I’ve been a fan of the The Romantic since I first covered it in 2009. It was a film that both challenged its audience and failed to be easily categorized. The film was finally released online for Valentine’s Day and is finally getting some much deserved press.
I took a few minutes with its director and creator Michael Heneghan to ask him some questions about what it was like putting together an animated feature with basically no budget. Enjoy the interview and check the film out here for free!
What was the inspiration behind The Romantic story-wise?
I was entirely saturated in mythology when the original narrative threads for The Romantic began to take form. I was enamored by myth’s ability to break reality in a very earnest, matter-of-fact kind of way, because it in itself is a reality of idea, where eternal thought structures are made relate-able to help us grow our souls.
In mythology, you go with it, or you don’t. That was the key inspiration of The Romantic’s tone. I was not going to gunk up the works by telling you why Romance can jump really really far after he is rejuvenated by his first encounter with Po. Because you already know why; any attempt to reconcile that act in a believable reality would have lessened the act itself.
When I began writing the script I was feeling very reactionary; against the dull and redundant hero narratives that populate cineplexes and comic books, against the presumptions in North America about what a film, specifically an animated film, could be. Thus is the origin of the film’s anger, and the beginning seeds of its story.
I heard you pretty much did this all on your own. Would you like to elaborate on the process?
Indeed. I imagined The Romantic, wrote the screenplay, designed the characters, and built the world. To bring it all into reality, however, I employed the help of many talented and trusting friends and allies who gave up their week nights and weekends in order to see this thing happen.
Employed might not be the right word, because for the most part, I did not pay them.
The exact breakdown of the work is written down somewhere but here is an approximate split of responsibilities: I animated, story-boarded, and pre-produced about 90% of the film with the rest of the work split up between a gaggle of talented individuals whose names can be found under the about section of our website.
Everyone who contributed work to the film took it and myself seriously, which is testament to their remarkable character. After all, there was no guarantee I could actually finish something so massive as an animated feature. A very strange animated feature at that. Their trust kept me going when I felt like tossing the whole thing into the bin.
How long did it take you to complete the film?
Difficult to pin down. I worked relentlessly on the film for just over two years. The rest of the third year was primarily dedicated to post-production and editing, during which I was still working on the film but had diverted a lot of my energy to other projects. Dan & Nate did the majority of their work during this period. By year three, that is, August of 2009, we had a pretty solid cut of the film and started sending to festivals.
Surprisingly, a pop-fantasy animated feature film festooned with cartoon ding-dongs and nudey parts featuring a cast of difficult-to-love monsters working out their baggage over the course of a million subversive plot points didn’t really strike a chord with most film festival curators. Our first rejection letter came from a festival that I really wanted to be a part of and thus we started our film festival application process with a small chip on the shoulder and a little bit of a wounded heart.
So it goes.
What was the budget of The Romantic?
We did not have one. There were small expenses along the way… sketchbooks, pencils, pizza & beer for production meetings, etc. But not much. I probably spent about $500 making the film.
Submitting to film festivals was far, far more expensive than making the film.
Any advice for filmmakers looking to follow in your footsteps?
I am sure I could offer pages of advice to people looking to create their own feature film, especially animated ones. If you are reading this, and making an independent animated feature film is something you’re going to do, feel free to email me at [email protected]. I’d be more than happy to talk to you about my process, if you’re interested, by email, phone, or over a couple of beers (which would be my preference).
For this interview, there is one piece of advice that floats to the top of my mind above all else. This is for the person who is already prepared to put in the blood, sweat, and tears needed to rip out a piece of their imagination and refine it into something intelligible and important. For the resolute, disciplined, and dedicated, know this:
The film you make will never be as good as the one you have in your mind right now. It can’t be. And that will most likely break your heart.
The purpose, for you, at this point, is in the making. It is in the stuff that no one will ever see, it is in your spirit which will certainly be annealed through this process. The film you make is only the residue. Be humble, and do not be afraid.
How does it feel to finally have released The Romantic?
I’ve heard your film is starting to show up on various torrents sites, how does that make you feel?
It’s wonderful! I want to show people The Romantic. I want to dialog about it. The more it gets out there, the better.
If you’re reading this, and have seen the film… or if you are about to watch the film, and if you wind up enjoying it…
Tell people. Please.
Spread it around. Tweet it. Facebook it. I beseech you. If, and only if, you think it deserves an audience, please help it find one.
And finally what’s next?
My future is uncertain.
I have my hand in a few projects right now. First and foremost, I’m trying to raise money to make my next feature film, Burp’s Christmas. We’re trying to raise $200,000 to make it. If you click on the donate button at www.theromanticmovie.com and wind up shooting some money our way, it will all go to funding this next project. We’re wrapping up our investor’s portfolio right now and are seeking some brave (and affluent) humans that really do want to see a different kind of movie on the big screen to help us make this a reality.
Have an uncle with a few G’s layin around who is kind of a film buff and is kind of bummed out that most of the films being made right now are remakes or adaptations or sequels or prequels? Send him my way: [email protected]
I will be spending most of this year working on a comic book pitch for a series called The Ghosts of Blackberry Bridge, which I hope to write and illustrate, if I can snag a publisher. It’s set in rural Pennsylvania in the late 1800s and is about physical & spiritual slavery, secret societies, the creation of the electric chair, the formation of the first American century, and a folk retelling of the Spring-Heeled Jack legend.
I’m getting married in October, which is most likely the surest thing on my horizon right about now.
Check in at michaelpheneghan.com for the latest. That is, when the website is finally up and running, which is not right now, but will be very soon.