Greek tragedies via a French rooster: an update from Tom Schroeder

Our profile of animator and filmmaker Tom Schroeder first aired on MN Original in November of 2011, and was filmed even earlier, during May of that year. We caught up Mr. Schroeder to learn more about his latest film and some of his other recent creative projects.

UPDATE: We just learned from Tom that Marcel, King of Tervuren was accepted into competition at the Sundance Film Festival!

An excerpt from Marcel, King of Tervuren, © Tom Schroeder.

MN Original: Your profile on MN Original first aired in November of 2011, and in it, you discuss starting a new film called Marcel, King of Tervuren, which you say is modeled after a Greek tragedy. Tell us more about the film.

Tom Schroeder: I finished Marcel this past August in a French and an English language version. The film evolved as a friend, Ann Berckmoes, who lives in Tervuren, Belgium on the outskirts of Brussels, began to tell us installments of the story of her rooster Marcel. My wife, Hilde, is Belgian and we tend to visit Belgium almost every year. As the story developed I began to think there might be a documentary-style animated film to be made from it and by the point that Marcel’s son, Max, blinds him in one eye it began to sound like Greek tragedy as enacted by roosters. (There’s nothing specific that the film is mimicking and the relationship to Greek tragedy is somewhat ironic.) When Ann visited St. Paul one spring I recorded her telling the story once in English and once in French, because she said she actually lived the story in French. I edited the story to a piece of music that I licensed for the film composed by Phil Kline and performed by the string quartet Ethel. And then I animated the film to the audio tracks. The music is meant to draw out the gravity of the situation and the animation was intended to contradict that gravity, but in the end the film turned out grimmer than I expected. So the comic element I thought would develop is subdued.

MNO: How did the act of drawing on an electronic tablet, as opposed to drawing on paper, alter your creative process in creating and writing Marcel? How has it helped your artistic development?

TS: The painterly look of Marcel is a result of working with the tablet. The look of the brush strokes and different rendering techniques are easier to audition digitally. You can test out movement with the rendering possibilities more quickly. Animating itself, which I’m still not entirely comfortable with, is initially less controlled. Once you start to adapt to not having pages to flip and having no graphite on your fingers, you realize that you are essentially drawing and testing simultaneously. You can play and watch your animation even as you’re drawing it, as opposed to having to scan a stack of paper, assemble it in another software and then watch it. The immediate feedback tends to make me work looser and take greater risks with the movement. Also, the transformations in the lines and character in Marcel are a direct result of working digitally. It’s a little soon to judge how it’s effecting my development, but I’ll know more after the next film.

MNO: In your profile, you mention that it typically takes you two years to finish a film. Marcel recently screened at The Walker Art Center, so did you find that using digital tools like a tablet allowed you to create a film more quickly? What are the pro’s and con’s to potentially having a faster timeline for your art?

TS: Yes, working with the tablet definitely speeds up the process of drawing a film like Marcel. It probably helped even more that I had some funding from the McKnight Foundation for the film which allowed me to hire two former MCAD students to work with me on the film. Having help with something as labor intensive as animation allows me to free up more energy for “directing” and storytelling. I really can’t imagine any cons right now to anything that helps me make films more quickly. Animation is so grueling to produce, especially for an independent with little resources, that the biggest danger in any film is losing focus or interest in the content.

MNO: What was your perception of the screening of Marcel at The Walker? How did it compare to previous screenings you’ve held?

TS: So far Marcel has screened locally at Paul Creager’s Square Lake Festival and at The Walker. The screening at The Walker came about opportunistically in that I was just testing a new projection format, DCP. Heidi Schuster at Splice Here kindly arranged with The Walker to project Marcel so that I could see how the new format looked. Sheryl Mousley saw the film the afternoon that I saw it and included it in a program. Because the program was only two nights later I didn’t have much time to publicize the event. The film did look beautiful on DCP and the new sound system in The Walker auditorium is great. A friend who showed up to the event gave me a useful tagline for the film too: “It has a happy ending in the middle and then it gets sad again, like life.” A local composer was also present and has contacted me about doing a collaborative project with a musical group called “Improvistra.”

MNO: What’s next for Marcel? Will you shop it around to festivals?

TS: I’ve just started sending Marcel to film festivals. I made the deadline for Sundance, which is one of the bigger venues for independent films in the U.S. My last two films Bike Race and The Yellow Bird played in competition at Sundance, so I hope I’m still in favor with the programmers there. The festivals that are most important for a film like Marcel are the large dedicated animation festivals: Annecy, Ottawa, Hiroshima, Anima Mundi, Melbourne and others. This is where most of the distribution business for a film like mine is done. I have a distributor in London, Shorts International, who handles many of my animated films. I’ve had my films in the past broadcast internationally on Canal Plus, SBS in Australia, CBC in Canada and Independent Lens on Public Television in the U.S. I imagine Marcel will have some interest in Europe. Oh, Marcel is also scheduled to play on MNTV locally on TPT.

MNO: What other projects are you currently working on?

TS: I always need a break after finishing an animated film, so that usually means a music project. The music project I’m working on now is also a live action experimental film called “Turboencabulator.” The turboencabulator is a fictitious machine concocted and described in fantastic techno-jargon by GE engineers in the late 1940′s (I think). I play with an improvisational group called Waschering Maschine which I imagine as a lost German rock/jazz/space band from 1972 [Editor’s note: Waschering Maschine makes a cameo appearance in Tom Schroeder’s profile on MN Original!]. We record jams once every other week, which I edit into more manageable lengths. When they’re really good we mine them for raw material and make a CD. Turboencabulator is a 42 minute prog-rock chamber music piece that I’ve composed after the fact through editing and over-dubbing. We’ve got some really good musicians who contributed including Pat O’Keefe on clarinet from Zeitgeist and Jacqueline Ultan on cello from many bands such as Jello Slave and Saltee. The music is just about done. Then over the next few months I’ll edit an impressionistic machine-themed video in synch to the music from footage that I’ve been shooting all summer. This whole process takes about 6 months, which by animation standards is a kind of immediate gratification. It takes 6 months to make a 42 minute piece as opposed to 18 months for a 6 minute piece. When Turboencabulator is done I’m going to start the next animated film “Isola del Giglio.” This will be an impressionistic film about an Italian island that I’ve visited twice. I’m making this film in collaboration with an animator who lives in Paris, Lisa Paclet, who spent her childhood Junes on the island with her family. We plan to make an animated “Les Vacances de M. Hulot” (Jacques Tati).

MNO: What other animators locally or nationally do you follow?

TS: Animation is a small subculture, so it tends to be very “international.” Some of my favorite animators are: Igor Kovalyov, a russian living in Los Angeles, Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby, who live and work together in Calgary and whose latest film is “Wild Life,” Rosto and Suzie Templton, who live together now in Amsterdam but don’t work together yet – her last film was a stop motion adaptation of “Peter and the Wolf,” and Jeremy Clapin, who lives in France and whose film “Skhizein” was one of my favorites of the last few years.

MNO: What’s the best local arts event you’ve attended in the past year?

TS: Michelle Kinney and Chris Cunningham host music salons at their house occasionally and one that I attended including Mississippi Peace, The Orange Mighty Trio, and some Tango music from Astor Piazzolla was one of the most memorable and (very) local events that comes to mind. Being a film fanatic as well I have to mention The Trylon in general and thank Barry Kryshka for picking up where the Oak Street Cinema left off.

Socaholix “Jump Jump Jump”

Soul calypso band Socaholix performs Jump Jump Jump in Studio A.

Wang Ping Finds Her Voice

Born in Shanghai, author Wang Ping received little formal education growing up. The schools were closed by the government and books were limited to those written by the Chairman of the Communist Party of China, Mao Zedong.

As a child, Ping recalls uncovering a crate of books hidden underneath a chicken coop that contained Chinese classics as well as Russian novels and poetry and even Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. These books became her textbooks. And once devoured, Ping traded these books in a sort of “underground book club.” In this way, she completed her elementary school and middle school education.

Ping ultimately received a BA in English Literature from Beijing University, and later a MA in English Literature as well as a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from New York University.

In this excerpt from our interview with Wang Ping, she discusses how the writing system – whether English or Chinese Symbols – changes the very work itself.

Watch our full profile of Wang Ping on Sunday, September 24 at 6 p.m. on tpt2 to learn more about her writings as well as her multi-media project Kinship of Rivers. We’ll also be releasing two additional videos of Ping reading her poems on our website after the broadcast.

Here, There, Everywhere: Twin Cities Scenics as Backdrops for MNO Music

Last Sunday, we aired a compilation of some of our favorite live music performances recorded on MN Original during our first three seasons. We’re proud of these performances not only because they highlight the incredible level of talent in the Twin Cities music scene, but also because it gave us the opportunity to pair that talent with some beautiful and iconic Twin Cities landscapes. Not surprisingly, filming on location brings about interesting quirks and challenges that set the experience apart from filming in the more controlled environment of the tpt studios. MN Original‘s Associate Producer, Kate McDonald, lends some insight on what it was like to produce three of the performances that aired during the music compilation:

Storyhill at the Wabasha Street Caves

As anyone who’s been to the Wabasha Street Caves just outside of downtown St. Paul (or any large cave) knows, it’s a dark, dank, and cold environment, and not necessarily suited for music performances. So it may not be surprising to hear that before the Wabasha Street Caves became the set for our Storyhill segment, they were used as a cheese curing factory, mushroom growing greenhouse, and a speakeasy during Prohibition. We even used some of the left-behind mushroom storage pallets as a surface to house our audio equipment during the shoot.

Monroe Crossing at the Bruentrup Heritage Farm

The Bruentrup Heritage Farm, managed by the Maplewood Historical Society, is one of the oldest historically preserved farms in MN, established in 1891. During the taping with Monroe Crossing, we enlisted farm volunteers (and even a member of the Maplewood Historical Society’s Board of Directors!) to provide us with props for the shoot, such as milk cans from the farm’s basement, and hay bales from the barn’s loft. TPT’s own Events Manager, Justin Madel, also came through with his extensive prop collection, including rugs, strings of lights, lanterns and even a birdcage which he donated to the shoot.

Heiruspecs on the Jonathan Paddleford Riverboat

Captain Gus Gaspardo made us feel more than welcome on the rooftop of his Paddleboat while filming Heiruspecs, although running audio off of the deck proved to be a bit more complicated than we had thought because of the noise of the Mississippi. We ended up filming the band with the boat docked, and then Captain Gus took us for a ride so we could get moving shots of the river, which were added to the segment in post-production. Each cameramen also had their own personal assistant on the shoot as well, whose sole job it was to make sure they didn’t take a unexpected dip in the Mississippi.

What Twin Cities locations do you think would be the perfect backdrop to an MN Original music performance? Send us your thoughts at [email protected]!

Marion McClinton Directs “The Brothers Size” at the Guthrie

Stay tuned for an upcoming MN Original profile on Tony-nominated theater director Marion McClinton!

McClinton is currently directing the Pillsbury House + Theatre and the Mount Curve Company co-production of The Brothers Size, the second in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Brother/Sister plays trilogy.

The play, which takes place in a fictional community in Southern Louisiana, explores African American male identity and brotherly love through the story of the Size brothers, Ogun (James A. Williams, who appeared on Twin Cities Public Television’s Almanac this past Friday) and Oshoosi (Gavin Lawrence). Check out this rehearsal footage and interview with Williams.

The Brothers Size runs September 7-29 at The Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio. For tickets, visit the Guthrie’s website or call 612-377-2224.

tpt’s Legacy Programming Receives Fourteen Upper Midwest Emmy® Nominations

The Upper Midwest Chapter of the the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences announced 2012 nominations yesterday evening, and Twin Cities Public Television programming funded by the State of Minnesota’s Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment received fourteen Upper Midwest Emmy nominations! We’re honored and flattered to see our programming listed among so many other quality programs and media outlets. The Upper Midwest Emmy awards are held on September 29th. In the meantime, scroll down to watch some of our Emmy-nominated videos.

Arts/Entertainment: Single Story – MN Original: Storyhill

Historic/Cultural/Nostalgic – Program and Writer – Program (Non-News): Lost Twin Cities III

Military: Single Story – MN Original: Minnesota History Center’s 1968 Exhibit

Magazine Program: Single Story – MN Original: Pamela Sukhum

Magazine Program: Program – MN Original: Episode #319

Interstitial – Arts Scene: Minnesota (click on the link to watch the video)

A Spectacle of MN Original Alums at the State Fair

While the Minnesota State Fair is renowned for a wide variety of skewered foods, giant slides, and a melting pot of all things Minnesotan, few may realize that the Fair also lays claim to the third-most-visited museum of gallery space in Minnesota. The 2012 Fine Arts Exhibition magazine guide prominently points out this fact on its first page, rightfully boasting of the quarter-of-a-million visitors the Exhibition receives each year at everyone’s favorite Great Minnesota Get-Together.

This past Monday, the MN Original crew was proud to add our numbers to that 250,000, as the Fine Arts Exhibition was the first stop on our extracurricular excursion. We were tickled to see so many artists who’ve appeared on our series whose artwork was on display within the gallery, and to discover so many more contenders! To get a small taste of what goes into this amazing output of creativity, watch these profiles of the MN Original alums exhibited.

If you’re planning on making it out to the Fair (you’ve got until September 3rd!), the Fine Arts Exhibition is not to be missed. It’s an incredible collection of art representing many genres and made by artists across the entire state.

Allen Christian

Andy Ducett

Gregory Euclide

Michael Kareken

John Largaespada

Rhea Pappas

Matthew Rucker

Scott Stulen

Practice Spaces: Cactus Blossoms

When you’re done snarfing deep-fried Twinkies and cheese curds at the State Fair this weekend, be sure to stop in and see the Cactus Blossoms perform their beloved country music harmonies-at 10:30am, 11:30am, and 12:30pm on Saturday and Sunday. But before you do that, play around with the photo below (it’s been Stippled!) to learn about the endearingly grubby space where the group has been practicing of late. It’s the back room at St. Paul’s Turf Club, and it’s been their de facto rehearsal space during their weekly residency at the venue, which began in February this year. Have a click around!


Making Connections with Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theater

The company of Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theater rehearses “Ways to Be Hold” in preparation for their upcoming trip to Dusseldorf, Germany to present the piece at the Internationale Tanzmesse, a worldwide dance festival. MNO spent the day with Stuart and his talented performers, capturing excerpts of this dynamic piece at the JSB Tek Box Theater and visiting North Minneapolis to learn more about Temporary Shelter, their most recent Community Connections program.

Breaking the Mold with Heidi Hoy

Heidi Hoy‘s newly poured bronze sculpture emerges from its mold at Minnetonka Center for the Arts. Can anyone guess what it is?

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Dan Huiting On ‘The Local Show’

Eagle eared listeners to The Current just heard MNO’s very own Dan Huiting sparking up the airwaves with Dave Campbell on The Local Show, we were able to double up this Sunday evening! Our Director of Photography’s interview ran right after MN Original wrapped up on tpt2, giving public media lovers a full hour of MNO-related fun.  To celebrate Dan’s appearance on The Local Show, we’re releasing a couple of his edits before they hit the the TV on MN Original. Listen to Dan’s interview to hear him talk more about the inspiration behind these performances from Alpha Consumer and Astronautalis, and stay tuned to MN Original this Fall to see these performances on your TV screen!

The New Solar Arts Building: Artists, Green Design, and Craft Beer

From the outside, the red-brick building at 1711 15th Avenue in Northeast Minneapolis looks much like it did over 90 years ago, when it housed the industrial operation of the Twin Cities Cord and Tire Company. That is, until you step far enough back to glimpse the 108 solar panels perched proudly on top- those were a recent touch. A far cry from cords and tires, the building-newly reborn as the Solar Arts Building– now houses a multitude of artists. Beginning August 10, it will also hold a taproom for Indeed Brewing.

Minneapolis oil painter Caitlin Karolczak is one of those artists. Recently relocated from the Grain Belt Bottling House, Karolczak was drawn to the Solar Arts Building due to its ecological focus, the proximity of craft beer, and the presence of so many other working artists.

“It’s very peaceful but at the same time I can always tell there are people in the building moving around, and that’s a really nice thing,” says Karolczak. “It’s really vibrant.”

For an oil painter, studio relocation is no small matter, Karolczak explains. Moving from Grain Belt to the Solar Arts Building took place over the course of a month.

“It’s hard to move a bunch of wet oil paintings-they’re so fragile,” she says. “Also, you’re used to having a certain kind of light and having your objects surround you in a certain order…I still have books I can’t find and different supplies all over the place.”

Nonetheless, the relocation has been worth it, she admits, and she’s excited to tap into her own following to help bring art lovers to the new space.

Already, the Solar Arts Building houses a list of 20 artists (and growing)-including Susan Wagner Ginter and painter Philip Hoffman. But the Indeed Brewing taproom is also bound to be a draw, as is the vast, well-lit event space-complete with the original boiler door and balsa fir timbers-that graces the top floor.

The refurbishing process for the Solar Arts Building involved asbestos and paint removal, the installation of energy-efficient fixtures, window replacement, and a new 92 percent efficient HVAC system. That, of course, and the solar panels that grace the roof.

To get a look at the new Solar Arts Building, and the work of its artists, drop in for one of the regular “First Thursdays” events from 5-9pm, featuring open studios by many of the new tenants.

Find out more about the SAB and how it came to be, on their website, solarartsbuilding.com.

For more information about Caitlin Karolczak’s work, visit her website, studiosilenti.com.