Fists of Finance: Student Animated Film Featured at Ottawa Film Fest

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Bachelor of Animation student Melissa Allen is getting her first taste of the film festival circuit as a filmmaker this year, as the Ottawa Film Festival will be premiering her third-year film Fists of Finance this October.

Melissa produced the film with a team of Sheridan students under the supervision of animation faculty Jim Caswell. I asked Melissa to share the story behind her film.

How did you come up with the concept for the film?  

“When my father retired from his job at the WCB as the Chief Investment Officer, he was able to return his efforts to teaching the Japanese martial art Aikido, and so he started the first Aikido Yoshinkan dojo in the city. I thought his journey had a funny contrast, from office worker to black belt martial arts instructor.”

“The story [Fists of Finance] centers around the greatest Kung Fu master’s accountant and how he snaps one day and uses math power to force his miserly and physically intimidating boss to finally pay the bills.”

What were some of the skills you learned along the way?

“I learned to work in a group, as the third year focuses our assignments around completing a film within a team of 10-12 students. You also relearn with a vengeance the programs Adobe Premier Pro, Final Cut, ToonBoom and After Effects.”

Melissa also learned a little something about being a boss. “Directing seems to be as much a management job as it is an artistic endeavour, where you’re steering a project toward completion as outside and inside influences try to sink the ship, while also contributing artistically to the project. Ultimately, I was just incredibly lucky to have had a team where everyone contributed and improved on the vision and worked hard.”

Tell me more about this team dynamic. How did you produce a film in a group?

“At the beginning of the year we all have to pitch a film idea to the class. I was very fortunate in that my group (each class is split into two groups, randomly selected by teachers) chose my idea. Choosing one idea is not the norm, however, since stories are usually a combination of two ideas popular with the team. Infighting sometimes occurs and the ideas get further revised.”

“Having the founding vision allowed me to write a script and direct the film. As the director, I had final say on early story revision, pacing, editing choices, the general look of the film (the final look was handled by our incredibly talented art director), collaborated with the composer for the right tone and story/music emphasis. I also acted as co-producer of the film, which meant I organized and enforced deadlines, and kept everyone in the loop on Facebook our group.”

“I suggested we run our group like an animation studio, with an art director, lead animator, head of layout, compositor, music editor etc. We all agreed upon the leads, therefore hopefully no egos would be bruised when one person takes charge of a department. A flat, shape-based style that would be easy to animate was used, therefore avoiding ability inconsistencies, which can be visible throughout a student group film. It’s necessary that everyone have a hand in all parts of the film, but in our case our leads in each department would look over everyone’s work to check for consistent style and quality.”

The entire team included:

Melissa Allen

Jianhao Cai

Rachel Maya Coyne

Aaron Estrada

Ailin Liu

Lea MacDonald

Leanne Mohammed

Janet Somerville

Dhrumit Variya

Jie Wen Wu

Jean Liang

How did you get into the Ottawa film fest?

“I had our accountant intimidate them with his Math-Fu! There was also the online submission form on the OIAF site, which I filled out during the intimidation process. We also bullied ourselves into the Toronto Youth Shorts Film Festival and are in the semifinals for the Adobe Design Achievement Awards.”

Is there anything else you can share about the process of making your film at Sheridan?  

Melissa spoke of how Bruno Degazio, the music instructor, was a valuable asset to the production team, since music became an essential part of the film. “Fourth year animators, through Bruno Degazio, can collaborate with Music degree students at the University of Toronto, therefore enabling animators to have original music for their film and the music students have work they can show in a demo reel. A leica reel (a rough draft of the film consisting of timed key drawings that tell the story) is sent to the musician along with notes on what kind of music you want to accompany the film.”

“After a few sessions talking about the theme of the film and inspirations he made a scratch track that fit perfectly with the mood we were going for. This track inspired our composer, U of T music student Mandy Woo, to get the right tone with her original score.”

Melissa explained that original music brings value, “because your film has to be 100% copyright free in order to be eligible for festivals.”

Melissa had the following advice for her peers on how to develop a successful film and get is shown in festivals.

“Choose a story people reacted to during pitch session and stick with it. If you tamper with the original concept too much you’ll get a watered down version that no one in your group will like and you’ll be rushing to finish it after all your revisions.”

“Usually people are tired by the end of Winter semester and look forward to their co-op internship, graduation, or just plain old lazin’ about. Keep in mind that film fest submissions close around April and May, so before you get into gear for any of the previously mentioned activities, you can look up film festivals with free admission. Mark Mayerson [coordinator of the Bachelor of Animation program at Sheridan] emails us with important festival information as well, so read his emails! Withoutabox is a film festival website you can use to look up all sorts of festivals; you’ll want to find one with a theme that fits your movie, therefore upping your chances of being selected to their line up.  Have a raw file of the movie, because the final required format will sometimes change from festival to festival, and have an online, password-protected version for submission purposes.”

We wish Melissa and the rest of her team the best of luck in their showing at the Ottawa Film Festival. You can connect to the Ottawa Film Festival website here.

You can read more about Sheridan’s Bachelor of Animation program here.

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