by Sietske Tjallingii
The lo-tech Goddess speaks
The short films of Sietske Tjallingii (that’s Miss T to you – you’re welcome) celebrate home-made glue-and-stickytape special effects, combining a sharp wit with subservise commentary on everything from religious fundamentalism to military supremacy to female stereotyping (in a vampy catsuit, no less). Simce graduating from the audiovisual department at Amsterdam’s esteemed Rietveld Academy in 1997, she has carved her own genre as an anti-CGI “lazy animator”. We called her for a chat to find out just what that means.
It’s clear in many of your works that youre inspired by the very early attempts at special effects. What, for you, is the value of obvious fakeness?
What attracts me is that you’re not trying to hide something. You see an effect anyway, even if its CGI - you still see it’s a special effect. I find the old ones a lot more charming and they leave more to the imagination... You have to take a leap into a fantasy world but once you’re there you can believe it. I always believe it – I never see the strings! You know it’s fake, so why would you hide it?! Rather than making it as realistic as possible, you ask the viewer to take a leap into this created world and erase the evidence.
That’s certainly true of the brilliant Godzilla vs The Netherlands. What was your inspiration for the visual style?
The Godzilla film was all about the charm, I just loved the effect that the old Japanese films had – no big computer stunts, it just gave the film a nicer feel. So I felt I would just go for that and not add CGI.
So are you anti-CGI?
It’s not like I’m against it, I’ll just find out what works best for each film. Because with Burka Boogie Woogie for instance, I added the eyes later, but that was also shot on digital - once you shoot digital it’s easier to go into CGI.
What are your thoughts on digital versus film?
It depends on the project. With Burka Boogie Woogie, it was a one-taker and I knew it was not gonna be easy; I knew we would probably have to do it a lot of times, so I knew it would be better to shoot digital than shooting a shitload of film and not knowing whether it’s working out.
But in general I think the look of film is nicer, for slow motion it’s certainly nicer. If I get a grant I certainly will spend it on celluloid! But sometime’s it just comes to whether or not you can shoot the film. Like with Miss T’s Teaserama I didn’t get any money to realise it so I shot it with my own DV camera – but it actually fits really well with the film, you know the early pin-up films were also really crappy quality.
So I do prefer film but sometimes you’re just not in that luxury position... and you can be a lot freeer with digital, which certainly has its advantages. So I’m not against either.
What are the main challenges you’ve faced during production?
With Godzilla it was really hard ’cos we had to break all the props in one take! Basically, once they were destroyed we couldn’t fix them anymore, so we had to prep them very well and just hope that it would go right in one take. That was a real challenge!
Where do you draw the line between playing with the viewer’s imagination and just looking cheap?
I like creating the illusion – or doing my best to create it. Strings are alright but let’s say a hose waving around in the background just isn’t into the illusion anymore! I just go with my instinct on the day about what adds to the illusion and what doesn’t.
Which genre do you think best describes your work?
I kind of go through all the genres I guess, so maybe I’m a “genre filmmaker”. I certainly feel relations towards different kinds of filmmaking but I couldn’t really name a category where I really fit in. I’m often put in the animation category because of the comical / cartoon look. But I don’t want to do the work of animation so I always call myself a “lazy animator”! I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head who does anything similar, so yes maybe I am my own genre! But I’m so inspired by other genres – maybe if anything you could call me satirist or a pastiche artist because I’m copying but doing my own thing with existing genres.
Can you tell us a little bit about future projects you have coming up?
I’m working on a Megalomanus project in America, a road movie with all these roadside attractions like the giant donut, big ketchup bottle, water tower, I figured I wanna have like 20 Elvis impersonators, and it was all growing a little bit beyond my reach... And then I got pregnant so I had to put it on hold!
It’s kind of a road movie - I wanna make some commentary on American culture and broken dreams... The dreams of being or doing something else that come with a road trip. These locations are very fantasy-full, and I wanna tap into that. And a lot of the time they are also half decayed so they become pathetic, and that’s all partof the half-realised or non-realised dreams idea.
But right now I’m thinking about making movies for babies, I think it might be a gap in the market...
Have you ever heard of the Church of Ed Wood and if so, are you a member?
No, never... but I might join, everybody needs a religion!
Buy the DVD Sietske’s Super Shorts