April 1, 2013
by Julia Kunberger
Named one of the 37 Indie Film Breakouts of 2012 by Indiewire, Julia Pott is one of the most notable and unique filmmakers working today. Julia graduated with a master’s degree in animation from The Royal College of Art in 2011 and has had screenings at SXSW and Sundance film festivals, taking home awards from many others. Her work has been featured by numerous prominent artists and companies, including Bat for Lashes, The Decemberists, MTV, and Toyota. Originally from London, Julia currently lives and works in New York City. She continues to entrance audiences with her films and illustrations, which could be described as perfect balances between a childhood nightmare and sugar rush.
[learn_more caption=”1. Did you always know that you wanted to be an animator, or did it happen unexpectedly?” state=”open”]
My first two career choices were a balloon and a spy, and then from around six I told people I wanted to work for Disney. I was under the illusion that working for Disney meant that you could be a princess in the morning, animate in the studio in the afternoon and control the roller coasters in the evening. That is still my career goal.
I think my attraction to animation was always there, but I didn’t identify that properly until my Foundation course when my tutor pointed out that I drew everything sequentially and that a degree in animation might be the right fit.
[learn_more caption=”2. How important was your education in getting you to where you are now? Also, is it difficult for you to stay self-motivated outside of a school environment?”]
I resisted college at first, I couldn’t get into the rhythm of the projects and I was constantly making work that I thought my tutors wanted to see. As soon as I stopped focusing on what other people might want and started making the work that I felt passionate about, I vastly improved and I started enjoying myself much more.
School isn’t for everyone but I personally enjoy being in an educational environment. I am very obsessive about my work, but only if I am given goals and deadlines – otherwise I tend to just wander off and get distracted. I graduated from Kingston University in 2007 and began working as a freelance director. When I decided I wanted to take some time out to make more of my own short films, I made a conscious decision to go to the Royal College of Art for my Masters rather than just taking a two-year break from paid jobs. Once you make that commitment, you are accountable for the work you produce in that time – people are checking up on you, you have a structure, you have good people on hand who will give you feedback and, most importantly, you’re surrounded by your peers. They’re going through this crazy stressful time too, and when everyone else has abandoned you because you haven’t showered in 5 days, they will stick by your side – because they won’t have showered either.
[learn_more caption=”3. Do you feel like it was initially more difficult for people to take you seriously because of your young age? And how does a young professional go about establishing credibility in today’s working environment?”]
With so much access to the Internet anyone can get their opinions and work out there regardless of their age. People are seeing how smart and motivated young people are and it no longer has this stigma. Tavi Gevinson and Petra Collins are both under eighteen but they’re hugely successful in their fields. Being young now is almost like a badge of honor. When I first graduated from Kingston and people would write about my work, they would mention my age as a positive thing, something to be proud of.
The only time age worked against me was to myself – I was very shy when I graduated and I didn’t know how to articulate myself, how to sell my work and my ideas. I would get calls from high-end companies and I would go to the meetings entirely unprepared for the questions they were asking me, and I think that was when I began to seem young to an outsider – not in age, but in experience. Now I know that if I don’t know how to do something I’ll just say I do and figure it out later. Everyone, to some degree, is winging it; no one knows exactly what they’re doing – you just need to seem like you do.
[learn_more caption=”4. Do you draw more inspiration from your childhood or adult experiences?”]
When I first began making films they were a kind of therapy – a way for me to work out the problems I was having in my day-to-day life. That process soon became exhausting, it was too close to home. Making a film like Howard about a failing relationship was difficult, and I didn’t want to get up every day and work on it because it was exhausting me – it was overwhelming.
When I began working on Belly, I began indulging myself in the same thought process I had as a child. As kids, I think we are more willing to immerse ourselves in horror and gore and casual death – I remember being fascinated by quicksand, ghosts, and being beheaded. As I got older I became less immune to the spooky, not wanting to embrace the strange as openly.
Injecting the uncanny into a story can bring back that childlike love affair with the unknown, it resonates because I think there is this place inside all of us that loves that feeling and needs to have it nurtured.
[learn_more caption=”5. A lot of audiences now relish happy and resolved endings. How do you feel about this expectation?”]
To me, it’s incredibly therapeutic to make films that indulge the dark parts of ourselves – our fears and horrors. My favourite films and literature embrace darkness in intuitive ways – Twin Peaks, Harold and Maude, Kurt Vonnegut – it doesn’t seem tacked on or used for shock value; it brings the story forward, it makes you feel inexplicably weird and that can be wonderful. That doesn’t mean I don’t love a good happy ending. It really depends what story you’re telling and what you’re trying to say, how you want the audience to feel as the credits roll. I don’t think it’s important that the audience feels happy, but it is important that they feel something.
A sense of resolve is key to my working practice. I like to know where my film is heading, what the punch line is – it helps me clarify the point of the whole film. Other films work as little vignettes, a moment in time with an ambiguous ending. Those are not any less valid as films, they are just not my preferred way of working.
[learn_more caption=”6. It is a stereotype that creative people are naturally introverted. Is this stereotype true of you and do you think it is true in general?”]
From age zero to twenty-one I was a pretty awkward kid: I wouldn’t answer the phone, I would get other people to ask where the bathroom was in restaurants – I was cripplingly shy. It has been said that animators are shy actors, and I think for me starting out that was definitely true. I had this safe space to act out my thoughts and ideas with very minimal interaction with the outside world. I didn’t need to rely on other people to create my work, if I needed to I could do it entirely alone and I relished that level of control. When I graduated from Kingston I was thrown into situations where I had to market myself. People would ring me about jobs and I would refuse to answer the phone and would subsequently lose the work. It reached a point where I had to push past it because it just wasn’t worth it. I began pushing myself into situations where I was wildly uncomfortable and nothing bad would ever happen, it would always turn out okay – and that positive reinforcement meant that I was able to do it more and more.
Now, my work life and my social life have become a good balance. When I am working on my films I can indulge myself back into this hermit-like, socially awkward state and let all my weird demons come to the surface. When the film is finished, I go to film festivals and meetings and I look forward to them because so many positive things come out of those experiences.
I still hate answering the phone though.
[learn_more caption=”7. Did you ever consider a more “traditional” career path and have people tried to discourage you from pursuing a career in art? If so, are you glad you ignored them?”]
I am lucky enough to have incredibly supportive parents – it was never a point of contention that I wanted to be an artist. They always taught me that the most important thing in life is to wake up and be excited about going to work – your life shouldn’t start at six p.m. Having a family behind me who never put doubts in my mind about what I was doing was hugely helpful, especially in the beginning. When I graduated I worked in a store during the day and on animation at night and on weekends, and I was so exhausted I often wondered if a traditional career path would be saner – I dreamed of a consistent income and evenings and weekends to hang out with my friends like a normal person.I am so glad I stuck with it though, as the pros far outweigh the cons. You have to be obsessive for a few years and you will most likely be dirt poor, but if you want it enough it’s worth it. Now I work for myself, I get to travel, meet awesome people and it’s brilliant. The workload never goes away but you learn to balance it a little better.