Recently, I came across this hilarious and poignant film asking the deeper questions about love. The only catch: the filmmaker uses puppets.
I caught up with the filmmaker Matthew Leichty for a brief interview behind the puppets.
BNT: What gave you the idea for the short film?
MATT: I had developed these characters with a former partner, who had an extensive puppet collection. She loves puppets, and I love developing characters and stories, so I would make stories like this as gifts. I did the first few as musical recordings, and continued the series with this short film.
Why use puppets?
As Trey Parker and Matt Stone noted while they were creating Team America, puppets are inherently funny. You can put puppets in any conventional scene that you’ve seen before, and the fact that it’s played out with puppets will add comedy to the scene.
Part of the reason is probably because you take the exaggerated movements of cartoonish characters, and translate them into a real space with real objects. It’s classic clash of context, a staple of comedy. A puppet lemur typing on a keyboard is just funny, in and of itself.
What’s it like working with puppets?
The most effective way to use puppets is to treat them like real actors. The more you imbue them with personality traits and treat their physical characteristics as real, the more “lifelike” the puppet will appear to an audience.
Thumpy Monkey has long floppy arms, just by what materials were used, and that became part of the personality of the puppet. When he whips his body back and forth in confusion, his arms flop back and forth, exaggerating the idea that he’s so clueless that he’s not even aware of the movements of his own body.
That’s what I mean by treating the universe of the puppet as real, and not just something that exists on your arm. The puppet should not be aware that there’s an arm involved.
Were you trying to say anything deeper about love? Or just aiming for the comedy?
I take comedy very seriously. (Pause for laughter.) If I treat a subject like love comedically, I’m probably saying something about love, but I’m not necessarily conscious of what it is. One might suggest that this simple film is a commentary on the Information Age, where we’ve become so detached from a self-awareness of our own emotions, that we think that the answers to love can be discovered online.
Or the fact that, in this film, we don’t see the answer given about the meaning of love may suggest that the profundity of love is unknowable and personal. Of course, if anyone suggested these things out loud, I’d probably throw a banana at them. ‘Cause that’s funny.
What do you think about the nature of love and puppets? Share your thoughts in the comments!
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Ian MacKenzie is the founder and former editor of Brave New Traveler. He is Head of Video at Matador Network. Ian is also an independent filmmaker, with his first feature (One Week Job) released in 2010. His more recent projects include Sacred Economics and Occupy Love.
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