Since interviewing Monika Forsberg many years ago in the early days of SiouxWIRE, we have become great friends and my admiration for her work has only grown as years go by. Her latest animation Mummy Needs Gin is another sublime classic recently featured on Channel 4's Random Acts and at Bar Shorts Manchester. Based on the tweets of Lady Cook of @40elephantsmob, it tells the story of a single mother in London. And as today is Monika's birthday (Happy Birthday!), this is a particularly special post with contributions from Monika, @40elephantsmob, and Alex D. Hay.
First, watch the animation then read through to learn about how it was made and all the work that went into this gem. Enjoy.
"Bronchitis check, scarf check, blanket check, shitty little fan heater check, working boiler oh fuck. I blame the Tories. Then my ex."
How did Mummy Needs Gin first come about?
MONIKA: I thought it was time for me to make another film because it'd been quite a few years since my last one and I thought the Random Acts thing on channel 4 would be a good starting point. I came across @40elephantsmob by chance at around the same time as I was toying around with ideas for a short film
…and one day when I was talking to Lady Cook I said CAN WE MAKE A FILM OUT OF YOU(R TWEETS)?
…and she said yes without any hesitation!
She writes really well about personal highs and lows (without being self centred) and political things and life in general. Most of all, she is funny without seemingly need to try very hard. Very inspiring basically. I handed the proposal in and then we met in real life and that was scary (my son said "STRANGER DANGER! You can’t just go and meet up with people from the internet") but luckily she turned out to be a super sound girl in real life too. Very happy I met her.
Then Chris Shepherd phoned up and said to the answering machine on my phone "HEY c4 said yes to mummyneedsgin HOORAY" but since I seldom answer my phone and never listen to messages I didn’t hear that message and eventually Chris emailed me and told me the good news.
..and I went woohoo!
…and then I went OH SHIT! because that meant there was no going back. I had to make this film. Scary. It's easy to be ballsy and go "I can do this (or that or whatever)" but then when you actually get the opportunity there’s sometimes that parrot on your shoulder there going "that will be an impossible task". Luckily there’s a snake on the other shoulder going "I GONNA EAT YOU, YOU FUCKING STUPID PARROT!" Is this what’s called inner turmoil? I spend a lot of time arguing with myself.
LADYCOOK: Mummy Needs Gin came about from me Lady Cook of Forty Elephants Mob, and Monika Forsberg randomly making contact on Twitter. We instantly bounced jokes, rants and musings. I think there's a synergy between women who are not only mums, but slightly frustrated artists. It's all very well having a million wonderful creative ideas but as a mummy you literally do not have a spare moment to sit down and work them through. As a single mummy I barely have time to breathe let alone do art.
Monika asked if I'd be cool with her doing some art with the tweets and I said go for it. The twitter @40elephantsmob does have other contributors, but all the tweets for the film were written (ranted?) by Lady Cook. People had suggested before working with a visual artist for my poetry but I'd never clicked with anyone’s style, despite knowing truckloads of graf artists/painters/illustrators, then voila, the twitter universe introduced us.
How did the imagery develop from the words/tweets?
LADYCOOK: Monika developed all the images 100%, I wholeheartedly trusted her and said "surprise me". I knew I liked her hand styles and would like the end result.
MONIKA: I wanted to make a hand drawn animation with marker pens but as marker pens bleed and the scanner I got is shit and most of all; there wasn’t a very long production time at all, I was gonna do it on the computer. I met up with lady cook and showed her the tweets I liked and loved and she agreed on me using them. I studied illustration at college but I freeze like Howard Moon when I gotta illustrate things. And to put moving pictures to someone’s words is like illustrating so I froze.
But Howard Moon is cool and so am I (but I don’t play the trumpet) so i decided to bypass illustrating her words and just started to draw and doodle what I felt, my reaction to her text (maybe that’s what illustration is?) to see what would happen because the strength of her words is that I can really recognise myself in her even though I’ve not ever been in her shoes and... she just writes so you can feel as if you’ve been there.
Also I had(and still do have) a two year old called Reginald on my heels and animation takes up a lot of time and doesn’t really mix well with parenthood but luckily Reggie’s dad took time off work so I could spend a month and a half getting lost in animation... We recorded a guide track with the tweets being read out loud (that’s how I visualised it) then I spent a month drawing and drawing and drawing and nothing made sense.
When there was 2 weeks before I had to hand over the film to the composer I had something that really didn’t work so I decided to scrap it and start anew. I got rid of the voice over and put down type. I am very scared of fonts and any graphic design. Whatever you’re scared of GO FOR IT! => It won’t be scary but it might be shit. Then I started drawing in black and white, and quickly realised that I would need to practise a lot harder and for a longer time if I was gonna pull off a stark line drawn animation (because it’d have to be beautiful) so I did quick cut out drawings instead and made the whole thing in a week. It sort of just fell into place. I just drew and fitted it into the story... I wanted to make something that sort of made you go zig-a-zig… ahhh!!! The imagery didn’t develop easily.
Also, I was worried I’d turn it into something Lady Cook might hate because I was illustrating her life. She said, “You do what you want. I see it a bit like a consequences game where you draw a bit and then fold the paper and the next person takes over and does the next bit.” Such a generous girl.
To me, Mummy Needs Gin feels like swimming in memory. How would you describe Mummy Needs Gin?
MONIKA: “Swimming in memory” is a lovely phrase. I thought I’d just do whatever I think right now and then that was it. It’s very direct. It’s not thought through. It was fast like a tweet; fleeting. I’d describe Mummy Needs Gin as in-the-moment, now. When Alex came on board it all fell into place. I wanted happy uplifting music because it’s easy to get a bitter and down beat mood into the film by having the wrong music and I really, really wanted it to reflect the words that come into my mind when I think of Lady Cook ie STRONG, GENEROUS, FUNNY and very, very likeable
LADYCOOK: I have described Mummy Needs Gin as a bit like inviting people to rake through my knickers drawer, with a soundtrack of excerpts from my diary! The last year has been challenging in a lot of ways. I used Twitter as a bit of a dump bucket for the emotional shite that’s passed - it gets to a point where you feel humiliated calling up friends crying about being skint/lonely/terrified of this mad new single parent future. I love writing and words so made up a game making jokes in 140 characters of these dire situations. I'm quite easily amused so I'd actually cheer myself up writing the jokes and be sitting there laughing all of a sudden I remember typing the pancake one. I think my son and I ate pancakes for three days running and in truth, he was delighted whilst I was thinking OMG we're going to get scurvy soon! It brought back good memories too, the needing to wee in the cab one was coming back from an MF Doom gig, being desperate to wee but also literally buzzing of how inspired I was by his show.
I didn't view a rough cut at any point, I just wanted to see it in its finished glory. I LOVED IT. I honestly think it is friggin amazing and wouldn't change a thing. My second reaction was I want mooooore, I could watch it for hours!!! I think it is beautifully drawn and it blows my mind that a few lines of plain text became this gorgeous thing, Monika is a genius and has this amazing eye to pull it all together. She made a good call choosing Alex to do the soundtrack too as it is so apt, I love the kids voice, it was like my son got brought into it which meant a lot to me.
What was your reaction to completed animation and what were the reactions of others who've seen it?
MONIKA: Without the music, people saw the film and went “oh” (it didnt make sense). People saw the film with music and went “YES!” This film was not about perfection but about being who you are and being okay with it.
LADYCOOK: I know I'm totally biased in my "it's amazing, unique, everyone must see it" opinion... but that doesn't mean it's not true? We surfed Twitter on the night it was on and there was literally not one negative comment, bearing in mind that this was strangers talking about us not to us, that was a nice surprise. I was fearful of a bit of a 'she's a bitter baby mother' critique but it was so gently curated by Monika it didn't strike that chord. Was also a bit nervous about my family and close friends seeing it, as it is slightly laying out my pain for public consumption, but they all wholeheartedly love it. I think the comments of strangers on Twitter were interesting in that a few of them were a bit 'WTF was that?' which I read as they'd not seen anything on that vibe before, taking a humorous visual stance on that domestic situation. Someone said 'Ooooh i was glad she had a nice cuppa at the end'!
Alex D. Hay of The Meow Meows wrote the soundtrack and shared his experiences working on the soundtrack to Mummy Needs Gin...
I was put in touch by a mutual mate - Danny, who sings in my band The Meow Meows. She said that her friend was needing a soundtrack really quickly for an animation that she'd done, and did I want to take a crack at it? I did.
She sent me the (silent) film right away, and told me a couple of songs that she had in mind. What was interesting was that they were completely different - one acoustic-guitar based, another an upbeat party anthem. I decided to take elements of both those tunes and mash them together, made a beat and put some chords over it, and then went from there.
I had most of the music done in a couple of days, and then we went back and forth about the sound effects, and I spent a while tweaking the mix to get something I was happy with.
I felt lucky to be involved for several reasons. The text and the animation speak for themselves; it was obvious I had to produce something to match the sort of anarchic, skewed joie-de-vivre they both suggest. I'm very happy to have contributed to such a warm, funny, humanistic project. Single mothers are demonised in certain elements of the press and it's great to see a positive portrayal which is at the same time real and not sugar-coated. Also Monika was a dream director to work with as she clearly articulated what she was looking for, but gave me the freedom to do pretty much whatever I wanted.