The third film in our series of short animations nominated for an Inside Film award is ‘Chicken of God’, directed and written by the animated Frank Woodley; Aussie comedian extraordinaire.
Frank tells us about writing, directing and chickens.
How does someone who’s known for their physical comedy go about creating comedy in animation?
I’ve always been interested in any means of generating comic tension. I love verbal comedy and physical comedy and in animation too, there are issues of comic timing. I think the principles at play are the same in animation as in a live action comedy.
You’ve got a lot on your plate, how did this film happen?
It had a bit of an interesting genesis. Animator Clem Stamation is a friend of mine and we were driving to a gig one day when we started brainstorming storylines for an animation. Clem had the seed of the idea that was choosing lotto numbers by feeding little balls with numbers on them to a chicken. Then, the order that the chicken poos them out is the way you choose the lotto numbers.
Was there ever a screenplay?
Absolutely, I went off and developed the idea into a short screenplay. It was only about five pages long. Then we got together and did a couple of re-writes and my wife Jodi Satya also helped. We then pitched the ideas to funding bodies.
Funding bodies need loglines! What was yours??
Something like, ‘When the face of Jesus appears in the comb of a chicken some poor farmers’ lives become a comedy of Biblical proportions’.
How important was the actual script?
I think it’s absolutely crucial to get the script working before you engage in the animation.
I’ve seen so many films that are incredibly beautiful and the animation techniques are absolutely magnificent but the emotional impact is undermined by the fact that the fundamental idea isn’t sound or flawed in some way.
We were very clear that even though it’s only a five-page script that it was absolutely sound.
What was your role in the production?
My role was director, co-writer and I also did one of the voices in the film. We did all the recording of the voices first so I had a role of directing the actors as well.
Chicken of God – Promo
CHICKEN OF GOD | MySpace Videos
What did you learn from these roles?
It’s an ongoing process of learning how to write an effective screenplay.
My wife and I produced the film so there was a lot to learn in that area, Jodi did the vast majority of that side of thing, making sure the film gets out to festivals and gets seen.
You do all this work but there’s no point unless people can sit and enjoy it.
Did you prepare for the film by studying how to direct?
Not on directing, I think that’s just trial and error. I have done a lot of reading on screenplay writing.
Lots of the classic ones like Syd Field’s ‘Screenplay’ and Robert McKee’s ‘Story’. I found a lot of people are very resistant to this idea of formulas and I can respect that but my personal take on that is that you don’t need to take on any of these ideas. I might read a book and there will be one little thing that jumps out that I want to experiment with.
So it’s more about experimentation and getting ‘grist for the mill’ that will help you.
Any specific principles that you applied in ‘Chicken of God’?
The thing we tried to achieve with ‘Chicken of God’ was to have a central idea or question presented at the start that is developed and pays off in the climax.
So the whole film is serving that basic question and the tension around the question escalates towards the end. This principle is definitely at play in the screenplay we put together.
Are you keen to do more directing?
I think I would like to do more. I don’t have any current plans because I‘m involved in creating some live comedy work for myself, that’s my focus at the moment.
But I love that whole experience of having an idea and then contemplating what the most effective way to communicate it is. Where are the points of leverage that will seduce an audience so that then you can get a maximum payoff?
At what points do you need to withhold information and when do you give over information and how do you build to a climax and control all your ideas so they’re supporting each other?
Did you avoid any chicken gags from other films?
I was aware that chickens are a common creature used in comic animation so there was the question, ‘does that make it a cliché?’ But it felt right for the story and we followed our instincts on it in.
I’m a big believer actually that you shouldn’t worry too much about if something’s been done before. There’s nothing new under the sun and if you can bring fresh life to an old idea then there’s a skill in that as well.
A lot of ideas that are clichés are clichés because people relate to them; they have a profound place in people’s imaginations and experiences.
Have you made it to many screenings?
A few, and that’s been an incredible pleasure. The whole point of creating is for people to have an experience of joy or wonder or be moved so it’s important to get that payoff: to sit in some audiences and hear people laughing and enjoying it and applauding at the end.
Finish this sentence, ‘Australian movies need more…’
Frank Woodley has been involved in Australian entertainment for over 20 years and is best known for his work in comedy show ‘Lano and Woodley‘ with Colin Lane. Since 2006, Frank has created the one man play ‘Possessed’ and frequented Australian television shows including ‘Thank God You’re Here’, ‘Spicks and Specks’, and ‘Good News Week’. He currently hosts ‘Aussie Gold’, on Foxtel’s Comedy Channel every Saturday night. ‘Chicken of God’ is his second short film.
I studied acting for three years and hold a graduate diploma in writing from Sydney’s UTS. My interest in film and writing was solidified through interning at The Story Department and gave me the opportunity to fine tune my skills. I’ve been involved with several film projects, the most recent of which was shortlisted for Tropfest.
With the knowledge gained from university and my experience at The Story Department, I’m now specialising in professional feedback on short films and documentaries.