There must have been a great many moments that put me on the road to making WEBCAST. Some are small ideas that took root and grew over many months. Others are more illuminated moments. Those light-bulb flickering events that make us get up and do something for ourselves and I guess, hopefully for others too. This is one of those moments.
What made me do it? What lit the feature filmmaking fuse that led from ‘wish I could’ to ‘got to do’?
In this case, it’s two words. Piñata porn.
Sorry, let me re-write that.
Two stupidly arranged words that will hopefully create a shit-tonne of click-bait for this article; piñata porn.
Yes, I know how it sounds, but stay with me…
Eight years ago, I was at a summer birthday party. Everyone was out in the sun, drinking, having fun. The host starts opening up her presents and what falls out of one them? A piñata doll. Not that I recognised it at first. It didn’t look like those star shaped piñatas or the rainbow-coloured donkeys you always see, no – this piñata had been sculpted to look like a mermaid. Long blonde hair, green tail, and a big, thin-lipped smile painted across her face.
Two things occurred to me. One, I’d never seen a piñata humanised before and, two – on a grimmer note; she’s not going to be smiling by the time they take the stick to her later. How bleak an existence is that? – were she real. Party girl for three hours and then smashed to death for the sweets inside her before the night was through. Kind of tragic when you think about. Kind of dramatic too.
Seemed like the perfect idea for a movie.
Now, it also dawned on me that I was pretty much brain-storming a Pixar idea here. But they don’t like killing off their lead characters – and I had no problem with that at all. This short film, because that’s all I really had the imagination, money and frankly, the balls for at this point, could be funny, tragic, dark and heart-warming, all in the space of 4 minutes.
It would end up being called ‘All Piñatas Go To Heaven’ and it would be (to date) the last short film I would make before WEBCAST.
It didn’t get made quickly either. The idea seemed to percolate for a couple of years before I got moving on it. By then the story had taken shape in my mind. Two piñatas, a bullfighting señor and a dancing señorita, meet at a spanish-themed birthday party and fall in love. Sadly, their fate is to overtake them before lasting happiness can ensue. The piñata left behind, not only witnesses the plight of the other, but swears to wreak havoc on the party and have their revenge.
I drew about a hundred frames for a storyboard, depicting the whole thing. The film was to be silent and so the visuals were crucial. In those frames I drew several scenes in which the dolls would share clumsily, romantic experiences together – eating cake, dancing, staring dreamily at each other – all the while the rest of the party, the human aspects, would remain oblivious to their bonding, oblivious even to their movements. The dolls in fact would never move on camera and instead just be caught in the act with every cut.
There was one scene in which the señor is sitting with his hand resting on a can of silly spray. Accidentally, he manages to press the nozzle, sending silly string squarely into the face of the señorita. The camera cuts back and he looks appalled, but when it swings back to her, she just keeps on smiling. True love.
Now, I swear, that scene was written and drawn as nothing more than an innocent, clumsy incident to show that even though the señor was a little accident prone, he hadn’t blown it with the señorita. It was supposed to be ‘cutesy’. After all, I wanted everybody watching to fall in love with these two characters before the story turned permanently dark – I guess I just like to screw with people that way when I’m telling stories.
And in pre-production, and on set, no one said (at least to me) that this scene looked like anything other than the sweet, romantic sequence it was supposed to be.
Sadly, the minute we got into editing, the whole thing just looked like he’d spunked squarely in her face.
There was no getting around it. I took a cut of the film my friend Matt, a professional editor, who’d helped produce all our shorts.
“Dude,” he said. “The spunk scene has to go.”
“Yeah, the scene in which he silly-strings his jizz, all over her face.”
I began on the defensive. “That’s not a jizz scene man! It’s just an innoce-”
Matt was already playing the tape back.
Señor fires his load so fast across her face, poor señorita’s head nearly spins 360 degrees. It’s like a jizz canon. That wasn’t all. Sure, he looks mortified – that was always the point. But in this new porno-filtered viewing, her smile of blind, requited love looked, well just like that. Only now it’s clear she must really love him. And on a first date too. Classy stuff.
“It’s got to go.” Matt insisted. And as we we’re trying to get down to a 2 minute, PG cut. We had no choice but to let it go.
Several months later, I was planning to enter piñatas into The London Lift Off Film Festival. Since this festival came with no time or credit restrictions, I re-cut piñatas back up to a 4 minutes. And, not being able to help myself – and trusting not everybody had a dirty mind, I dropped the silly string scene back in and submitted.
A few weeks later I got a call from one of the festival organisers, James Bradley.
“Hey Paul, congratulations! We want “Piñatas” in our festival!”
I was over the moon. I hadn’t tried entering many festivals with my work at this point, but knew how hard it could be. Despite believing “Piñatas” was a great short, I knew its production value wasn’t up there with a lot of stuff it would be screening with. But that was the point of this festival.
“Seriously? That’s amazing. Thank you!” and I really meant it. I was so proud.
“Not at all,” said James, “The minute we saw that piñata spunk all over the señorita’s face, we knew it was a winner!”
‘All piñatas Go To Heaven’ didn’t just play, but won best film at the London Lift Off Film Festival. I now had an award-winning short film. But I wasn’t going to stop there and from this point on there really was only one way to go.
And so the long road towards WEBCAST began. And all because that little piñata doll couldn’t keep his excitement in his pants. God bless him.
‘All Piñatas Go To Heaven’ can be rented or purchased as part of a collection of Lift-Off’s Best Shorts on vimeo.
And has it’s own blog page fro way back when – allpinatasgotoheaven.wordpress.com