Today, we are delighted to continue our series highlighting the animators of Sundance with a conversation with Sasha Lee, director of the animated short Misery Loves Company.
How did you get started as an animator?
I wanted to be a painter or illustrator actually. I got to take an animation class for fun in college, and it was mesmerizing. It seems like there are more possibilities in animation than for a single painting. This is likely because I can play with time, sound, and sequence as well as art. However, this freedom means that animation requires extensive amount of work too. But it’s worth it to see my creation moving as if it has a life.
What’s your greatest inspiration as an animator?
Visually, everything in life can be an inspiration for an animator I believe. In Misery Loves Company, the visual inspiration was mostly from my experiences in Korea. The tired people in subway, the names of menus in Korean, convenience store… they are what I usually see in my daily life in Korea. Oh, also, my grandparents likes to grow plants. I think that’s where my flower people and flower sequences came from; I used to live with my grandparents when I was young, and their garden in rooftop full of flowers was a nice to place to contemplate.
In terms of themes, Misery Loves Company was heavily inspired from my writing. Writing is a good practice because it physicalizes a momentary state of myself. By writing, my intrusive emotion, worry, and thoughts that I could ignore are stuffed in my sketchbook forever. I was sad when I was writing for Misery Loves Company, so I wrote bunch of sad intrusive ideas at that time.
How did you come up with the idea of Misery Loves Company?
At first, Misery Loves Company was about cult. I have always wanted to make a work about cult or religion—more exactly, about how and why some people are fascinated with some sort of idols and symbols. The chorus of the song in my film was supposed to be a cult choir singing. The lead character Seolgi’s friends were supposed to be other cult members. There was a uniform and a symbol (meteorite) for my imaginary cult, which all characters were wearing.
And then, during my writing process, I started to doubt myself. I’ve never been in a cult or any sort of religious group at all. Am I really allowed to create something that I haven’t experienced at all, out of my imagination and what I see from funny TV shows? That’s when I changed the direction of my film drastically. Misery Loves Company focuses on a single character’s sense of fascination and depression itself. I provide no details.
Congrats on getting into Sundance. What was that process like?
I just think that I’m very lucky. I submitted Misery Loves Company to Sundance only because I’ve seen many admirable Sundance films. I imagined it would be so great to be together with the great films at Sundance, and I expected it will take almost 5 years in my filmmaking career. Gladly, many people and festivals loved my film, and fortunately I got to have a chance to screen my film at Sundance. It’s a dream come true. I really appreciate it.
Do you often find yourself staring at the sky thinking deep things like our lead character?
Not really. Lying and staring at the night sky happened only a few times in my life.
I was walking home and read the news about a shooting star night or something like that. It was saying that today you’ll likely to see bunch of shooting stars if you simply gaze at the sky. I’ve never seen a shooting star before since I was living in Seoul, a very light-polluted city. I got excited and lied about for an hour and saw only two. It looked pretty disappointing in real life. It’s almost like a tiny white line vanishing very quickly. As soon as I saw the first one, I questioned myself. Is this really a shooting star? Really? I was unsure, because there was no one near me to assure that what I saw was right.
How did you come up with the animation style and color palette?
I always like to use vivid colors, because it’s such an nice eye-catcher. In terms of animation, I think I’m under influences of works of Masanobu Hiraoka and Masaaki Yuasa. I simply love animations that flows freely and fluidly.
Tell us about the music in Misery Loves Company?
I wrote the lyrics and the music. The song wasn’t supposed to be the most integral part of my film. My original plan was to explain the main character’s situation (head), sing the song (body), and show a little bit of resolution (conclusion). The head and conclusion were equally important as the body. But as I’m working on the film, I slowly realized the body was what I wanted to talk about the most. So that’s how my film slowly turned into a music video.
I like to write songs as a hobby. I always compose songs digitally using Logic Pro X. My songs have weird lyrics in Korean. There is a lot to learn in music. Someday, I want to work with someone who can help me with arrangement, mixing, and mastering in the future.
Here is an example of her songs:
What do you hope people take away from the short?
I wish people could believe in human connection despite any kind of hardship. 2020 was hard for everyone. It was difficult for Seolgi (my lead character) too. But when she woke up from the vivid daydream, there were her friends asking [if] she was okay. I wish she could understand she could hold onto something.
You can follow Sasha on her instagram. We wish her the best of luck with the festival!
Rachel is a rottentomatoes approved film critic that has loved animation since she was a little girl belting out songs from 'The Little Mermaid'. She reviews as many films as she can each year and loves interviewing actors, directors, and anyone with an interesting story to tell. Rachel is the founder of the popular Hallmarkies Podcast, and the Rachel's Reviews podcast/youtube channel, which covers all things animated including a monthly Talking Disney and Obscure Animation show.