The divide between millennials and baby boomers feels as big as it ever has. With social media providing a voice to those whose opinions are better left unsaid, the noise and expectations from both ‘sides’ can be overwhelming at times. Animator Marnik Loysen, who also works at British animation powerhouse Aardman, channels this sense of an overly-saturated opinion culture into his latest short Brunch, about a young man who heads out to his local café to enjoy some avocado on toast before being inundated with the voices of varying generations around him. It’s a really funny film but it’s also poignant and spot-on in how it captures that snowed-under feeling that is present in contemporary society. DN spoke with Loysen to learn about the origins of Brunch, why the generational divide is the perfect topic for a stop-motion format and the process of creating the film almost entirely remotely.
What initially prompted you to make Brunch?
The idea for brunch came about after several conversations with mates about our generation, the young millennials, and the pervasive views about who we are. It seemed like an automatically funny topic to me as however offensive and unsympathetic our detractors’ opinions may be, we all know they’re sort of true. I am proud of my ‘snowflake’ nature, I have no doubt that the world is a better place with more acceptance and sympathy, however I am fully aware that I fit a stereotype of anxious avocado-munching-beta-cuck-man-child.
As a stop-motion animation filmmaker, you are always looking for ideas that can be interesting and expansive while requiring as few characters, sets and scenarios as possible.
As an age group we treat money differently to previous generations, not feeling that we should be saving for the future in quite the same way. Having entered the world in its raving mad state of social media; celebrity politics and politicians; seemingly endless global catastrophes; growing divisions between groups as voices get louder, it’s truly no wonder that young people’s heads are so wrought with anxiety and depression. All of these ideas were swimming around in my head as they were (and are) part of everyday conversation. I couldn’t think of a film that had discussed these ideas in the way I was thinking about them (i.e dripping with sarcasm and irony), so it seemed like the thing to do myself.
What drew you to match those themes of millennial prejudice with the format of stop-motion animation?
As a stop-motion animation filmmaker, you are always looking for ideas that can be interesting and expansive while requiring as few characters, sets and scenarios as possible. It was very clear to me before I had any form of outline for the story that we would have a millennial ‘snowflake’ protagonist (cough, me, cough) who was trying to mind his own business in a hipster city cafe while people from other generations and/or socio-political backgrounds objected to his very being, and antagonised him for it. So essentially one set, a few characters, no complicated action. Perfect.
I read that this was a project you began right before the pandemic hit in 2020. How did that shift affect the making of Brunch?
I had just begun developing the very basic idea of the film when the pandemic hit. Initially like so many people I found lockdown really tough, but I quickly started getting deep in to several artistic projects, for once able to put all of my time and mind in to them. One of these projects was the preproduction for Brunch. In the first lockdown I finalised the script, created the animatic, and went through many iterations of production and character design until I hit the look I wanted.
My day job at Aardman Features started again after the first lockdown and remained through the rest of them as the company got a really good set of protocols in place to work safely through COVID. I continued plugging away at Brunch in all my spare time. Then when there was a gap between productions at the start of 2021, I took a few months out to shoot it in my shared studio space at Estate of the Arts in Bristol. I’d had a really decent amount of time to prep for the shoot over the previous year so I was totally ready. However, there was the small hiccup of another lockdown hitting on the very week we were due to start. Crew members were meant to be joining me in the studio but were no longer able to. Apparently, animators were not ‘essential workers’.
How did you and your crew pivot around that interruption to your production plans?
Luckily it wasn’t a big issue as everyone was able to work almost entirely remotely with me directing over Zoom and Slack. I’m really proud of how we made the production work really well and safely. Daniel Morgan, my fantastic and gorgeous DP, was in the studio for one day to set up the look of the film, and from that point onwards we would set up each shot together remotely – me in the studio with several cameras pointed towards the set so Daniel could see what was going on, as well as a live view from our shooting camera, and Daniel from his home. He’d say, “move that big light over there”, and I’d say, “this one?” And he’d say, “no, that one”, and I’d say, “this one?” Etc.
How challenging is it to get funding for a short like this? Did having such a great cast of voice actors help or did they come later in Brunch’s development?
The short was entirely funded by myself and the Producer Simon Marriott. Of course the huge benefit of this was that we had no obstructions or interruptions with too many fingers in the pie. The downside is that it set my avocado budget back by a few years. We managed to get an absolutely fantastic voice cast who were a pleasure to work with including the hilarious Maddie Rice who you may recognise from Fleabag, and David Schaal who portrayed first-rate Gammon characters in both The Office and The Inbetweeners. The voice for Snowflake took quite a while to find. We had loads of great auditions but none of them nailed it as hard as Joe Bolland. He took it really seriously and felt very authentic, not overworking it or making it feel cartoony, however extreme the character and scenario may be.
Everyone was able to work almost entirely remotely with me directing over Zoom and Slack.
The score plays a strong part in the building tension as the conversations start to heat up. Who did you work with on that?
I had heard a piece of music by my Composer Cesar Saura while I was working on the animatic which had a magic intensity to it, with layers of piano and percussion sounds. I was using romantic Chopin nocturnes as temp music in the animatic but switched it over to Cesar’s composition as the anxiety builds in the story and it worked wonderfully. Though Cesar hadn’t composed for film before, luckily for me he was super enthusiastic when I approached him about working on the project. It was immediately clear that he understood the language of filmmaking but also of the world of Brunch. We spent time discussing the character of Snowflake, where he and the audience are emotionally at every point in the film. We also had a lot of fun playing with diegetic and non-diegetic sounds as Snowflake’s world explodes into an absurdist anxiety nightmare and flips back to reality. The entire soundtrack is original, composed and produced by Cesar.
Have you had much of a reaction to the film from millennials and baby boomers? What are people making of Brunch?
To be honest, because of the old pando’ I sadly haven’t been able to see it with many audiences. The feedback I’ve had has been great though. I get the impression that it is the younger viewers who connect with it most, which makes sense as it is written from my age’s point of view. However balanced I tried to make it, as in making fun of everybody, it certainly has references that will make more sense to younger viewers and perhaps that goes for the style as a whole. Interestingly one older viewer told me how sad it made her, I think because she saw the younger generation’s existence in a different way to before. For me it’s funny rather than sad. But maybe that’s because being on the inside all we can do is laugh, what other hope have we got?
Can you tease us with any new projects, both personally and within the team at Aardman?
Since finishing the film I have been supervising the assistant animator team on Aardman’s new feature Chicken Run 2: Dawn of the Nugget so have had very little time to get involved with directing more projects. However, I’m currently pitching around a new stop-motion short I’ve been developing which is an absurdist period dramedy about a horse. It’s ambitious and on a larger scale than Brunch, but it will be really exciting as the next stage in developing my visual style and fragile directing abilities!