Compost, 2007
—Directed/Animated/Recorded, Jim Downer
—Directed/Gathering, Diane Downer
—Music, David Shaw, John Nyerges
—Stop Motion, Replacement
—Found Objects
—Digitally Composited, AE
—2 Minutes 30 Seconds

RoofTop Films Interview, Dec. 2008
RF: Tell us about your film:
JD: Animators have been making synesthetic films for years—visually interpreting sound. In this realm Compost is nothing new. At its core it's an experimental film made with sticks and leaves. On another level, through the symbolism provided by nature’s cycles Compost represents continual change through rebirth and decomposition. The film includes the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and other conditions through quick successive interchanges of subject matter.

RF: What was your inspiration?
JD: Found animation—multiples—easily accessible everyday objects. While food shopping I couldn't help looking at piles of vegetables and thinking, "This stuff would make a great series of animated replacement objects." The idea later shifted from produce to things in the backyard.

RF: Is there anything you’d like to share about the film that might not be immediately apparent (your conception of the film, backstory, production methods, etc.)?
JD: It would have never been made without Diane, my wife, who had looked at some tests I'd done earlier in the year and then suggested we create an entire film. She's the primary force behind the film. It wasn't apparent to me at first, but now looking back on the project I see it as a documentary, a record of all the walks Diane and I took together with our four dogs to collect specimens. Things go by so quickly on the screen, when in reality they took months to collect and assemble. There's a lot of wonderfully peaceful memories associated with this film. Also, along with being entertaining the film also has scientific value. It represents a cross section, a sampling of Rochester's biomass. Grade-school children always seem to make that connection when they watch the film.

RF: What is the piece of music playing along with the images?
JD: Dave Shaw and John Nyerges are the musicians. A couple of talented individuals—easy going, intelligent, open minded, fun to work with. I'd been working with Dave, getting digital recording lessons, torturing him with avant-garde musical directing when John stopped in. He sat at the piano and I asked him to play some Baroque jazz. That's the longest piece of music in the film. All the bits and pieces are improvisational tinkerings done by Dave. At the time of recording there were no plans to make a film, it was just the three of us doing what we do as artists.

RF: What, if any, is the correlation between the images and the tonality and rhythms of the music?
JD: I relied heavily on intuition. Shooting each series of replacement objects, then testing them against the music for appropriateness. In the back of my mind I kept a visual catalogue of shapes and colors. Listening to the music I'd run through the visual possibilities internally before doing any cutting of image to music. I purposely wanted to keep the improvisational spirit of the film free from over analysis.

RF: Where did you find all of these lovely, colorful, natural images to work with? How did you select which would appear in the film?
JD: All of the collected objects come from property around our home. Again I give Diane most of the credit here. She's a painter whose sensibilities in selecting color and texture really comes through in the film. I would have discarded, or overlooked many of the things she picked up. I had to learn not to edit, or over-think while gathering.

RF: Any interesting stories about the production? Any particular difficulties or serendipitous events or pleasant/unpleasant surprises?
JD: Now and then we picked up a stowaway—insect or spider.  A couple became a part of the film and were later released. It's tough to photograph a bug who's running around an animation table. I also suffer from plant allergies. Some things we brought back into the studio made my eyes water and nose run. I had to shoot right away and then get them back outside as quick as possible. Thorns and splinters where also a bit of a painful issue. Some plants just don't want anyone touching them—understandable. On the upside, I never got poison ivy.

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