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Interview with Bradley Slabe, Co-Director of Stop Motion Love Story, "Lost & Found" (Part 1/2 of Interview with "Lost & Found" Directors)

Knotjira (foreground) and Knitsune (background) in Lost & Found. Photo courtesy of Andrew Goldsmith.



The true essence of art – a reflection of life itself – is very much akin to the Japanese aesthetic of “wabi-sabi”: it’s imperfect, impermanent, and, at times, profoundly...incomplete.

It is both at once a fundamental truth, and, curiously, more often than not, a thing incredibly hard to acknowledge, to make peace with. Yet perhaps our resistance is justifiable, for once we admit that the world is full of unknowns – unknowns that aren’t ideal, that aren’t perfect – we are just as soon confronted with the actualization of a deep, intrinsic, and very human fear: the fear of a future full of...unknowns that aren’t ideal, that aren’t perfect. Yet it’s the confrontal of that fear that is the most terrifying reality of all, for the moment we make peace with it we have just as soon have acknowledged that our paths in life aren’t in our own hands, or something we can control – a terrifying reality, yet one that’s nonetheless fundamentally true.

Knitsune in Lost & Found. Photo courtesy of Andrew Goldsmith.

Yet, in art as in life, it is in this very place, this very nature – the nature of an imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete world – that true beauty is found – a beauty that transcends time, culture, identity. And yet, perhaps it transcends as much as it terrifies – invoking us with an all-consuming desire to disavow it as untruth in exchange for a simpler worldview in hopes that the world will conform to our will – purely because it rings so brightly of truth. It’s a beauty in and of the flawed, the fleeting, the asymmetric. In other words, the beauty lies in the world in which we already live, it lies our art. It’s always been there. We merely have to have the eyes to see it.

In their recent stop motion short film, Lost & Found, Australian filmmakers Bradley Slabe and Andrew Goldsmith have perfectly captured this aesthetic, painting a metaphor with the film’s subject matter that’s beautifully resonate with and, according to co-director Bradley Slabe, inspired by wabi-sabi: That of a crocheted doll traversing a real-world landscape at real-life scale where, in comparison to him, objects are enormous – causing the film’s milieu to become a tremendous distance for him – all in attempts to save his lover from a terrible fate. Though in the process, he is forced to become unraveled, fully knowing that by saving the sole object of his existence, he will have undergone a fundamental change unto a point where he can no longer live life with his lover in the same way, the thing he might have before defined as “ultimate bliss”.

Knotjira (left) and Knitsune (right) in Lost & Found. Photo courtesy of Andrew Goldsmith.

“We expanded the story universe and relocated the setting to a sushi bar to align with the aesthetic of Wabi Sabi, a Japanese philosophy that celebrates the impermanence, imperfection and incompleteness of the world,” says Bradley Slabe, co-director of Lost & Found, thus drawing allusions to the film’s themes in the very landscape and fundamental design of the film.

The film’s metaphor proving a profound meditation on the reality of life itself, Lost & Found does much to pluck at the heartstrings as well as to inspire awe with the beauty of its every facet – that of its story, animation, cinematography, editing, sound design, as well as its character and set design and fabrication.

Knotjira in Lost & Found. Photo courtesy of Andrew Goldsmith.

Having only just premiered in February of this year at the Berlin International Film Festival in Berlin, Germany, Lost & Found can next be seen at the Sydney Film Festival in Sydney, Australia, which will be going on from the 6th to the 17th of June, which you can learn more about by going here.

The first part of a two-part interview article with the co-directors of Lost & Found, this article will feature Stop Motion Geek’s interview with Bradley Slabe, who also wrote Lost & Found. You can read the second part of this article – our interview with Lost & Found co-director Andrew Goldsmith, who also co-edited the film – by going here.

Knitsune in Lost & Found. Photo courtesy of Andrew Goldsmith.

In our interview, Slabe discusses when and how he first became enthralled with filmmaking (in particular stop motion), and where that path in life has since led him, although as he admits to Stop Motion Geek, “It still feels as though that I’m only just getting my foot in the door now.” Slabe also gives us an in-depth look at the making-of process behind Lost & Found, his collaboration with Andrew Goldsmith, as well as with the rest of Lost & Found’s incredibly talented team. He also explains to us his philosophy when it comes to writing films for children as well as films for adults, and how the two differ. An exciting time in Slabe’s career, he also tells us about his perspective on where Lost & Found and his work on several other projects including the animated children’s series Kitty is Not a Cat might lead him. You can read our interview below in full.

A.H. Uriah: Hello, Bradley! Thank you so much for doing this interview! So that our readership can get to know you a little, can you tell us about when and how you first became inspired to work as a filmmaker and screenwriter, particularly in the animation industry? From that point in your life, how have you gotten to where you are now – a professional screenwriter and the co-director of your own short films, most recently Lost & Found?

Bradley Slabe: Hi, thanks for reaching out! I’ve always been a fan of animation and as a kid, I planned to be a cartoonist. My brother’s love of film was a big influence on me too and eventually I decided to study filmmaking when I made my first stop motion in high school. I directed a few short animations but it wasn’t until a tutor liked my ideas and suggested I specialise in screenwriting that I decided to follow that path. For a while, I was stuck in that cycle of not being able to get any entry level writing experience because I had no prior experience, which was incredibly disheartening. But denial can be a strength in this industry so I just remained persistent. I worked in story development at an animation studio for a few years, writing coverage reports, learning the ropes and hustling (read: hassling) until a company in Melbourne trusted me with a few scripts on a cartoon they were making, which recently started airing actually. It still feels as though that I’m only just getting my foot in the door now.

Bradley Slabe on the set of Lost & Found. Photo courtesy of Andrew Goldsmith.

A.H.: As well as being the co-director, you wrote Lost & Found. Can you tell us about how the idea for the film originated and about the development process? How many drafts did you go through and how different do they look from the final draft and the finished film itself?

BS: I’ve had the idea of a self-sacrificial doll that unravels for a while. I enjoy conceiving stories that evoke immediate conflict. It wasn’t until my Masters in 2014 when I got to dust it off and develop it properly. I’d admired the work of my co-director, Andrew Goldsmith (Goldy) for years and had been waiting for an opportunity to work on something with him. I pitched him three ideas and this was the story we both wanted to make. I wrote a couple of drafts set in an alleyway but after budget cuts, we had to pivot. We expanded the story universe and relocated the setting to a sushi bar to align with the aesthetic of Wabi Sabi, a Japanese philosophy that celebrates the impermanence, imperfection and incompleteness of the world. I transposed the script to work in the new environment and I wrote two other love stories happening in the restaurant (about two sushi pieces falling in love and two entangled bonsai trees letting go). The three stories together worked as visual Haiku on the bitter-sweetness of love. We then adapted that into a picture storybook, which later served as a proof of concept to secure funding. This is where the story universe really evolved and Goldy was crucial in this development stage. I was also able to workshop ideas with my tutors, colleagues and close friends, which created a healthy collaborative environment to strengthen the story.

Andrew Goldsmith (left) and Bradley Slabe (right). Photo courtesy of Andrew Goldsmith.

I went through three or four versions of the script. Certain beats of the story continued to develop while boarding based on production variables and how Goldy and I wanted to treat the script, but that said, the finished film is very similar to the final draft.

Early concept sketches of the character of Knotjira. Source: Instagram.

Early concept sketches of the character of Knitsune. Source: Instagram.

A.H.: What challenges and benefits did you find to working in the short film medium verses longer form films and television, and how did you keep the narrative – as well as the scale (as, in stop motion in particular, budgets can become an issue when it comes to the size of narratives, especially in short films) – from becoming too large for the runtime of your film and the size of your budget?

BS: The biggest challenge for me as a writer was achieving a cathartic emotional punch in only a few pages. To introduce a world and develop characters over three acts in under seven minutes (with no dialogue) was a great writing exercise and sharpened my tools as a storyteller. The limited budget and expensive format of stop motion was sufficient motivation to keep the narrative short!

Knotjira on the set of Lost & Found. Photo courtesy of Andrew Goldsmith.

To avoid the budget becoming an issue, Goldy and I spent a great deal reducing the scale and runtime in the animatic stage. Reviewing the film before it was made was the most cost effective way to ensure the story was clear, emotional (and affordable). Often we needed to be brutal but luckily Goldy is an excellent editor with a good eye for which elements are expendable, and our producer, Lucy Hayes, knows how to stretch a budget. For everything in between, we relied on the generosity of our crew.

Bradley Slabe and the character of Knotjira. Photo courtesy of Bradley Slabe.

A.H.: Could you shed some light on the process of getting Lost & Found produced and funded? Was it just you and a spec script at the start, or were your producer and co-director already attached?

BS: Goldy was attached from before I’d penned the first draft. Once we had a polished script and a picture storybook, we approached our producer, Lucy (who Goldy had worked with previously). With their collective commercial experience in combination with the package of materials we’d put together, we were able to acquire funding from Screen Australia, who were our sole financial support. Our little team grew from there and one month after being greenlit, we were deep into storyboarding.

Lucy J. Hayes (left), Andrew Goldsmith (middle), and Bradley Slabe (right). Source: Instagram.

A.H.: I’d love it if you could talk a little about your collaboration process on Lost & Found. Firstly, how did you collaborate with your co-director, Andrew Goldsmith? In one sense, I’m wondering how you communicated to him the film that you had in mind, and secondly I’m wondering how you two divided the separation of labor to make the film?

BS: It wasn’t so much about communicating the film I had in mind to Goldy as it was finding the film we both wanted to tell (and that involved a lot of listening). We have very similar story instincts, which helped. I tend to be more dramatic and sappily romantic in my sensibilities and Goldy is more subtle and minimalist. However, any creative clash seemed to find a happy medium, and became more potent than the sum of our parts. It was a great creative partnership. And we were both equally involved in every decision, not excluding which dye of green wool the Dinosaur’s spikes should be. On set, we shared many conversations to ensure we were on the same page before communicating our intention to the crew. That way, every direction was weighted with more conviction. We both used our previous experience as our strengths on set. If there was a story problem, it was my responsibility to find a solution. If it was technical direction or VFX, Goldy steered.

Knitsune (left) and Knotjira (right) standing near a clapboard for Lost & Found. Source: Instagram.

A.H.: As a follow-up to the previous question, how did you, your co-director, and your producer (Lucy J. Hayes) assemble your crew, which is relatively large? Secondly, how did you and your co-director track the progress of your film? Can you give us a few examples of a problem that your team and faced, and how you and your co-director worked to find an answer for it with your team?

BS: This was my directorial debut so I was fortunate I could tap into Lucy’s and Goldy’s pool of talent that they’d built over the years. The animation industry in Melbourne is a tight-knit community and everyone knows everyone. We were just very lucky with timing that they were all available and excited to be involved. Particularly, our lead animator Samuel Lewis, who dropped everything to devote two years of his career bringing this project to life.

Animator Samuel Lewis animating on the set of Lost & Found. Photo courtesy of Andrew Goldsmith.

Every time Sam completed a shot, we slid it into the animatic and reviewed the film in context as it progressed (to avoid any nasty surprises at the end). But Goldy and I were on set every day of production to track the film’s progress and ensure we were available to the crew to offer further direction as needed or resolve any problems that arose. These ranged from budget strains, lighting inconsistencies, sets expanding/moving overnight, motion control rig failures, limited mobility of the puppets etc. Communication with the crew and understanding each other’s limitations were the essential ingredients to finding solutions.

Animator Samuel Lewis animating on the set of Lost & Found. Photo courtesy of Andrew Goldsmith.

A.H.: One thing that I’m particularly interested by is your apparent passion to create films for children, as I noticed on your résumé that you received at the Australian Film, Television, and Radio School a “Certificate in Writing for Children’s Television,” and that you also worked at a daycare for a year. Do you have a desire to make films particularly for children, and, if so, why?

BS: I suppose there’s a part of me that’s always enjoyed working with kids. Even now, I currently teach screenwriting and animation to kids at AFTRS, where I studied. Plus, I’m a nanny on the side. I don’t think I intentionally write for young audiences though. I just write stories that I think I’ll have fun making or watching. It does get me cool-uncle points with the nieces and nephew though. I’m still exploring my writing palette but I need to be able to see myself in the audience I write for, otherwise it’s less likely I’m writing from a place of truth. That means that not all my work is suitable for kids.

Knitsune (left) and Knotjira (right) on the set of Lost & Found. Photo courtesy of Andrew Goldsmith.

A.H.: What’s next for you? What goals and dreams do you have left to accomplish and how are you going to move forward to fulfill them from this point forward?

BS: I wrote on a show (Kitty is Not a Cat) that’s recently begun airing on national television here in Australia and on the Disney Channel overseas, so I’d love an opportunity to write more episodes on that series. I suppose with the series and the short, I’m not sure where that momentum will lead me. I do know that I want to continue writing stories for screen and at the moment, I’m currently developing several projects including a feature animation set in edo period Japan and a series adaptation of the short film.



You can explore more of Bradley Slabe’s work by visiting his website as well as his LinkedIn.

You can watch Lost & Found in full – released online as of December 6th, 2018 – by going here. You can watch the trailer for the film by going here. You can learn more about the film by visiting its brilliantly adorable and incredibly insightful Instagram profile, as well its Facebook and website. You can watch the film’s behind-the-scenes featurette by going here.

You can read the second part of this article – our interview with Andrew Goldsmith, the film’s co-director – by going here.
This article is the first in a series of articles featuring Stop Motion Geek’s interviews with the team behind Lost & Found. You can stay tuned for the upcoming articles by subscribing to Stop Motion Geek via the “subscribe” button at the top right corner of our homepage, or by following us on Facebook @StopMotionGeek, or by visiting https://www.facebook.com/StopMotionGeek/. You can also stay up-to-date with the blog by following us on Instagram or @stop.motion.geek.blog.

Lost & Found poster. Photo courtesy of Andrew Goldsmith.

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