Kevin Watkins, of the KIDS FIRST! Film Festival selection “Hose” tells the story behind his story in which a garden hose in search of adventure discovers that the grass isn’t greener on the other side. In fact, there isn’t any grass on the other side.
CP: Where did you get the idea for this film? What’s the story behind it?
KW: I came up with the idea for “Hose” over 10 years ago. I had just been promoted to ‘Creative Director’ at an advertising agency I was working at in South Africa. At the end of the first week I realized that I had started a transition from a creative person to a manager. I was suddenly dealing with minutia like parking allocations and approving expense accounts. The recognition that I was not going to be happy was pretty swift. So I started pondering what else I could do. There were aspects of the job that I enjoyed more than others, in particular making commercials. I had just completed a campaign involving stop-frame animation and was intrigued by the magic of film – a series of still images presented sequentially creating the illusion of movement and time. The idea that between each of those frames a great deal of time and effort could go into making each frame was, and still is, fascinating to me. I really wanted to create something more meaningful than 30 second commercials. Something that had emotional resonance. But I had no idea what that would be.
As I was thinking about all this, my sister was watering the garden. As I was watching, the garden hose struck me as being ‘sad’. I started thinking about the characteristics of a hose – like when you turn on the tap and the back-pressure causes a hose to move on its own. I pondered the world of a hose – what happens when everyone is away at work? What would the hose think if it explored the inside of the house for instance? I dismissed the idea initially, but it stuck with me. More and more ideas started to generate, almost automatically. Eventually I decided to write a script and from there we get to where we are today…
CP: What is your background? What got you into filmmaking and what has been your favorite project so far?
KW: When I was 18, I wanted to get into filmmaking, but my parents discouraged me – very few people were making a living in South Africa shooting films. So I went to art school and then took a job in as an Art Director. I did quite well, winning awards all around the world, getting written up in the press etc., but I yearned to create something that had more depth. In 1999, I was brought to the USA by a large multi-national advertising agency. That was the beginning of the end.
New York has a wealth of adult educational opportunities, which I took full advantage of - learning more about all the disciplines of filmmaking; editing, writing etc. As with a lot of New Yorkers, 9/11 had a huge impact on me – I decided to get out of advertising. Using some of the skills I had learned, I developed and sold a series of viral ads for RCA. With the money, I set up a production company. Slowly but surely, I started to escape the dark, murky world of advertising (aIthough I still freelance occasionally– it’s better than bartending, but not much!) “Hose” has been the most challenging and the most fun I have had so far. During the course of shooting I spent an entire summer outdoors, creating this crazy film. I was super fit, tanned and grinning from ear-to-ear most of the time. The fun of it was to be a child again.
CP: How did you go about making ‘Hose’ and how long did it take?
KW: When I first came up with the idea for “Hose” (1999) it was practically impossible to make the film as I envisioned it – stop-frame animation shot outdoors. I had also written the film as a feature. As strange as this might seem I had never been exposed to short films. Growing up in apartheid South Africa, with sanctions and international isolation, I had no concept of a film outside of a full-length picture. It wasn’t until I came to the USA and discovered Atom Films, iFilm etc. that I realized that you could make short films. (I am now an avid collector and fan of the form.)
At the time I also had a group of friends, all in advertising, brought over from the same ad agency in South Africa (a by-product of the dot.com boom) who were just as miserable as I was. We started a support group called ‘Anglers and Writers’ (after the bar in Soho) with the intention of encouraging each other to work on projects outside of advertising. This forced me to continue to re-write the script and get it down to a manageable length. After making a couple of short films that had some success, I was looking for the next project when a friend of mine who had read ‘Hose’, suggested I figure out a way to make it.
Interestingly, in the 10 years since the initial idea, technology had progressed a great deal and it was not only possible, but I could do most of it myself and at high definition resolution, using a digital still camera.
Looking out my window at home one afternoon, I wondered if I could take the construct of the film (which by that stage was set in a suburban home) and adapt it for the scenes in front of me. One of the most important lessons I learned doing all those New School courses was to use what you have available to you. I’m also a big believer in the theory that a problem is not a problem, but an opportunity to do something better. The idea of scaling down the film and making it work in these secret gardens that exist behind the vinyl-siding homes was much better than what I originally conceived. From there it was ‘simply’ all about figuring out how to make the film and finding people to help. Three years later we’re finally done!
CP: Please give me an “insider scoop” anecdote from the filmmaking process.
KW: The incredibly talented animators who helped me create the film love to remind me of an email I sent them shortly after we started. In it I outlined, in detail, how long I thought the film would take and when the film would be completed. With pencil, paper and a calculator I had worked out that the film would be done within 6 months, easily. For some reason none of them believed me and kept that email. Three years later they are still enjoying the folly of my ambition that afternoon.
CP: What lessons have you learned from filmmaking that you’d like to pass along to other producers?
KW: Double the time you think it will take.
Make it short. Less than 10 minutes is ideal. Get it to under 5 minutes if you can.
Show it to as many people as you can before you lock picture.
Make it funny.
Do a really, really tight animatic if you’re doing animation.
CP: What does it mean to you to have your film highlighted in the KIDS FIRST! Film Festival?
KW: Well, it’s a great opportunity to ‘share the pain’! I have two babies in my life – ‘Hose’ and Nadja Iris Watkins (currently 9 months). As a new father I want my daughter to be exposed to wonderful, imaginative and inspiring content. Organizations like this dovetail perfectly with that objective.
Additionally I welcome the attention that the film is getting. The more exposure we can generate, the better. Making a film is really hard. Getting it out there is probably even harder. A forum like this benefits all filmmakers, particularly those of us interested in making great shows that will hopefully inspire the next generation.