Amanda Quaid’s new film, Toys, packs a powerful punch in just two minutes. Based on a poem by stage and screen actress Peggy Pope, it tells the story of a father who uses gendered toys to mold his daughter into something she’s not, and a girl who resists.
An actress and playwright herself, Quaid stepped outside of her comfort zone in directing this film. She’d never done any kind of animation before – this was her first foray into the world of stop motion. “There’s real freedom and curiosity that can come from just being a beginner at something and seeing it through and not making it a livelihood or not making it my main focus. … I’ve been really fixed my whole life on what I was pursuing.”
She adds that “as someone who puts a lot of pressure on myself to know the answer, I couldn’t know the answer with this, I was a total beginner, and that was really good for me. And I think good for the film.”
The stop motion itself took Quaid about 9 months of weekends, where she “learned by trial and error.” She photographed actors running through the film, and then cut the backgrounds out of the photographs, until she had “hundreds and hundreds of paper dolls” to animate.
Why use photographs? For a simple reason. “I can’t draw,” she said with a laugh. “I was studying photography at the time. I really could see it with faces, with human faces in this sort of alternate world, this kind of childlike, imagined world.”
Though the film looks effortless, behind the scenes it was anything but. Quaid notes that stop motion is “extremely physically laborious in a way I didn’t expect. … Your back gets really tired, your neck gets really crampy. And certainly my hands got very very sore.”
However, all of Quaid’s hard work paid off in the end. “The first time I saw any piece of it come together, I cried, because it is magical to see stop motion work, […] like a sleight of hand for the eye.”
Despite its short length, the film has already gotten a wide range of reactions that Quaid notes she wasn’t expecting when she created it, including acceptance by LGBT festivals. “The thing that’s really astonished me is how much of a bit of a Rorschach test it is, how open ended the interpretation can be. I’ve had people at screenings say oh, this is about incest,” she said with a laugh. “And I’ve certainly had people come up to me and tell me stories about their own relationship with their parents and feeling like they could never measure up to what their parent wanted for them. It seems to, even though it’s two minutes long, it seems to really provoke really strong memories of people’s own relationships with their families. That’s been the most rewarding thing for me.”
Although working on this film was a rewarding experience, Quaid plans to get back to her roots in the theater for her next project. In some ways, stop motion is the polar opposite of theater: technically exacting, precise, and locked in time. However, one of the things Quaid loves about stop motion, that it shares in common with theater, is that it’s analog. “You can trust that what’s happening actually happened. There’s no special effects, there’s no CGI or anything. You know that a person’s hands actually did everything.”
You can see Toys this Sunday, February 10th, at the NY Indie Theater Film Festival. The festival will kick off this Friday with a screening of playwright Theresa Rebeck’s directorial debut. Toys is part of the “Fathers and Sons and Mothers and Daughters” screening at 7 pm. Individual screening tickets and festival passes are available at Ovation Tix.
The festival will be held at the New Ohio Theatre, located at 154 Christopher Street between Greenwich and Washington Streets in New York City.