The Secret of Kells
When the nominees for Best Animated Film were announced, one person was more shocked than anyone to hear Irish hand-drawn film The Secret of Kells announced—the movie's director. caught up with Tomm Moore in a rare free moment to talk about how he got the news, why 2D animation isn't dead and why The Secret of Kells is the little film that could. 
Rachel Bertsche: Congratulations on your Oscar nomination!

Tomm Moore: Thank you so much. It's really bizarre. We were really surprised; it wasn't at all on our radar. We had a great year, we won lots of awards and festivals and we thought we'd sort of run the race. Then we were settling down to work on the new film and then this just came up, and it's just been a whirlwind. It's fantastic. It's a great boost.

RB: Where were you when you found out?

TM: I was in a meeting with our Belgian co-producer. He'd come over from Belgium to sit and go through the budget for our new movie and see, were we going to be able to pull it off? We were sitting doing a very dry, very boring meeting working out the numbers with our accountant and someone out in the office started screaming. I sort of thought she had seen a mouse or something. We were looking at each other going, "What is going on?" It was really surreal because Anne Hathaway and the president of the Academy had just announced the nominees, we were waiting for it to pop up on the website, because it was the middle of the day in Ireland. When it came up after the live feed, we were just totally blown away. Then the phone started ringing and it was a crazy day.

RB: I'm sure it's been crazy ever since. Have you had a chance to breathe and take it in?

TM: Well, I've had to do these weird 48-hour trips to L.A. the last couple of weeks, because I had to keep working in Ireland but then went out to the Oscar luncheon and out to the Annie Awards—we've been nominated for an Annie as well—so every week I'm flying over to L.A. and back. I never know what time zone I'm in.
RB: So are you gearing up for the big night on Sunday?

TM: Yeah, now it's all about that. I'm almost sorry—it's been fun being a nominee for a month, you know? My wife is particularly excited because she got sponsored a lovely dress and jewelry. I think for girls it's more exciting—I just get to wear the monkey suit.

RB: What are you most excited for for the actual ceremony? Anyone you can't wait to see?

TM: The Oscar luncheon was great for meeting people. All the other nominees in the animation category are total heroes of mine. Some of the guys, I grew up on their movies, like [Coraline director] Henry Selick and Ron [Clements] and John [Musker], who made The Princess and the Frog, so it was fantastic just to meet them and shake their hand. I haven't met [Fantastic Mr. Fox director] Wes Anderson yet, so I hope I get to say hi to him. That's what I'm looking forward to. 

RB: Can you tell me a little bit about The Secret of Kells' animation? It's obviously different than the animation of most of the films you're up against. It's definitely old school. Why did you decide to take it in that direction? 

TM: Well, we were coming from a different place, I suppose. This is an idea I started thinking about back in college, back in 1999. It was sort of a reaction to seeing things like Moulin and other films that were inspired by folk art. Moulin was inspired by Chinese art and Samurai Jack was on TV, and that was kind of mixing up all kinds of indigenous art, so we said, "We could do something like that with Irish art." I wanted to translate a style that was uniquely Irish but still drawing from Japanese and American animation. When it finally went into production, it was 2005 and everyone was saying that 2D animation, hand-drawn animation, was dead because CG was so dominant, and we felt it was our way to kind of keep it alive and try to redefine it a little bit. It's just been fantastic this year that there's two hand-drawn films in the category, two stop-motion films. It's really surprising how it's turned around in the four years since we started production.
RB: You can definitely see the anime influences in the film...

TM: It was crazy to see the posters for the film in Taiwan—the movie is being distributed there—and it doesn't look out of place to have those kind of Chinese characters. It was kind of interesting to see. The other thing was that we were working with a really small budget, so we were obviously inspired by people like Hayao Miyazaki, who does something quite cinematic even though he doesn't' have a huge budget.

RB: It's interesting you say that, because the story of your nomination really is an inspiration in its own right, that this small-budget movie can go up in a race against the likes of Pixar. Up is a fantastic movie, but I can't imagine the budget they were working with.

TM: At the end of the day, those movies have great budgets even for marketing and stuff, but underneath it all I think Up is just a great story. But it's lovely that we can go up against them. It really says something about the Academy, which I'm surprised about. I was quite cynical. I never imagined that a small film like ours could be considered alongside those big movies.

RB: You said you were hoping to redefine hand-drawn animation. How so? What is the statement you're trying to make?

TM: Well, first of all, that it doesn't always have to look the same. We looked at Irish art and said, "This lends itself to animation." These were like pre-Renaissance manuscripts we were looking at, they were highly decorative, so I said, "This is something that computers would maybe struggle to pull off." It shows that hand-drawn art is still relevant in animation. Also, we were able to push the expressiveness and show this world of imagination that Brendan was living in, where reality and dreams are kind of blended, because he didn't really have much experience beyond the walls of his village. I think a lot of kids in medieval times might have seen the world a little bit differently than today when we're bombarded with media.
RB: The movie certainly does have some adult themes and a darker side. Did you set out to give it that edge?

TM: Well, yeah, it's not a film for little little kids; sometimes they're scared by the Vikings and stuff. It's a little more for 7 or 8 years upward, because it can be a bit heavy. We were trying to make a family movie without wearing kid gloves. When I look at movies that I saw as a kid, like Bambi, I realize they are pretty heavy and they deal with heavy themes and then they mix it in with a lot of entertainment. The Secret of Kells is the kind of movie that I would rather families watch together rather than just plunking the kids in front of the TV and leaving them to watch. I think it's the kind of movie that might inspire a dialogue between parents and kids. Even for myself, as a parent, I prefer that kind of family movie to a babysitter movie.

RB: You mentioned when you heard about this movie you were at work on your new film. Tell me about that.

TM: It's called Song of the Sea, and it's set in modern Ireland. It's about a little girl who's a Selkie. Selkies, in Irish folk art, are these creatures that can transform from people into seals. This selkie is kind of lost in the city and has to find her way back to sea ,and she encounters the remains of a kind of dying breed of fairies—fairies are falling back into the landscape—and they have to wake up to help her find her way back to the sea. So it's more of a modern fairy tale than The Secret of Kells. We still have to find the financing—we're putting that together at the moment—but hopefully this nomination will help. We've got good meetings planned out in L.A., so hopefully it won't take six years like the last one. Well, it took six years to find the financing, four years to make it—10 years total.

RB: For people in America who haven't seen the film yet, when can they get a hold of it?

TM: It's coming out in theaters around St. Patrick's Day in New York, Boston and Chicago, and then it's going to open into all the cities up through summer, and the DVD will come out in autumn.


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