Tomasz Śliwiński (director of short film “Ondine” screened at Raindance Film Festival 2020)
We have all experienced this recently – the global COVID-19 pandemic. This experience is especially traumatic when you are a creative person with tons of projects and suddenly you are stuck at home with your partner and two small kids running and shouting all the time, fighting with each other. You don’t have time for anything. You get easily frustrated, depressed, etc. There is a whole range of emotions involved.
However, for me and my wife Magda Hueckel, it was also an amazing opportunity to observe how we change throughout this experience. And this mixture of emotions and how they changed during the whole pandemic, inspired as to create an online series called “Plague Chronicles”.
How we maxed out the pandemic experience
It all started with an online blog that Magda started to write once the pandemic started. It was called “Diaries in the time of plague”. By precisely analyzing her own experience as a woman, mother, wife, artist in these weird times, and converting them to short humorous stories, she managed to truly capture the essence of these weird times. So at one moment, our friend, Lena Frankiewicz, who is an actress, told us that this blog was amazing, that it clearly reflected how she felt during that time, and that we should do something artistic about this. We initially thought about theatre play, but they closed all the theatres. So then the only option was homemade web series. And this is how it all started. Lena’s partner, Tomasz Maśląkowski, who is an actor in the puppet theatre, got on board. We applied for a small financial grant from the Polish Ministry of Culture, which was targeted into funding online art forms as a support for artists in times of pandemic. We managed to receive one (of course much lower than expected). But we were so enthusiastic about this project, we had already so many crazy ideas about how we could do it, so we started straight away. We didn’t have much time. It was the beginning of June 2020 and the project was supposed to be ready and launched online before the end of October 2020, so it was just five months to do the whole project from the scratch.
All four of us worked like crazy, using all our skills, with a very limited budget available. We came up with the idea that the whole series would be a collage formula, containing a living actor, puppets, and animation. We knew that Lena would be a lead actress, Tomasz would do the puppet animation, Magda would be a production designer and stop motion animation, and I would take care of directing, cinematography and editing.
The first challenge was how to convert Magda’s blog, which by that time was tremendously long and consisted of many singular funny entries, into the final script, divided into nine episodes, with the proper dramaturgy, but in line with the vibe of the blog. So this was the initial job done by me and Magda. Then, Magda spent a lot of time on the production design of all elements, all puppets. Then we all met and started literally to cut them out of paper – we felt like little children. We made tons of puppets, the more we made, the more new crazy ideas we had. So the project grew and grew, and all the scenes got more and more complicated to make. But we all had a lot of fun with it. We shot all puppet animation just with an iPhone and used a professional camera only for shots with the living actor.
Thankfully, two great artists joined our team virtually: amazing music composer Stefan Wesołowski and also a great animator Natalia Bucior (she worked from Iceland!!!), and it all added additional layers to our collage web series.
It was a very intense time, but we managed to do it – the last episode was released on Oct 31st, 2020. I am personally very happy with the results, I love this series and can watch it all the time. Also, both of my children fell in love with it. But the most important thing is that we really have fun doing it. And I also hope you all will have fun watching it.
“Plague Chronicles” is a nine-episode online series, portraying a family of four in a situation of home isolation caused by the global coronavirus pandemic. The short, humorous episodes document the various stages of the lockdown and go through accompanying feelings – the pandemic experience that has happened to all of us in recent months. Its collage formula, containing a living actor, puppets, and animation, combines elements of horror and grotesque. Through the main character, Malena, we recreate the complicated process of coping with the new situation. Thanks to it we tame our fears. “Plague Chronicles” are hoped to become an inspiration to reflect on our own attitude and actions and to search for the joy of life and humor.
After the polish premiere, it was presented in Georgia in December 2020 and soon it will have its Slovak release.
Watch on YouTube:
Script: Magda Hueckel, Tomasz Śliwiński
Directing, cinematography, editing: Tomasz Śliwiński
Visual concept, production design, costumes, stop-motion animation, color correction: Magda Hueckel
Cast: Lena Frankiewicz as Malena
Puppet animation: Tomasz Maśląkowski
Music: Stefan Wesołowski
Animation: Natalia Bucior
Sound: Maciej Adamczyk
Color correction: Mateusz Zieliński, Magda Hueckel
Coproduction: Hueckel Studio
© 2020 LALE.teatr, Hueckel Studio