The arty interview: film-maker Richard Mansfield

After falling madly in love with the dark beauty of Richard Mansfield's film work at Zealous X, I tracked him down to learn more about shadow puppetry and the role of film in the current arty landscape. 

You recently exhibited your film, Wolfskin, at the Zealous X exhibition in London. Tell us some more about the tale.

It was fantastic to be part of Zealous X and be one of the 100 artists. There was such a great variety of different art forms.

The tale is my take on well-known fairy tales giving them a futuristic abstract restyling. The story is about transformation and transcending from a place of suffering to peace. This happens to [the main character] Veronique who is held captive by her evil step-siblings, she is the archetypal fairy tale victim except she is not waiting for a Prince. The music is by Ozlem Simsek, a Theremin and Harp player/composer. We collaborated on the sound track and her music inspired the visuals and vice versa. I also had a fantastic team of puppeteers who joined me over the years and Ed Holland designed the city of thorns.

The film is made wholly with cut outs and silhouettes. Why did you choose this medium? 

I discovered using shadow puppetry a few years ago, my earlier puppet films were made with marionettes. With cut outs I could create extravagant sets, costumes, gigantic palaces, just with black card. I could realise my vision and it looked fantastic as opposed to having to build models and sets and sew things. The response I got from my shadow work was much more favourable too. There’s something so mysterious about a silhouette, I think we are so attached to shadows we see more into them than is really there.

Do you make all your films like this?

I’ve made around 30 short films using puppetry and in the last year I’ve made two live-action features.

For such a delicate aesthetic, the film has some pretty dark scenes. Do you enjoy making horror films?

I always wanted to re-discover the darker elements of the fairy tales that have been sanitised for modern audiences. I’m a big Disney fan but I’d prefer the darker versions.  I’m very inspired by horror films, particularly the supernatural. In the last year I have made two live-horror features, Owlman and The Secret Path.

How long does it take to make these scenes?

Wolfskin was made over 3 years; I would probably make a 10 minute film over 3/5 months. I’m hoping to give feature film making a break after Christmas and try out some more experimental stuff, maybe with the 6-second Vine app. There’s something very appealing about making mini movies after 4 years of features. 

Who is your artistic inspiration?

Gerry Anderson and his puppet films were a huge inspiration on my childhood. I have performed live but film has always been my passion. I love the silhouette films of Lotte Reiniger, she and her team produced the first ever silhouette feature film and I’m pretty sure Wolfskin is the first since then. Other directors that have had a big influence on me are Herk Harvey with his masterpiece ‘Carnival of souls’, John Carpenter’s horror films and the BBC’s Ghost story for Christmas series. There are also some amazing silhouette artists I’m fascinated by Rob Ryan and Beatrice Coron. My husband Daniel Mansfield is also a film maker and whilst we make quite different work we have certainly inspired and informed each other’s work over the years.

What are the next five films we should watch?

Carnival of souls, The Adventures of Prince Achmed, Lady Chatterley’s Revenge, Owlman and Wolfskin!

 Are your films being shown anywhere else - in exhibitions or online?

My films are always online, so yes! Currently I’m waiting to hear on some film festivals but follow me on Twitter @muckypuppets for anything upcoming. My live action films come under . I make films with my husband Daniel Mansfield too so look for us there. For all my puppet films go to .

Now film makers are regularly winning the Turner Prize, do you think we are entering a new age for film? 

Absolutely. The way we view films has changed dramatically over the last few years thanks to the internet. It’s fantastic and the reason I could become a film maker and be able to be self-taught with the technology that’s available. It does also mean that everyone else can also be a film maker so you have to stand out. Distribution is changing and now more content is being watched on mobile or streaming devices. This is much more accessible for the indie filmmakers who can get the word out about their film and sell directly to fans without having to compromise their film to suit a studio or focus group.

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