G.B. Hajim is the co-writer, cinematographer, producer, and director the animated lesbian rock musical “Strange Frame”. The film can only be described by seeing it. The film itself is a real trip and extremely unique. It also packs a very strong voice cast including Tim Curry, Claudia Black, Ron Glass, George Takei, Alan Tudyk and Michael Dorn…just to name a few. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with G.B. about the film, his love for science fiction and his unique animation style.
Mike Gencarelli: You acted as Co-Writer, Cinematographer, Producer, and Director on “Strange Frame”, which is such a unique film; how did this come about?
G.B. Hajim: I read a lot of science fiction and it seems like science fiction film and TV always falls short of what science fiction literature is doing. So, I am a big John Varley fan and also Neal Stephenson. It seems like most of the science fiction film or TV is a just a setting for action or battle scenes. It is not really setup to take that heady trip and imagine what is humanity going to become in the future. Right now, we are already experimenting with genetic engineering and bio-modifications. We are also at the cuff of basically beginning to be a spacefaring race. I really wanted to explore those ideas here. I am also influenced by some of my favorite science fiction like “Blade Runner”. That is the short of it. From the tone of the movie you can see that I have experimented with psychedelic drugs. So all these kind of things gelled together. Shelley Doty, who co-wrote it with me, also comes from a very similar space being a big sci-fi head. We might have crammed a little too much into the movie but we really wanted to lay out a world that was different than you have seen before.
MG: How did it end up being a lesbian rock musical?
GBH: Shelley Doty, who co-wrote it, is an African American lesbian and also a rock guitarist. She has been on the cover of Guitar Player Magazine and is a very accomplished musician. So when we sat down to write this, we thought about who would we want to write about. What is great about writing about musicians is that they are seen as the lowest end of society like playing the dingiest clubs or street corners but also seen as the rock star when they are at the highest level of society. You get this unique perspective of being able to transcend all the class barriers. Since we wanted to show so much of this new universe that we were laying out, we wanted a character that could transcend all that. It seemed like a really good fit.
MG: How did you end up working with an amazing voice cast including (deep breath) Tim Curry, Claudia Black, Ron Glass, Juliet Landau, Tara Strong, George Takei, Alan Tudyk and Michael Dorn…to name a few?
GBH: We were very lucky. Early on I knew that sound was going to be very important for our film, especially since it was a musical. I was reaching out to some of the best sound guys in the business. Finally, I was introduced to Gary Rizzo, who was mixing at the time a little film called “The Dark Knight Rises”. He looked at our film and wanted to be on board. To have an Academy Award Winning sound guy on board gives you a lot of cred when talking with voice and cast directors. They were very jazzed that we had Gary on board. We ended up working with Jamie Thomason and they asked who we wanted in terms of voice actors. Shelley and I are big sci-fi fans, obviously, so we picked through our favorite people. We ended up getting mostly everyone that we wanted. So it was really awesome. They saw what we were doing with this project and how it was very unique but they also saw how we were doing it. I trained local kids here in East Hawaii, which is a super poor area. These kids have nothing to do, so I brought them on board and trained with in animation and they became the animation crew. They really resonated with our actors.
MG: Tell us how you got music in the film by Roger Waters?
GBH: I am a huge Pink Floyd fan. When I was animating this, most of the time I had live Pink Floyd music blasting. I think “The Final Cut” is such an under-rated album and “The Gunner’s Dream” is just such a beautiful song. It was also related to what we were talking about in the movie. So I approached Roger Waters’ management and told them about what we were doing with the kids and the movie. Roger was really stoked about it. First you have to get the rights from the artist but then you also need to go to the rights organization, Warner/Chappell Music and those guys dragged their feet. Roger gave us this track for next to nothing but they wanted tens of thousands of dollars for this. We are this little production and didn’t have that type of money. Roger’s management stepped in and hammered at these guys until they gave this to us for virtually nothing. It is a real rarity, if you look at Roger’s credits, he hasn’t done many domestic films. So it was a real honor.
MG: Tell us about the development of the unique type of animation used in this film?
GBH: I have done all kinds of animation. In school, I had experimented with all types and even helped developed some of the first CGI when I worked at the San Diego Supercomputer Center. That aspect is very technical and gets devoid of the hand of the artist and creativity gets riddled down and sterilized when you use that type of animation. It is also very time intensive and expensive. When I moved to Hawaii, I didn’t have clients that could give me a budget where I could do that kind of animation. So I developed this new style of cut-out, which is very economic and also very easy to train with. It is mostly drawn and photoshopped by hand. We break up the drawing into mini-pieces and then move those pieces in a compositing program. It is much quicker and as an artist also much more fun since you can just throw stuff in and get it to look really rich and dense quickly. It is a very different way of animating and it is also pretty unique. I think if we get a chance to do a follow-up movie we would be able to rival the big boys like Pixar or Dreamworks. We worked out the kinks in this movie and really sharpened it up. If we get to do a sequel it will be guaranteed to knock peoples socks off.
MG: I would have loved this seen this film on Blu-ray? Any plans?
GBH: When you go to a distributor, they do things a certain way. Unless we sell tens of thousands of DVD, they are not going to do a Blu-ray release. That is the reality of it. It is very hard to make an economical Blu-ray release. With that being said, I do feel though that people that encoded this DVD made it look fucking phenomenal, especially with the data rate that they were given.
MG: What do you have planned next?
GBH: You have to have a lot of irons in the fire. I just did a pitch to Comedy Central for a bunch of shorts. I can’t talk about that more since it is still in the works. I have got plans to pitch Sony also for another TV show, maybe based on “Strange Frame”. I am also developing an animated feature for younger teens called “Ali Jamal and the Rat Prince”. It is more of a fantasy project than sci-fi but it will be in the same animation style. Then I also have a few live action projects that I am also developed but which are much lower budget. I have a background in live action and since animation takes such a long time, I would like to get a few projects done with in that format as well next.