Meet the indie directors behind the short film hit ‘GNT’
Dick jokes can be funny when they’re used in the right way. But what about vagina jokes? So often people use bodily comedy for a joke, but they focus on male genitalia instead of female genitalia. What if you made an entire short film making a joke about vaginas? Indie directors Rosemary Vasquez-Brown and Sara Hirner are trying to break the stigma with GNT.
Focused around girlfriends Glenn, Nikki, and Tammy, GNT is honest and funny, though a bit gross at the same time. Nevertheless, the animated short film isn’t afraid to be real about the realities of being a female, and it succeeds in its mission to get a laugh about vaginas.
We spoke with directors and writers Rosemary & Sara about GNT and their journey into the world of animation.
Tell us about your journey into filmmaking. What did you do before working in the entertainment industry?
Rosemary: I essentially wanted to do any job that allowed me to draw everyday. There’s this weird misconception that being an artist of any sort isn’t an “unrealistic” career choice but the moment I found animation I saw a demand for creative content, the possibilities of having artistic talent and where that could take you.
Sara: Before working in the entertainment industry I was doing odd jobs – retail and all that. I started studying animation at UTS (University of Technology Sydney) because I, like Rosemary, really liked drawing and movies. Having said that, the journey into directing and animation wasn’t a smooth one for me.
I wasn’t confident at first, but this love was a slow burn. It’s really difficult to imagine doing anything else now, because GNT has been such a gratifying process. I think getting to make my own short film, with Rosemary, really opened my eyes to how much I could love the bumpy journey – the growth and the unfolding.
Is there any particular film or TV show that inspired you to become a filmmaker?
Rosemary: Moulin Rouge first and foremost. I saw it when I was 10 and it blew my mind and broke my heart. Again, I was 10, so I definitely didn’t understand why it made me feel that way, but it allured me and from then on I constantly took inspiration from that film – the style, the shot compositions, the humour.
When I was older and was in more of a filmmaker mentality I fell in love with Marielle Heller’s 2015 film Diary of a Teenage Girl. Most films about teenage girls that I had seen before this, often portrayed them as “pretty and innocent”. Heller’s portrayal was true and insightful, capturing all the gross truths of what it is to be a girl. I had never seen such a seamless collaboration between live action and animation- it was so stunning and inspiring.
Sara: It’s hard to pin down. There are so many. I consumed a lot, especially as a teenager. I was a Tarantino fanatic – real culty. I think more recently, Fleabag has been a really big one. That show hit me hard. The characters feel so big and real, I’d give Phoebe Waller-Bridge my soul for one more season.
Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You did in fact destroy me. It left so much room for the audience to form their own opinions, it really felt like we as an audience were part of the show. I’ve admired her from the beginning of her career. Even her comedy work feels so poetic and full.
Other animations like Black Holes by Meat Dept, Le Repas Dominical by Celine Devaux, Southpark. They all feed my desire to make. It’s hard to choose.
Both of you work mostly with animation. Did you know you wanted to be an animated filmmaker or was this part of your filmmaking journey?
Rosemary: I definitely, like any child, had the fantasy of being an actor but… I cannot act. There’s a saying that if you can’t act then animate, as you’re essentially acting through your characters. That desire to perform accompanied by my want to draw led to a pretty seamless transition into animation.
Sara: I wasn’t that kid. At all. I wasn’t a performer, I wasn’t sitting in my room making movies. That all came much later for me. I don’t think I had much exposure to animation as a career.
Of course I would watch the Simpsons or South Park with my friends, but growing up, I don’t think I ever clocked that there are PEOPLE making this happen. Once I started gaining the skills and exploring my own ideas and stories through animation, it felt so limitless. That was, and continues to be the draw.
What was the first project you worked on? What did you learn from the experience?
This is our first short film together and we have learnt a lot! We have worked on smaller scale projects together in the past, and many a university assignment, but everything in this process felt new. We initially started developing a pitch bible for a tv show with the three GNT characters – Glenn, Nikki and Tammy.
We also made comics about them and their dynamic. We intended to make the short film as a proof of concept, so we really had to condense all the stories we had into 4 minutes. That was a huge learning curve. We learned a lot about self discipline and how to communicate clearly to an audience, as we were the only two animators on the short. It was new every day, and that’s the fun of it.
What five movies do you think everyone needs to see right now?
On the live action side of things, Diary of a Teenage Girl and Tampopo have been massive influences for us.
On the animation side (and this is very difficult to condense), we both love Egg by Martina Scarpelli, Virus Tropical based on Power Poala’s comics and Black Holes by Meat Dept.
Walk us through your creative process.
Our creative process changes with every project we work on but with GNT we began by making comics with the 3 girls. In doing so, we let the comics drive the visual soul of the film. They were also a super useful tool for working out narrative. From there it was a matter of figuring out what story we wanted to tell and what story we could actually tell, given the time and resources we had.
We both worked on every aspect of the pipeline – it was very collaborative and symbiotic. We have quite opposite strengths and weaknesses, so once we get in the flow, the making tends to be quite fluid.
When creating, is there any particular music you like to listen to?
Our music taste is pretty broad but we are big fans of soul music. I say ‘we’ because we are completely co-dependant to the point of listening to the same music. When creating we seem to have a pattern where we get obsessed with a song and have it on repeat until we get completely sick of it. Our most recent obsession has been “My Future” by Billie Eilish. Happy to report we still have yet to get sick of that one. We still scream at that little drop.
Where did the idea for GNT come from?
GNT was inspired by real conversations between young women, and the lengths we will go to, in order to validate our most vulgar curiosities and insecurities Glenn, Nikki and Tammy’s interpersonal dynamic acted as a voice for so many humiliating, challenging and gross experiences we were having, or talking about. We were so inspired by the characters, and wanted to see more of them, so we decided to make GNT the short film as a proof of concept, to tease out the tone and style of what could be a larger GNT universe.
Why thrush as your main topic?
Thrush is a bit of red herring. The film is about female friendship and the contradictions that we sit in on a day to day basis, but thrush seemed emblematic of the lengths these characters will go to in order to be externally validated, and their shamelessness. Plus we hadn’t seen much about thrush.
We got kind of obsessed with medical reality tv shows and youtube channels, and the thrush remedies were particularly left of field. One woman stuck a garlic up her vagina and tasted garlic in her mouth four minutes later. I don’t think it cured her.
It’s also pretty common as a first hand experience – a lot of people have had a yeast infection at some point. We had 4 minutes to introduce our characters and their chaotic dynamic and thrush seemed like a good way to add tension.
It’s fair to say GNT is a vulgar film. When coming up with the concept, did you know you had to be explicit to do the story justice?
We didn’t necessarily set out with the intention to be vulgar. We are probably just gross people. We knew it had to be animated, because that’s the only way we could show the gross reality of what it is to be a woman, or a human. It’s interesting that we could be more honest in animation as opposed to live action. Dick jokes are pretty standard in animation, so we were happy to oblige pussy-wise.
Why do you think discussing vaginas is so taboo in society?
Women are conditioned to keep things to themselves a lot of the time or at least in the media. The interesting thing is, close female friendships often do breach all of these topics. Outside of the media we discuss our bodies, their smells and spells, and seek validation for what is ‘normal’ all the time.
What was production on GNT like?
Our production was tiny – just the two of us. It was extremely fun. We compliment and respect each other’s work and talent so much that the entire production felt like a dance.There were many things that went wrong, but that push-pull is very gratifying and we got time to create something we deeply love, which is rare.
You tend to wear a lot of hats while working on your productions. How do you juggle so many responsibilities?
Again, it was just the two of us so we were obliged to put on, or at least try on all the hats. From Writer, to Director, concept artist, storyboarder, animator even sound designers. The sound design hat was very much a hat that didn’t fit – we had to let professionals take the reins.
For the most part though we just took our time with each part of the production. It’s really fun to try to figure out how to do things that seem so mystical and inaccessible at first.
The animation in GNT is very unique yet vibrant. What made you choose this art style for the short?
We were pretty devoted to the hand drawn feel of the GNT comics we were making, and to our respective drawing styles. We really didn’t want to compromise on that. We did try colouring shots in full, but it really wasn’t working and that was clear pretty quickly. We thought the limited, vibrant colours worked to direct the eye, which is necessary given how chaotic our animation style and pace is.
What do you think the pros and cons of animation vs live action filmmaking are?
There are a lot of pros to animation. One is that we can do it ourselves. The accessibility and control over storytelling and visuals is a huge bonus. These girls and their stories also really lend themselves to animation. As you said, there are no holds barred in terms of what we show on screen, and that probably wouldn’t have been effective live action wise. Animation is so limitless – whatever you can think of, you can create.
The biggest pro of animation is that it doesn’t have to stop in a pandemic and for that we are so thankful. A con is that it can be harder for people to see themselves reflected in animation, the way they are in live action. We hope GNT breaks through that barrier.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Obviously in the next five years, we would have made so much money off of short comedy films that we can build a think tank to solve the myriad of crises facing the world at large. Make way Elon. Just kidding. We would love to develop the GNT universe more, and have a space for the characters in a longer form.
We would like to create more comics together and broaden our creative horizons. We don’t necessarily want to stick to one thing, so hopefully we’re still creating fun things together, in whatever forms those projects may take. We hear post-apocalyptic zombies still enjoy comedy shorts. A new world order with us sitting at the top of the zombie hierarchy? We think so.
What’s next on the docket for you?
We are wanting to develop the GNT universe a lot more and make it ideally into a TV show. We intended this film as a proof of concept so next on the docket would be pitching and development.
How has COVID affected your projects?
This is our first film, and our first experience of the festival circuit. While we’ve had so much online festival success this year, we’re yet to attend one in person! The team at Sundance have been so organised and diligent in making the online festival as good as it can be, and we’re thrilled that GNT is a part of it.
Do you think the film industry will be able to come back completely after COVID dies down?
We can only hope so. Filmmakers are resilient. We’ve refused to stop creating. The world relied so heavily on movies and TV to get them through this time.
If any director could direct the story of your life, who would you choose and why?
Rosemary: Marie Heller, gimme a world exactly like Diary of a Teenage Girl @mariellHeller especially if she plans to do it with a collaboration between live action and animation.
Sara: Maybe Rosemary? I feel like she would make a kick ass version of my life. She knows all my secrets anyway. Embellish away.
If any composer would write your life’s soundtrack, who would you choose and why?
Rosemary: I don’t know enough composers so hopefully Sundance could hook me up. I want something up beat when I’m walking down the street but something deep and reflective when I’m on the train looking out the window.
Sara: That’s too hard. I defer to Issa Rae. That Insecure playlist has something for every mood.
What advice do you give to up and coming filmmakers trying to break into the industry?
Rosemary: Maybe obvious advice, but take time to focus on your story and your characters before you start anything else. Take from real life when creating characters, because real people are always the most interesting ones. A solid story and interesting characters makes for the best films.
Sara: Mine would be to do what you can with what you have. We have more access than we think, and resourcefulness counts for a lot. Also try to keep in mind that criticism hurts, and that’s fine. Your job is to adjust to it.
There were so many times while making the film that we received feedback we didn’t want to hear, but giving it all time and thought made for a way better film. It’s such a privilege for people to be engaged enough in your work, that they want to give you criticism, so show it to as many people (preferably with more experience than you) as you can in the beginning stages.