Filmmaking | Interviews

A Fearful Father

1 Nov , 2004  

Written by Katrin Redfern | Posted by:

Boston filmmaker Eric Lauga talks about his endearing film 'Baby Monitor,' an animated short about the worries of first-time fatherhood.

Ah, the joys of new parenting. Those first steps, clumsy crayon drawings on the fridge… and worry. Suddenly the world seems fraught with dangers you never noticed before: everything from furniture with sharp corners to the ingredients of household cleaning fluids. And don’t forget those nights lying awake pondering the improbable. Lauga’s film is about a father who does just that. While the baby sleeps soundly, dad is lying wide-eyed, plagued by visions of kidnappers and floods. He decides that a baby monitor will put his mind at rest, only to discover that the worries keep multiplying with each added safety precaution. Frantic trips to the store for monitors to monitor the monitors are to no avail: the worry is there to stay.

Lauga’s short is clever in its simplicity, using a minimum of images to convey the story; like Mozukhin’s "Experiments," he proves how much of filmmaking is in the editing. Effective storytelling results from his concise cutting, skillfully weaving a story with no unessential shots. Humor and social commentary are present in many of the images, but the audience is left the space to make of them what they will.

The film has been screened at the 5th Pawtucket Film Festival in Rhode Island, the ION Animation, the Game and Short Film Festival in California, the Alter-Native Film Festival in Romania, and the 3rd Magma Short Film Festival in Italy, where it won the award for Best Animation. NewEnglandFilm reached the Boston-based filmmaker/director to learn more about the film.

KR: What was the original motivation for the film? Did you have a particular message you wanted to convey or did you view the process as a chance to experiment with a new medium?

Eric Lauga: I wanted to do a film that I could finish during the semester (this was a term project for the animation class VES 153b at Harvard). My first idea was completely different, but it did not go anywhere, so I did what you’re supposed to do when you write a film, that is, write about what you know. I have a young son, so it all came pretty fast after that. I storyboarded everything, so it was all planned before I actually started drawing anything. Between the original storyboard and the final film, there are probably two or three shots that are different.

The first goal was to be able to finish something. Anything. When it became clear that I could do it, I tried to make as funny a film as possible, about this guy who is really stressed out. I think my drawing abilities are pretty limited, so I did not try to experiment too much. My goal became to be as effective as possible in the storytelling, which is something I have always been fascinated by.

KR: What is you background as a filmmaker? Is this your first foray into animation?

Lauga: No background except watching tons of movies. I always wanted to make films, but I had never thought about animation. As a graduate student at Harvard (in Science), I have the opportunity to take classes in other departments. However, given my schedule, the filmmaking class would have been too time-consuming, so I took animation. That was Fall 2003. Then I took it again in Spring 2004, where I made "Baby Monitor." The teaching team at Harvard (Steven Subotnick and Joel Frenzer) was fantastic, and a real inspiration.

KR: Do you find a particular appeal for animation, as a storyteller?

Lauga: For me there is, because I am usually busy during the day, so it is something I can do at home in the evening. Moreover, when you make animation, you create your own world and basically decide everything. You don’t have to ask anybody for the permission to shoot, you don’t need to deal with actors, contracts, weather etc. Plus, there is no limit to what you imagine, except that it has to be entertaining. So animation is the perfect medium for storytellers: you have no constraint but to be effective.

KR: What was the technical process for making the film?

Lauga: First I drew the storyboard, which took about two days, which I then edited. I showed that to my animation teacher (S. Subotnick) and my wife, and when I was happy with their reactions, I starting drawing. It was done entirely with pencils on paper, and took maybe three to four weeks working in the evenings. This was the least fun part of the project, which is why I think it is important to have a storyboard, because you know where you are going and don’t really need to think too much.

At the end I had about 300 drawings. I scanned them all into my laptop at high resolution (1500 x 1125), keyed-out the whites and composited the shots with Photoshop and After Effects (characters, backgrounds and props were drawn on different layers). When that was done, I edited the film with Premiere, by far the most exciting part. I recorded half the sounds myself (TV, baby music, scanner, monitors), and the other ones were taken from a copyright-free CD collection from the BBC which Harvard owns. The story was written on mid-February 2004 and the film was finished on April 25th 2004, so the whole process took about ten weeks. March and April were pretty busy.

KR: What was your budget?

Lauga: Under $200.

KR: I liked the detail of the bookshelf filled with books on filmmaking. Is the film in general based on personal experience?

Lauga: Well, I have a two-year old, Alexis, and I tend to be stressed-out about everything, but that’s all. So it’s almost pure fiction. I did used to read a lot of books like that at one point.

KR: Was there a deliberate message intended in having a seemingly single father as the parent?

Lauga: No message. It was just simpler to not have to draw the wife.

KR: I like the scene of the father shopping, and looking overwhelmed by the amount of identical products in the store.

Lauga: I always find it funny, those big stores with messages which always encourage you to buy 3 for the price of 2.

KR: Why are TV, music, and movies listed in the credit?

Lauga: Funny you noticed, I think you are the first one to see that. In the credits I thanked everything that made this film the film it is: my family, the teaching staff, the people who helped me technically, and my 30 years of watching TV, listening to music and going to the movies. If you take all of that away, I would be a much different person, and so would this film.

KR: Tell us about the choice of music for the end of the film.

Lauga: Compulsion is an English band from the ‘90s that I really like. I saw them in concert in France in 1996 (in Bordeaux). They split a few years ago, and had only released two CDs, but I think they are still very popular. I was looking for a music that had a good mix of rock and cinematographic style.

KR: What are your future filmmaking aspirations? Are there any new projects on the horizon?

Lauga: I want to go on doing movies that I can do on my own. My next film will also be an animated short, called "How To Steal a Bike."

‘Baby Monitor’ will screen on November 14th as part of the Somewhat North of Boston (SNOB) Film Festival in New Hampshire. For more information on the festival, visit www.snobfilmfestival.org.


'Baby Monitor' will screen on November 14th as part of the Somewhat North of Boston (SNOB) Film Festival in New Hampshire. For more information on the festival, visit www.snobfilmfestival.org.