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5th February 2016
Drawn to each other
Title of film: My Darling's Shadow
Director: Conor Whelan
Benoit Berthe talks with Conor Whelan about his superb animated project, My Darling’s Shadow, his follow-up to his film Snowfall which picked up garlands of accolades on the festival circuit last year

What was the origin of making this short film about a love affair?

Initially I was inspired by the song You Don’t Know by Ellie Greenwich. It’s about a love triangle between two women and a man, and I loved the contrast between the joyful carefree melody and the tragic lyrics describing heartbreak and despair. I’ve always been attracted to the aesthetic of 1960’s USA that portrayed life as being squeaky clean and perfect, when of course in reality people had their own problems and issues to deal with. So to have a melancholy story set in a (normally) rose-tinted era is really appealing to me. I think that the juxtaposition between happiness and sadness creates a really interesting tension.

How did you find time to direct this short with your day job working on commercials ?

I think it’s really important to always have personal projects running in the background because it’s where I get to try out new ideas and techniques that I wouldn’t normally be able to try out within the often-restrictive deadlines of commercial work. Also, it’s such a rare treat to be able to work on a project only when you want to.

There were weeks and even months when I didn’t work on My Darling’s Shadow, because I just didn’t want to. I wish I could say that I was so passionate about it that I spent every waking minute on it, but that’s not always possible when you’re trying to make a living. BUT the upside of that is that when I did work on it I was really into it, and I think if someone’s really into their work then it will come across in the finished product.

What were the major challenges of the production and how did you resolve them?

This was a personal project so, as usual, the biggest challenge for me was having to be self-disciplined enough to keep working on it long after my original style frames stopped looking fresh or exciting to me. I both love and hate the familiar arc of working on a personal project: you start off excited and passionate, then about half way through your interest wanes and you feel a bit despairing about the whole thing, then right before the end you perk up again and work furiously up until it’s finished.

What are your main sources of inspiration?

I think music is always a good source of inspiration because most songs follow a similar story-arc to films and so they can be used as a guide for writing/animating your story. To allow your story to follow the rises and falls of a melody is both restrictive and liberating. The song ties down the emotional narrative but that kind of frees you up to concentrate on the other things, like the edit, design or animation.

I’m also really inspired by every film I’ve ever seen, of course! I love cinematic tropes and references and try to include them (in moderation!) in most of my work.

Any other subjects you’re intrigue by for a future project?  

I’ve nothing substantial in the works right now, I’m kind of enjoying the freedom of not being too deep into a project. Recently I’ve been doing some stylised doodles of athletes and I have a vague idea of a short piece I’d like to make on that subject, but I’m just going to let it gestate a bit in my head before I try to force it out!

Are you interested in creating / directing longer format?

Yeah I’d love to do something a little longer in format, and I’d love to work with a team to do that. I think that length of film needs to have something pretty substantial to say, so I would want to have a story really worthy of it. For me, there’s nothing worse than watching a 20+ minute film that could have been told in five. But we’ll see what happens in future!