Chalkboard 2D design

Some Thoughts on Frog Electrocution, Plagiarism and the Pain of Being Judged

First off, I want to apologize to the last person left standing who might visit this blog to see if I’ve finally posted anything new. Well, you may or may not be in luck. Read on!

I have to get something off my skinny chest. I remember back early in production on my previous film Runaway, a panic set in after viewing my rough storyboard.

I called my producer babbling about concerns that my film was shaping up to be a project far too big to tackle and that it would eat me alive. I tried my best to suggest a complete change of tack – to stop production and come up with a much simpler premise. He wasn’t worried.

The next 5 years ate me alive!

So here I am, well into the production of my current film, If I was god and I’m going through completion anticipation jitters again. But this time, rather than it being triggered by self-doubt, it’s from a maddeningly coincidental outside source. A big outside source!

In my first blog post, I stated that the premise of my current film is “me – remembering back as a 12 year old boy in grade 7, dissecting a frog, applying electric probes (to trigger the classic frog-leg twitch), and speculating on having the powers of god”.

Well, it was during the winter of this past year (and in full production on my film), that a friend of mine sent me an email to inform me of an animated feature film, by none other than Tim Burton, called Frankenweenie.

It features a kid who takes the lessons he learns in school while observing the electro-stimulation of a frog’s leg to resurrect his beloved but dead dog.

I felt my stomach drop. Finding out about that really took the wind out of my sails. I knew that my production schedule would never hope to beat Tim Burton’s film to a release.

I feel funny typing that since I am only me and he’s TB. My little short film is on a completely different playing field than TB’s high production value feature film.

My short film is for the National Film Board of Canada, so it will certainly have a professional grade and in fact be in stereoscopic 3D. But still!

What I think about are the inevitable hints (if not outright accusations) of plagiarism. Both projects, Burton’s and mine, are being done in stop-motion with puppets.

Though my film will also have other forms of animation, Burton’s Frankenweenie will undoubtedly be all stop-motion. (I chose the stop-motion technique because I thought it would be the perfect form to capture a surreal quality for the premise – the premise just didn’t lend itself to my usual 2D animation style).

My film has a different story line and the subtext is quite different (I think) from Frankenweenie, but that underlying inciting incident of the frog-leg twitch (in a classroom, arrggh!!) is one inescapable comparison that I won’t be able to avoid.

So I expressed my concerns to my producers.

They aren’t worried.

The consensus is that the die is cast. And after all, the very reason I chose the premise of the dissection and electro-stimulation of a frog is that it represents such a memorable gateway moment in a person’s life. For most kids, it’s the first real confrontation with death – and the semblance of life through the magic of electrocution. It’s Life Changing! So it’s not so very improbable that others might come up with the same thought at the same time.

So I guess I’m proceeding. I must admit, it’s kind of exciting, in spite of the TB debacle.

And after all, maybe Tim Burton is fretting about what Mary Shelley’s ghost is thinking about him borrowing Frankenstein.

Next up: the Agony of Design Work (but with a surprise aid).

That post will arrive quite soon.