Filmmaker: Daniel Greaves
Year made: 2009
Length: 7′ 42″
Technique: hand drawn animation
A textured grey screen appears. A cursor starts to blink, the word SPEECHLESS emerges as if in predictive text, and is then deleted. A dark grey surface with a skin-like texture then appears. The story is told through a series of different size panels which appear, resize, move around and disappear according to the requirements of the story. The sound track consists of realistic effects, (keyboard tappings, computer, phone and game noises). There are also little tinkles of sound from a piano, rather like the piano accompaniment to silent films. All the images are in shades of grey.
First we see a microwave in which six boxes labelled QUIK-SNAK are revolving. After the microwave pings and a hand opens the door, we see two hands tapping a keyboard, then an e-mail message to Mary, cc Mum, Dad, Julia, Simon. Subject: Supper. Message: SUPPER’S READY. As the cursor clicks SEND we see the face of the man at the keyboard, who wearily rubs his eyes. Next we see the table being laid, from the point of view of the table layer. Each setting has a table mat, coaster, knife and fork. More characters are introduced: Mary laying the table, looking cross, Simon playing a handheld game and peering out occasionally from behind a cowlick of hair, a very doddery old grandmother Mabel, Simon’s sister Julia, Mary’s husband the e-mail message sender, and finally an old grandad, Bob, who helps Mabel to sit down. Mary’s husband irritably texts Simon: SIT DOWN!!
Handing out the QUIK-SNAK boxes from person to person around the table and passing the salt is done in silence, punctuated by irritable nudges and gestures followed up by text messages between Mary and Simon: PASS IT ON!! and SAY THANK YOU!! Julia is urgently texting and gradually everyone around the table joins in, except Mabel. Then Julia’s phone shows Low Battery and she flips up the ‘coaster’ beside her plate: it’s actually a recharging point. But the others lose their phone coverage too, and impatiently Mary’s husband pushes his plate away. To ominous organ chords he opens up his table mat: it’s actually a laptop. They all tap away at their laptops – except Mabel.
She can’t eat the QUIK-SNAK and she has a sudden vision of the table being enormous, with six tiny figures each lost in their own world. She has a cunning idea. She starts to cough. At first nobody notices, but as her coughing becomes louder and more desperate, everyone rushes to help her, and then Mabel collapses on to the table. They all suddenly start speaking and colour starts to flood the screen. The family argue about what to do: administer first aid or call an ambulance. Finally Bob gets them all to shut up. He turns to Mabel, saying “Mabel, speak to me!” Mabel sits up, she does not reply, but simply spreads her arms happily to indicate the gathered family. They all smile.
The screen fades to black, then a still image shows the whole family seated at the candlelit table, chatting animatedly, eating real food and drinking red wine.
As a child I always drew a lot. My father is an artist so I was surrounded by paintings and drawings. I bought an 8mm film camera and began experimenting with animation techniques at the age of 13. The message of the film is to highlight the extraordinary dependency on technology in communication. The situation of family members texting each other is exacerbated by the farcical image of them sitting around a dinner table attempting to have supper.
I was struck by the phenomenon of the every day use of texting, even when in close proximity to the person you are addressing. I have seen and heard of many examples of people texting or e-mailing each other while in the same room, and I thought this would be a humorous observational subject for a film.
I decided to animate the idea of Speechless using paper animation, because I thought it would be interesting to have an obviously hand drawn feel to the story in contrast to the high tech subject matter. Different animators did each character to give unique personality traits to each one. I had a good time assembling the animators’ character sequences to create the family dynamic, and adding the appropriate sound effects. But it was technically difficult to hand draw and coordinate the camera movements with the drawn panels.
Things you might notice
• The idea of the different size panels: the ways in which these at first swoop around and slide across the screen is reminiscent of smart phone apps, but the constant re-sizing is used in several different ways. For example at some points to reveal or conceal parts of the screen, at others to emphasize disconnections between characters.
• The combination of monochrome and the use of music for dramatic punctuation is reminiscent of silent movies, in contrast to the modern technology used in the story. The scenes are all ‘flat’ with no shadows: the only light sources are the lights emanating from the devices. • The fact that, until Mabel provokes a response, none of the characters has a mouth – apart from Mabel herself. • The use of the ‘boiling’ technique (see p 24) which emphasises the ‘hand made’ quality of the film; again, in contrast to the high-tech devices on which the characters all depend.
Themes to explore
Modality: The caricature style of the drawings, the wobbly hand-drawn style of animation and the ‘peep hole’ function of the panel shapes are all make-believe, artificial features. In contrast, the computer, mobile and game sound effects and the instantly recognisable features of e-mail messages and other screen images (the microwave and the table-laying), all underline the familiar and the everyday. And while the characters’ obsessive behaviour is a deliberate exaggeration, other details are instantly recognisable, such as Simon’s surly and petulant attitude and Julia’s excitement over her text messages. A question such as “What looks or sounds like real life in this film, and what doesn’t?” could provoke some interesting discussion and could lead children to explore the same kinds of choice in their own creative work.
Narrative: Using Strategy B (see Talking About Films In The Classroom, p6): children could discuss at what point the theme of over-dependence on digital devices becomes obvious, and what then drives the narrative forward. Figuring out which character is likely to be the vehicle for transforming attitudes, and attempting predictions of possible endings, could be explored, as could the question of whether children feel that this ending is satisfactory. Moral message: Does Greaves over-state his case? Do people who use a lot of technology necessarily eat only fast food and lose their social skills? Some children may feel that the insistence on the ills of technology is rather too well-worn a theme; alternatively the film’s humour may compensate for the predictability of the message.