The Ballad of the Indispensable Walnut Man is a spooky stop-motion animation film that is equal parts eerie and impressive. Brig caught up with co-directors the McQuaid brothers (Ben and Nathan) to find out how they achieved this incredible feat and what’s to be expected from their entry at this year’s AirTV Awards (ATVAs).
Nathan: “So, our film is The Walnut Man.”
Ben: “The Ballad of the Indispensable Walnut Man.
Nathan: “…And it is a stop-motion drama film about a travelling carnival in 19th century Scotland. It’s about this guy, The Walnut Man who is a performer. He’s not happy with how he’s being treated, and he’s not happy with his acting. He’s looking for some more fulfilment in his life. And then basically, some tragic things come out of that.
Ben: “It’s.. the face of art, etc. It’s a very deep film.”
The McQuaid’s spoke next about the inspiration behind their film, and why they chose the medium of stop-motion.
Nathan: “Well, we wanted to make something set in a circus because that’s a good place for a creepy, eerie atmosphere. We were really inspired by Nate Murali so we wanted to make a film like that.
“When we’re writing stuff we don’t really think about what we have. We just write it and then try and figure it out. So when we wrote it, we figured out we can’t actually do this in live action at the moment. So the best thing to do would be to animate it all instead so we wouldn’t have to change the script.”
Ben: “We took some inspiration from Pinocchio that came out. There’s also a short film in the bonus features of Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit called Stage Fright. It’s a very disturbing creepy film, we got a little bit of inspiration from that as well.”
Developing an animated film is a far different process to live action. Brig spoke to the brothers to find out exactly how they wrote, built and developed The Walnut Man.
Nathan: “We wrote it kind of almost like a skit at first. Quite a sharp, a three-page film where someone comes into the circus, they perform stupidly and it doesn’t go well. We just kept thinking ‘What happens to the guy after he does that?’. That kind of kept building and building until we decided to finish it.”
Ben: “The good thing about stop-motion as well is that we can actually write anything if we can just make it. It feels good.”
Nathan: “We wrote all this kind of old Scottish language for like the dialogue not really thinking about how is anyone going to perform it. And then, months later, when directing actors we saw it was getting a bit awkward having to explain the old Gaelic language to people. We wrote it all but all of the performances really enhanced the script. And so that helped.”
“There were like four or five different sets we built. The tent was the least interesting one but my favourite set was the ring masters office. You could build a lot of detail in that, we made multiple books and stuff. Yeah, so it was nice getting to build and control the set for once. Most of the time (when you’re doing a live-action), you don’t have much choice. You either have a room you can film in or you don’t. Making everything from scratch gives you more control.
“We built the city in about a week because it was basically just empty boxes and painting them. The office space took maybe a month to make, you have to build more individual things like tables and seats. So it was different for each thing.”
With so much work going into the design the question had to be asked what was their favourite thing they made?
Ben: “I’d say the actual walnut man himself was my favourite person to build because I like the design.”
We spoke next about how the cast. Again, directing voice acting is a far different process from live action. However, it seemed the McQuaids let the cast’s talent speak for itself.
Nathan: “When we pitched it originally we didn’t really have individual voices, we just wanted thick Scottish accents. We didn’t really have a clear idea of what kind of voices we wanted originally. Henry (the Walnut Man) just said one day I could do a voice in your film if you want.”
Ben: “He put on this really creepy, disturbing voice from the back of his soul. We hadn’t even thought of what he should sound like but he just matched it perfectly.”
Nathan: “I think his voice gave the main character more character than he had in the script. With every person we worked with, working with Lea and Calum as well, we didn’t do much directing. Everyone thought of a really original voice I don’t know how.”
Ben: “Without being asked everyone who did a voice, did something really unique. It gave a lot of personality to the characters.
Brig: So there isn’t a dream cast? would you pick Chris Pratt and put him in this film? Jack Black?
Ben: Henry would kill us if we said we would give Chris Pratt the Walnut man.”
Nathan: “Honestly, I can’t even remember what I thought any of the characters sounded like before we had all the voice actors. I can’t even imagine anyone else playing any of the roles.”
With much mystery still shrouding The Walnut Man, Brig asked if anyone had seen the film and what their reactions were.
Nathan: “Our little brother did the music for the film so we showed him some drafts early on, which he was actually quite critical of. Then we went back and redone some of the dialogue that he wasn’t happy with. It turned out for the best. He seemed to like the final product enough, but he’s the only person that has seen it in full.”
To conclude, we asked the brothers what was next in their filmmaking calendar. Was there more to come from The Walnut Man?
Nathan: “We have a few films planned at the moment, we may make one live-action one in the summer.”
Ben: “Yeah, and then we’ve got three script beings written at the moment so.. we’ll pick one first and then start on that one I guess.”
Brig: So no more Walnut Man?
Ben: “We want to close out Nut Trilogy with Ginger Nut which would be the longer live-action [film] we might make in the summer.”
Feature image credit: @/airtvonline on Instagram
Journalism and English Studies student with an interest in film & tv, music, and politics.
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