‘Goodbye Mr. Pink’ dir. Helen Piercy

Seven-year-old Rose is not sure what to make of things when she discovers that her pet rabbit isn’t moving one day. At first she thinks he may be ill or asleep, but her older brother dispels any such notions by proclaiming Mr. Pink dead. What follows is a journey into Rose’s imagination as she conjures up a macabre fantasy about life after death.

Director: Helen Piercy
Producer: Purnima Phansalkar
Writers: Helen Piercy & Christopher Scott
DOP: Brian Fawcett
Key Cast: Dora Gee, Ryan Gunning

C8: Where did the idea for ‘Goodbye Mr Pink’ come from?

HP: I was interested in exploring the theme of death, in particular the first time we discover death exists. My own first experience was finding my lifeless hamster in his cage and performing an elaborate funeral ritual to mark his passing. I interviewed children about what they thought happened to pets in the afterlife, which resulted in some interesting conversations about what hamster heaven would look like, and how a guinea pig should be correctly buried. From these stories I developed the idea of a brother and sister discovering their dead pet rabbit, and how they might react to the situation.

C8: You co-wrote the script with Christopher Scott. What was the process of co-writing like?

HP: The structure of the script was closely based on the transcripts of my recorded interviews with children. I had a clear idea of how I wanted the scenes to play out, however I was keen to make the script seem realistic, which is why most of the dialogue is taken directly from the conversations. After I had written the first draft I worked with Chris to hone the details. His scriptwriting knowledge brought the story together, plus he was brilliant at finding the potential for comedy within the script.

C8: This was your graduation film from the National Film and Television School. How much support did you receive when making it?

HP: The NFTS was a great experience and I felt supported through each stage of the filmmaking process. We had a year to make our graduation film and during this time you team up with the other courses to work together exactly as if you were on a professional production. What I didn’t anticipate was how much I would rely on my team for support, and by the end of the shoot it felt like we had gone through an intense bonding experience!

C8: How did you go about casting the film? Where you looking for something in particular?

HP: Casting was an entirely new process for me as this was my first time directing live action. My aim was to cast children who would perform naturally in front of the camera and were not too ‘stage school’ in their approach. I was very lucky in finding my main actress, Dora Gee, who had performed in the Sound of Music at the West End. She was fantastic to work with and incredibly professional for a five year old. The older brother needed to have an element of the bully about him, which Ryan Gunning did a superb job at portraying.

C8: What did you shoot on and what was the reasoning behind this choice?

HP: My cinematographer, Brian Fawcett, really pushed to shoot on 16mm film as he felt it would add the aesthetic quality of the film, and I’m glad we went with his decision rather than using digital. The animation was shot using a Canon DSLR camera, which we hooked up to a stop motion capture program. The challenge after the shoot was to make the live action slip seamlessly into the animation, which we manage to achieve during the colour grading process.

C8: Your background is in animation. Did you find it difficult directing actors, particularly children?

HP: With my graduation film I wanted to take the opportunity to explore new areas of filmmaking, especially directing live action. Although I was warned about the difficulties working with children, the idea didn’t worry me at all. I found the experience very enjoyable, however I do think I was extremely lucky with my casting.

C8: If you did the whole process again is there anything you would do differently?

HP: The production was an incredibly challenging experience and an enormous learning curve for me. I have a much greater understanding of how a film comes together and working with a film crew. I think if I were to go through the process again it would be a smoother ride, although there is not much I would change about the film, just a few tweaks here and there.

C8: Are their any filmmakers or films that inspired your work on Goodbye Mr Pink?

HP: I am a huge Jan Svankmajer fan and one of my main references for the film was ‘Alice’, which also stars a white rabbit. I also love Terry Gilliam’s films, in particular ‘Tideland,’ which features a little girl dealing with her father’s death through the power of imagination. Both directors have an element of darkness, humour and fantasy within their films that appeal to me.

C8: Where does ‘Goodbye Mr Pink’ sit in your career and what have you done since?

HP: After graduating from film school I worked on a number of productions including a musical called ‘Shoes,’ which involved animating hundreds of designer shoes for a stage projection. After working in the commercial industry for a while I decided to have a change of career path and set up my own business running animation workshops for young people in schools, museums and theatres.

C8: What, in your opinion, makes for a good collaboration?

HP: Teamwork, communication, skill and passion.

C8: What is next for Helen Piercy? Any interesting projects lined up?

HP: I have just released my new book called ‘Animation Studio,’ which is a how-to fold out kit for children to learn the basics of animation. I have plans to write more animation themed books and continue building my animation workshop business. I am also in the process of developing a feature film script with plans to return to filmmaking in the near future.