January 21, 2009

Documentary Filmmaker Jessica Yu Debuts Short Film

Santa Monica, Calif. - Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Jessica Yu, who has been nominated for the Sundance Film Festival's prestigious Grand Jury Prize three times has returned to Park City for the 2009 Sundance Film Festival with a humorous documentary short entitled, "The Kinda Sutra."
A comical take-off on "The Kama Sutra," Yu's latest film combines interviews and animation to offer a view of youthful misconceptions about conception. In competition within the festival's Documentary Shorts section, where it was one of more than 5,600 submissions, the 8-minute film debuted on Sat., Jan. 17.

Produced by Nonfiction Unlimited, Jessica's directorial home for commercial projects, "The Kinda Sutra" represents a collaboration with many well-known commercial production industry companies and individuals, including Stardust Studios, Lost Planet Editorial, and editor Kim Bica, and many others. The project's executive producer, Loretta Jeneski of Nonfiction, noted, "The idea all along was to bring together some great talent from the commercial industry to help realize Jessica's vision. From the beginning, we knew we wanted to make something special and get it into Sundance. Everyone got behind that idea and put everything they had into making the project great enough to fulfill that very lofty goal."

"A long time ago," says Yu, "a friend of mine had a book project she was asking different friends of ours to contribute to, and I thought it would be a great idea to explore this universal confusion that people have on how babies are made. I thought that the ideal would be to do this as a film, because then you could animate the actions and see how it might have worked in a kid's imagination. At the same time, I liked the idea of playing on 'The Kama Sutra,' which of course gives us the variations on how it's actually done...while here it would be 'The Kinda Sutra,' which are all the variations on how it isn't done, but how kids might have thought it was."

With her "real people" casting choices made, Yu and her colleagues filmed their interview subjects responding to the question of how babies are made, and sharing the misconceptions they'd had on this subject when they were growing up. The interview footage was then provided to editor Kim Bica.

Stylistically, Yu let her collaborators know of her wish to have the overall feeling of "The Kama Sutra" permeate everything, including the animation. "Specifically," she says, "I wanted the animation not to be too slick, so that the actions should feel like we were illustrating the actual drawings of 'The Kama Sutra,' and also to have some sense of depth while also remaining two-dimensional. In our approach, like in 'The Kama Sutra,' the characters are all set in one time, but then they're literally going to the shopping market looking for sea monkeys. I felt like the more we were faithful to the tone of the original art, and the more we combined that with the literal nature of what people were talking about, the better disconnect we had and the more effective it would be."

Continuing, Yu explains: "I had seen a clip where the animated elements were illustrated by Nate Reifke and the animation was performed by Stardust. As soon as I saw that, I said, 'We have to get these people.' I just felt that they would totally get it and they could create what I wanted -- and they did."

Stardust West's executive producer Paul Abatemarco, after getting Degan's original call, he and his colleagues, including design director Neil Tsai and producer Megan Kennedy, also were eager to enlist in the project.

"She was interested in seeing specific parts of the illustrations come to life, as opposed to fully animated scenes, which gave the animation almost a puppet-theater quality," Abatemarco says. "The feedback from Jessica was always incredibly informative and pointed and made our jobs a lot easier as we plowed ahead."

"After realizing that Jessica wanted a true representation of the original 'Kama Sutra' and getting my hands on a copy, I found the illustrations to be truly beautiful, and things started flowing nicely," Reifki says. "It was daunting to recreate such ornate decorative elements because it required so much more time and effort, but it was definitely worth it. The book's paintings lack true perspective and therefore have a very flat quality, which I mirrored. The colors in a lot of the original art tend to be faded and drab so I took the liberty of making them a little more contemporary and vibrant by taking cues from the set created for the interviews.

"Creating the puppets for Stardust to animate was also a very involved process," Reifke continues. "Each moving part is a separate illustration that was penciled, watercolored, inked, then scanned and rebuilt in the computer. The animation came out great, and I think it does a great job of maintaining the two-dimensional feel Jessica wanted. Overall, I like to think we stayed true to the original 'Kama Sutra' while also infusing it with the uniquely comical twist Jessica wanted."

For the finishing touches, Yu and Nonfiction called upon the musical talents of three-time Primetime Emmy Award winner and well-known commercial music composer Jeff Beal, as well as the artists at Elephant Post and Ravenswork.

The official Web site for "The Kinda Sutra" is www.thekindasutra.com.