Alex Widdowson: Your film, Pep Mask, was released a couple of months ago, can you describe the response you’ve had so far?
William Marler: The film kicked off at a small student-lead screening which was nice, because it allowed me to address the audience directly beforehand, and was an ideal opportunity for my close friends to see it for the first time. The first festival screening it had was at Flatpack Film Festival in April and I had lots of nice comments from various people. Some people focused on the animation itself, looking at the film artistically (such as my use of colour, which is purposefully limited), and others took the story as their main “souvenir”. Both types of response have fortunately been overwhelmingly positive.
AW: How does it feel coming out so publicly as someone with cystic fibrosis?
WM: For me, Pep Mask isn’t some type of “coming out” moment for me, as most people know I have it, and those who don’t, don’t know because it’s an invisible illness. I’ve never tried to hide my CF and I’ve always been a very open person when it comes to my health. For example in 2015, I ran the London Marathon for the CF Trust, and promoted my doing so as a “CF patient running for CF”. It has been interesting to hear people’s responses who didn’t otherwise know I had it, or who had an incorrect view on certain aspects of it – but overall it’s not designed to be a revelation to people as such.
AW: Have you heard any feedback from people who suffer from the same condition?
WM: One aspect of CF is that patients can’t mix due to cross-infection, so I don’t personally know many people at all with it. I specifically tweeted it out to a guy who I follow on Twitter so he could share it on, and he really enjoyed it. I’ve had very kind responses from people associated with it however, such as CF parents. I’d say the film is still in its larval stage of promotion at the moment, but my aim is to get as many interested parties seeing it as possible.
AW: Do you think the film will contribute to raising awareness of the issue of people living and dealing with cystic fibrosis? Have you had any experience of this yet?
WM: The film is yet to reach its full audience potential, but I have great hopes that it can at least introduce people to the existence of the condition and the routine it entails for some people. However, I had always set out to create a film about my CF in particular; it wasn’t designed to be a charity film, nor about CF in general. I’ve been a bit more relaxed when it comes to those potential aspects of the film, but really, this is just one single case of the condition, and it’s more about how I have personally dealt with it and how my parents kept me well through my childhood.
AW: Are you comfortable with the advocate/poster boy role?
WM: Absolutely. As I said, I’ve never had a problem with people knowing I have CF, and I’ve always been very open about it. Specifically though, I’d really like to be an advocate for what exercise, regular, strict treatment, and a focused attitude to the condition can achieve, I want people to know that a CF diagnosis is not the end of a fruitful life, but merely the beginning.
AW: Do you feel your film has helped you come to terms with your condition?
WM: I’ve never had any need to come to terms with my CF, that’s something I’ve done naturally as I’ve grown older. However, the film revisits a specific memory I have with my parents, and it’s helped me come to terms with that. It’s a memory I still find upsetting now, but I’ve realised that I should focus not on what I did to upset them in that moment, but what they did by not giving up on me.
AW: Could you go into a little detail about the influences regarding your visual style and approach to storytelling?
WM: I was inspired to use the white stroke on black style by an animator I met in 2014 called Viviane Vollack. She joined my class at Uni and delivered a presentation in that style, and ever since I found it much more captivating than the standard black stroke on white background. The white really pierces your eyes and stands out more than black in my opinion. The colour and also the animation concept of breathing text in and out came from a drawing I did not long before production of the film began. I liked the link between breathing in and out, and receiving and giving speech. There’s a delivery-and-response aspect to both. The colour was designed to be a real contrast from the rest of the piece, particularly defining important foreground and background elements. For example, the red and white of the Michael Jackson BAD poster helped capture its constant presence on my left wall as I do physio every day. I often watch or listen to MJ during that time.
AW: Do you consider this film a documentary?
WM: Certainly, I’m documenting both a specific time (the memory I revisit) and also document a general, repeated routine. I wouldn’t necessarily describe it as a documentary in the sense that I am teaching the audience or delivering information, however it fits that genre in that it captures a very important, and real, part of my life.
AW: When I was making a film about my own mental health experiences I felt like a bit of a fraud as an artist, as if transcribing events that I’d experienced was not a creative process. Do you relate to that at all?
WM: If anything, I am so much more inclined to enjoy stories with a real human element to them. If a narrative is picked out of thin air then I don’t feel as strong a connection with the artist, whereas if there is something real about the story, even if it’s more visceral, my attention is captured more strongly. Not having to construct a narrative allowed me to focus on how to tell the story, both visually and chronologically.
AW: Can you compare your experiences of dealing with documentary and fiction in animation?
WM: Actually I wrote a whole dissertation about the blurred boundaries of animated documentary. Focusing on Ryan by Chris Landreth, I explored how both fictional and non-fictional elements can be merged within the genre. As I said, I tend towards non-fiction animation as my favourite, but what I loved so much about Ryan is how fiction, or more accurately, exaggerated elements of real life, can bring a whole new experience to the art form. Everyone reading this now open a new tab and watch that film, because it is absolutely superb.
AW: Do you wish to continue as an animated documentary director?
WM: No, or at least not just as an animated documentary director. I’ve never liked the idea of defining myself, even as an animator really. Whenever I think I’ve found my niche, I end up branching into more different areas and interests. For example, I’m currently exploring projects concerning dance film, infographics, documentary, and so on. I just create, a lot of it is animation, but not always.
AW: My apologies for asking such a clichéd question for a recent graduate; what have you got planned next?
WM: Not long ago I started my new job at Ember Television in Birmingham as their in-house Motion Graphic Designer which has been really exciting because I’ve had different types of projects to work with and recently allowed myself the opportunity to challenge both my work, and that of the company. I’ve also recently set up a dance film collective with fellow filmmaker Dilek Osman called Figure + Phrase which will hopefully begin operating soon. I’m also planning another project surrounding my CF, which is really exciting, but I’m keeping somewhat under wraps…