Two neighbors secretly in love can’t seem to find the courage to confess their feelings for each other, so their hands decide to take matters into their own… *ahem*… hands, in John Alan Thompson’s charmingly otherworldly animation, Handsy. One fateful night, the respective right and left hand take off and engage in a romantic dance under the moonlight in this magical tale that makes a strong case for original approaches in the genre of romantic films.
The film started out as a very personal journey for the filmmaker and became a kind of catharsis many artists look to find in their work. Talking about the year-long process, the director said:
Magical realism is a major component to this film. I was in a serious car accident when I was 13. When I woke up on the side of the road, I couldn’t tell if I was dreaming or experiencing real things. All my senses were radically altered. I absorbed the environment in a way that was OTHER and it stayed with me. Every film I make seems to incorporate a transformed world of trauma and beauty. HANDSY is the first film I’ve made that fully embraces these qualities.
As a result, the premise of Handsy might sound weird—and trust that the finished film is even weirder—but as an ode to love and following your heart (or hand, in this case) the narrative themes are in fact timeless. The real marvel of the movie therefore lies in its nostalgic production techniques and design.
We filmed miniatures with a Panavised RED in 4K, as well as stills on a Cannon 5D in 5K and then filmed actors against green screen with the Panavized RED in 4K. Nearly every shot required VFX composite work, and nearly every shot involved micro editing to give all movement a slight peculiarity. It was a painstaking process, and the result is ultimately subtle, but I believe that the micro-manipulation helped the characters meld into the stylized miniature world so that the two mediums feel like one.
The result is a film feels like a lost Tim Burton short from two or three decades ago. Despite the modern workflow, there is a sort of bygone old-fashioned nature to the project, an homage to a time when stop-motion was king. From its whimsical set design and comedically exaggerated performances, to the images saturation levels and the simulated film grain, a careful attention to detail from Thompson and his team create that unusual sensation when watching that one is viewing an artifact of a previous generation, and yet wholly modern as well—an interesting combination of sensations, and a testament to Thompson’s unique abilities as a director.
Conceived as a student film for the M.F.A. degree at the University of Southern California, the production team took to Kickstarter to raise large parts of the $200,000(!) budget. What you see today on the site is not the original version of the film which played festivals however. This is a web-original cut of Lend a Hand for Love, a much more expansive version of the story which runs for 14min. That is the version we originally accepted as a submission over two years ago, and Thompson’s recut provoked an interesting discussion here at S/W over which version to go with—there are very few examples of such a radical cut to a film, so much so that it almost becomes a completely new entity. Thompson’s thinking (which we tend to agree with) is that by sacrificing much of the romantic elements of the full film he is better able to isolate and showcase the top-level premise, and the extraordinary craft of the film in a much shorter package—one that is more likely to cater to the attentions of internet viewers. We’ll see if he’s right, but both versions of the film are online starting today, so if you like the romantic style of Handsy, be sure to watch the original short Lend a Hand for Love here.