Tim Reckart: An Oscar Nomination and a Film that Defies Gravity

HEAD OVER HEELS – Trailer from Timothy Reckart on Vimeo.

Since 1929, the Oscar awards have been held to honor great entrepreneurship in filmmaking. 85 years later, the ceremonies are being held once more to commemorate a new set of great films and actors. It’s one thing to watch them on TV, but what about knowing one of the nominees? Tim Reckart, UHS class of ‘05, was always interested in filmmaking, and now he has something to show for it: an Oscar nomination. His film Head Over Heels is in the running to win the Best Animated Short award at this year’s Academy Awards on February 24th. I had the pleasure of an interview with this UHS alum to find out a little bit more about the man behind the film.

1. What got you interested in filmmaking?
When you’re a kid, you kind of cycle through various ideas of what you want to do when you grow up: I wanted to be a paleontologist, then a magician, then a children’s book author… Eventually my big hobby was making movies, which I did on an old VHS camcorder with my siblings. I was lucky to have a mom would let her 11-year-old use it! And I never outgrew making movies. I just kept spending more and more time on it. And in retrospect, filmmaking — and especially animation — has all of the stuff that got me excited about paleontology, magic, and writing children’s books.

Tim Reckart ('05)2. What encouraged you to start the film club at UHS?
When I was a sophomore, a couple of UHS seniors had the idea of doing a film festival at the Loft, but nothing ever got set up. The idea stuck with me, and in my junior year I decided someone should start this film club, so I just went ahead and did it. That first film festival was a bit of a shambles, but it was also a ton of fun and hugely popular. So we made it a regular thing! I love the UHS Film Club because it provides a reason for busy UHS students to make great short films. Without the club, the only audience you normally have is your family, and it’s easy to get lazy in that situation. So by providing a big public audience and a huge, professional venue, the Film Club encourages a high standard.

3. How has your experience at UHS helped you reach your goals for a career and for life?
UHS provided a great preparation for college in terms of academics, obviously. The teachers are great, and just as importantly, the school’s culture does not punish good academic performance. Everyone at UHS is a nerd, so there’s no point trying not to be. The other wonderful thing about UHS which is not so obvious is that the faculty are willing to put a lot of trust in the students. I received a lot of encouragement and support while I was starting the film club, but the faculty never tried to take it over. They allowed it to be a student-run organization. That provided a great learning experience for me, and those management skills have been just as valuable as my academic preparation.

4. How did you come up with the idea for Head Over Heels? Was it inspired by true events?
In Rembrandt’s painting The Philosopher in Meditation, there’s a spiral staircase that looks like it could be used by someone living on the ceiling to climb down to the floor. I noticed this and started imagining a film about someone living on the ceiling. This image summed up a lot of thoughts I had been having recently: the challenge of understanding someone from a different religion, political party, or culture; the way some spouses seem to expect their marriage to fuel itself by some miracle of perpetual motion; the difficulty of being in a long-distance relationship, which I was doing at the time… All of these ideas seemed to fold into the idea of a husband and wife separated by gravity.

Head Over Heels Still5. How did you create Head Over Heels? What effects did you use to create the atmosphere of the film?
It’s a stop motion film, so once the story was written we had to build every single item you see before we could start animation. Every object is built by hand in the film; even the wooden floorboards were cut, sanded, glazed, and laid on the floor one at a time. There was a crew of about 50 people total helping us on the build. Then, during the animation process, the cinematographer plans all the lighting setups, which contributes massively to the atmosphere of the film. In post-production, we used other tools to shape the feeling of the film. Sound design is a big one: different background sounds can cast a happy or gloomy feeling over the same scene. The music, of course, is very important as well. One lesser-known tool is color-grading, in which we take the finished film and slightly tweak the colors, making this shot darker, that shot slightly more blue, highlighting one corner of another shot to help guide the audience’s eye… When you have a unified vision for the film’s effect on the audience, all of these tools work together to shape the experience of watching the film.

6. Were there any times you got stuck in the middle of the filmmaking process? What did you do in these times of “writer’s block”?
In animation, you edit the film before you start animating. We make what’s called an “animatic”, which is a storyboard that you can watch like a film. This means that by the time we started making the film, all of the storytelling decisions were already made. This is a huge comfort as an animator, because you can be confident that the work you’re doing won’t be thrown out later.

7. How does it feel to nominated for the award for best animated short?
It’s hard to believe! I’ve dreamed of getting an Oscar nomination ever since I started making films. Now that it’s really happening, I don’t know exactly how to react. I suppose I’m very excited to see where this opportunity will lead me next.

8. If your film ends up winning the Oscar, how will you react to the new bar it sets for future productions?
It’s easy to get worried about your next project not being as good as the last one you did, but if I keep doing different things, challenging myself instead of trying to repeat a formula, I think I’ll manage to keep my eye on the current project instead of looking backward. Head Over Heels was the first time I tried to make a genuine, emotional film, so I stayed focused on that challenge. Next time, I suppose I’ll challenge myself by telling a longer, more complex story, or perhaps by doing something more experimental with the animation technique.

Animating Head Over Heels9. What advice would you give to a UHS student aspiring to be successful in the film or media industry?
I had doubts about whether to go to film school or not, and I think the path I took worked very well. As an undergrad, I decided to major in liberal arts (in my case, history and literature) instead of filmmaking because I thought there was still so much to learn about the world before I started to make films about it. It didn’t seem right to study form before content. Then as a graduate student I did a 2-year MA program in directing animation. Film school is definitely worth doing, and not because you “learn” how to make films! The biggest benefit of film school is being grouped together with talented, motivated artists who can work with you on making a film. Making movies is an inherently collaborative process, but it can be really hard to find collaborators out in the real world when you don’t have any money to pay them. Film school makes that easy because the admissions process ensures that you’re surrounded by talented people.

For more information on Head Over Heels and to see the official trailer, visit the official website, like the Facebook page or follow them on Twitter.

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