Despite our enduring love of his work, much to DN’s chagrin it’s been quite a while since we last spoke to Hungarian Animator Péter Vácz. However, with his charming new film Pillowface (Párnaarc)- the story of an introverted man’s playful attempts to ease his loneliness during a hotel stay – marking his first foray into the realm of live action, I caught up with Péter to find out more about his experience of making the transition into a new filmmaking discipline and what he has in store for us next.

Despite your name coming up regularly in several of our recent animator interviews it’s actually been a couple of years since we last had you on DN. What have you been up to between then and now?

Various things from making films to teaching. In 2016 summer I took part at the Filmtett Workshop in Romania as a tutor for the animation participants. After that, I made a new psychedelic music video Strawberry for the Smelly Hamstergeccos which got a Vimeo Staff Pick. In 2017 I decided to apply to participate at the Filmtett Workshop but this time to direct the live-action short film Pillowface. Then later in the year Joseph Wallace and I ran an international stop motion workshop with great results as part of the Primanima animation festival in October. Since then I’ve been focusing on developing my new animation project Noah’s Tree.

Please tell me that Pillowface is based on your own experiences of befuddling hotel housekeeping with bed lining characters.

You can apply either to make an animation or live-action film at the Filmtett Workshop. When I was the animation tutor in 2016 I saw that the people actually made four – fully finished – live-action short films in 10 days. It was really exciting and I thought this could be a chance for me to try out live-action. I applied as a director the following year and was accepted. To be selected you have to write a script that is doable in ten days.

After some struggle finding the right story my friend Attila Bertóti suggested to me that I should try to turn my first hotel experience into a script. I had many versions trying to find the right tone and structure and I was still writing the script on my way to Romania but at some point, I had to finish it.

When we last spoke you were enjoying the luxury of being able to work with a team, were you able to bring collaborators onboard for this project too?

The Filmtett Workshop is aimed at amateur filmmakers and students to give them a chance to make films in a more professional environment with tutors around. Apart from animation, they select participants for all the different filmmaking roles (director, dop, camera assistant, editor, sound designer, foley, production manager, director’s assistant, actors, etc…) just as many that add up to four full teams to shoot four live-action short films in ten days. After I was selected, I tried to choose my team from the participants list before the workshop started to plan ahead as much as possible. The two days of the shoot were a wonderful experience. I was finally able to focus only on directing and have all the talented people to do the rest of the filmmaking.

Were there any unexpected challenges which arose from your coming as an animator to a live action project?

The speed of the production was overwhelming. We had one day to prepare the shot list and shoot schedule which I’d never done before. I had hardly any time to rehearse with my main actor and we had only two days to shoot the whole film. The shooting was amazing but we still had to put the whole film together (editing, color-grading, sound, music… etc.) for which we had just two days. By the end, I got extremely worn out and needed almost two weeks to recover. Of course being a perfectionist, after the workshop I spent months finishing the whole film properly.

As a storyteller I was always excited to try this medium and see how I could translate my vision into live-action.

Another challenge was to find the right place to shoot. As the whole story takes place in a hotel room it was very important to find the one I had in mind. I did a lot of research in advance on the hotels around the area but it turned out two days before shooting that all of the hotel rooms that could’ve been good were booked because of a big event. It all seemed really hopeless until my main actor told us about this new hotel in Sfantu Gheorges that has been just finished but hadn’t opened yet. We got permission on the day of shooting and had a whole new empty hotel – it was perfect!

Over the years we’ve come to know (and love) your work as an animator, to what extent was Pillowface a conscious effort to move into live action filmmaking? Is this the first of many?

That’s great to hear! Most of my favorite films are live-action feature films and as a storyteller, I was always excited to try this medium and see how I could translate my vision into live-action. I’ve never written a script before as I’ve always developed my animations through images and storyboards and I felt I wanted to try out writing and see how it feels. It was inspiring, a real challenge but I also struggled a lot during the learning process. This is my first live-action and I hope it won’t be the last…

What can you tell us about your upcoming puppet animation Noah’s Tree?

Noah’s Tree is a puppet animated short film project about a ten-year-old boy dealing with his parent’s separation in his imaginary world. It’s a personal story that I’ve been developing for a year now with a Hungarian Producer Gábor Osváth (Filmfabriq). The plan is to create a 25 minute animated film so this will be the most ambitious project I’ve worked on so far.

In the last seven months, we have pitched it four times at the biggest European forums (Visegrad Animation Forum, Annecy MIFA, Cartoon Forum & Animarkt Stop Motion Forum) and won two awards. It’s tough to do a good pitch but from our efforts, we now have a wonderful French co-producer Jean-Francois le Corre from Vivement Lundi! (producer of This Magnificent Cake) on board and we are in discussion with a third producer. We’ve started applying for funds and I’ll be happy to start work properly on the film soon.

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