Success, and failure, is fleeting, Academy award winner tells Warrnambool alumni

IF filmmaker Adam Elliot needed a reminder of how fleeting success can be, it came in the mail the day he flew home after receiving  an Oscar for his acclaimed claymation film Harvie Krumpet.

There were three letters in the mail box, he recalls.  Two were congratulatory messages —  from the prime minister and the governor-general — the third was from Centrelink reminding him his form was overdue.

“I was on the dole when I found out we had been nominated for the Oscar,” said Elliot. 

“And who knows, if the next film flops, I might be back in the queue at Centrelink.

“It’s a story that I like to tell audiences because it’s a great reminder that life can change very dramatically. 

“It’s not all glitz and glamour.”

The acclaimed Australian filmmaker, who was in Warrnambool on the weekend as guest speaker at the Emmanuel College alumni induction, said the 2004 Academy Award had been “a life-altering event” that he had previously never aspired to.

“To win an Oscar was completely off the radar and it all happened so quickly,” he said.

“I didn’t think we had a chance. 

“The only thing I’d ever won as a child was the most improved trophy at Little Aths.”

The accolade provided the springboard for Elliot’s feature-length stop-motion film Mary and Max, which became the first Australian animation to open the Sundance Film Festival in 2009 and also took out the coveted French Annecy Cristal animation award. 

Elliot, whose five claymation films have been shown in film festivals around the world, has just completed the script for his next feature film which he describes as “my version of a romantic comedy”.  

Currently in talks with investors and potential actors for the project, he  is optimistic the as-yet untitled film could be released by late 2014-2015.

 “It’s definitely got a romantic element, but there’s a lot of adult themes and the two leading protagonists aren’t your everyday heroes,” he said. “Like most of my other characters, they’re underdogs, people who have been marginalized by society or misunderstood.”

It’s a message common to all of Elliot’s scripts. 

“We are all imperfect and we have to embrace eachother’s imperfections,” he said. “All my characters are underdogs but I think that’s why they work. 

“What I’m doing is creating very empathetic characters who resonate with audiences and who they identify with.

“I want empathy rather than sympathy and I want to put audiences in my characters’ plasticine shoes and realize what it’s like to be say, a middle-aged man living in New York with Asperger syndrome, like Max, but be endearing at the same time.”

Melbourne-based Elliot said he had resisted overtures to move to Hollywood to direct big-budget movies, preferring the creative freedom of remaining an independent.

Also an in-demand public speaker, Elliot said he enjoyed the opportunity to engage with a diverse range of audiences.

“I get to know what people think is funny and what they like — it’s a bit of free marketing.”

 jmclaren@standard.fairfax.com.au

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