Highlights from the Q&A with Tatia Rosenthal:
What was it like to work with Etgar Keret?
It was great. I brought a book of short stories by Etgar Keret with me on the way to film school in New York. I finished it all on the flight, and I said then, “I must work with him.”
How did you finance the film?
We wrote the screenplay together in 1999, but it took seven years to finance. Producers said, “Make it for under $1 million or don’t make it at all,” so we didn’t make it at all for seven years. It eventually got financed because a producer wanted to make the first Australian-Israeli co-production. The final budget was $3.5 million and it took six months for him to get it financed.
How do you work with the puppets and simulate things like water and fire?
They are silicon puppets with metallic skeletons called armatures, so they’re poseable. Everything was on a 1/6 scale, so the puppets were 11”. There were about three or five puppets created for each character. Their clothes are sewn separately and can be changed. It took two years to produce the film with five animators working at any one time, nine total. We shot it with consumer grade still cameras downloaded straight to computers. The water droplets are KY Jelly—there’s nothing better to simulate water in stop-motion animation—but the bodies of water and the fire were computer generated later.
Why do stop-motion animation?
I’ve always liked it. I love the textures. You don’t get that the same way with computer animation, although that is changing. Now, the more money you have for your production, the more that computer animation can look like stop-motion animation, and vice-versa. I never got into hand-drawn animation; I'm not that great of an artist.
What do you think the film means?
I think that Etgar is a very ambivalent writer, but I think that there’s a real emotional basis to these stories. You may not have one solution to the meaning of life, but as long as you get up in the morning and there’s someone who loves you, you’re doing okay.
Which character do you empathize with the most?
It’s funny, Etgar says that when a director makes a film, it’s about where they are in life. When I was making the short, he said I was about “if I don’t get the money I’m going to shoot myself.” [laughs] It’s not the plot [of $9.99] but the multi-organism nature of it that fit where I was. It is a bit melancholy—I was homesick, making the film in Australia far from the people that I loved. So maybe it’s not as funny as it could have been. But there’s hope in it, too.
In $9.99, the live-at-home slacker Dave buys a book for the low price of $9.99 that offers him the meaning of life, and he wants to spread the knowledge. However, his family and neighbors—including his father, a retiree with a live-in guardian angel, fighting fiancés, a debt-ridden magician, a fetishistic supermodel, and a little boy with a dream—are too absorbed in their own lives and quests for happiness to listen. Their intertwined stories are voiced by Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush, Anthony LaPaglia, and a cast of talented Australian actors. The exquisite naturalistic animation took nine animators from around the world forty weeks to complete, working at the rate of four or five seconds of completed footage per animator per day.
The Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival, presented by the Gershman Y, is the second longest running, critically-acclaimed series of its kind in the United States. The complete schedule is available online at www.gershmany.org.
Find more information about $9.99, Tatia Rosenthal, and the process of creating stop-motion animation at www.9dollars99movie.com.