With Affairs of the Art, director Joanna Quinn and producer/screenwriter Les Mills continue the series of beloved, hilarious and award-winning animated UK films starring Beryl, a 59-year-old factory worker who’s obsessed with drawing and determined to become a hyper-futurist artiste. We also meet her grown son, Colin, a techno geek, her husband, Ifor, now Beryl’s model and muse, and her sister, Beverly, a fanatical narcissist living in LA. Affairs of the Art provides glimpses into Beryl’s, Beverly’s and Colin’s peculiar childhoods, and we see that obsession is in this family’s DNA.
The first co-production between Beryl Productions International and the National Film Board of Canada, Affairs of the Art features Quinn’s signature hand-drawn animation with attitude and Mills’ raucously humorous scenarios, in an endearing romp through one family’s eccentric addictions.
With Affairs of the Art, director Joanna Quinn and producer/screenwriter Les Mills continue the series of beloved, hilarious and award-winning UK animated films that began with 1987’s Girls Night Out, followed by 1991’s Body Beautiful and 2006’s Dreams and Desires: Family Ties. In this latest instalment, we rediscover Beryl, a 59-year-old factory worker who is totally obsessed with drawing. As Beryl explores her own renaissance in a spirited quest to become a hyper-futurist artiste, we get to know her nearest and dearest. Beryl’s grown son, Colin, a techno geek, objects strongly to his mother’s addiction. Her husband, Ifor, now Beryl’s personal nude model and muse, craves a more active sex life, but Beryl’s half-hearted attempts to spice things up fail miserably. Meanwhile, Beryl’s multi-divorced sister, Beverly, a fanatical narcissist and high-end taxidermist, offers long-distance advice and loving encouragement from Los Angeles.
As our favourite everywoman ravenously “drinks from the cup of creativity again,” Affairs of the Art alternates between the past and present to reveal glimpses into Beryl’s, Beverly’s and Colin’s peculiar childhoods. We see the young Beryl drawing incessantly on her walls; we watch Colin become fixated with railway signalling systems, screw threads and his Yamaha organ; and we witness Beverly’s morbid interest in death rituals, pickling and pet taxidermy.
The film takes a more reflective turn as Beryl compares her changing body and perceived lack of life accomplishments to Beverly’s successful pursuits, combining social commentary with Beryl’s renewed passion for creative expression.
The first co-production between Beryl Productions International and the National Film Board of Canada, Affairs of the Art features Quinn’s signature hand-drawn animation with attitude and Mills’ raucously humorous scenarios, in an endearing romp through one family’s eccentric obsessions.
With their new film, Affairs of the Art, director Joanna Quinn and producer/screenwriter Les Mills continue the beloved, hilarious and award-winning animated series of UK films that began with 1987’s Girls Night Out, followed by 1991’s Body Beautiful and 2006’s Dreams & Desires – Family Ties. We asked the filmmakers for a behind-the-scenes peek at their collaborative creative process.
Why did you decide to do another film about Beryl?
Les Mills: In 2003, we were commissioned to write five more five-minute films featuring Beryl, for Channel Four TV to air at a really good time in the early evening—which is fantastic for independent animation, because it usually screens at two o’clock in the morning, so nobody ever gets to see it. So there were five ideas with Beryl. Unfortunately, the commissioning editor suddenly resigned, and whoever took over basically said, ‘We’re going to cancel these commissions.’ We had the scripts ready to go, and because we’d signed another agreement to produce a single film with S4C, the Welsh TV channel, we took some ideas from the five films and combined them in one 10-minute script, which became Family Ties.
Joanna Quinn: We had always planned to do other Beryl films, so after completing Family Ties, there were still other ideas left over from the original five, so we decided to put them all together and make them into one 16-minute film. And that’s what Affairs of the Art is, and that’s why it’s more about characters and histories rather than a single story. It sort of goes in and out of people’s lives. We wanted to explore not just Beryl but other characters around her, in her family, for example.
How has Beryl’s character evolved since we first met her?
JQ: Beryl started as a very one-dimensional character in a comic strip I did at college. She emerged as one of a group of ordinary working-class women coming together socially to go and see a male stripper on her birthday. Audiences seemed to really like the character, and she enabled us to say things about women and society because she’s a typical, normally invisible middle-aged woman. We could play with that, and she surprised people. After that first film, we were really keen to do another film about Beryl, so we expanded her character a bit more in Family Ties, and now she’s really multi-faceted. In Affairs of the Art, we see her when she’s a child, and we see her family. She’s become more complicated and more interesting as a character, rather than the adventures that she’s part of.
LM: It’s really quite strange, because I’m writing from the point of view of a woman character all the time. The men in the film are sort of muted and non-aggressive, so I have to bear that in mind all the time. And Beryl is an anti-heroine, and she’s working class, where traditionally the men have always dominated. In Beryl films, it’s Beryl who asserts herself and takes control. Those are the basic ideas running through the scripts: Beryl, asserting herself and stating, ‘I can do anything—I will do anything,’ and she goes for it big time, and usually succeeds!
Joanna, how has your animation style changed over the years?
JQ: My first film, Girls Night Out, was done very traditionally: hand-drawn using pencil, paper and cel. There was no such thing as using computers then. Cel is plastic-based, so I used waxy chinagraph pencils that only came in five colours. My animation technique was dictated by the tools that I had available. Nowadays I still animate on paper, but I scan the drawings into a computer and use TVPaint software to add the colour; it’s much quicker and I can change the colours later because everything is on separate layers. Finally, we composite all the elements together in After Effects.
I suppose the difference now is that I’m more critical of my animation, and I try to embrace new technologies. With that in mind I started animating Affairs of the Art digitally on a Cintiq screen using TVPaint software and spent about six months doing it. I enjoyed learning the process, but my animation lacked the energy and dynamism of drawing on paper. I think you use different bits of your brain when you’re drawing on paper; it’s very intuitive, because it’s direct from your brain to your arm. You haven’t got any choices; the pencil does everything. When you’re working on the computer, you have to make decisions all the time—Should I do it this way or that way? What weight of pencil am I using?—and you’re constantly interrupting the natural intuitive process. I was over-analyzing why I was about to do a particular piece of animation rather than just doing it.
It’s so interesting to meet Beryl and her family members, both as children and as adults. How did creating the younger versions of these characters come about, and how do they help us better understand Beryl?
LM: Our last film, Family Ties, had a really tight structure to it because it was a video diary, governed by diary entries using Beryl’s voice. We couldn’t branch out using the conventions of normal film narrative; we were limited when we shot it, because it all had to be from the point-of-view of the camera. It worked out really well, though, but in Affairs of the Art, we wanted to go back in time and explore Beryl’s origins and background. Without the same restrictions as in the previous film, we could use normal film language like flashbacks to concentrate on historical incidents and characters in Beryl’s life. In this way we learn more about Beryl’s family relationships, especially with her sister, her stifled ambitions to go to art school, and the tribulations of being a mother.
JQ: And we wanted to see where Beverly, Beryl’s sister, came from, because she’s so strange, and it was fun playing with her as a child doing really evil things.
LM: The character of Beryl’s son, Colin, is based on my brother, who as a child really did have many of the characteristics of Colin: he had a pigeon, an obsessional interest in technology, railways, screw threads, and anything Dutch. He also played the organ. He still is exactly the same now as he was as a young boy—his obsessions live on undiminished. He was the perfect model for Beryl’s son.
The character of the young Beverly is totally invented and is a composite figure based on my childhood experiences of what kids of both sexes get up to: their obsessions, their cruelty, their fantasies, the worlds they invent, and their ambitions. Many of the young girls in my own life were quite domineering, extremely ambitious, and very creatively manipulative, and could often be quite cruel. We wanted to subvert the idea that many young girls grow up with limited ambitions, resigned to particular roles and never achieving their dreams. In Affairs of the Art, Beverly and Beryl demonstrate the opposite: a ruthless determination to succeed on their own terms, defying stereotypes and calling the shots.
What’s the most challenging part of collaborating together, and how do you work through creative differences?
JQ: Les does the writing, producing and colour design. I do the drawing, animation and directing, but we sort of do everything together. And we do drive each other mad!
LM: This film has taken far too long, so we’re struggling with each other right now! The worst possible time to have a relationship is right at the end of the film, when you’re trying to get everything done.
JQ: Les writes the script and very detailed character profiles, and then I take those and do a storyboard: I draw all the frames, and add the dialogue. We have differences about what takes priority, picture or dialogue; it’s a constant battle but we get there in the end! After the storyboard is completed, we do the timed animatic and I start to animate. Les is always critical about my animation, which is good because it keeps me on my toes.
LM: The superb characterization, the dynamism of the movement, and the liquidity and vigour of her line are qualities that most people admire about Joanna’s animation technique. I think that these qualities are immediately recognizable in her work. I tried to make sure, as much as possible, that she maintains this fluidity and energy throughout this film, but it’s been quite difficult, because there are lots of interior scenes where there’s one character talking alone without interacting with another character. Joanna’s at her best when there’s high action and energy, and when there’s a relationship between two characters.
What’s your favourite sequence from Affairs of the Art?
LM: I like the young Beverly going to Russia to see Lenin’s tomb. It’s very weird, the idea of a young girl joining the Communist Party simply to get a free ride from Britain to Moscow to see a corpse.
JQ: I’ve really enjoyed doing the lip sync in this film. I always groan at that stage, because you have to break down the sound, get all the lips right, and then get the action right. I always think it’s going to take me ages, but it doesn’t, and I love the challenge, because it’s all about acting. So I’ve realized from this film that I really love acting. One of my favourite lip sync scenes is in the final scene, when Beryl shouts at Ifor to do another fast run down the stairs.
What continues to inspire each of you as filmmakers?
JQ: When we’re not making a film, we’re quite political and involved. There’s always something to do, like illustrations, and we quite like being really busy and making use of our skills. I think of the wonderful Richard Williams, who died last year at his animation table; he didn’t ever want to stop animating. He just loved it. There’s always something we want to get involved with, and that’s what keeps us going.
LM: I just love the sheer process of putting a film together. Because it involves so many creative activities—ideas, writing, music, cinematography, acting, artwork—film is such a versatile and accessible medium, and the audience reach is incredible.
Joanna Quinn and Les Mills
Ifor . Colin . Lenin . Interviewer
Mum . Edie
Mali Ann Rees
Mia Rose Goddard
Alex Thompson . Yoana Georgieva
Jordan Alexander Davies . Becky Peel
Clean up & Assisting
Mia Rose Goddard
TVP Colour Design & Compositing
Mia Rose Goddard
After Effects Compositing
Mia Rose Goddard
Additional After Effects Compositing
Daniel Evans . Eliot Cseh
Mia Rose Goddard
Video Post Production
Benjamin Talbott of John Hardy Music
Pavanne Pour Une Infante Défunte
Composed by Maurice Ravel . Performance by Anja Woschick
Published by Warner Chappell
Composed by Eugène Pottier/Pierre DeGeyter
Performed by The Moscow Academic Choir
Published By Silva Screen Records Ltd
Body Percussion (Flamenco Rhythm)
Composed & Performed by Salvo Russo
With permission from Salvo Russo
John Hardy Music
Gorilla TV Ltd.
Bang Post Production Ltd.
Bang Post Production Ltd.
Technical Advisor NFB
Technical Coordination NFB
Rosalina Di Sario
Anna Elizabeth Eijsbouts
Lesley Adams and Farnham Animation UCA
Paloma Quinn Mills
Written and Produced by
A Co-Production between Beryl Productions International Ltd and The National Film Board of Canada.
© MMXX1 Beryl Productions International Ltd and the National Film Board of Canada