Interview with Owley Samter
Earlier this year, I had a chance to sit down with Swiss Animator, Writer, and Illustrator Owley Samter via Skype. Owley directed “Roar” and “Foglä”, both films have screened with Animation Nights New York. Owley was also selected to participate in our 2018 ANNY Cannes Program.
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ANNY: [00:00:08] This is Animator Interviews. I had an opportunity to sit down with Owley Samter and chat with him about his film FOGLÄ and Roar and talk to him a little bit about the work that he’s been doing recently. Owley was one of our 2018 ANNY Cannes Program filmmakers and it was a real pleasure to sit down and chat with him via Skype. The sound is a little wonky, honestly, but I do hope you enjoy the conversation. I think he’s a really interesting person and I enjoyed sitting down to speak with him. Please enjoy.
Owley Samter: [00:00:45] My name is Owley and I am a Swiss animator and illustration artist and I’m more or less fresh out of my studies, which I finished in 2017. So it’s almost two years, now.
ANNY: [00:00:59] We know each other because you were selected for our Cannes program your film….
Owley Samter: [00:01:05] It’s called FOGLÄ, and much of the joy from the title is that everybody messes it up, that’s basically the point. It is a Swiss / German word play on birds and having sex which is basically what the film is about and everything that matters in life.
ANNY: [00:01:26] Yeah, the film is very controversial. We had an opportunity to show a few films from our ANNY program at a school recently and made sure that it was in the lineup and it caused some stir there, as well.
Owley Samter: [00:01:43] What kind of school, I mean, what age?
ANNY: [00:01:45] College. School of Visual Arts animation program.
Owley Samter: [00:01:49] Interesting. Yes.
ANNY: [00:01:51] It sparked solid conversation on Art and Censorship. It’s a great film. The character design was that all you? Did you do the character design?
Owley Samter: [00:02:02] Yeah, when I started out on the story, I felt like doing most of it by myself. It was really a film where I wanted to do everything that I could do by myself and so the characters are naturally coming from me, of course with input from people, but I wanted it to have my style.
ANNY: [00:02:19] The key animation as well is all your….
Owley Samter: [00:02:22] Yeah. With also, I think, shots of rough animation from other people.
ANNY: [00:02:27] And then the music is really terrific, as well….
Owley Samter: [00:02:30] That is not from me. That was the one contribution where I had somebody else. We had a great composer Jan Willem de With from another Swiss school. He was studying with another school. We have this partnership where we made the films and they made music and for them, they had a big project to work on as composers and we had good music for our project. So it was very symbiotic and it was interesting because it was one part where I had to give away a big chunk of control and I’m really happy that I did because it did turn out pretty good.
ANNY: [00:03:03] The music is perfect for it. I love the timing of the film. I love the character design and the sensibility of it. The film does kind of take this turn that you’re shocked by and it’s so jarring. It’s unexpected. And yeah, I think I watched the film six or seven times before I decided it had to be part of the program, because I just didn’t know…I wasn’t sure what to do. But I really liked it, you know. It does create controversy, but it’s a great film. Roar is another film that is scheduled for screening with Animation Nights New York.
Owley Samter: [00:03:46] I’m really happy about that.
ANNY: [00:03:47] You do a great job with character design and there’s a lightness about the characters. Tell me a little bit about growing up, how you got into animation, did you draw as a child, and what was that experience like?
Owley Samter: [00:04:00] Yeah. I’ve been drawing very ever since I’m little. I had three older siblings who were all very talented, naturally. I was born with a pen in my hand, basically. My parents and my grandparents are also very creative. So it was kind of to me, I couldn’t avoid doing something creative and it always sparked a lot of Joy, so I never thought about not doing it, actually. It was what I really like to do so I just pursued it and I ended up where I am now without actually ever having to decide to do this.
ANNY: [00:04:35] That’s great. It was just a clear path.
Owley Samter: [00:04:39] Yeah, kind of, and I never could think of another thing to do, actually, that would make me as happy as what I’m doing right now. So, it was never a deciding between this and that always clear I want to do this and if I can I will do this.
ANNY: [00:04:55] What’s your workflow like? How do you begin the the process? Are you constantly taking notes, writing down different ideas, do you just sort of draw and things come to you that way, you know, are you reading a book, or something?
Owley Samter: [00:05:10] Reading, so old fashioned!
ANNY: [00:05:14] Just throwing that in there.
Owley Samter: [00:05:19] It kind of depends on the project. I think most of the times I start with stories, I think of a story and then I try to come up with the pictures that fill the work with the story and every now and then I also like to start visually and then think of while doing it think of what actually is a story behind this character what actually is the story behind the world that I’m drawing but I think for me it doesn’t work if I’m working on a project that for instance has a deadline or have to do something. So I really want to start with the story and the other way to work on it is more for like personal projects where I don’t have to reach a certain deadline or where I can really go with the flow because I think it takes more time because it’s more more a matter of inspiration of trying out things.
ANNY: [00:06:16] Do you use a lot of digital equipment or….
Owley Samter: [00:06:18] Well, the films that I’ve done, those two that you mentioned, they’ve both been done digitally. Cintiq, TV Paint, Premiere, I would say more or less classic way for the illustration work. I really like to work more classical with pen and paper because it’s easier to do that without wasting a lot of time. I recently discovered, I don’t know the English word, but you can mount on here. with ink.
ANNY: [00:06:42] Oh, a quill?
Owley Samter: [00:06:44] Yeah, I think I’d really like to try out things. Because I think once you start to work digitally because it’s so easy to kind of lose that sense of what else is out there because you can fake everything digitally. I think there’s so many options to have something to look like pencils or something drawn with ink, that you stop actually drawing, traditionally.
ANNY: [00:07:07] It’s interesting right as amazing as the undo button is, having to sort of go along with mistakes or…I know what you’re saying. What is this, this behind you? What is this space?
Owley Samter: [00:07:21] That’s my work space. I stopped working from home very early because I just had to have normal regular work hours and work at a different place than I live. So I found this cute cozy space with other people and I’ve already managed to mess it up, very easily so don’t look behind me too much.
ANNY: [00:07:43] No, it’s cool! Talk a little bit about your illustration work. You also are a blogger!
Owley Samter: [00:07:48] Yeah, before I studied animation, I applied for two different things one was animation and the other was illustration because those two things for me go hand in hand and I like doing them both. I don’t think they are very different from one another. I didn’t get into illustration and I got into animation. It kind of decided that for me and I’m very happy about having done animation. I always did a lot of illustration work and during my studies started to work for a newspaper, a really small local newspaper. I kept doing it to this day. It’s really interesting because you can have the tiniest of stories to draw a caricature about. It’s funny not have the big Stories on the political things of the world, but instead to have one farmer being angry at another farmer. I also work for another newspaper. I draw a weekly comic strip and that’s kind of the main things I’m doing illustration wise and then, of course, there are smaller projects that come in between those two. It’s kind of funny because I’m still trying to figure out to level those two things that I’m doing. The more illustration work I’m doing, less animation projects are coming in, and then I’m like, “Oh, I would love to do more Animation”. As soon as I get more animation projects I start thinking “Oh, I would love to do more illustration work”. I haven’t leveled that yet. I haven’t found a way to balance them.
ANNY: [00:09:31] I think that’s okay, though, that there’s a back and forth.
Owley Samter: [00:09:34] Yeah, sure. I’m less complaining but more of observing that right now. I’m really happy so it’s really not that I’m complaining about it.
ANNY: [00:09:50] It seems to me, you know, one farmer fighting with another really kind of boils down Humanity to its primal parts and honestly, FOGLÄ does that, with birds!
Owley Samter: [00:10:15] Yeah. Basically, that’s right.
ANNY: [00:10:20] What are examples of some of the key illustrations you felt were very successful or that were a problem.
Owley Samter: [00:10:33] Well, none of them have been problematic, yet. The stories are so small that nobody who reads them really cares about them. Unless I really piss someone off they’re not going to complain. I would really have to provoke them so hard so that people would react. None of them have been problematic.
I always like it when I when I can take those really small stories, the local stories, and put them on a global level to contrast how small they are with what’s going on in the world. Naturally, putting Trump in these situations makes sense because this is as International as you can go. The newspaper told me I should stop using Trump because I used him so much. It’s my take on how passive stories are by, for instance, showing Trump reading the newspaper and commenting on what’s happening in Switzerland. I really like to take something local and put an international spin on it or to show something international being the cause for what’s happening in the region. It’s kind of my way to play with the stories.
ANNY: [00:11:59] That’s great. You are reminding everyone that we are all human. Do you write about movies as well?
Owley Samter: [00:12:15] Yeah, that is a side project I’ve been doing for about 10 years now. It started out small and then became bigger and more time expensive. I stopped doing it at some point and now I’m just doing it every now and then. I do write for a Swiss online magazine and I like to cover animation topics because that’s what’s dear to me. I think in their pool of writers, I’m most capable to cover animation. I also like that there is a group of people and it’s not me alone. I really can treat this writing as a side project. When I worked by myself if felt a need to talk about every film. This way everybody else covers the big movies I can write when there’s animation or another movie that I’m interested in. I don’t have to cover all five thousand films that are coming out in the year. It has made life so much easier.
ANNY: [00:13:24] Have you tried any kind of new emerging technology tools AnimVR, Quill, or any of these things that are coming out?
Owley Samter: [00:13:31] No, I never tried it. Obviously, it has a future and it’s evolving so quickly, but I have to say, to my big shame, I’ve never worn VR Glasses in my life.
ANNY: [00:13:44] Don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll have plenty of opportunity to.
Owley Samter: [00:13:46] Yeah, I do. I don’t know, if I see a project that fits this technology I will be open to do it. I don’t see it anything for it now that I would work on.
ANNY: [00:14:14] How do you feel about some of these new stories about deep fakes and things like that how that could potentially impact news and society down the line?
Owley Samter: [00:14:25] News always takes about 10 years to travel here, so…. No but, what is this about?
ANNY: [00:14:33] Video that’s been doctored or video that is becoming more easily doctored so that you can have celebrities or politicians saying things they didn’t actually say.
Owley Samter: [00:14:47] Well, actually, I think in some cases having celebrities or politicians say things they didn’t say, it can‘t be much worse than what they’re actually saying. So, no, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t spend too much time being frightened of new technology, maybe I’m choosing to ignore it really well. I think if you have any technology there are ways to to use it for good and ways to use it for really bad things. I just hope the cases where it’s being used for good prevail. Even without that technology people can claim that a person did or said something which he or she never did. I think this just the next step.
ANNY: [00:15:53] Yeah. The reason I ask you that is you tend to boil down Humanity to this essence and it seems relevant to me to find your opinion these new tools. What do you think about FOGLÄ? Do you think it’s a controversial film, that you were, maybe, provoking the audience?
Owley Samter: [00:16:13] Controversial? How? No, it is my everyday life. No, obviously I’m aware of how controversial is.
ANNY: [00:16:24] That would be a very funny hard line stance to take.
Owley Samter: [00:16:31] You can just edit out everything I’m saying now.
[00:16:35] I mean, obviously, I could have avoided it being controversial. I think I could’ve just told a similar story without it being controversial but I always like films that play with the audience. It’s really funny being in the cinema with an audience who’s watching it for the first time and who can’t just leave. In a sense, they are at my mercy, which sounds darker than it’s meant. I like the idea of watching films not as a product you are just consuming but as something that is doing something to you (or maybe it’s making you do something with it). When I realized the film was probably going in a more controversial direction, I really wanted to make sure that I really used the potential for this so the audience would know how and why it is controversial. The story never was about controversy, but the way I told story, that was obviously quite provocative on purpose. When I finished the film, I expected more people to be be mad at me. I’m not saying everybody should send me hate mail, but I was a bit disappointed. A lot of people just were so bothered by this film that they actually avoided talking to me about it.
ANNY: [00:18:32] Really?
Owley Samter: [00:18:33] Well. I mean, it’s a bit natural, I think. It kind of surprised me that there were not as many people as I thought coming up to me saying, “Oh, I didn’t like your movie”. Maybe they were worried it would hurt my feelings but I like the the idea of having the conversation, afterwards. I like if somebody comes up to me to say “Ah, I really didn’t like your film”. It’s a really interesting way to start a conversation and that’s what I like. Yeah, maybe it was a naive hope that everyone would want to have a conversation. Maybe there are a lot of people who just didn’t want to talk about the topic, so they just avoided it for that reason.
ANNY: [00:19:27] I should have recorded that conversation that happened at the school. Yeah, I didn’t really consider it. If I have any more academic guest speaker situations that call for animation I’ll definitely make sure I reach out. I know we’re focusing a lot on this particular film. I just wanted to make sure we covered a couple of points about it.
Owley Samter: [00:19:50] Sure. Sure.
ANNY: [00:19:50] You said you gave way control a little bit, did Jan pleasantly surprise you with the score?
Owley Samter: [00:20:02] I’m really happy with the soundtrack for the film. I think really turned out great.
ANNY: [00:20:07] Were you surprised by the score? When did you hear the score?
Owley Samter: [00:20:10] I’m really happy with Jan’s work. We talked about which way to score, where the film would go, and the initial idea was to reduce it because visually the film is quite reduced to what’s important. At some point he came up and said, “You know, we should we should really go this way, Dean Martin style”. I was a bit surprised and I thought, didn’t we just decide on something reduced and now you want to go really cheesy! I do like how it lines up with the story. The film is taking these really cute colorful characters and it’s doing something really terrible with them. I think like the contrast between the music and the film is does something similar. Jan is the kind of composer who thinks big and so naturally we recorded this with a 50-piece Orchestra, which is insane for for this kind of project.
Official Original Soundtrack: https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/janwillemdewith
ANNY: [00:21:30] There’s a great shot of the musicians that are part of the score all in one room. It’s a really cool shot.
Owley Samter: [00:21:39] I really care a lot about film music so it was magical to be in the room when they were recording. It was also magical to have them record in all seriousness, and behind them, in the background, have the film playing. Some of them saw what they were playing to and some of them didn’t. It was hilarious. I’m really happy how it turned out and Jan did an amazing job. I’m really happy for the collaboration.
The sound design was done at our school, we have really good infrastructure and I had the help of two students who were working on the sound design together with me and our teacher. I think one of them also did one of the voices. Basically, I cast the three main voices of the three main characters very early on. One of the voices was me and I was really happy about doing a voice. Very early the teacher came to me and said “Look, I really like the voices except for the one you’re doing.” I was obviously a bit disappointed but I saw his critique and I saw how my voice really wasn’t working for the film, so we had somebody else come in. Most of VO actors are students or were students at that time who had great voices for for even the smallest of characters.
For one character, we had someone’s mother do VO acting. Her scene was basically just a sex scene. She just came in and didn’t know anything about the film. She just came into the recording booth and had to do a sex scene with a stranger, on the spot. It was best recording we had for the whole film. I don’t think she’s very fond of the film, but she kind of came in and she was like, okay, that’s what we’re working on, Okay. She was an elegant lady and a teacher from our school was the other voice in this sex scene. They were just in the booth together and it was the weirdest and most perfect moment you could have for the film.
We took a lot of effort getting the voices right. We didn’t have famous actors or real actors doing the voices, but we wanted to get each one of them right and I’m very happy with them. I think a lot of the laughter, whenever I watch it in an audience, happens in moments where the voices or the sound design are taking over. The voices really work for the film because they work for the audience. I’m proud of that.
ANNY: [00:25:12] The moment with the young Bird. Yeah, his little moment of… I don’t want to tell, people should just watch it. We’ll show little clips here and there people should just watch it.
Owley Samter: [00:25:29] They should.
ANNY: [00:25:31] It’s available online fully, or not yet?
Owley Samter: [00:25:36] No, not yet. It kind of took off of later than I expected, so I did not want to push it out too soon. At some point this year, I have to get it out because it’s been on tour for two years now. So, I think at some point this year.
ANNY: [00:25:57] Okay. Did you also want to maybe talk a little bit about the 2018 ANNY Cannes program, what your experience was like there?
Owley Samter: [00:26:07] Yeah. Sure. I mean, I’m not saying this because I’m looking at you but I really had a great time. It was kind of surreal, I remember when the whole thing got together I was like, this is the weirdest thing that could happen for a film that, at that point, hadn’t gotten a lot of love. So it was nice to have you speaking about the film the way you speak now. We thought, OK maybe there is good in it, after all. The film screened on my birthday, in Cannes, so it was perfect anyway. It was also really humbling to be in the selection of, I think there were 20 films….
ANNY: [00:26:49] Yes.
Owley Samter: [00:26:49] 20 films that were, each in their own way, just so great. You see them now at festivals during the tour, so you are not the only ones who think they’re good. It was a really nice selection. It was really cool to be part of the experience, even even on a small level, to take in so much, to meet so many animators. It was also really interesting, and I think it’s kind of an animator thing, wherever you go through the festivals with live-action films, the animators are always their own kind, their own tribe. Even though I didn’t know anybody who also took part in this, we instantly became our own group. You see, every now and then, you get the feeling like “Ah, you’re the animators Ah”. It was really funny how that kind of happened instantly at Cannes. You had this feeling of togetherness within that group and also like we were different within this crowd of fancy people. The animators were their own weird group. I took so much away from this and also met a lot of nice people, made friendships. It was so nice to have like a program there and take part in this really stunning Festival.
ANNY: [00:28:28] It was very special. You could feel it. You could see it happening. Part of me longed to be in the group. I know what beautiful thing it is to experience. So, it was fascinating to be on the outside. I was also part of it in my own way, but to watch it happen immediately, it was quite magical to see. You all just came together like glue.
Owley Samter: [00:29:06] Yeah, it was crazy. It’s something I think of, even today, with gratefulness. If anybody is watching who thinks of doing it….
ANNY: [00:29:25] That’s good. I’m so glad to hear, that’s excellent. So, tell me about what you’re working on now and also what maybe people should keep an eye out for.
Owley Samter: [00:29:37] I’m currently lining up a film that I have been talking about for a year. It hasn’t gone anywhere and I don’t know if it ever will at this point. I’m starting again to breathe life into it. So it’s very fresh. The project is very different from the two films I’ve done and I want it to be different because I just don’t want to have too much of a style, too much of a, “Ah, this is you”.
It’s about dogs. I actually announced Wes Anderson’s film “Isle of Dogs” to an audience last year and I told them, “You know, I don’t like dogs”. I was booed by half of the audience and the other half they realized oh, no, he’s getting booed out and we hate dogs too, so they started cheering. It was this weird moment, at a totally normal premiere, and I just said this one thing, and the whole audience was on fire within seconds. So, it’s kind of controversial topic.
ANNY: [00:30:43] So, did you say I don’t like dogs, Isle of Dogs?
Owley Samter: [00:30:47] Yeah.
ANNY: [00:30:51] That’s really funny.
Owley Samter: [00:30:51] Too bad there’s no similar thing if you don’t like dogs,
ANNY: [00:31:03] Goodness, so what medium are you using? Can you talk about that?
Owley Samter: [00:31:09] I think it’s too early to say. I’d really like to work traditionally or in some way because I want to be weird and I think you can be a bit more expressive if you are working traditionally. Basically, I had a script that I was really fond of and now I’m trying to rework it from scratch. So everything that I knew about the film has changed. I’m not even keeping it a secret, I really don’t know.
ANNY: [00:31:50] Yeah.
Owley Samter: [00:31:50] I had the initial idea two years ago and I had a timeline at that point, and I had a timeline a year and a half later, and I’m not thinking in timelines anymore because I want to see something of the film, first.
ANNY: [00:32:10] Yeah.
Owley Samter: [00:32:11] Because, it would be so embarrassing to tell you like “Oh, it’s coming out” you know?
ANNY: [00:32:15] Oh, don’t worry. Don’t worry.
Owley Samter: [00:32:16] I’ll be a full Terry Gilliam and I don’t want to do that. I won’t say anything and then I won’t have to be ashamed. I would really like to get the project out of my system because it’s not a good thing to have an idea that doesn’t go anywhere, for too long. It doesn’t get better. I’ll have to get it out of my system one way or another.
ANNY: [00:32:47] Well, I look forward to seeing it.
Owley Samter: [00:32:49] Yeah.
ANNY: [00:32:53] I’m sure it’ll all just start chugging along as soon as you have pen to paper or whatever medium you use. Well, this has been really fun. I’m glad we got to sit down and talk a little bit and I’m excited to see your next project. I’ll let you know about the program we screen Roar in. Our model is a little bit odd at Animation Nights New York. Sometimes, films sit in the queue a little bit, but it’s the nature of rolling deadlines. It’s so important to have a program where film can do it’s thing. Sometimes films will sit and I almost start to feel a little guilty, honestly, and then once we have a program, it’s like, okay, this is supposed to happen because everything sort of clicks together.
Owley Samter: [00:34:02] It’s not been lying around for that long.
ANNY: [00:34:04] Right! It’s actually some of the films that are closer to 18 minutes which are really difficult to program. All right, Herr Owley.
Owley Samter: [00:34:16] You’re getting there. Your German is, this is maybe not the most relevant word to know in German, still.
ANNY: [00:34:26] Yeah, thank you. Do you have any last words?
Owley Samter: [00:34:31] No, I don’t.
ANNY: [00:34:32] Keep making your great work.
Owley Samter: [00:34:36] Thank you.
ANNY: [00:34:37] Inspiring the world, and creating controversy, continue to create controversy.
Owley Samter: [00:34:42] That’s all I’m going for. Thank you!
ANNY: [00:34:52] Thank you so much to Animation for Adults for giving us a place on their channel, and if you are in the New York City area, you can attend an Animation Nights New York screening. We are at the Gutter Spare Room on the third Tuesday of every month, and we have our ANNY Best to Fest coming up in early October (5&6) visit www.animationnights.com for more information. If you would like to submit a film we are on Film Freeway, and if you would like to support Animation Nights New York, you can find us on Patreon and PayPal and we accept Bitcoin, every little bit helps. So, please do donate if you can and we’ll see you next time. Take care.
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