SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Most everyone has had to pivot due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but not many have had to pivot into another dimension.
Keith Miller and the rest of the team behind their film, “Pritty,” were anticipating a live-action shoot last spring. Then came the pandemic and with it, the impossibility to begin doing in-person filming of any kind.
But while there was a pivot, there wasn’t (too much) panic. Miller, along with the film’s director Terrance Daye, asked themselves how they could bring their project to life if they couldn’t film it in person?
The answer: an animated movie.
“I wanted to (make) ‘Moonlight,’” Miller said, referencing the 2016 Oscars Best Picture winner. “The number one thing that we talked about was, I’m down for the idea (of animating the story), but how can we ensure that people feel what this is because oftentimes, the animated series and stuff that people follow are often comfortably within that fantastical realm.”
That’s not necessarily the case for “Pritty.”
The film, which was written by Miller nearly a decade before, tells the coming-of-age story of Jay, a Black queer boy growing up in Savannah in the early 2000s. The narrative centers around Jay as he “learns to step out of his comfort zone and, with the help of a charming neighborhood boy, overcome his fear of the deep end.”
For Miller, the story was important to tell – regardless of the format – because there aren’t many coming-of-age stories, much less stories in general, centered around Black, queer male characters.
“And so we felt very affirmed and seen, and our own process of healing because for the first time, we could make what we didn’t see. And by doing so we began to feel on our own way that everything we had dreamed and hoped for was possible. It only reaffirmed why (the film) is something we want to get out there because we want other people to experience that too.”
To Miller and his team, the shift to animation opened up the world even more than they thought before. Referring to the project as “bringing Hayao Miyazaki to the hood” – a nod to the legendary Japanese animator known for “Spirited Away” and “My Neighbor Totoro” among others – they set out to create an animated world that people had not seen before; both in terms of the representation but also the narrative aesthetic itself.
“The biggest trap is this idea of growing up and being an adult, right. And I think what animation does is it gives us permission to act (and) to experience the world through that inner child,” he said.
“I think when we see animated stories, especially when they’re done very well, they access and allow us permission to let that inner child be seen (and) witness. And I think at the end of the day, what we’re really trying to do is to offer an opportunity for these boys and young men of color and their community to be seen for what they are to be humanized as they are.”
Miller is no stranger to watching kids around this age come to terms with who they are as people. He has worked with the young people participating at Deep Center for a number of years now and knows that a lot of those kids are creative and passionate, but just sometimes are unable to find that outlet to let all of that out. He hopes “Pritty” will be something that triggers that creativity and brings more young Black creators to the field of animation.
“I’m hoping they see a world that they want to be a part of, and by seeing the world they want to be a part of it can become a world they want to make,” he said.
“The reason we call this animation queer is because it is very different from what we see (in other animated films). Sexuality, even within that context, is not even something that you see (in contemporary film). You just see this representation of this young man doing a thing that is very different and unorthodox, and atypical from what (you’re used to seeing). So to see all of that, and the way the world responds in support, but also is real and exists is huge.”
But all projects require money, which led Miller and his team to open up a Kickstarter campaign to help raise the money needed to hire their locally-based actors, get music made from a number of Savannah artists and also work with Austin-based animation studio, Powerhouse Animation Studios.
As of Friday, March 19, the campaign had raised more than $64,000 – eclipsing their first goal of $50,000, which Miller said was somewhat of a surreal moment to take in.
“If I’m being 100% honest, I’m a fearless dreamer. I really am,” Miller said. “We knew on paper from studying all these other campaigns that (a big start was something) that happened, and it was important for it to happen early so that you could reach your goals. But, literally, I found myself sitting and staring in a room at a wall, wondering, ‘Oh, my God.’”
“You’ve got to remember that this manuscript that was written 10 years ago, was told no, over and over and over again, and people said it wouldn’t sell. I gave that same little piece of humbled 300 pages to Terrance and we’re like, you know what, not only do we believe in (the story), but let’s make something of it. And so to see that the world, our country – especially at this moment – is responding is huge.”
The fundraising isn’t over. The team is currently focused on a goal of $125,000. The final goal is a $1.6 million budget for the project with animation hoping to begin later this fall with the full animated film being completed by October 2022. So while this feels like a lot of victories early, Miller said he and his team are anticipating a long road ahead, despite the excitement to see the final product.
“I really feel like…history is asking us how will we make best use of this moment, with all of the loss that we’ve experienced. We were hit with a pandemic, and a reminder with all the social injustice and the police brutality, like we were getting hit by a lot, everybody, all of us as a nation. It was crazy. And we’re still getting hit by it, but we’re still trying to find our way through it,” he said.
“I still really believe that history is asking us how will we meet this moment. Because when we think about history (and) when we think about movements, I feel like everyone is met at a point in their lives with a moment where the universe and the greater powers of history says, ‘How will you show up to this moment? What will you do?’ And our response is ‘Pritty,’ because ‘Pritty’ is an opportunity for people to see a world that we believe is not only possible (but) that it exists.
“And for those who it doesn’t exist for, we need them to know that there is a world that exists and that we can all do our part to create a world where every single young person, no matter their color, no matter their race, no matter how they identify on the gender binary spectrum (can see themselves). Everyone is worthy of being seen fully and their humanity and then having the space to grow and evolve and push us all along with them.
“And so I think ‘Pritty’ is our answer.”
You can support “Pritty: The Animation” on Kickstarter at kickstarter.com/projects/prittyfilm/pritty-the-animation. You can also follow the project on Instagram at instagram.com/prittynotpretty/.