‘Me + Her’ Director Joseph Oxford on Life and Death in Cardboard Animation: TheWrap’s ShortList Quickie

The filmmaker talks to TheWrap about what inspired his unique short film and why he now needs “a long break from puppets”

Computer animation has swept Hollywood studios, but there is some impressive non-digital innovation happening on the outskirts of the industry.

Count Joseph Oxford among the newest innovators.

The filmmaker’s short, “Me + Her,” is one of 12 selections to TheWrap’s ShortList Film Festival, based on the strength of its incredibly detailed cardboard puppet animation, as well as the depth that he is able to give its very flat characters.

“I made a very rudimentary version of one of the puppet heads back in 2008 with scrap materials on my desk,” Oxford explained to TheWrap. I really liked the design and wanted to tell a story in the world this character would inhabit.”

The resultant film is an 11-minute long, wordless trip through Cardboard City, featuring a sad young man who finds himself on a quest to mend his (literally) broken heart. It’s a sweet and affecting short, and Oxford spoke about the film with TheWrap earlier this week.

Watch TheWrap’s ShortList Film Festival Finalists and Vote For Your Favorites

TheWrap: How was your film made and where was it created?

Joseph Oxford: When I was developing this story, based around my crude cardboard puppet, I knew pretty early on that I wanted the rest of the world he inhabited to be made out of cardboard as well. It was important to me that the cardboard world factor into the story as opposed to just telling a story with cardboard characters and sets. Knowing that, I started thinking about what the rules of a cardboard world would be and what life and death would be like there and expanded my story based on those rules.

There’s no stop motion animation in the film. It was all shot in-camera live action with the exception of a six second sequence at the end that was animated digitally. I had done a small amount of stop motion animation in the past for a school project and I love that medium, but I thought that it would be far too time consuming and cumbersome to execute for this story. Little did I know that it is just as time consuming and cumbersome to shoot puppets as live action.

How long did it take?
It took five years. I started making the smaller sets and early iterations of the puppets in early 2009 in my hometown of Sacramento, CA. After we secured financing in March of 2013, I packed up all of the sets and “hero versions” of the puppets I had made up until that point and drove them down to The Escarpment in Huntington Park, CA.  Since we couldn’t afford a space big enough to have all of the sets constructed at once, we built sets, shot the scenes for those sets, tore them down, built the next ones, etc. All in, there were 18 shooting days over the course of that seven month build/shoot schedule. Post production was completed January 10th, 2014, right before premiering at Sundance.

Also read: ‘Noah’ Directors on Transcending Their $300 Budget: TheWrap’s Shortlist Quickie

Do you plan to expand the short?
As of right now, I have no plans to expand the short. I’m really proud of the film we made and I think it works great as a standalone short.

How much did it cost to make the film and how was it funded?
Funding was raised from several private investors that have a deep love of film and art. It’s also hard to put a real number on the budget because of the amount of people that donated their time and resources to our production.

Also read: TheWrap Announces 12 Finalists for 2014 ShortList Film Festival

What will you do with your $5,000, should you win either our industry or audience prize?
If we are fortunate enough to win one of the prizes, it will be split evenly between our investors.

If you win the industry prize, what will you offer at your pitch meeting with a studio?
I have several projects in their early stages I’m excited about. I’m outlining ideas for a couple of feature length screenplays. Live action with actors not puppets. I need a long break from puppets.