How To Do What You Love For A Living: An Interview With One Of Australia’s Best Film Clip Directors, Darcy Prendergast
"We had no idea what we were doing; we just stepped on the set with confidence and hoped it all worked out."
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Imagine spending your days blowing things up, animating insane lives for plasticine figurines and creating mind-boggling videos for Australian rock stars. Then imagine getting paid for it. Welcome to Darcy Prendergast’s life.
From his Melbourne production studio Oh Yeah Wow, a ramshackle “self-made Neverland” with “a hovel vibe”, Prendergast seems to spin gold out of every project he touches.
You know that gritty stop-motion animation clip, Easy Way Out, that depicts a harried Gotye dragging his ass through daily life? The one that’s now has more than eight million hits online and has scooped a bunch of major awards? Prendergast and his rag tag crew of animation, film and visual effects maestros were behind that, and a whole bunch more.
Prendergast was aiming for a more traditional working life after uni, helping out on the claymation feature film Mary and Max and as an animator for ABC Kids. But the nine-to-five grind felt like “creativity with a gun to your head” and he considered himself a “square peg in a round hole”.
“I was actually a terrible employee. I used to fall asleep underneath my sculpting desk,” Prendergast, 29, says. “I realised I wouldn’t last too long both mentally and reputation wise if I was to continue down that path.”
The light bulb went off in France in 2009, at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, as Prendergast pondered his legacy as an animator and decided he wanted to bring together a heap of talented folk to collaborate under one cosy banner. “I wanted to create a little happy place for us all, really,” he says.
Oh Yeah Wow kicked off the following year focusing almost solely on Prendergast’s foremost passion: animation. But after the 2011 success of the Gotye clip, more bands started knocking on the door wanting live action clips.
“Of course we had no idea what we were doing; we just stepped on the set with confidence and hoped it all worked out. The Australian music industry effectively paid for my film school,” he says.
Sign Language, And Giant Monster Suits: All In A Day’s Work
Pretty quickly, Oh Yeah Wow started pumping out astonishing stuff. Like a four-minute video clip featuring 4000 photos of 350 different faces, seamlessly stitched together to sing ‘Young’ by Melbourne band The Paper Kites.
Or the mind bending freeze-frame and visual effects of Melbourne five-piece Clubfeet’s ‘Everything You Wanted’ clip, somehow shot in just one take, which picked up a J Award last year and was so damn popular tween pop horrors One Direction ripped off the idea.
Prendergast even spent three months learning Auslan, the sign language of the Australian deaf community, so he could sign the lyrics to Hudson and Troop’s ‘Frameless’ while swaddled in a giant furry blue monster suit.
“The idea was that he was this chain-smoking deadbeat monster dude who was pretty down and depressed on life,” Prendergast says. “I don’t smoke so we had fake cigarettes for the first part of the day but I smoked through them before midday and we had to get real cigarettes. I started getting really heinous head spins and it was 43-degrees, one of the hottest days of the year. On top of all that, it was a 26-hour shoot. So yeah, it was extremely long and painful.”
Do It For The Passion, And The Money Should Follow. Eventually.
The Frameless clip this year scored a J Award nomination for Australian Music Video of the Year, but Prendergast admits Oh Yeah Wow didn’t make a cent producing it. The same goes for plenty of their other best-known projects.
“If it was a project we felt passionate about, we’d just do it and put everything we had into it. Our philosophy from day one was if we produce cutting-edge work, work that really cuts through the noise, then eventually someone has to notice us,” Prendergast says.
The awards kept coming, with Oh Yeah Wow nabbing wins at the Roanne Animation Festival, ATOM awards, Encounters UK, Australian Effects and Animation Festival (AEAF), The Rolling Stone Awards, J Awards; they also got an ARIA nomination, and a Guggenheim shortlisting.
Then, this year, it finally happened. Oh Yeah Wow signed commercial representation deals with Caviar Content in Europe and the US and Exit Films in Australia. It means Prendergast and his collective of ten creatives no longer fear impending financial doom. Now, they regularly and rather fancily jet off to places like London, Brussels and Kiev for shoots. “While I’d prefer to be making really creatively alive content that we’re in control of, the beauty of the commercial world is that we can do one or two commercials a year and then cruise and really assess what we want to be making for the rest of the year,” he says.
And because Prendergast clearly doesn’t have enough fingers in enough awesome pies, he’ll next year release Gary and Gabe: a “quaint little short film about a girl who falls in love with a monster under her bed”. He also has a children’s series about to go into pilot with Nickelodeon.
That Childhood Obsession With Cartoons Paid Off
Prendergast grew up as a cartoon-obsessed kid in small town Bacchus Marsh, about 50 kilometres west of Melbourne; he’s the son of a zookeeper dad, and a crafty mum. “Every week mum seemingly had a new hobby or pastime; one week we’d be doing pottery, the next week mosaic, then folk art drawing, still life, cross stitching — just the most random mediums. And dad was a pretty big influence, in terms of story telling. He has some crazy ass stories from his youth where he was attacked by tigers and torn to shreds multiple times.”
“I think Mum gave me those creative skill sets and Dad gave me the gift of the gab,” he says, “and those two influences fused together to form my career path.”
Prendergast is in the middle of moving studio to Moreland Road in Brunswick; he’ll be sad to say goodbye to Oh Yeah Wow’s home of the past seven years. “There’s still DynaBolt holes in the ground from where the Gotye set was. You know, three-time Grammy award winner Wally De Backer was just standing there, buck-naked. Stuff like that is pretty surreal,” he says.
But the team will soon grow to 15, reflecting the collective’s increasing stability, which is handy considering Prendergast plans on being an animator until he’s “old, grey and incontinent”.
“I’m one of the blessed people that’s managed to find exactly what they want to do at a very young age, and I’ve been quite tenaciously pursing that dream for a long time,” he says. “I kind of break my day down into a pie chart. 70-80% of the day I want to be doing what I love. I think it’s important to forge your own path if you can’t find one elsewhere — that’s certainly what I’ve done.”
Visit Oh Yeah Wow’s website here.
Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance writer living in Spain. She tweets from @KorenHelbig
Feature image of Darcy and his dog, Uma Therman, © Oli Sansom