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INTERVIEW: Director Adam Elliot - post Oscars

Riding a wave of success after winning the Oscar for ĎBest Animated Short Filmí of 2003 for Harvie Krumpet, Adam Elliot is back in Australia promoting the filmís release on DVD. Heís off again in America, but before he jetted off he set aside an hour to talk to DVDnet about his experience overseas...

First of all, congratulations on the win. How do you think Australia will now be perceived in the animation industry by folks overseas?
Well, the sad truth is there really isnít an industry as far as anyone over there knows. Maybe we showed them a thing or two, but generally speaking, we donít really have an international presence.

Much has been said about the Oscars night and your speech and the hotel fire and stuff, so we wonít go there. Tell us though, what was the silliest thing you took from the evening?
Probably backstage when it appears a bit more obvious itís for TV, that Hollywood is a business. The Oscars rates right behind the Superbowl. As to silly though, there was a footprint on Renťe Zellwegerís dress and we were trying to figure out how to get it off. We didnít end up managing it.

So, where do you keep your Oscar?
Itís actually hidden in my dirty washing bag! You really have to disguise it or you get too much attention from it.

I read that Emma Thompson keeps hers in the toilet so her guests can all have a go with themÖ
(Laughs) Yeah. Before you get it you have to sign a contract that you wonít sell it or leave it to anyone in your will. Itís quite valuable as thereís a certain amount of gold in it, but you canít sell it and if you want to, you can sell it back to the Academy for one dollar.

A dollar?!
I know, itís weird, but theyíre protecting their image or something.

Is there anything from the whole US experience that may appear in a future project?
Oh I donít know, the whole experience is too vacuous and intense. You know there is so much publicity and interviews and you just have to go along with it. Sink or swim, you know, when you have 300 interviews to do you just have to hang on and get through it.

Iíll try to be briefÖ
(Laughs) No, thatís okay, this is alright.

Any thoughts on animating a feature film or even just directing someone elseís project?
I try not to think that far ahead. A feature is obviously somewhere down the track but for now Iím happy making half-hour clay films. Obviously if the chance came up to use Russell Crowe or Nicole Kidman or something, yeah, I would look at that, but I donít know for now.

Maybe an overseas actor?
Oh definitely.

Since your triumphant return to Australia, publicity has kept you hopping about a bit signing copies of DVDs and suchÖ doing phone interviews for DVD websitesÖ whatís all that been like?
(Laughs) Oh look, itís hard when your publicist emails you and tells you your schedule for today and you just have to do it. Itís an obligation that attaches to the fame and you just have to go along with it. Itís the sink or swim thing again, but itís alright. Itíll fade out in the end.

Since your return to Australia the DVD has been rush-released and looks great. How happy are you with it?
Itís selling really well and it does look great. The whole thingís sorta been out of my hands and I havenít really had a chance to be critical. You know Madman told me theyíd do a run of 5000 copies and then next they told me theyíll do 15,000 more and I was thinking itís too much, but Iíve really underestimated the popularity of DVD. I spend so much time getting people to go to theatres to see the film and when you think about it, it costs like twelve dollars and people have to leave their homes and go out. But theyíre happy to spend three times that to get the DVD. I donít understand it.

But you have a DVD forever with extras and you can watch it over and overÖ
I guess so. Madman told me that DVDs were the most popular present last Christmas and Iíd never really thought much about the market, but itís huge so that takes some more thinking about.

How did you find doing the audio commentary? I have a comic strip in which I do a cartoonistís commentaryÖ

Öand I find Iím limited by space and what I can say without sounding like a wanker. How did you find doing the ones for firstly Harvie, then revisiting your older films?
It was really difficult. Ironically, it took longer than it took to record Geoffrey Rush (narrator of Harvie Krumpet), there were lots and lots of takes. It was really hard to know what to leave in and what to talk about. You know there are 280 shots in Harvie and every shot has a story behind it.

So I guess you were limited by space too?
Oh definitely. Absolutely. It was very hard.

Did you choose the Easter egg inclusion for the DVD?
I havenít found it yet! Where is it? I donít know where it is.

(A lengthy discussion ensues regarding Easter eggs and their location, followed by an in-depth discussion of what it is to review DVDs. Somehow, the interview has turned to me and my workÖ ).

Going back to Harvie the film, my editor and I are quite taken with Ruby. Iím sorta glad we never saw Ruby as an adult. She seemed to remain more simple and humble that way. Was this deliberate?
Yes, definitely. She was a bright spark that came and went through Harvieís life. My mother used to work in a nursing home and it was full of old parents whose kids never came by to see them. Itís just another of Harvieís unlucky experiences in life that his one true joy came and went and left him. Val left him by dying and Ruby went and Harvie was once again all alone after some brief happiness. In America the crowd gasped in horror when they saw I was using a thalidomide baby, thinking ĎOh my God, heís gone too farí, but then the next couple of minutes straightens it out. Itís similar to my own experiences with my cousin in my other film, Cousin. He had cerebral palsy but it never affected him, only others around him.

I recently read a book by a guy who stated as a kid no one told him he was poor so he never knewÖ
Exactly. Itís the people around them who have ideas. Ruby never lets her Ďdisabilityí, for want of a better word, bother her. I was very careful to make sure she was always smiling and happy.

My editor and I want Ruby toys. Are there plans for that sort of thing or merchandising?
You can buy Ruby T-shirts! A while back a company approached me and since others have asked if they can make Harvie doona covers or whatever. Again, we underestimated the popularity of the film. When that runs of shirts is over I think weíll make some of our own, but weíll limit what we make. We donít want to exploit the film in any way, just respond to the popularity.

Your characters all wear plasticine clothes. Is this deliberate, or do you intend using fabrics in future?
The bodies of the characters are actually car bog. You know that pink stuff they fix rust with? The limbs are plasticine for movementís sake and the bodies are all painted with house paint.

House paint?
Yeah, we use Dulux house paint on everything. The costumes, the characters, the sets - everything.

Letís move away from Harvie now. What was the last good book you read?
Iím reading True Tales of American Life by Paul Auster. He runs a radio show and asks people to phone in short stories of life. Heís compiled them into a book and itís fascinating. I love short stories and I love autobiographies.

They would seem to be right up your alley.
Oh definitely.

So how about film? What was the last good film you saw? Probably American Splendor, that was just so good. I went and saw all the Oscar nominees, so saw Master and Commander and another one with Bill MurrayÖ I canít think of the nameÖ

Lost in Translation?
Yeah, Lost in Translation. That was great. I wanted to see all the nominees so Iíd be able to keep up, but American Splendor was amazing, the way it was part real, part fiction, part documentary, an autobiographyÖ (A doorbell rings as Adam receives a guest).

Youíll be happy to know the trailer is on the DVD.
Yes, actually. Iíll be interested to see the (American Splendor) DVD.

Okay, I wonít keep you now as you have company but one final question: Whatís next?
Good question. Iím heading back to the US this week to meet with some people and discuss things with my producer. In an ideal word Iíll keep making half-hour claymated films. Iím looking at a few things but time will tell I suppose.

Harvie Krumpet is currently available to have and to hold on DVD from Madman and the AV Channel.

LINK : http://www.dvd.net.au/goto.cgi?news.cgi?id=4356

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