNE: Oh my goodness.
UNSEEN: We’re actually Ukrainian Polish and what happened was they changed the name because they could get in if they looked Armenian
SIGNE: Oh okay, so you have an Eastern European Background.
UNSEEN: Yes. I have to start with this because I gave to the Kickstarter, how vital is Kickstarter to financing a film for a filmmaker like you?
SIGNE: I don’t think crowd funding is for everybody. I see a lot of people getting trapped and soaking up a lot of hate in their relationship with Kickstarter because Kickstarter is a lot of responsibility, you can’t just take the money and run. You have to deliver gifts. And not only that but there is a relationship you have to build with your backers and if you feel that is something that hinders what you want to do then you shouldn’t be doing it.
We ran a Kickstarter campaign in 2017 because we had zero money to record the actors and write the music, because we knew we had 23 songs, 30 speaking and singing characters, that’s a lot. I think we had to raise 100,000 dollars, but we set it up for 123,000 and we raised 132,000, its an impressive amount of money which went quickly.
But early on I decided early on that our relationship with our backers was something essential to this project. So we started writing these updates keeping in touch with the backers telling them what is going on, what is happening and we built a lot of meaningful relationships through the Kickstarter. And I feel that actually got us through 7 years of making the film because of people’s support, emotional support not just the money. Emotional support and people’s desire to see the film was very encouraging. I didn’t feel like I was this lonely animator sitting by my table, you know being completely isolated from society, we had a group of people who were enthusiastically waiting for this film to come out.
UNSEEN: I had fun seeing the updates. It was a blast because I’m an animation junkie. It was fun watching it get to here. You gave us a lot of stuff that was unfiltered so for me as a film fan it it was fun to see the reports and go now its at this point which means we’re going to see it soon. It was a lot of fun
SIGNE: Thank you
UNSEEN: It helped a lot. Why did you decide to do a mix of 3D backgrounds and 2D characters?
SIGNE: The 3D backgrounds go way back before I even started my previous feature ROCKS IN MY POCKETS. I was invited to go to Italy. This fashion designer, Aspesi. He’d seen I believe TEAT BEAT OF SEX my short films and he said “I really love your work, your style. Come and do a mural for me. And when I went to Milan and did the mural, he said "can you do three dimensional sculpture our of paper mache?" I had never done anything three dimensional but I figured for money, of course I’d do anything for money and so I did around 30 human sized sculptures, big, not just tiny but big. And then I thought I’d like to incorporate that into my film, but how do I do that because I’m not a stop motion animator and I don’t know how to move the figures and the paper mache really breaks, you can’t move it around. And then I thought I’m going to make backgrounds three dimensional
With ROCKS IN MY POCKETS, it was very very low budget production and I’m not going to animate much but I’m going to have stop motion movement of the back grounds. And you know when you have the parallax... So as an audience you see the parallax of the foreground faster and the background slower that kind of catches my eye. It always catches my eye and I want to keep watching even when there is not much going on. And I thought that would be my principle about how to make a film fast and cheap so I made ROCKS IN MY POCKETS with that as the key
With the new film I wanted to develop the technique even more and my partner Sturgis Warner, who is also the film’s co-producer, casting director and what not, he has a lot of hats.... And he also has the carpenter skills and he was able to build the sets you see. They are very well built and sophisticated, some what realistic, and somewhat surreal environments. And I think that we did take that technique about 100 steps farther than we had in ROCKS IN MY POCKETS
UNSEEN: It’s so wonderful. And to me the end scene where the set opens up is so arresting in a way that you wouldn’t get if it was 2D animation.
SIGNE: You know I don’t work with storyboards, I don’t storyboard everything, I only story board little scenes here and there, but mainly what happens is we build the set, Sturgis builds the set then my two assistants cover with paper machie, they color it, and then we bring it into the shooting room where we put it under the lights and Sturgis, he’s also lighting designer, he puts the lights on and I’m putting the camera there, I’m camerawoman, And I start seeing the characters moving though the space, interacting with each other, interacting with the doors. And my task now as the camera woman is to capture them, but of course I just capture my imagination of what the characters are and what they do, so it’s a strange process but I feel its every improvisational and creative.
UNSEEN: You just impressed me even more because typically with animation there is no improvisation. But how you do it you can do improvisation. I love that.
SIGNE: You know what bugs me about animation is you’re supposed to have a storyboard before you start animating but the thing is once you have the storyboard, it is carved in stone, you can’t change it. And I want to live my life and explore new things and I go to movies and I see things and I’m like that’s so cool I want to try that in my film and I’m able to have something new, I can incorporate something I learned about life into the film that I’ve been working on for seven years. Imagine if I worked on a film from a storyboard that I did several years ago, that would be really stifling to my development of me as an artist and also the luxury that I have that a lot of people don’t have is that I animate my own work. A storyboard is very helpful if you have a team, designers, set builders, the animators. A whole team that has to work from the storyboard. But in my case that’s in one or two people and we can communicate on a different level. For example my partner Sturgis, who builds the sets, just understands me so that is why I am able to keep this improvisational.
UNSEEN: How many changes were there over the seven years because of the improvisation?
SIGNE: You know we started the film the first thing we were animating was Elica’s Song and then we went into the class number Zelma becomes a cat. Those were the first scenes I animated. And as I went along our sets got better, my skill as an animator got better, the characters…everything got better and better. And then we finished part two, we knew the opening sequence of these outdoor sets had to be spectacular to draw the audience in, and we thought we were in good shape and we knew what we were doing with the set. And then we built the set of Zelma running through the village and those were created when I was in a better shape.
But you as the audience don’t see the change but I see it. I see the first scenes that I animated are not as good as the ones I animated later. The more we worked on the film better things became and the more inspired in the things we could do.
UNSEEN: I’m in awe of the music. When you wrote the script did you have all the songs done? I know you wrote the lyrics and Kristian Sensini wrote the music. But the songs drive the film, and they are Broadway quality…and the one thing I was thinking when it was done was that this was great, that you could put this on a Broadway stage…
SIGNE: Really? I was thinking the same. I was think that when we released the film we had to go on Broadway.
UNSEEN: No it’s in my review which you haven’t see because of the embargo, but I was think the film ends and the door open and that is just such a Broadway moment, the moment everyone screams and yells and leaps to their feet and cheers and I’m like "oh my god this is Broadway musical", it has to go to Broadway
SIGNE; I’m glad you’re saying that. Yea of course I don’t have any idea how to put it on Broadway but maybe somebody sees it and understands it and understands what you understood.
Let me talk a little bit about the music. The music, the songs, the score and everything were written by this very very talented composed in Italy Kristian Sensini and I worked with him on my previous animated film ROCKS IN MY POCKET and I thought he was very talented but I didn’t know if he could write songs. So when I wrote the script I put 33 songs in the script, I wrote the lyrics and all that. And I sent him the script and I asked him if would be able to write these songs. And he looked at it and said yea, no problem. And so he wrote these songs and I was just amazed at how he was able to do that because it’s a special talent to do that. And he has the ability to do as you say the Broadway, the comedy the lightness, the darkness so he’s a very versatile composer.
And then after the film was done he wrote the score and I’m very happy with the score for the biology part, I feel that its very moody mysterious, the kind of a drumbeat and I’m very happy about that discovery. So yea Kristian Sensini's song writing is really an essentially part of the film. I don’t know how, I can not imagine the film to be with out his particular sensibility in music.
UNSEEN: It drives the film. It wouldn’t work without it. I mean that in a good way. It's clearly your film but you brought in this wonderful composer and a killer voice cast. It’s a beautiful beautiful film and if you pulled any of it out it wouldn’t work. If you pulled the songs out it wouldn’t work. You hit everything perfectly.
SIGNE: And the end credits song, we wrote that at the end, when the film was done and I told him I need a three and a half minute song and he said send me the lyrics and I sent him like three pages of lyrics and he sent it back to me and said this is shit I can not write a song to that. So we are true collaborators,it had to be together, the words and music have to come together. And he was really crucial that he really pushed myself together to write lyrics that he could work with. And then Storm Large, I don’t know if you know her work, she’s this amazing singer. I hear the song and it blows me away, the power of her voice.
UNSEEN: I’m running out of time and I don’t want to keep you, you have a lot to do.
SIGNE: Do you have another question?
UNSEEN: One quick question because its key to the whole film because you go back and forth with it. Do you think Love is chemistry or do you think its something else?
UNSEEN:You’re constantly talking about how its all a chemical reaction. You’re attracted to this person because its chemistry or that person because its chemistry
SIGNE:I think at this point in human history I think its very difficult to separate, in a relationship of love where the biology starts and where it ends and where culture starts and where it ends. We are social animals. We live a lot in our imaginations, and fantasies and the stories we tell each other, so I feel that even now for me that love is a story, a story about feeling. But of course it has the neurochemicals being released that cause this emotion or that. But being in certain situations, certain stories make you feel a certain way. And so for me I wouldn’t say that it was one or the other but I think that we are creators of love. And our biology is an important element but so is culture and so is the stories around us so I don’t know if I can say one way or the other. But I’m also amazed that when I made the short film the TEAT BEAT OF SEX I would give out copies to people and write that "sex is a dangerous drug, use it with caution and as often as you can"
UNSEEN: I have a signed DVD from you and that’s what you wrote on it
SIGNE: and I could say the same about love. It’s a powerful feeling and we should exercise it so we have a handle on it. Sorry I didn’t have a good answer
UNSEEN: No it’s a good answer. Thank you so much for this. Thank yo so much for the film