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TIFF ‘09 | Paul Fierlinger: “No independent animator has been doing this longer than I have”

TIFF ‘09 | Paul Fierlinger: "No independent animator has been doing this longer than I have"

Paul and Sandra Fierlinger’s “My Dog Tulip” is a vivid, whimiscal animated feature about the relationship between a man and his dog. We gave Fierlinger and others a free-form style interview to gather their thoughts on their careers individual projects.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series of interviews indieWIRE will be running with the filmmakers screening in the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival’s Discovery program.


1. I have been a chronic insomniac for the past 30 years. For all those years I have been drawing animation images between 12 and 16 hours a day, almost every day of the year, including weekends and holidays.

2. For most of my life I have owned some sort of boat, starting with a simple wooden kayak. When I finally got a sailboat that could cross oceans, I spent a lot of time on
it – mostly below decks, drawing animation images.

3. As a child I was never allowed to have a dog. On the other hand, from the age of 15 I was allowed to live on my own, in a rented room, and the first thing I acquired was a dog. Since then, rarely has a day passed in which I have not been in the presence of a dog that belonged to me.

Your Filmmaking Career and Process…

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1. The first animated films were made about a hundred years ago and I have spent half of those years making a living as a freelance animator; I have never held a job. As far as I know, no other independent animator has been doing this longer than I have.

2. I was born in Japan, spent the WWII years in the U.S., lived for 20 years behind the Iron Curtain before I managed to escape in 1967 and return to the U.S. I was the first animator of all the Communist countries to get away with privately producing animated films, which I sold to the Government run television and film studios.

3. My first professional camera, which was made exclusively for shooting frame by frame film, was a WWI 16 mm Siemens designed for aerial intelligence photography. My last film, “My Dog Tulip,” was made with no camera at all, no pencils, no pens or paper or paint, yet drawn and painted the old way – by hand. It’s been just the two of us, my wife Sandra and me, using a Wacom stylus & tablet and a computer, sitting apart in the corners of our living room and a spare bedroom.

“My Dog Tulip”…

1. I’ve made about 900 films but this is my first 35 mm feature film and the first one made for theatrical release.

2. The assignment came to me over the phone when Norman Twain and Howard Kaminsky, two producers I had never heard of before and who had never heard of me either, called me one day out of the blue (on the recommendations of a mutual friend Howard ran into on the street) to ask me if I would like to make a feature film about anything I want, as long as it will be based on a well known book.

3. It took Sandra and me two-and-a-half years to draw and paint My Dog Tulip and we never experienced a stressful moment to retell, something I can’t say about many 10 second films I have made.

Your Influences…

1. I stopped going to the movies about 30 years ago and I will see a movie at home or at a film festival about once or twice a year. All my influences come from reading. I love books and I now love the Kindle because we have no more room for books in our house. Two of my many favorite authors are James Thurber, and Oliver Sacks. My favorite book of the past 10 years is “Stoner,” by John Williams.

2. But clearly the greatest influence on my work has been the invention of the computer with its software TVPaint, developed by Hervè Adams in Metz, France.

3. We live and work in a small ranch house on a quite street in the very quite suburbs of Philadelphia. We are surrounded by gardens and beautiful tall trees and trimmed lawns. We have few close friends and the phone rarely ever rings. All our important business communications are conducted over the Internet. In this fashion we present dailies to our producers and we deliver the entire film on a small external hard drive. I correspond over e-mail with about two dozen close associates from all over the world. I receive and immediately answer about 50 e-mails every day. This mundane lifestyle has a grand influence on our work.

The Future…

1. Currently, Sandra and I are developing with Norman Twain Productions our second feature film which retells the story of Joshua Slocum, the first man ever to circumnavigate the world alone in a sailboat, at the end of the 19th century. We use this true event of adventure as a parable to the state of affairs we moderns have to face in our own insecure and tenuous lives. This project will be our security blanket into the immediate future, say the next three years and far beyond.

2. I have an eye on the fast developing and marvelous venue of the digital print media, specifically the New York Times online. Both Sandra and I are news junkies. I foresee glimpses of ourselves producing animated image bites as observations on everyday lives of people everywhere, who like us cannot (and do not want to) escape the cascade of news events streaming by the minute into their lives, over the ever improving paraphernalia of mass digital media.

3. I wish that I may still be able to outlive every dog we own and that I will never be without a dog.

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