The Snowman and the Snowdog hit small screens last Christmas; the film was a sequel to The Snowman and celebrated the 30th anniversary for the much-loved first movie.
Hilary Audus was in the director’s chair for the film, while Lupus Film was behind the film with Camilla Deakin and Ruth Fielding producing.
We caught up with Camilla Deakin to chat about the film, bringing the movie to life and the love that audiences have for The Snowman.
- The Snowman and the Snowdog has just been released on DVD, so can you tell me a little bit about the film?
We sees a young boy and his mother moving into a new house and he finds something amazing under the floorboards in his bedroom; a shoe box wrapped in tinsel. When he opens it, he is a bit puzzled as he finds a tatty old scarf, a hat, lumps of coal and a shrivelled up tangerine.
It takes him a while to figure out what it is; of course, it is a snowman making kit. Another small boy who lived there years before has left it there; it is the same house that we see in the first Snowman film. That day it snows, and the boy rushes out to build a snowman.
As the clock strikes midnight and the snowman comes to life. However, the snowman is not the only thing that the boy has built, as he managed to make a snowdog as well. They all go off on a lovely adventure to the North Pole to meet Father Christmas.
- You served as producer on the film, so where did this project start for you?
I have been friends with John Coates - who produced the first Snowman film - for a number of years, and we were working on another project together. I just said to him ‘I know that the 30th anniversary of Channel 4 is coming up, and wasn’t The Snowman one of the first things that they commissioned? Have you ever thought of doing a sequel?’
He said ‘Funnily enough, I had’. Originally, Raymond Briggs said that he didn’t want a sequel right after the first film was made. John said ‘I will have another go at him and see what he says’. So he went to meet Raymond for lunch and just said ‘Why not? Let’s just do it’. He had obviously come around to the idea over the years.
We were able to get some of the old team back together; the director Hilary Audus and the art director Joanna Harrison had both worked on the first film, and we asked them to write a new story and come up with some new characters.
Once we had done that we ran it past Raymond, and he really liked it. At that point, we went and pitched it to Channel 4, and they loved the idea. So that is really how it all came about.
- That does lead me into my next question. The Snowman did celebrate its 30th anniversary last year so how long a project was this in the pipeline?
From start to finish, it was a little over a year and a half. It took about a year of intensive production work. We were animating by hand and that is quite a labour intensive process; every other frame of film has to be drawn - that’s twelve frames a second - so that is thousands and thousands of frames to make up a single film. It was around 17,000 frames in all.
We worked out that it was roughly 200,000 pieces of paper and we used about 5000 pencils as well. It took quite a long time of intensive work, but we did have a fairly large team.
Overall, there were seventy-seven people drawing: animators, the assistant animators, the renderers and then the storyboard artists. It was a really traditional and handmade film.
- The thing that is so great about this new film is that the hand drawn technique remains true to the spirit of the original. When was the decision made to do that rather than to go down the CGI animation route?
John and I discussed it right at the beginning, and we both agreed that it should be done in the same way as the first one. We knew that it was possible to do it; we knew that there were people out there with the skills.
When we went to see Channel 4, we said ‘we really want to do it in the same way as the first one, with the same set-up and the same kind of team. It will be expensive. So are you up for it?’ Luckily, they said yes and really backed our vision for it.
- You have mentioned Hilary Audus and Joanna Harrison already and they wrote the script and Hilary directed, so can you talk a bit about that process and what you were looking for in your writers and director?
We were very keen to find someone who understood implicitly the ethos that Raymond Briggs always beings to his books.
The wonderful thing about Hilary and Joanna is that they had worked with Raymond on a number of different projects including The Bear and Ivor The Invisible, so they had known Raymond over the years and worked on a number of projects based on his books.
That made a big difference to us because we wanted it to feel true to his vision. They were the only ones that we ever considered really; we knew that we wanted them from the word go.
- I wanted to talk to you a bit about the script as I was wondering how many changes that it went through before you settled on the final draft?
Not that many actually. The creative process of coming up with the idea did take a couple of weeks; Hilary and Joanna did have various meetings and would go to each others houses and brainstorm.
At first, you have a blank sheet of paper, where do you start? They could do anything and The Snowman can go anywhere. Would it even be The Snowman? Maybe it was a different snowman.
They are both dog lovers and having their own dogs around while coming up with the idea helped inspire the snowdog character. Once they had him, everything seemed to fall into place. Once they pitched up the finished treatment, first to John and I, then to Raymond and then to Channel 4, we all loved it.
- The movie was screened on TV for the first time last Christmas, so how have you found the response so far?
We have been blown away by it. We were nervous because we were conscious that we were making a sequel to a film that everyone loves. We felt more and more confident as time went on because we felt that we had a good story, good characters and that we were delivering really lovely animation. So we just got on with it and really forgot about that.
When the press started picking up on it much nearer to Christmas - obviously we had been working on it a long time by then - and a load of articles came out we were blown away as we realised that there was a huge swell of interest. It was a bit of a whirlwind. However, we were really chuffed with the positive reaction that the film received.
- The original Snowman celebrated its 30th anniversary last year and it is still as much loved now and it was then. What do you think has made this film so enduring?
I think partly its simplicity and partly that it is very true emotionally. Raymond Briggs is unique in that he is almost unflinching in showing things that are sad, but, at the same time, they are mixed with a sense of joy and wonder.
He is very good at showing a child’s eye view of the world; I think people love that because it reminds them of their own childhood. It is like the ideal childhood Christmas - even if you didn’t have Christmases like that, you do wish that you did (laughs).
- Lupus Film is behind the film and you set that up with Ruth Fielding back in 2002. How did you two meet and how did the production company come about?
Funnily enough, Ruth and I went to the same school; we didn’t know each other then as were a couple of years apart. We both got into TV in different ways, but we ended up working together at Channel 4; we were the commissioning team at Channel 4 looking after animation.
Ruth was there for about five years and I was there for about three years. We both missed working in production and making films, and so we hatched a plan to leave and set up a company together. We have never looked back.
- We are always hearing about how difficult it is to commission films, get them funded and ultimately made in the UK. How difficult a process are you currently finding it in the current climate?
It is difficult and it has been very difficult for the last few years. I think one big change that will help us enormously is the introduction of the new tax credit for animation - the government brought that in this year - and it means that it is slightly easier for UK companies to hold on to production work rather than it go abroad where they have much more support. That is has been a great bonus and has been really useful.
Globally, budgets for children’s programmes, in particular animation, are a bit depressed; on the other hand, people are always looking for great content and compelling stories.
We are not a volume producer, so we don’t try to make as many episodes as possible, we try to cherry-pick shows that we feel passionate about. We don’t do a lot of shows; we just do the ones that we really really care about.
- Finally, what is in the pipeline for yourself and the company as we head into 2014?
Our next big project is another Raymond Briggs project. We are putting together a feature length animated film based on the book about his parents called Ethel and Ernest.
It is a lovely, heart-warming and touching love story; it is quite an emotional rollercoaster and is very funny as well. That is what we are working on and we are looking to go into production next year.
The Snowman and the Snowdog is out on DVD now.