An Interview with Dawn BrownApril 14, 2014
(Following my interview with Tal Zimerman regarding his Why Horror? project, I decided to do an impromptu session with Dawn Brown for Swedish Gore Film Society.)
Fans of Ray Harryhausen‘s work and Rankin/Bass‘ cult classic Mad Monster Party should definitely check out Dawn Brown‘s current Kickstarter project House of Monsters, that see classic screen monsters such as Dracula, The Mummy and The Wolfman revived in all their stop motion glory.
Having created (and directed) the 2012 short film of same name, Dawn, a Hollywood-based set decorator, is now looking to turn it into a web series. A Kansas native relocated to Los Angeles, she has worked with an impressive list of film makers that include Tim Burton, and she currently finished up The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, giving her time to focus on this project as well as answer a couple of questions I sent her way.
This is gonna sound weird coming from a horror fan – Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a personal fave – but House of Monsters really struck me as a nice throwback to the fun and naiveté of 1960s horror, and maybe even bringing back an “innocence” to the genre of sorts. What was the reasons for creating it?
Nothing weird about that – I’m a horror fan, too! I love it all. Yes, House of Monsters is definitely a throwback to a simpler time. The Rankin/Bass classic Mad Monster Party is definitely an influence. Part of the reason for creating it may subconsciously be a reaction to a lot of the stuff that’s being produced these days. Corporate product that is so loud, so fast, so overproduced, so empty. I’m not going to name anything specifically, but I am going to go out on a limb and guess I’m not alone on this. So we made House of Monsters. It’s hand-made. It’s organic. It’s fun and simple, and hopefully something everyone can enjoy.
You’re definitely not alone. I personally haven’t been too impressed with the CGI effects that’s prevalent in the majority of movies these days. Not to take away anything from those programming said effects, but I miss the hands-on craft part of moviemaking. Like you said, it’s organic and, ultimately, human, I guess. Are you a Ray Harryhausen fan as well? What’s your fave film of his? Mine’s Jason & The Argonauts – love the skeleton army!
Mine is Clash of the Titans. Medusa scared the bejeezus out of me as a kid!
The 2012 short film received its share of awards. Was this the reason for deciding to create the web series or was it the growing grassroots support?
Both, definitely. We enjoyed connecting with people so much with the 2012 short, we absolutely want to build on that. We are launching a new studio, The Monster Shop, and this seems like a fantastic first project to get our name out there.
That’s awesome news! So will it focus on stop-motion animation or all kinds of features?
All kinds of features. We are artists, and our company is a creative services studio, offering everything from character designs, and set designs, pitch packages. All phases of creative development, including production.
So, is the plan to create multiple seasons or will this be limited to a certain number of webisodes?
That depends entirely on the fans. If the Kickstarter campaign is successful, we will make as many episodes as we can.
Great! What about a physical release? Any plans of having it released on DVD/Blu-Ray in the future?
Our plan is to distribute through Amazon.com. They offer instant video streaming, downloading or physical discs. It’s your choice! I’m really excited about that.
Sounds great. Technically speaking: I’m amazed by the sheer amount of time put in when it comes to creating stop motion animation. What’s the average amount of hours for creating say a five-minute segment?
We can shoot about a minute a week, so a five minute segment would take 5 weeks to shoot. Add 1 to 2 weeks for post production. If you don’t have sets or puppets ready to go, I would add a week of prep for each week you shoot. So the short answer is 12 weeks for a 5 minute segment – starting from scratch.
Wow! I thought I was a patient SOB, but you guys must be the Zen monks of the entertainment industry, ha ha ha. So will the episodes be posted monthly, bi-monthly or what? Considering the amount of work, what’s the schedule?
Ha! Yes, animation does require a zen-like commitment! Depending on how many episodes we will have, I want to shoot them all at once and release them all at once. This is the age of binge watching, after all! For example, we’d break down the scripts and shoot all the castle scenes at once, shoot all the village scenes at once, etc. This will allow us to release the episodes as quickly as possible.
Great! Yeah, this is the Netflix-era after all. Can you tell me a little bit about the crew you’ve assembled for this? Being in Hollywood I’m guessing you have quite a nice pool of talent to draw from.
Yes, I am lucky to have a very talented crew. Our core crew is very small. Warren Manser is the character designer. He is a concept artist in the film industry. Current credits include Man of Steel and Transformers: Age of Extinction. Dianne Chadwick sews beautiful tiny costumes. She is a graphic designer in the film industry. Current credits include Oblivion and The Lone Ranger. Jon Neill is a sculptor, his recent credits include master pumpkin carver on the television show, Halloween Wars. I have connections in every level of production and can expand our crew as needed to address whatever needs arise.
That’s great! I know directors like Roger Corman and Russ Meyer preferred to work with a skeleton crew but also heard major directors talking about the advantages of having a large crew where everyone is a specialist in a small field. What’s your personal preference when it comes to crews?
I work for the big studios as a concept artist and we have large crews and everyone is a specialist in their field. So in that respect, I love that. It’s job security. It pays the bills. As a filmmaker, I prefer a smaller, more flexible skeleton crew. I think the more people are personally involved, the more they care about it. And that magic definitely shows on the screen.
Agreed. Speaking of Hollywood: Has the project itself gotten some word of mouth going? I saw USA Today mentioning it this past week and Kickstarter stepped in to fund the project. That must’ve been a blast!
But has there been any interest by producers, studios etc? Are you planning to pitch this at a later stage?
Right now, I just want to get funded by Thursday and give you guys some really fun and cool monster shorts. My focus is not on the studios, but you guys, the audience.
Sounds great. Best of luck with the project!
UPDATE: This campaign was successfully funded on April 17th.