The sudden, frightening and depersonalising effects of a panic attack are expressed in a new film by Alexander Warn. His micro short Paper Thin is a mixture of live action and animation. We caught up with him to find out how he’s put those experiences on screen
D&CFilm: Describe your micro short Paper Thin and why you decided to make it?
Alexander Warn: Put very simply – a man has his reality reshaped by a threat of his own construction. It’s a surreal mix of live action and stop motion animation. It’s based on my own experiences of the depersonalisation effects of a panic attack.
One afternoon, in a day dream, I had the image of a man’s head being wrapped in paper strips. I jotted it down, then wrote more from that initial image. I didn’t have a clue what it meant until I’d read it back. This, alongside a little distance since a ‘full scale’ panic attack, gave me enough space to be able to use that experience in this fashion. Over the years I’ve been fairly open with my mental health struggles, so it’s my very minor contribution to a much wider public debate. It’s important that men are able to share such things.
D&CFilm: It seems quite difficult to represent – how does film help that, and how has the format of it being a micro short perhaps hindered it?
Alexander Warn: Film can handle surrealism and abstraction really well. I’ve always been a fan of films where characters undergo physical and psychological transformations. Surrealism and expressionism are big loves of mine. Film felt to me like the natural home for the kind of story I’m trying to tell. I’ve been described as being a ‘genre’ man, which is perfectly okay with me.
As for hindrances -the only real hindrances are probably me! I’ve learnt a lot and still learning. Yes the film is only 3 minutes long and there are certain images I’d like to dwell on a lot longer but can’t. However, I applied for 3 minutes, so I knew that that would most likely happen. Creativity and limitations aren’t enemies, they’re useful. Plus it’s a fun challenge to see how far you can push those limits.
D&CFilm: You’re a member of Burn the Curtain outdoor, interactive promenade theatre company, what experience do you have of film, and does your theatre experience feed into your filmmaking?
Alexander Warn: My main film experiences are appearing in the Oddbodies’ shorts Mrs Lustleigh’s Fancies (2010) and The Nature of Angrove (2011). Aside from acting in those films, I also helped with some of the models and made the odd, simple prop for each film. I’ve also made film inserts for a one-man show I did, with Theo Moye (the D.P. for Paper Thin.)
As part of learning more about film making and stop motion, I indulged my silly side by making three shorts. Set myself limits -could only use my phone, available lighting and all props were either what I already own, or could make from existing materials. The ‘Eggbert trilogy’ won’t pull up any trees, but hopefully raise a cheap smile here and there.
I think my theatre background feeds into me wanting to be involved in a production beyond just acting. Promenade also means that you’ve got to keep things light. Scenes aren’t filled with set or props, and the lighting is basic. That’s why I like to keep things to a minimum on set, in terms of paraphernalia as well as people. Try to capture as much in camera as possible, especially when it comes to any effects. I prefer acting to physical objects. The biggest difference though is you can show the strings in theatre, but not really in film.
There’s a Brian Yuzna quote which sums it up for me – ‘the horror genre, like all fantastic genres, comes from the tradition of Melies… the tradition of artifice of stage, of magic tricks, of expressionism.’
D&CFilm: How have you found the process of being part of the Exeter Phoenix commissions?
Alexander Warn: Found the process to be quite relaxed. Feedback is given with the best intentions, and they’ve generously in said we don’t have to take it onboard. It’d be remiss of me though, still learning a great deal, to do that! I do like to work from instinct a lot, but that doesn’t always serve me well. They have various experiences which have been good sounding boards. Access to the equipment and space has been invaluable.
The money helped me get a nice little team together -Theo Moye, Chris Russell and Ruth Webb. Their skills and creativity have contributed massively to helping realise Paper Thin.
D&CFilm: What’s next for you?
Alexander Warn: Theatre – it’s finishing the Burn the Curtain tour of The Hunting of the Snark. Been having lots of fun playing The Butcher up and down the country in various forests at night. After that, it’s a watch this space kind of deal.
Film -get the final edit of Paper Thin done. There are other ideas slowly forming and other odd images pop into my head from time-to-time. Will see where they take me. Would like to make a longer film, be a bit more ambitious and move it up a step or two.
D&CFilm: Alexander, thanks for your time!
Paper Thin will get its premiere at the Two Short Nights film fest.