Ben Stassen and Benjamin Mousquet • Directors of Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness
"An action scene only takes up half a page in the script, but it takes 6 months to animate!"
- We met with the directors of this family adventure film, a brand-new offering from Belgian film studio nWave, which is the flagship of exported European animation
We met with Ben Stassen and Benjamin Mousquet, the directors of Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness [+see also:
interview: Ben Stassen and Benjamin Mo…
film profile], a family adventure film newly finished by Belgian film studio nWave, which is the flagship of exported European animation. For the record, their previous film Bigfoot Family [+see also:
interview: Ben Stassen
film profile] was sold in over 50 countries, while The Queen’s Corgi [+see also:
interview: Ben Stassen
film profile], released in 2019, achieved upwards of 850,000 admissions in France.
Cineuropa: How did the project come about?
Ben Stassen: It was a script that we bought from Sony Pictures Columbia. I read it and thought it was brilliant, so I contacted Sony. They were more or less aware of our reputation, and we struck a deal.
What did you find most exciting about this story?
BS: There are lots of wonderful stories, it’s not that difficult to find a good one. But turning a great story into a great screenplay is a whole other thing. You need interesting, multidimensional characters and a good storyline. And in this case, we had adventure, but we also had the personal growth which Chickenhare’s character experiences.
Benjamin Mousquet: It was a really compelling and inspiring screenplay. It made me laugh, it moved me but, crucially, I could already picture certain scenes in my head.
Were there also exciting animation opportunities in the different backdrops you’d introduced, and in the crowd scenes?
BS: Our most recent films had been firmly anchored in reality; there was Bigfoot Junior, of course, but there was also The Queen’s Corgi which unfolded in Buckingham Palace! When we read the script to this film, we loved the fact that we were discovering a wholly imaginary, fantasy world. Obviously, there are elements which are anchored to the real world, but in a very diverse way. It was a wonderful thing to journey into an imaginary world for once. And it’s also true that there’s a world of difference between describing the marshmallow pig scene, for example [Editor’s Note: walls made up of pigs who stack on top of one another at top speed, like Tetris cubes, in an attempt to trap the film’s characters], and producing it. Action scenes often only take up half a page in the script, but they take 6 months to animate! I think it was the most accomplished screenplay we’d ever had, but it was also the one which left the most room for imagination.
There are also a lot of film references which must have proved challenging, to Indiana Jones in particular, and to adventure and knight-based films more generally?
BM: That was all part of the fun. The nods were already there in the script. Chickenhare wears Indiana Jones’ jacket, for example. We then had to transpose it all to the big screen. We also enjoyed playing on feelings of nostalgia.
What were the biggest challenges you faced while making this film?
BS: In production terms, when you’re dealing with this kind of screenplay, you have to control how much energy, time and, of course, money you spend on the project. The budget for this film was slightly higher than for our earlier works, but it wasn’t double the amount. Having fun without continuously having to cut things out of the script was really challenging.
BM: There are lots of characters too, lots of sets and crowd management. We even recreated a town, which we’d never done before. Every sequence brought its own challenges. We tried to carry out tests as quickly as possible, as of the storyboard phase, to see what was feasible and what wasn’t.
How do you work as a pair?
BS: Historically, I’d always written, produced and directed. But I’ve tended to work with a co-director since Sammy’s Great Escape [+see also:
film profile]. In this instance, it’s Benjamin who does all the work while I do the talking [laughter]. No, on a serious note, I found the screenplay and led the way with negotiations. I tend to play a supervisory role. I had more of a distance from the project. Benjamin and I are co-architects, but Benjamin was the real entrepreneur. You often see several directors working together on big American animated films, and there’s good reason for that. It’s such a fragmented process. An animator produces 30 images a day, which is only 1.25 seconds of film!
What projects do you have in the pipeline?
BS: We’ve got a project in production at the moment called Don, which is directed by Jérémie Degruson. The film recounts the adventures of Don Quixote in modern-day New York. But as far as I’m concerned, the adventure’s over, I’m stopping; I’ve sold nWave, and Chickenhare will be my last film.
(Translated from French)
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.