Flatpack Festival
Film for all the senses

Pitch Black Panacea: The Interview

Max Harding
Wednesday 6th May, 2020 Posted by Max Harding

In Pitch Black Panacea, Tom Hardiman recounts a true attempt to cure a lazy eye, and all the self-discovery and hallucinations that come with it.

Pitch Black Panacea is part of the programme Seeing Things Differently, available online from Wednesday 6 to Friday 15 May.

First, where did the inspiration for this film come from, and how did production begin?

The inspiration came from a few places - but my Grandad being blind is probably the one that meant when I heard the story it got me thinking, as I knew a bit about Charles Bonnet syndrome because of his hallucinations. After that it was thinking over how to represent something so abstract and Derek Jarman’s Blue came to mind and then Max Fleischer, who I love. Between them and my Grandad I guess that’s why we made it!

The film is a mix of animation and live-action. Which of these came first, and how did these elements come together?

In terms of production we filmed it first, as the animation needed to be drawn over some of the plates so that made sense. In terms of planning, in a way they came together; the childlike aesthetic of that kind of early Disney-esque animation as a counterpoint to the nightmarish horror of the Amy & Carl experience was one of the initial sparks that set things in motion, then how it played into the transition between real life and fantasy just felt right.

The rubber hose style of animation was an interesting choice. What led to the decision to use Max Fleischer style animation?

I may have answered this above! But if not… first both Chris (Corwell, animator) and I love Fleischer! Then, something that’s really key to Fleischer in comparison with Disney is his animation often has an element of horror that undercuts the sugary-sweetness of the look, which was important for us. We wanted an animation style that at once triggered those feelings of childhood, as it transported you to some other plane of existence, but at its heart the friction between the loveable and monstrous is what we were after.

Amy and Carl are both well fleshed-out characters despite the film’s length, and their relationship is central to the film. How did these two characters come to star in the film?

The beginnings of PBP are based on a true story, and Amy & Carl (names changed) were a part of a real two-person study - elements of which we’ve fictionalised but their relationship always felt like the key to the narrative, which grows into a sort of epic fantasy where I always thought of them as our emotional anchor. I also think both Gbenga [Akinnagbe, The Wire] and Martha [Plimpton, The Goonies] give such a natural sense of humanity to both, and I’m so grateful to them for giving up their time to record with us.

Perhaps the third most prominent character in the film is the lion/chimera creature with an eye in its tail. What was your thinking here; does this creature represent something?

There’s two answers, it’s a character that came through a lot of back and forth between Chris and I, chatting over an unknown force, mythological malevolent powers pulling the strings in our mind etc... but there was also Tom Cruise’s note to Ben Stiller on the script Tropic Thunder, from an early draft that didn’t have his character. He asked: "where’s the force? You know, the force from above"... and maybe it was just his way of getting written in as the most important character (the head of the studio), but either way it’s a pretty good note and there was a little bit of it in us bringing in the lion/chimera.

When Carl begins freaking out, the film takes on an almost psychedelic-horror aesthetic. Was this always the plan, or did it form as the film took shape?

This is a great question - interested to why you ask! It was always part of the plan, but there were different approaches before we landed on where we got, I think part of the way we finally cracked it was Daniel’s (Brandt) score, which gave us the pulsating rhythm that takes Carl off the edge whilst also carrying everyone home!

Finally, what’s next for you? Are you working on any new projects?

Thanks for asking! Yes, I’m writing a first feature at the moment, alongside a few other projects, and Chris and I are also working on a grander animation to follow this up!

Thank you so much for having us as part of Flatpack!

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