Magazine article American Cinematographer

Short Takes

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Short Takes

Article excerpt

A Graphic Novel Becomes a Striking Short

Indy was supposed to see Colleen that day, but he never called her back. Instead, he wrote her a letter. It had been six years since they'd seen each other, and his tangled emotions and disturbing recollections became the basis of his epistle.

The source material for the short film A Letter to Colleen was a graphic novel penned by Andy London, a 20-page handwritten letter accompanied by five pages of drawings and printed in a fanzine format. It's a story of angst, confusion, shame and sex told from Andy's point of view, and it sold out its first and only run of 100 copies in 1992. Four years later, London's girlfriend and future wife, Carolyn Adelman, read the story, "and it hit me like a ton of bricks," she recalls. "I said, 'Andy, we need to make a film out of this.'"

At the time, the couple was living in the Czech Republic, making ends meet as English teachers. When they moved back to New York, Andy continued to work on graphic novels, and Carolyn wrote and produced Off-OffBroadway shows and worked as a burlesque dancer. Neither had dabbled in filmmaking, but in 1998, they began to produce live-action and animated short films. Four shorts and a number of commercials later, Andy hit a creative wall. "I wanted to do something kind of different, something more adult," he says.

It seemed the right time to revisit A Letter to Colleen. "We both needed a certain amount of creative and emotional maturity to turn it into something that would be entertaining and not just gratuitous," explains Carolyn, referring to the film's darker moments. "There's a haze of alcohol- and drug-induced energy that allows things to happen throughout the story. The climax suggestively depicts Andy and Colleen having sex on the floor under a crowd of cheering teenagers holding scorecards. It took a long time to come up with the right way to treat the material, because it could have easily been seen as pornographic if it weren't handled properly."

Early steps toward adapting A Letter to Colleen involved condensing the original story down to seven or eight pages, storyboarding it, and developing a look for the film. "It had to be short, like a punk-rock song," says Carolyn. Andy had drawn the original in black sumi ink on white paper in a style he describes as "very cartoony." Some of the first animation tests tried to emulate that style, but the filmmakers didn't care for the result. "I tried puppets, cutouts and hand-drawings," recalls Andy. "Then, one day, I took a video camera and videotaped my feet as I walked across the floor. I imported the media into my computer and traced outlines in Macromedia Flash using a Wacom tablet." The outcome "just felt right."

A Letter to Colleen was shot on a consumer-grade Digital-8 camera by Andy and Carolyn; a close friend, New York photographer Sonya Rokes; and various interns from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where Andy was teaching at the time. "Sonya's a very innovative photographer and a very close friend, which was good because a lot of the footage needed to be very intimate," notes Carolyn.

Andy played himself, and Carolyn played Colleen. Because Andy was going to rotoscope the entire film, the raw digital footage was deemed disposable; this allowed for spontaneous experimentation and quick reshoots when scenes needed fine-tuning. The Londons imported the footage into Final Cut Pro (Version 5.1.4); a Flash project was created and shots were imported at 12 fps. …

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