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SXSW 2011: Interview with ‘Animal Control’ Director Kire Paputts

SXSW 2011: Interview with ‘Animal Control’ Director Kire Paputts

Last week we published a preview of Animal Control, a short film playing at SXSW this March. Intrigued by this eerie, nocturnal film, I shot some questions over to the director, Toronto resident Kire Paputts. I was lucky enough to get back answers that reflected the mood of film itself: often tormented, a little disgusting, honest and charming.

I wanted to know more about the inspiration for the story behind Animal Control. Turns out, as with so many creative stories, it was pieced together from little bits of life. Here’s what Kire had to say about its origins:

Some time in the early 2000’s, I caught an old re-run of the Kids In The Hall. One of the skits featured Bruce McCulloch as a creep who lived in some sort of industrial concrete building where he drove around at night on a scooter picking up road kill with a short shovel. This is where I got the idea for the character of Larry.

In 2008, my girlfriend of 5 years came back from a trip to Cuba and decided she wanted to be single. This is where all the film’s emotion came from. Kind of explains itself.

While nursing my newly broken heart at some Toronto east end shit hole, a friend launched into a story about how his dog, Sammy, had just died. Personally, I didn’t even like the dog, he was a mean son of a bitch that always growled at me. However, what really struck a chord with me was that my friend is not the type of person who gets emotional or shares his feelings, but I could tell that he was shaken up over it. It was kind of like one of those cliche moments in a film where an old rubby sits in a bar and talks about the one that got away. Walking home I started to think about my family dog, a German Shepherd named Honey, that had died when I was in high school and the connection I had with her.

Everything just clicked and the script was written in a matter of days.

Animal Control features taxidermy scenes as well as a recurring scene of a long hall at an animal center lined with cages of yelping dogs. I asked Kire what it was like to work with the animals on the set, both dead and alive.

Working with live animals was both awesome and at times depressing. Dekka, who plays Sammy, was a delight. I really lucked out with her. She was also the only dog I auditioned. Every other owner/wrangler was way out of my price range. The animals at the shelter were a different story. Depressing as hell. Not that the shelter was treating them inhumanely or anything, it’s just that when you’re around cats and dogs crying for hours on end, it can be quite draining.

Dead animals are always depressing. What’s great about filming in an animal shelter is that you have access to all the dead animals you want. At one point my Art Director was laying out a bunch of dead dogs, looking for a dog that would match Dekka, and she broke down in tears. When it came to the dead animal freezer scene, I was the one who had to go in there and retrieve the bags take after take. It was a bit of lead-by-example and a bit of my crew not wanting to do it. I must add that frozen dead animals don’t smell great and that thawed dead animals smell even worse. When we shot the raccoon taxidermy scene in my mother’s tiny dining room, my DP had to step outside on numerous occasions. The smell got worse especially when the lights started to heat that carcass up. When transporting the bagged remains outside, a few drops of blood landed on the floor and those few drops alone were enough to make your stomach turn.

I was impressed with the clean, precise presentation of the taxidermy scene in the film, so I asked Kire about it. Here, he describes the care that went into the editing for this scene and how he made it tell a story with the juxtaposition of different shots/steps in the process.

With the taxidermy scenes I really wanted to show the process. It seems to be a dying art form, at least in the city. There’s one guy who does it in Toronto, but he’s nuts. I contacted a few other taxidermists outside of Toronto but they turned out to be nuts as well. The stereotype of the insane/creepy taxidermist is an accurate one, with few exceptions. For a while I thought I was gonna have to actually do the taxidermy myself, but I found a guy a few hours out of the city who seemed normal, and when I say normal, I mean he had a wife, kids, and looked like he showered regularly. He really made that scene work. It was important to show the idea of breathing life back into something dead, so although a lot of the shots depict the more gross side of the process (skinning), we mirrored that with the reconstruction of the carcass (ie. we see the face being removed from the skull and then we show the face being fashioned onto the foam mold. To be honest, there were even more disturbing shots that we didn’t include in the film, mostly removing the paws. The sound of little cracking bones can really fuck you up. Over all, the scene is not there to shock, it’s there to foreshadow Larry shedding his own skin by the end of the film.

The main actor in Animal Control was really the film’s heart. Here’s a little more on where this lanky, mysterious man came from and why he works so well for the part.

Julian Richings was my number one pick. I had seen Julian in numerous Canadian productions over the years and was always drawn to his distinct look. His face speaks a thousand words and my DP was in heaven because there’s no bad way to light the guy. Julian killed it, especially for a guy who doesn’t say a single word in the film. He really got the character. Although we spent time speaking about it, he really took it to the next level.
He remained extremely patient throughout and put up with some draining conditions/situations. That’s what I love about Julian. There’s no bullshit, no ego. He’s a real person.

Kire is a member of Made By Other People…he told us more about what it means to be a part of this collective.

Made By Other People is a Toronto based Arts Collective that consists of artists who take a DIY approach to creating art as well as helping one another in any capacity to get the project made. If we’re not directing our own projects then we’re doing sound, gripping, or making lunches for someone else’s. We don’t try to buy into or copy what’s happening in the mainstream, we just wanna tell stories or try new things that seem interesting. If it takes off or makes us a few bucks, even better. Another big component of the collective is providing feedback for each other’s work. Each of us approaches film making differently and it’s always beneficial to get your work torn apart by 8 distinct personalities. Their feedback during the editing of Animal Control was critical. If it wasn’t for them the film would still probably be called “Preservation.” Shit, how pretentious does that sound?

– Alice Gray