Failure is more interesting than success. He teaches us much more. Success often makes you dizzy and makes you not think very straight, director, screenwriter and animator Vladimir Todorov told BTA. As part of the “Apollonia” Arts Festival, which took place in Sozopol from August 28 to September 5, his short animated film “Dreamer” was screened.
On Monday, Todorov also participated in the discussion forum “The Price of Success”, which meets the Sozopol public with proven names from various arts. The moderator of the meeting was Chavdar Gyuzelev, and Lyuben Dilov – son and Prof. Bozhidar Manov – took an active part in the conversation.
During the meeting in the seaside city, Vladimir Todorov talked about his work with some of the world’s names in cinema – such as Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton and Tom Hanks. He revealed what the challenges were before him when he decided to move first to London and then to Los Angeles, where he worked in one of the biggest film studios. Todorov also talked about his participation in films such as “Harry Potter”, “Steward Little”, “Beowulf” and others.
In front of BTA, Vladimir Todorov indicated what provoked him to create his author’s film “Dreamer”, how he turned to cinema and what success actually looks like through his eyes.
Within the framework of the Arts Festival in Sozopol, you are presenting your short animated film “Dreamer”. How did the idea for it come about?
– I have a film before “Dreamer”, which was called “Trepidity”. This was intended as part of a trilogy. The plot is about a loner who eventually finds love in a dystopian world. It won’t make a trilogy because it takes a long time. The film is wordless, has strong symbolism, no coherent story that has a beginning, middle and end. In these short films we try to convey the messages through symbols, through images.
The plot of “Dreamer” was provoked by the war in Syria – this destruction that I was watching then, and how a culture that has been built for thousands of years suddenly collapses. We adults do things like this and then leave it to our kids to fix them. Let the next generations fix our mistakes. The film is about a child who is left alone and has to fend for himself in this broken world. It provoked me and then I started thinking about how to turn it into a story that would stand on the screen. This is the beginning.
How did the work and creative process go?
– It was difficult. Not for anything else, but I pushed myself into a technique that I cannot delegate to someone else, i.e. only I can do it. It is something mixed between a doll, a digital background and then I do the intermediate phases in photoshop. This is something that is not known and not used. Even if I had a higher budget, I couldn’t get animators to split the work, and it takes a lot of time for one person. So it took me about two years to complete it. In the end, I couldn’t stand it anymore, as it usually happens in animation – you’re bored.
When did creativity appear in your life and how did you choose to make it your profession?
– I chose this specific profession, film, later, but creativity appeared at a very early age. I was maybe three years old when I started making plasticine worlds. And because I was born in socialism, there weren’t many toys then, I made my own toys, forts, pirate ships, whatever. From there it grew into painting, later I studied at an art school. There was a straightforward pre-planned strategy to continue at the Art Academy, and somewhere there something broke, because cinema has always interested me. So I decided that animation is the thing that brings together both cinema and drawing. For many years there was zero in NATFIZ, but a course opened, I snuck in there, and it turned my direction completely. After that, I also entered the big cinema, and there things turned around several times. I hadn’t done animation in 17 years. And when I started making these films, I thought I wouldn’t be able to cope, that I had forgotten. But it’s a bit like riding a bike, you don’t forget it.
And how did you get to Los Angeles?
– Before Los Angeles, I was in London for about ten years. In the 90s, when everything fell apart here, including our animation studio in Boyana, everyone went somewhere. I and some colleagues happened to find an ad from an animation studio in London looking for animators. We sent our documents and to our surprise they hired us. There I discovered it was Steven Spielberg’s studio, I didn’t know that from the ad. And we actually got right into deep water. When that studio was closed there, they moved it to Los Angeles, and I signed a contract with the new DreamWorks, which was created then. But something else opened up, and I didn’t feel like going to Los Angeles, so I gave up on that one contract. I stayed for a few more years, then it just so happened that all the work went to Los Angeles and I just followed the work.
Of all the projects you’ve worked on, which has been the most challenging for you?
– Each one has been and continues to be. I can’t say that I have such a routine that I do everything with my eyes closed. Every time I start something, it’s completely unknown. I approach with fear, with such a concern as to whether it will work. A challenge, purely professional, I shouldn’t have, but every time I do, in that sense. Somehow, every time is a struggle, every time is new, even though many things are similar. So every single time has been some challenge, some obstacle to be jumped over, to be overcome.
And how do you design typefaces?
– Naturally, everything starts from a script, there must be a text. Let’s take “Harry Potter” for example. Before we get to a screenplay, we already have a book. This has to be adapted into images, there come people like me and say “Let’s see what this centaur, this troll or this dog with three heads looks like”. We usually start with sketches, we work with the director, with the production designer. It is a process, sometimes it happens quickly, sometimes it takes a year of this preparation. These films are expensive and everything needs to be clear initially so that no time is wasted once it goes into production. It should be clear what will happen in post-production, because it is already becoming more expensive there. That is – this is the earliest period in which these images are decided, locked and told how they will be. It’s sweetest because you start from nothing. This is the moment when we have complete freedom. Then in production they start breathing down your neck. They leave us alone to play here, it’s really a bit like a game.
Don’t you get the feeling that when you talk about animated movies, you’re talking about children’s movies?
– I’ve always been annoyed by this thing. For me it has always been a form of cinema, I don’t divide it into genre, children’s, adult. And many people perceive it as something frivolous – it is for children and there should be laughter, something cartoonish. That’s why I try to make these films so that they look like they were filmed, not drawn, they hardly have any laughs. I run away from it like the plague because I’m annoyed that it’s perceived that way. Animation is just another form of cinema, not a genre thing. All genres can be there – from comedy to tragedy, through drama and horror.
What is your analysis of Bulgarian cinema for the last thirty years?
– This is the paradox that I can list at least ten films – from the time of Zhivkov, which are much better than now listing ten films from the last thirty years. Which is paradoxical – with censorship back then, with the impossibility of doing things freely, but people found a way.
Mostly I would put it down to the drama – the lack of good drama, good material to build on, because that’s the basis of everything. It might be shot beautifully from there, but if there’s nothing underneath… A lot of people want to write, direct, produce, and they don’t have good enough literary material to build on. According to me.
When will you “rush” to the feature cinema?
– This is my next step. I started with the fact that I was tired of animation, that it took me two or three years in ten minutes. First of all, the short film has no distribution, it is only seen at festivals, you can hardly see it on a big screen. The result and satisfaction at the end is minimal, and it is a huge amount of work and time. And I tell myself that during that time I will make one and a half feature films. Now I’m doing this – I’m writing one script, I have another one in my head. When I say I write, I allow myself to write because I have also published books and I think I could more or less handle this part. But it’s a process – I don’t have anything yet, it hasn’t even gone into pre-production. This is my next dream, I don’t know how many years I have left, how many movies I have in me. I think I will spend them in some such direction.
Within “Apollonia” you participate in a format called “The Price of Success”. What do you think is the price of success? What does success look like?
– If I knew, I would tell you, but I don’t know. It’s such a stretchy concept. Most people perceive it materially. Or, as in my case, they say, “Oh, he’s in Hollywood, he’s made it.” Success is a fleeting thing usually, which, in my practice, is followed by at least three or four successes after that. That is – these are the more common phenomena and I really do not know how to balance them and how to define exactly in one word. Failure is more interesting than success. He teaches us much more. Success often makes you dizzy and makes you not think very straight. It pumps up your ego, massages it, which can lead to behavior that doesn’t look good from the outside. I have met such people. I have always tried to suppress this thing so that it does not become a problem. And failure has always been something very interesting. There you learn what not to do, how not to do it, where you went wrong. And it’s more interesting to me. And I don’t know what to say about success, since I’m not interested in it.