Hackney filmmaker Michael Please bags BAFTA

Filmmaker Michael Please in his studio. Photo: Tim Sullivan

Filmmaker Michael Please in his studio. Photo: Tim Sullivan

At an age where most children are fretting over homework or looking forward to receiving birthday presents, Mikey Please recalls being distinctly concerned about the passage of time: “I remember feeling bothered at the start of summer holidays, it felt like such a huge stretch of time ahead, I was outraged.”

Such ruminations were to profoundly influence his future projects, one of which – The Eagleman Stag – just happened to win a BAFTA for best short animation last month. At least these days he doesn’t have to worry about recognition, even if he does keep the statue tucked away behind an orange mask in his kitchen.

Please, 26, originally from Bath, always held a deep interest for animation but enrolled on a fine art course at Wimbledon because “there seemed something very silly in wanting to choose animation for a career path – it’s like saying you want to be a stunt man.”

Despite this, his interest expanded into puppetry then special effects then eventually the triumphant animation which he completed in his second year at the Royal College of Arts.

At the BAFTA ceremony, although intimidated by the glitz and glamour, Mikey had the companionship of his two friends David Prosser and Mathias Hoegg from RCA, who were both nominated in the same category. And, if that wasn’t enough, he enjoyed schmoozing with Lee Unkrich, the director of Toy Story 3, and ‘geeking out’ with Tim Burton backstage.

The Eagleman Stag is a darkly comic tale of an old man, Peter Eagleman, obsessed with the perception of hastening time. We begin, fittingly enough, in the womb. Then we see Peter as a callous sprog, swatting away his birthday cakes. In his forties, he leads a team of taxonomists to the heart of the Amazon and there he finds a unique insect with the ability to create new nerve tissue, which he decides to name after himself. But will this creature be the answer to all his questions, or lead to his eventual downfall? Did you ever notice that if you repeat the word ‘fly’ over and over, you create ‘life’?

Those that attended last year’s Hackney Film Festival will remember The Eagleman Stag wowing the audience. Since then it has gone on to cause many more awed intakes of breath at Sundown, The London International Animation Festival and is being noticed by many more.

The piece is a particularly impressive feat, being produced in only five months which Please puts down to the simple aesthetic and materials.  It was filmed in monochrome stop-motion which he defines as “frame by frame manipulation of inanimate objects to create the illusion of life.”

There are a lot of snakes, worms and grass in the film which the creator bitterly regrets as every blade had to be carved by hand. The monochrome part refers to the fact that all the material is white only, and the tone and contrast is fashioned by playing with light and shadows.

Despite the many weeks shut away in his Clapton studio, Mikey was not without support. His brother Benedict provided the score which oscillates between ominous metallic screeching to rousing orchestral chamber music. The narration is superbly brought to life by David Cann whom many will recognise from Chris Morris’s Jam. His rich voice and perfect comic timing prove that you will never disappoint the crowd by getting sensible people to say silly things.

For now, Please is busy promoting The Eagleman Stag (which has even attracted plaudits from trade magazines in India), directing a music video for TV on the Radio and illustrating album art for other bands. But still, despite the accolades, there remains the same niggling feeling that something just isn’t right, and this will inform the nature of his next secretive project entitled ‘Zero Greg’. “Nobody knows what gravity is, and that bothers me.”

Here’s hoping that we continue to be enlightened by the product of Mikey’s bother for years to come.

Related: Hackney Lullabies wins Berlinale Today Award



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