This is part of an interview series in collaboration with CEE Animation. We would like to introduce award-winning animated short films directed by upcoming young creators from the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) region and the story behind the creation of each film.
An apartment building full of self-centered inhabitants. Utterly exhausted caretaker and his sexually frustrated wife. Widowed deer drowning his sorrows in loads of alcohol… While trying to cope with their problems, they find themselves in a hard to solve triangle asking for absurd and irrational solutions. The consequences can easily become permanent, sometimes maybe too permanent. The film is a loose adaptation of a well-known biblical story while transforming it into a contemporary ironic narrative about how the world sometimes works.
Director: Michaela Mihályi and David Štumpf
Authors: Michaela Mihályi and David Štumpf
Art Director: Michaela Mihályi
Animation: David Štumpf
Producer: Peter Badač (BFILM, Slovakia)
Co-producers: Patrick Hernandez (Bagan Films, France), Véronique Siegel (Bagan Films, France), FAMU (Czech Republic) and Arte (France)
Editor: Katarína Pavelková
Music: Olivier de Palma
Sound Design: Damien Perrollaz and Francesco Porcellana
SH_T Happens is a 2D-animated short film about interpersonal dramas centering on a human couple and a deer, with the story split into chapters dedicated to them. The two directors Michaela Mihályi and David Štumpf has transformed the biblical story Noah’s Ark into a comedic story in which the majority of characters exhibit free, romance-addicted and self-centred behaviors. The story is depicted with simple visuals and bright colors, and it works as a cushion for some of the more outrageous parts of the film, making it a well‐balanced film for a wider audience.
The film premiered at the Venice International Film Festival 2019 and has been selected and screened at many international film festivals, including the Sundance Film Festival 2020, Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival 2020, Ottawa International Animation Film Festival 2020, and Zagreb International Film Festival 2020. Through its worldwide circulation over film festivals, it has been winning many awards, such as Best Student Short Film at Anima Brussels International Film Festival 2020, Audience Award at London International Animation Festival 2019 and Anča Award for Best Slovak Film at Fest Anča International Animation Festival 2020. The film is also included into the selection of CEE Animation Talents program in 2020.
We are delighted to deliver you the insightful and interesting words from the young two directors on their journey of developing their multi-award-winning film SH_T Happens.
This interview does include spoilers, so we strongly recommend watching the film first before reading this article.
Interview with Michaela Mihályi and David Štumpf
Hideki Nagaishi (HN): This film needed about five years to complete, right?
Michaela Mihályi and David Štumpf: Yes. We think that it took us around five years all-together. Development was about four years and last year was the production part of it. But of course, it was not a consistent five years. We did it on and off in-between our individual films for school and some commercial work.
HN: Is this film the graduation film at FAMU for both of you? If so, did you develop the film as the graduation film of FAMU from the beginning?
David Štumpf: Both of us couldn’t finish school with the film, because Michaela was in a bachelor programme and I was in a masters programme. So, it ended up being my graduation film.
Michaela Mihályi: Well, the development had different stages. At first, it was my bachelor film treatment at our previous film school, the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava, Slovakia. After we left the school, we started to develop the film during our gap year. At that time, we tried to get some development financing, and we started to work with our producer, Peter Badač (BFILM). When the development was close to being finished, we brought it to our school FAMU in Prague, Czech Republic that we were attending at that time. They were very kind to let us continue the film in the school.
HN: Were there any breakthroughs in the journey that made you think: “Yes! We can now make a film that we can be satisfied with”? If so, could you please let us know?
Michaela Mihályi and David Štumpf: Well, most of the time during the development, we kind of felt that we didn’t know where we were going with the project or how it would turn out in the end. We did most of the learning by trying stuff, and it took so long because we were not sure how to write something that we can be satisfied with. When we moved to the animatic stage, we could see what is working and what we need to change or tweak. But we were pretty uncertain until we saw it with the audience, so maybe that was when we had the breakthrough.
HN: What were each of your roles in the development of the film, and how did you two use your talents together?
Michaela Mihályi and David Štumpf: In the development, we were both equally involved. We have decided to discuss everything and that everyone has equal say in every stage. It was more divided in the production.
Michaela Mihályi: I was responsible for the design part as well as finishing the colouring of the animation. I have had the help of our great colourists that worked with us.
David Štumpf: And I was in charge of animation and post-production. So, our production pipeline was mostly a ping-pong of responsibilities between the two of us.
HN: We would like to ask you a few things about your journey on developing the story. The story elements seem to be independent of each other at first glance, then through the film it all comes together into a linear story of the human male character in the end. We are interested in the process of developing this well-structured story of the film. What was the initial idea of the story?
Michaela Mihályi: Well, the first idea was to make a story about the difficulties of cohabitation in apartment buildings. Here in Slovakia it is pretty common to live in those places and sometimes I feel like it can provoke some bizarre interactions. I have had a storyline with a main character living in an apartment building with some motifs of sea and water included.
HN: How did you develop the whole story from the initial idea, and when did you decide to adapt Noah’s Ark?
Michaela Mihályi: It was at our previous school in Bratislava, when the story as I mentioned earlier, was supposed to be a treatment for my bachelor movie. Patrik Pašš Jr., our dramaturgy teacher at the school, had a suggestion to maybe use all the themes and put it into Noah’s Ark storyline. I thought that it would work perfectly and that it had potential to be something to play with. I have never finished my bachelor’s there, but we have decided to develop the idea further together with David.
HN: What did you take care in and what difficulties did you face through the development?
David Štumpf: Well, looking back at it now, I feel that everything was pretty difficult. It was very exciting, but it also had some pretty complicated parts. It was our first big project together and we were not very experienced in directing or scriptwriting. We also didn’t know how to divide our responsibilities, so we wouldn’t go completely crazy. We have learned all of that in the process. I think because of that, we became much more confident in decision making and knowing what we want to say and how to do it.
Michaela Mihályi: Yes, I totally agree. Also besides just developing the story, we have been learning about funding the project and all the stuff that comes with it. It was our first experience with a professional producer and it gave us so much more knowledge about it. We also pitched the film a few times at different pitching events, so it was another thing that we found pretty difficult. So, I see the development stage as a package of many, many difficulties.
HN: What kind of message or experience do you most want to deliver to the audience through this film?
David Štumpf: We would like to leave it up to every individual viewer, what kind of message they will take from the film. We were hoping to deliver some kind of mixture of cheerfulness as well as sadness. Like smiling but with a tear in your eye, that kind of thing.
Michaela Mihályi: Also, we were trying to find a narrative structure that can lure you in, that is why we have chosen non-linear storytelling. We love those kinds of films ourselves, so we hoped that we would be able to create a story that is somehow unpredictable until the very end.
HN: Next question is about two characters: the caretaker and the dove. We felt they are the only characters in the film who don’t seem to be self-centered and obsessed with love. What are your intentions with that and how do these characters support the film?
Michaela Mihályi and David Štumpf: Yes, we agree to that. The dove and Noah are in this together — carrying the same project of the Ark’s survival. We wanted one animal to represent a nice side of human character, and we think a dove with a mission makes a perfect match to Noah. In earlier drafts of the script their relationship had more space, but we needed to make it shorter because of the length of the film. On the other side, even Noah loses it in one point, but the dove stays pure in the whole film. You can say that she is the only one who stays rational.
HN: We would like to ask you two questions about the ending of the story. What is the meaning for you of having that fate of the Ark at the end of the film?
Michaela Mihályi and David Štumpf: Well, biblical stories in general are very universal, and we felt that we can adapt the story of Noah’s Ark into a contemporary adaptation, which is dealing with today’s world and problems. So, we took this story and asked ourselves a series of “what if…?” questions. What if one of the animals on the ark loses a partner? What if Noah’s wife is sexually frustrated? What if this widowed animal and Noah’s wife had sex? What would Noah do?
… And we ended up with flooding the ark and killing almost everyone.
HN: Could you please let us know what you wanted to tell the most from the last scene with the three characters on a small boat?
Michaela Mihályi and David Štumpf: Actually, this final scene was the last thing we wrote. From the beginning of development we had many alternatives that we could use for the ending. We wanted to create an absurd triangle, which can lead basically anywhere. Viewers could create multiple combinations of what could happen next. Obviously, the dove is there to show Noah that the flood is over and she found dry land. Unfortunately for Noah (and everyone else), it is too late. The only animal left besides the dove is the deer, who Noah hates the most. The question is, will Noah accept his fate?
HN: We felt that the visuals of the film with the simple shape design and bright colouring fits well with the whole story, including its use in some high-impact scenes. We would like to hear about the story behind the visual design of the film. Why have you decided to adopt that visual design and colouring for the film?
Michaela Mihályi: We like to use colours in general. But we were aiming for a very colourful and cheerful design. We wanted to build a contrast between the depressing and sad themes of the story and a very bright colour palette, to visualize the bitter-sweetness of the storyline.
David Štumpf: We have decided to use a risograph technique which has limited and very specific colours, so the colour palette came hand in hand with the risography.
HN: What is your approach on the design and what did you take care in the most for designing the visuals of characters and background art?
Michaela Mihályi and David Štumpf: We did like five versions of design approaches until we have found the one we ended up using. As we mentioned, we wanted cheerful visuals for the film, so we went for stylized, almost childlike, character designs. We also wanted a hand-made feel for the film, that is why we decided to print the backgrounds and textures on a risograph and scan them back to the computer. It complicated our process by a lot, but in the end, we feel that it added so much texture to the film.
HN: We would like to hear about the music in the film. How was your experience collaborating with Olivier de Palma, the music composer, and what things did you take care in the most for the music?
Michaela Mihályi and David Štumpf: Well, getting the music part right was very important for us. We wanted music that is not a score, but rather a soundtrack with different tracks that would fit a particular mood of the scenes. And working with Olivier was great! He is such a talented musician and producer, and we think that he perfectly created what we were aiming for.