One of the more beautiful projects presented at Cartoon Forum last week was the half-hour tv holiday special Mum is Pouring Rain from creator Hugo de Faucompret and French production company Laïdak Films.
The exclusive premiere of the project’s teaser can be seen on Cartoon Brew today:
De Faucompret’s quirky tale tells the story of eight-year-old Jeanne who is sent to spend Christmas at her grandma’s home in the countryside on account of her mother’s struggle with depression. There, she meets new friends, and a strange bum called Cloclo, who smells bad but is a real chef like Jeanne’s mum, although he only cooks dishes using people’s garbage. As Jeanne learns to open herself to others, she realizes that she might be the one to help her mother out of her condition.
We spoke to Laïdak Films producers Ivan Zuber and Antoine Liétout to learn more about the genesis of this charming project and how it has evolved over the past couple years that it has been in development.
Cartoon Brew: Where did the initial idea for Mum is Pouring Rain come from?
Ivan Zuber and Antoine Liétout: We had wanted to develop a project with Hugo [de Faucompret] for a while. He had worked as storyboard artist on a short we produced, Waterloo & Trafalgar (which by the way he ended-up co-directing – the film is at a late development stage now), but back in 2016 we were still looking for the right film to entrust Hugo with directing.
At that time, France Télévisions launched a call-for-projects on the thematic of “modern female heroine” for the children. This thematic is important to us, but we weren’t sure we wanted to start a project about that topic out of strategy, just because a channel was looking for strong female characters. We were having a hard time knowing whether we, as male producers, could produce a film -possibly with a male director- which would focus on that topic, without ending up doing more harm than good to feminism.
Then Hugo called us, and told us that the call for projects matched an idea that he’d had, of a little Jeanne, who has to spend her holidays at her grandma while her mother is getting some help facing depression. The way he pitched it to us made us realize that he was able to write a strong, independent female character, but keeping it as it should be: normal. Jeanne’s character was the central drive to the story, but the film wasn’t grossly self-conscious about it.
Hugo achieved that by using the poetry and humor which he handles so well, and by treating Jeanne as a character, not as a girl. He changed our minds, and we decided to submit the project to France Télévisions. It made it through the first round of selection, but wasn’t kept in the last three finalists.
Since then, we’ve kept on developing the project, convinced that the originality of this TV special was a unique chance to give voice to a sensitive and meaningful comedy adventure for children. And precisely because the film was meaningful even out of the call-for-projects context.
Can you talk about the visual style of the project and how it was developed?
Zuber and Liétout: Hugo has been developing Mum is Pouring Rain by himself from the beginning, narratively as well as visually. He’s the one visual creator and artistic director on the project, even though we are now starting to develop the story with the help of other writers, still keeping the initial style that he and we want for the film.
Visually, we want to use hand-painted backgrounds like in the teaser. We first drew the lines in pencil, then painted the colors, and then added a layer of charcoal shadows to bring more depth to the image, as you can see in the step-by-step frame (below).
For the design of the characters, we also want to keep a sensitive pencil-like line, to make the film sensitive and warm.
This whole creative process renders a warm and authentic style to the film, without compromising the workflow, as it doesn’t require more time in terms of production. We’re lucky to work with a director who’s collaborated on a bunch of projects with his collective Souviens Ten-zan, where he sometimes handled production coordination. He is very aware of our production imperatives, which is crucial, especially for a debut 26’ TV special.
What makes the project unique thematically and creatively?
Zuber and Liétout: We believe that animated films can be entertaining without being bland. Yet, it feels that we are too often afraid of using everyday-life topics in our children’s stories.
Mum is Pouring Rain is a comedy-adventure for young children and their families, which also contains real-life drama. Talking about a child with a depressive mother without taboo and keeping the story up-beat and funny is definitely unique.
Hugo has a true talent at handling subjects that really matter, and painting them with his incredible sense of humor. He makes sure they are an important component to the story, and yet cohabit with adventure, laughter, and poetry. It’s very important for him to keep close to the target audience, and create a film that the children can relate to, where they can get a sense of the complex aspects of the story without getting conclusions that are too heavy for them to bear. One fear that some partners expressed at an early development stage was that Jeanne would somehow take responsibility for her mother’s condition. This was never intended, and we made sure that nothing in the story could ever imply that.
So the originality of the project, we believe, relies in the right balance between important subjects and sheer entertainment. That is, of course, to over-theorize a little. Because at the end of the day, what many will remember about Mum is Pouring Rain, will be the adventure, the delicious peculiarity of its characters, and of course the absolute beauty of the images.
Is the project self-contained as a half-hour special or is it designed to expand as a bigger story?
Zuber and Liétout: After Cartoon Forum, a few people asked us if the story of Mum is Pouring Rain could be developed as a feature, but the initial story has been imagined as a half-hour tv special. We think that this format is a wonderful length to tell beautiful stories for children, while keeping a strong and developed narrative arc.
Plus, Mum is Pouring Rain is written as a Christmas special, which is a wonderful format to share a nice moment [with the] family waiting for the snow to fall.
However, while MIPR is self-contained as a half-hour special, we do believe that together with two other specials related to family stories, it could work great in theaters, and that’s something we’re considering.
What type of support are you looking for at this stage of the project?
Zuber and Liétout: The project is at the development stage and we are looking for the right broadcasters, to work hand in hand with us on the script.
The presentation of the project last week during Cartoon Forum was a big step forward in that sense, with many great feedbacks. France Television showed a renewed interest in the project, which evolved a lot since the last time we presented it to them, and we want to provide them with all the latest developments as they remain a natural partner. Another strong French broadcaster also showed a real interest. We’re sure further talks will allow everyone to better assess where the film could be going. We think that this story has a universal appeal, as the early support from international sales partner Dandelooo proves. We are therefore looking for international partners — broadcasters from Belgium, Germany or anywhere else, would give Jeanne the opportunity to travel even further than to the French countryside!
International projects are Laïdak’s strong suit, and even though Mum Is Pouring Rain is our most French project, we are convinced that it’s made for children all around the globe.