Back in 2006 I took an enormous risk to quit my seven and a half year tenure at Rare, a large character focused games studio owned by Microsoft, to work on a little known animated feature in Scotland, called Sir Billi the Vet (later renamed Sir Billi). I spent six months there, ultimately supervising about 30 minutes of the animated footage and pulling together a respectable animation crew that thrived during a very troubled production.
I finally watched the film… It would be very easy to criticize it (and many have) but watching it has been quite enlightening for me. It’s possible I’ve grown my first patch of grey hair doing so, and I may have a permanent frown from the wind changing while I was watching (old wives tale). But it was interesting. It holds up as an excellent example to filmmakers… of what not to do. I think it could be used in classes to highlight many typical flaws that most filmmakers only skirt past without ever really doing so badly that they’d get called out for it. But here it’s all on display as though it knows it and can’t help but act as a lesson to future filmmakers.
I could pick on certain things that let it down, but that would point fingers at fellow crew members that I’m sure did the best they could in a rough working environment with limited resources. Besides criticism is best left for films that were nearly good except for a few obvious flaws, or filmmakers you would have expected better from. This is neither… so there’s no point. As the film started I was actually wondering if it was going to be better than expected as it flew just short of mediocre. But as the half way mark passed, and the questions begin to form in your mind, it degenerates into…. well you get the idea. It’s beyond saving.
I was amused to see just how much of the film hadn’t changed since I worked on it, but I’d only seen the first half back then. There was no second half, the script was still in development. Now, that might sound terrible, at the time it certainly seemed it, but in hindsight I’ve worked on many productions for which that was the case. I’ve gotten used to the idea that these things evolve a lot in production. You hope for more, strive for it, and just pray that when it does all get shuffled there’s not too much damage to the artistry people have already put in. Typically you expect some improvements as the film progresses, even to work that can be quite good, in aid of making a better film. But for this film there simply wasn’t the money or the man power to replace much work and the original flaws were never removed.
Still, it did act as a huge marker in my career, highlighting what I’ve learned since 2006. I knew a lot before going into it and quickly realized how valuable I could be to the film, but establishing your right to contribute creatively on a production is the biggest battle. It was a small studio so I had better input than many other bigger films I’ve worked for, but every studio has it’s politics. I’m proud that I managed a few meager improvements while I was there but I would have had to have been around for the long haul if I was going to make a bigger difference and that wasn’t an option at the time. Still, I see so many things I’d do differently that even then I didn’t spot, and that makes me feel good about how much more I’ve learned having moved on and had other experiences.I have some good stories from my days working on the film, and I’ve made some lifelong friends. Many people passed through this production, and as time has passed we’ve gotten to know each other even if we weren’t on the crew at the same time. It just shows how small this business is. I’m glad the film is finally out on DVD for the sake of the artists that needed something to show in their portfolio, but it has been so long since many of us worked on it I don’t expect to see it turning up in many portfolios.I think the thing that’s most informative about this is what I’ve learned about privately funded budget features. This isn’t the only one I’ve been involved with but it’s been a huge lesson. Not entirely bad. I can honestly say I see ways to make this sort of project work really well, and it’s all about building on the right foundation of story, talent, funding and production expectations. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to make that happen someday.