Welcome to SYFY WIRE's Crowdfunding Creators, a series that highlights original work by artists looking to make their way in the world on sheer talent and the kindness of strangers. The creators you read about here are in the midst of running campaigns via Kickstarter, GoFundMe, Indiegogo, and other crowdfunding sites to finance their original work — whether that be a comic, a TV series, a movie, or whatever else they can dream up.
What's a potato to do when he's brought to life and forced to watch a lunch lady peel the skin from his fellow spuds? He gets angry. He gets violent. He gets revenge. Film students Ji-young Na and Victoria Lopez's The Attack of Potato Clock is an animated horror-comedy in the same vein as Frankenweenie and Critters — a goofy, creepy mini creature feature inspired by Tim Burton and Mary Shelley. Na and Lopez launched a Kickstarter campaign on February 11 and have until March 28 to raise $2,700 to pay their film's composer, Corey Wallace, and sound designer, Nick Ainsworth, for their work.
Na and Lopez met during their freshman year at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. The Attack of Potato Clock is their joint thesis project.
"I've always wanted to be an animator, since a very young age," Lopez told SYFY WIRE. "I'm from Argentina, Ji-young is from South Korea, and we both saw [Ringling College] as a big opportunity to pursue our dreams."
Lopez adds that "I personally really like to make the audience feel something," which she knows is the hallmark of a good story. She wants to be an animator after graduation. Na, who wants to work as a storyboard artist, says her favorite part of animation production is the initial story design. Animation tells stories, she says, that stick with us, something that "not every media can do." She wants to make people laugh and to always be happy about the story she's telling.
For their thesis film, the pair set out to make a quirky, funny monster movie starring a creature that isn't usually considered all that funny. Hence, the potato clock-turned-Frankenstein's monster. But the potato clock turning against a science teacher who's encouraging students to perform horrific experiments on spuds in the name of, well, science seemed too obvious a narrative.
"The lunch lady is literally the murderer of a whole bunch of potatoes in this school," Na says. She was the perfect enemy for their titular potato.
HASHING OUT THE CHARACTERS
After the initial electrified potato/lunch lady debate was cleared up, Na and Lopez turned to 1996's Matilda — a story about an emotionally abused little girl with telekinetic powers who thwarts her school's evil principal and finds a new, loving home. Mainly, they turned to Matilda for their lunch lady character, who's modeled heavily on the principal, Miss Agatha Trunchbull. Another character at the end of Attack of Potato Clock is modeled on Matilda's Miss Honey.
None of this is to say that the ghostly potato clock is based on sweet little Matilda herself. He's more Burton than pure Roald Dahl. Sure, Dahl could get dark when he needed to, but not undead-Frankenstein-potato dark. The yam-tastic Potato Clock duo needed a darker spin.
HORROR FROM THE STARCH
Lopez and Na looked to their favorite horror films for further inspiration. They realized they shared a love of two Stephen King movies, Carrie (1976) and Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980) — the aesthetics and the crazed look in Jack Torrance's eyes as he ripped through doors to achieve his goal were perfect for their resuscitated spud — and decided they needed to take inspiration from the horror films of the '70s and '80s. That was the style they were going for: disturbed, cinematic, and satisfyingly cheesy all at once.
"We researched Critters and Gremlins for a creature feeling," Lopez says. They also dove into the original Frankenstein (1931). "We wanted to make our film feel like an older movie."
People love hard, bold horror films, Lopez says, but "I think they will respond well to it if there's heart and emotions from the characters." She points to the Burton-produced Coraline (a favorite of hers). "Coraline is good because it's a great story and it's very well executed — it's just a very original premise."
Originality, Lopez says, is something Hollywood doesn't care about too often in horror films. "That's why there are so many suspenseful horror movies," she says. "We want to change that. We want to show that there can be fun, good horror movies that have comedy in them."
On some level, Na says, kids also want to watch horror. Kids are curious about "what's going to happen in the shadows, so I think that [horror comedy] is a potential area in the animation industry. DreamWorks dabbles with a lot of side [projects] and shorts about horror drama, and it's actually really fun and unexpected."
The horror genre, as the pair points out, has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years. Mixed-genre horror films The Shape of Water and Get Out were contenders (and big winners) at the 2018 Academy Awards; Stranger Things, one of the most talked-about television shows in recent memory, has delved into horror themes throughout its first two seasons. The genre is more popular than ever, so there's room for growth, for original ideas that blend genres and reach new audiences.
THE SOUNDS OF A SPUD
Since Attack of the Potato Clock is Na and Lopez's school project, there are very few moving parts they have to pay for. Of the money they hope to raise with their Kickstarter campaign, $2,000 will go to Wallace, the film's composer, and $700 to sound designer Ainsworth.
"We were looking for a very cinematic composer. [Wallace's] work is very cinematic and very dramatic; it just feels very professional and feature-film quality, so we went to him because of that," Lopez says.
Any money Lopez and Na raise beyond that initial $2,700 will go to submission fees for various film festivals. Their stretch goal is an additional $1,000.
"What's nice about watching animated horror comedy is that it feels so original," Lopez says. The characters feel different; the story doesn't take itself too seriously while still managing to explore relevant topics. It's fun. And if Lopez and Na can make you jump one minute and then laugh the next, then they'll have accomplished their goal, fully crowdfunded or not.
Attack of the Potato Clock will be released on YouTube sometime this summer.