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Interview with Filmmaker Jonathan Nix of "The Missing Key"

This week's Filmmaker Spotlight is on Jonathan Nix of the animated short, The Missing Key. Catch his film today as it's screened at Sunset Gower Studios in Hollywood, CA.  as part of NewFilmmakers Los Angeles. Get to know Nix and his work:

Name/Position: Jonathan Nix / Writer, Director, Animator, Composer
Film: The Missing Key

Tell us a little bit about your project and how long you’ve been working on it. 

The film is really a prequel to my first Animated short ‘Hello’, which was my student graduation film. ‘Hello’ is about a man with a portable tape recorder for a head, desperately trying to ask out his neighbor, a sassy woman with a portable CD player for a head. His mechanism and nervousness result in continued bungling of the appropriate sequence of tapes, while she zips past him adroitly flicking through tracks with her remote. Eventually he seeks the guidance of a wise old gramophone head ‘Hero Wasabi’, who finds him a suitable song amongst his extensive library of records. He records the song, and plays it back to her. Finally finding the words and courage to declare his feelings and win her heart.

I loved creating the world of ‘Hello’, and as a musician it was enormous fun writing the dialogue as a series of songs and musical snippets.

‘The Missing Key’ was an opportunity to return to the world of characters with mechanical communication devices for heads, and embellish it. This time the focus was on the Gramophone character ‘Hero Wasabi’ as a young man studying music composition in Venice, Italy.

I’ve always loved hand drawn animation. It has a warmth and intimacy that is often lost to me with glossy CGI films.  We really wanted the audience to see the pencil lines; the brush strokes in the backgrounds, the idiosyncrasies of the artist’s hand…the mistakes!  At the same time, we were attempting to create a lush and detailed world that the audience would want to inhabit and ideally, be reluctant to leave.

 I wrote the first draft of the script in 2004. 7 years and 20,000 plus pencil drawings later….it’s been a very lengthy process getting the film completed!

The Missing Key had it’s premier screening on June the 13th at the Sydney International Film Festival, and has been traveling the world every since.

Is there anyone you'd like to thank for helping out with this film?

I would like to thank the entire team!
The amazing producers at Cartwheel Partners, Garth Nix and Anna McFarlane.  Their faith and patience was remarkable. The Animators who helped bring the film to life, Shane Ingram, Brendan Williams, Sharon Sanders, John Kratovil and Simon Gruer. Editor Jeremy Parker, who also did a brilliant job data wrangling the over 600 shots into editable format. My co-composers Miles Nicholas and Kathryn Brownhill, who helped compose, record and perform the many songs written for the film. Sarah Blasko who kindly agreed to sing “Dream On’ for the montage section. Tim Trumble who provided invaluable technical assistance. Brent Heber at Sumsound for his sterling job getting the pre-mix together, and Andy Wright at Soundfirm Sydney for the theatrical 5.1 mix. All of the musicians who played on the score.  My wife and children for their endless support and understanding! My Parents. They have always believed the creative path to be worthy.

On a more somber note, my thoughts and thanks are with Andrew Etheridge the production manager on the film, who passed away recently. We couldn’t have done it without you Andrew, and we miss you dearly.

How does it feel to have your film part of the NewFilmmakers Screening at Sunset Gower Studios?

I am delighted to be screening with NewFilmmakers!  It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to screen in such a supportive environment, and in such good company.

 What inspires you?

Beauty, Quality craftsmanship, creations that sit outside the mainstream.
Independent Cinema,  Literature, music, film…coffee, food, surfing, my children falling about laughing. Kindness, love, and a zero bank balance.

Who are your influences and who do you admire?

I love Hayao Miyazaki’s films, and also the films of Sylvian Chomet.  I’m also a fan of Wes Anderson, the books of Tove Jansson...especially Mooninpappa at Sea…a book written for children, but a wonderful read as an adult too.  Shaun Tan’s illustrations, Hunderwasser’s paintings and architecture, Klimt, Paul Klee, Gillian Welch and David Wrawling’s beautiful songs….Venice and the Amalfi coast in Italy.

What lessons have you learned from the industry so far?

You are only ever as good as your team. Mistakes are the bridge to success. Simplicity is king. Be open to a healthy critique, and not crushed by it. Start on the next film as soon as you have recovered from the last.

If you could collaborate with anybody, who would it be?

Escher, Miyazaki, Richard Brautigan, Slyvian Chomet, Calexico…there’s really an endless list I could put in here of people alive and dead, all over the world.

I would be very happy to collaborate again with the people that worked on The Missing Key, and the friends I have made and already worked with over the years..

What is the toughest experience you've ever had to overcome? 

Getting The Missing Key completed was very difficult. Endless all nighters, the ever diminishing bank account, managing terabytes of data across a cheap eBay procured server at a snail pace.  Personally, wearing every hat on the production except the 3D animation. I lost a very close friend to cancer, and had my second son arrive two months premature during the making of the film too. Really, they were the toughest experiences. I broke a lot of pencils too, hundreds of them.

What is the best piece of advice someone has given to you?

Don’t wait for inspiration. Start working and it will find you.

What advice would you give to new filmmakers starting out in the industry?

You don’t need everything to be perfect to create films. Get started! Start making things now rather than wait for the perfect budget / camera / software / lighting conditions.  Limitations can be a godsend.  Oh, and try and take a few days off before the final edit, post production lunacy. I wish I had been able too.

Where can we expect to see you next?

Behind a wacom tablet, totally engrossed in storyboarding my first feature. However, I could also be out the back porch with my banjo and a coffee…or attempting to convince my two year old to eat peas.

Let our readers know where they can find more information about you and your projects. 

Also, some reviews.

Anything else you'd like to add?

I wanted to create a story that slowly reveals itself over time, and hopefully one that would stand up to repeat viewings.  We also went to great lengths to create a visually engaging and hopefully satisfying world, with a unique look not seen in any other films, animated or otherwise.  Be on the lookout for the worst Tuba and Flute duet in the history of cinema, and a gondola inspired by Darth Vaders Tie Fighter.
( Special prize to the person who can spot that one. )

Thanks for the excellent questions!
All the best, Jonathan Nix.

For more information, visit:

About the Author

Formerly an editor at Demand Media, writer at Citysearch, The Examiner, LA Youth Newspaper and proofreader at The Los Angeles Daily News, Christy Buena decided to start Disarray Magazine because she missed writing what she wanted. From hiring writers, to contacting publicists and making assignments, Christy is responsible for the editorial strategy of Disarray Magazine. Get to know the team of talented contributors.
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