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Adam Elliot, Harvie Krumpet, 2003 Adam Elliot, Harvie Krumpet, 2003
Adam Elliot is being trumpeted as Australia’s most successful short filmmaker. In June, his 23-minute claymation, Harvie Krumpet (2003, 23min) won 3 of the 4 major prizes at Annecy, the world’s largest animation festival, making it eligible for Oscar nomination. Harvie also won the Best Australian Short Award at the 2003 Melbourne International Film Festival. But Elliot hasn’t come from nowhere: Harvie is the culmination of a unified aesthetic and philosophy, a project begun in 1996 with Uncle (1996, 6min), the first of a trilogy that also included Cousin (1998, 4min) and Brother (1999, 8min). This extraordinarily detailed and richly observed body of work elevates ordinary characters over extraordinary situations and Harvie’s recent success is an apt tribute to Elliot’s finely tuned sensibilities. I asked Elliot how he became an animator.

When I left school I really wanted to be a vet but didn’t have the qualifications, so I studied graphic design. Then I deferred and ended up hand-painting T-shirts at St Kilda market for 5 years. The lifestyle and money were great, but in the end I thought: “Is this what I’m going to do for the rest of my life?” I always liked animation, but never really aspired to being an animator; I had no idea I’d end up as a claymator. So on a whim I went to the VCA Open Day and applied to the film school; I only got in on the 2nd round after someone dropped out. I wanted to do 2D animation until my lecturers convinced me to turn Uncle into claymation.

SBS is very supportive of Australian filmmakers and have a particular affinity for animation. How did they get involved with Harvie?

SBS bought Uncle in 1997 when I graduated, and have supported all my films with presales and broadcast deals. SBS have really been my saviour and we are very lucky to have them. The AFC put a bit of money into Uncle, and fully funded Cousin and Brother in collaboration with Film Victoria. But with Harvie we went to SBS first and got a presale and an equity investment. We then went to AFC for a third of the money, and to Film Victoria for the final third.

Has knocking them dead at Annecy led to further opportunities?

At Annecy, a major distributor snapped up Harvie, after 2 or 3 were in the running. But winning mainly means we get into more film festivals: we’ll now be invited to screen as opposed to having to submit (and we’ll save a fortune in courier costs). When I first started making shorts, I thought that winning a prize meant that someone would give me a cheque to fund my next film. But it never happens like that. Even if we get nominated for an Oscar, it doesn’t really make life easier. It opens doors a little but you still have to push your way through.

You speak highly of your producer, Melanie Coombs. What’s the value of a good producer?

Melanie is everything I’m not. She’s very good at putting budgets together and predicting how much a film will cost. She supports me on every level of the process. So often a director gets all the attention, but what I do is a real partnership with Melanie. She’s been with me right from the beginning of Harvie, although she approached me back when Cousin came out. She said if I wanted to do a longer format, she’d be really interested in producing—not for any commercial reason, but purely because she’s in love with the artform.

What are you working on now?

I’m writing a claymation series called Urban Eccentrics for SBS. There are 13 5-minute episodes and each is a case study about a real urban eccentric who I’ve had to go out and find, which means I’ve met a lot of interesting people! I’m a very slow writer—I’ve done about 6 of the 13 characters–so I probably won’t finish until Christmas. And then we have to finance it. And that can take a year and we need anywhere between one and 2 million dollars to make it. It’s going to be a big task to raise the money. I’ve got some other half-hour ideas in early development. I’d love to do a trilogy of half-hours, but Melanie says that’s not economically viable! A series is a lot more consumable.

RealTime issue #57 Oct-Nov 2003 pg. 19

© Simon Sellars; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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