As far as modern fairy tales go, the charming short Two Feet Tall sets new highs. It’s a tale that focuses entirely on feet but still manages to tell a story of deft emotion. Now the almost silent film will put its toe into the international market with its internet release. We spoke to director Andy Robinson about how to give direction to feet, puddle wrangling, and making a movie with soul [sorry!]
“I got chatting with Wend Baker – Two Feet Tall’s creator – at Shooters in the Pub,” said Andy. Shooters is a regular meeting of filmmakers at the Exeter Picturehouse, and is the social offshoot of the film networking organisation Shooting People.
‘Wend was telling me about ideas she had for films, and one was about a day in the life of a pair of shoes.”
A story told by feet
Andy was instantly attracted to the challenge: how to emotionally engage people in a story told just through images of shoes and feet?
“We’re used to experiencing what we would consider to be the most expressive parts of a person’s body – seeing a face, hearing a voice,” said Andy. ‘Can we still convey a rich vein of narrative without using those elements?’Together with Wend and another local writer, Charlotte Vowles, the team created a story that contained such a narrative, and stuck to the rules of not showing the actors’ faces.
Together with Wend and another local writer, Charlotte Vowles, the team created a story that told a narrative and stuck to the rules of not showing the actors’ faces.
“Every single frame is from the knees down,” said Andy. “Sometimes we see a hand come into shot, and any dialogue is in the background – not conveyng the story.’
Body language and silent film
Andy started exploring body language in film and turned to the greats of silent cinema. In particular, he looked at Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. He was trying to break down how they communicated through gesture, and the language of expression.
“The closest examples I could come up with in modern cinema where faces are deliberately not shown would be in the Tom and Jerry cartoons where the maid would come in at the end to discover the chaos the cat & mouse had caused – and you would only see her legs,’ said Andy.
“And in Steven Spielberg’s film, E.T., he made a deliberate choice to tell the story from the children’s perspective, and so placed the camera around 3 feet from the floor.
“As a result many of the adults faces were intentionally framed out to keep the focus on Elliot & E.T.’s story.’
These examples served as guides as to how Andy would frame the images, but filming at low-level has one very obvious implication:
“I had to invest in a pair of knee pads – I was on my knees for 90 per cent of the filming!” he said.
Two Feet Tall follows the character ‘Two Feet’ as she faces the repeated daily grind – enduring difficulties, harassment & disappointment. There’s a running gag involving a pavement puddle (manufactured by the aforementioned ‘puddle wrangler’), with the film ending in a final epiphany for the heroine.
“The real surprise of the film for me was how much expression you can get through just the body language of people’s feet,” said Andy.
Key to getting that representation come alive was through the acting, and much of this was down to the actress who plays Two Feet – Becky Louise Rich. Andy had worked with Becky on a previous project – the acclaimed Doctor Who fan film, Seasons of War.
“I didn’t have a casting day where I saw people’s feet,” said Andy. Instead he focused on making sure the actor had a sense of the total presence of their body. Sometimes the foot movements needed were very subtle, but at other times the movements were more broad and comedic.
Finding the right shoes
And, of course, a lot of the characterisation was finding the right shoes for each role.
For a film with no dialogue, the score was vital, and this was provided by Timo Peach, who like Becky had worked with Andy on the music for Seasons of War.
The score was vital. This was provided by Timo Preach. Again, Andy had worked with Timo before.
Two Feet Tall: a modern fairy tale
“We’d had a discussion about the kinds of music that might influence the film. I see Two Feet Tall as a modern fairy tale,” said Andy. “It is grounded in realism, but with a fairy tale edge, so one of the films that we talked about as a touchstone was Amelie.”
Timo’s delightful score both helps convey the narrative and heightens the main character’s ‘inner journey’. The surprising instruments featured in the score include hand-claps, a drum machine, a cello and even a glass marimba.
Andy storyboarded the short film – something which was a really valuable time-saving and organisational tool. He also created an ‘Animatic’ – blocking out on video a number of shots with co-producer Danl Tetley doubling as ‘Two Feet’ – giving a complete roadmap of the short during the production’s piecemeal filming.
With its timeless old-fashioned charm, Two Feet Tall has gone down well with audiences – bagging two top South West audience awards, at the Plymouth Film Festival (now Rebel Film Festival) and the Cardiff Mini Film Festival.
A feel-good movie
“Two Feet Tall is a feel-good movie, and it doesn’t apologise for that,” said Andy. That, and its lack of spoken language narrative give the film a real international feel. The universality of which will be enhanced by the internet release.
The experience of making a film focusing on feet has left a lasting effect for Andy.
‘Going forward, I would pay a lot more attention to body language,” he said. “I’m interested in images that convey emotion and character that don’t necessarily involve the face head on. To get a sense of someone by filmimg from behind, in silhouette, or showing just a part of them. It’s made me think more about the shape of a person, their poise, their attitude. And how you can convey a lot of your narrative non-verbally.”
Expect to see that approach next manifest itself in Andy’s next flick, a tantalising sci fi story.