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FANTASTICA Q&A: Bill Plympton talks “CHEATIN'”, Part One

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As filmmakers change with the times, it’s not often that a classically-informed filmmaker will retain their talents and sensibilities to their fullest extent. This is even more rare when it comes to animation, especially as the production side of things jumps from hand-drawn to digital. But luckily for audiences, Bill Plympton is that rare case, with his unfiltered, mature cinematic voice still in tact for his latest surreal animation outing, CHEATIN’. With CHEATIN’ now in theaters, FANTASTICA recently caught up with Plympton to talk animation, humor and why America needs animation for adults…

FANTASTICA: What inspired you to choose CHEATIN’ as your return to feature length animation?

BILL PLYMPTON: I liked the idea of telling a woman’s story; this is the first film I’ve done where a woman is the star. I loved the idea that this woman’s love for her husband is so passionate and committed that she’ll do anything to make love to him, including letting him cheat on her with other women as long as she can be there and feel his presence. I thought that was a really interesting idea and I had never seen that before in another film, and I wanted to show just how pure and true this character’s love was.

I also loved the idea that this couple loved each other so much but still tries to kill each other; it’s a nice dichotomy of passion, both of evil and of love, that coexist in the same relationship. There’s a lot of ideas in CHEATIN’ that really intrigued me, and I also loved drawing the main characters of Ella and Jake. Jake is a brutish, Marlon Brando-type of guy, and Ella is a more pure type of woman, so they’re opposites that work really well together and compliment each other.

FANTASTICA: What part of your sensibilities as a writer/director/animator did you most want to convey through CHEATIN’?

PLYMPTON: Honestly, I just want to show more adult ideas through animation. It bugs the hell out of me that in America, it’s almost illegal to portray adult ideas through animation. I felt CHEATIN’ had a really good story, really great characters and that the American people would like to see these ideas be portrayed.

So that’s what I was trying to do: fight against Pixar, Dreamworks and Disney and show there’s another side to animation that’s viable and entertaining. I’m hoping that America is awaiting something like this and that they want a kind of animation that tells different and unique stories. That’s the way I feel. I don’t want to see the same stories over and over again, or the same characters or the same genres. I want to see something different and unique that they’ve never seen before, and that’s where I hope CHEATIN’ delivers.

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FANTASTICA: The timeless look of the film is fantastic; was that a conscious choice as a storyteller or did that come from an animator’s mentality to make a gorgeous design?

PLYMPTON: Both, actually! First of all, I love drawing cars from the ‘40s and ‘50s, and those cars are much more interesting to look at, visually speaking, than the cars today. Cars today all look the same, and I can’t tell one car from another, except for a Prius. I know what a Prius looks like. So I want to draw cars that have character and personality, and I wanted the costumes to have a unique, retro look.

I think the music sounds retro, too, and it’s very operatic in a way. CHEATIN’ is almost like a very passionate opera, and that’s why I chose the music of Nicole Renaud to go throughout the film because it’s so larger than life, intense and strong. I also wanted to draw someplace that had a lot of sun; I wanted to see shadows because shadows, to me, are very important. Shadows help define the characters by giving them bulk and dimension, so I chose to draw this bordertown, like in TOUCH OF EVIL. So I wanted there to be really bright sunlight, and that’s why there’s so many balconies and archways and things like that; I really like that kind of look.

So it looks a bit tropical and a bit Mediterranean even though the music is European and the cars are American. So it’s this big mumbo jumbo of cultures and genres, and that’s because I wanted to show a place that you’ve never seen before but you might find really interesting and where you’d like to hang out. All the great films do that; they show you somewhere you’ve never been but you’d find very curious, like STAR WARS. There was nothing like STAR WARS before but it felt comfortable going there. So with CHEATIN’, I wanted to show a place that was unique, different and somewhat comfortable.

FANTASTICA: What is it about CHEATIN’ that you think will most attract contemporary audiences?

PLYMPTON: I think the story is what is going to attract contemporary audiences. I think one of the problems with my past films is that they were joke films, so they had a lot of crazy violence and sex and things like that. With CHEATIN’, I wanted to dig deeper into their personalities and their feelings; I wanted to show Ella’s infatuation with perfect love and I wanted to show Jake’s side of the story too.

So I think contemporary audiences will dig this film because it’s more of a relationship film than a joke film. Sure, there’s comedy, violence and sex, but it’s basically about two people who love each other very, very much and how they resolve that romance.

FANTASTICA: CHEATIN’ certainly has some great and really dark humor. To that effect, does the humor come from a place where it organically comes from the material or is it a benefit of the medium since you have the liberty to play with reality?

PLYMPTON: For me, the humor is essential. I don’t like films that take themselves too seriously. That’s why I loved Robert Altman. Altman did films that told really deep stories about humanity and relationships, but always had a sense of humor, and that always helps to get in touch with a character and sympathize with them.

So the humor came from the very beginning, as I wanted to show the funnier side to Jake and Ella’s relationship. When someone tries committing suicide in a bunch of crazy ways, we wanted to put humor in there so you could empathize with them.

CHEATIN’ is now playing in the Village East Cinema in NYC. The film expands into more theaters on April 12th, and will be available exclusively on Vimeo On-Demand. You can find out more about the film here, and check back to FANGORIA.com for the second part of our chat with Bill Plympton later next week.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley

Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel “THE I IN EVIL”, and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.

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