I had a good comment on my post about the Zune Arts film Le Cadeau du Temps:
While I spent the majority of that earlier post talking about the “how” of the piece I didn’t really get to too much of the “why” or the storytelling or the theory behind it.
Here's the comment, then the why.
I thought through these questions a lot and spent more time than I meant to formulating a really long, cumbersome answer. Enjoy.
Thanks very much for your questions. While I spent the majority of the post talking about the “how” of the piece I didn’t really get to too much of the “why.” You’ve raised some legitimate questions and ones that I think merit some thoughtful answers. I’ll address them in order:
Concerning the story: A way to explain it might be, as a friend of mine said recently, and I think pretty obviously so,
“Fairy tales are different from Russian novels.”
You could apply that thought here—a short film about sharing (or not sharing, in this case) isn’t interested in trying to be another Dostoevsky or Tolstoy; it’s an impressionistic and romantic vision of the world—in a nutshell, it’s a fairy tale.
With regards to the “reason” for the gift:
It’s an intentionally dialogue-less piece. Early on the idea of (like the silent film I took visual cues from) incorporating title cards of text came up. I wrote up about 7 or 8 ideas and edited them into the reel. For a two and a half minute piece of animation this took up a lot of time. An early version had a card that read something like, “I am come down to give you a good gift.” This was all like a lot of things, nice, but not necessary for the piece.
I wasn’t interested as much with the “why” he got the gift, but the consequences of an eternal youth potion. Maybe he got it because he’d proved himself worthy in some way earlier in life, maybe it was a test given by a higher power, or maybe (and what I think most likely) it’s along the lines of the old fairy tales of the poor woodchopper who’s just getting by chopping wood in the forest. A beautiful creature explodes into his life and he’s met with an extraordinary vision. His life is changed forever by the appearance of the vision. In the fairy tale the woodchopper is given three wishes. What keeps us reading isn’t the back story of the woodchopper, that’s all assumed, what keeps us reading is what on earth is the man going to do with three wishes.
Ultimately, these were all fine things to have in the back of my head but I didn’t, and still don’t, believe there needed to be an explicitly stated reason why the old man received the potion. I think the viewer with can imagine for his or her self what is the reason. What I want to see, and what I hope the viewer wants to see as well, is what is the man going to do with eternal youth.
As for him sharing the potion, the ideas went back forth. We needed something to communicate instantly and settled on remembering his friends. Traces of the world he knew remain, the bench for example, but though the place is same, everything is changed. In an early draft, (and you can see in the storyboard reel I posted) there was a sequence I loved but unfortunately I had to cut for time. The old man goes home and hides the potion away. We see a family, his family, gathered around the table. All their shadows dance across the wall. We’re fixed on their shadows. We see our protagonist’s shadow and his unmistakable beard join them. Slowly the figures and shadows lengthen all the way up the wall (signifying the progression of time) yet his shadow remains the same. Their shadows stretch and become tombstones. He remains. One version then showed him alone at the table. Another version transitioned to the old man in the graveyard. (Both of these instances were operating under an earlier idea of the potion as an “age-stopper” not a youth potion.)
All that to say, simply, there wasn’t time for this sequence and connecting the man, now old again at the end, with the bench and his friends appearing just felt right. Coupled with what I’d imagine as the weariness of living forever made him want to “make it right.” Obviously he can’t bring his friends back— (even thought it worked to stupendous results in “Los Corazones” ) he’s alone.
The final version of the film has the old man shuffle into the future next to the bench. And while I believe this was the best solution of expressing his loneliness and isolation (while the geographical location is the same he is no longer apart of that world), an earlier draft had him fall to his knees and cover his face. In his desperation he looked up, saw the fountain, and took his chance to give. This sentiment remains intact but is more understated in the final film. It’s not a self-fulfilling, bombastic, operatic moment—it’s the soft fall of piano keys and the realization he’s made a terrible mistake.
The arc of the story follows the blessing, selfishness, journey, and atonement of our protagonist. The concept of sharing is beautiful, but what I like about this story is that it attempts to show selfishness, the reverse of sharing, and its consequences. It’s ultimately a piece about an old man seeking redemption.
In answer to your questions regarding input, I was given an idea about the story. As I said before, 72andSunny came up with this idea: a man who finds this magic potion which either keeps him from aging, or makes him grow younger. He doesn't share it. He travels through time, maybe hundreds of years. He comes to a party, seeing friends dancing he is lonely and pours the remaining potion into a punch bowl. He then lies under a tree and sleeps.
Up front they told me that any ideas I had about the story they wanted to hear. They are the real professionals. I was challenged to figure out how the old man got the potion, what the “walk through time” looked like, the mechanics of the potion, etc. I brought up the idea that maybe in the end the old man could pour the potion into a fountain and make the Fountain of Youth. I wanted to the bench to be an emotional anchor throughout the piece; the starting point, the realization point, and the end.
72andSunny gave me the chance and the challenge to really make something. There was open discussion and a free-flow of ideas about every aspect of the film. There were times they asked serious questions about things as seemingly insignificant as color choices in the backgrounds. And I had to defend those choices. Their allowing me to really own the piece gave me a degree of personal attachment and commitment that I’ve only ever felt with my own private work. This was a client piece unlike any I’ve done before. I wanted certain things to look certain ways but I needed good reasons to be able to keep them. There were things I had to let go (the family sequence, for example) but ultimately I was allowed by the producers to influence the film to, I feel, a significant degree. They were fantastic with editing certain parts and keeping things moving along (just compare how slow are some of the places in the first draft of storyboards, especially the star falling.)
I was very happy with the story in the first draft and thrilled with the end product.
Making this short film was an experience I won’t forget easily.