With the new Central Library opening its doors last month, a new modern era of literature is set to blossom in Nottingham. We spoke to local filmmaker and producer Russell Noon who in a bid to combat banal children’s content created Twilight Story Time which combines animation, illustration and original stories for children…
First of all, congratulations on creating Twilight Story Time! How did you first come up with the idea for the project?
Thank you. I am a full-time filmmaker and producer, and I started writing short children’s stories in my spare time just before lockdown. I’ve always been a massive fan of Grimm fairy tales, films like Pan's Labyrinth and Beasts of the Southern Wild, and graphic novels like I Kill Giants, and these stories were initially intended to be short films for grown-ups, but from a younger person’s perspective. However, as I began to develop the ideas, they began to increase in volume, and I began to realise that I was writing them for a much younger version of myself.
This led to the decision to pull them all together and to try and write them for younger people in an attempt to create something meaningful that the majority of young people could have access to. But it was only when I began to read them out loud to my wife, Jayne, that I realised the stories could be something special.
The stories are told through animation - who have you got involved in the project and how did you work together to develop the idea?
Twilight Story Time is a collaboration between me, professional animator Allan Buxton and full-time illustrator Emily Catherine. I first spoke with Al and Emily about the project towards the back end of lockdown and I dubiously shared a handful of scripts with them. I was very pleasantly surprised to receive positive feedback, and we began to develop the look and feel of the illustrations, as well as the type of animation that would allow us to deliver a good quantity of films, whilst ensuring they were magical enough for them to stand out from the plethora of children’s content already available on YouTube.
We all felt strongly about wanting to present an alternative to (what we call) zombie content for young people, and deliver beautifully illustrated, well-crafted stories that not only entertain but offer tales of human experience to help guide our young ones. The process of developing each idea is very collaborative and we have always acknowledged that this project wouldn’t exist without the expertise and enthusiasm of each of us.
Can you let us in on some of the stories you have in the works?
We absolutely can… The second film in volume one will be Carrie-Anne Crogg, the story of a young girl who is afraid of the monsters under her bed, and the ogre that helps her realise that the monsters are all imagined.
Further down the line we have Of Alan & Aliens, the story of a young boy who is mean to another boy during a school camping trip. But when he meets a group of aliens in the woods, he comes to realise how it feels to be left out.
We also have Wanda & The Watchmaker, the story of a young girl who is desperate to become an adult and do all the things she’s too young to do. But when she meets a mysterious old watchmaker in a sleepy old town, she soon realises that she should slow down a bit and enjoy being young.
These are just three of the films we intend to release on our YouTube channel this year, as part of volume one of Twilight Story Time, and we can’t wait for young people and adults to begin watching them.
What is your process for coming up with stories? Do you have a process for writing or a place you find inspirational?
For me, each story starts with the social scenario or dilemma I’d like to explore. This allows me to create a fantastical character or MacGuffin to metaphorically represent that scenario. From there I can work on the journey of the characters and allow them to draw the conclusions that we want the young viewer to walk away with.
I like to write at home in my spare time, whilst listening to original film soundtracks that I find inspiring. Music is a key part of bringing the emotion into the scripts and conversation with a wide variety of friends is key to generating the topics I try to explore.
The December screening of The Astronaut was a great way to introduce children to the wonderful new Central Library. What will future events look like, how long are the films and will there be regular screenings?
The Central Library is an amazing space, and our ten minute film will premiere [in December] in the gorgeous new immersive room. It’s a cinema-esque snug with a large screen and is the perfect environment for children to settle in and watch our new Christmas story.
At the moment we only have plans to screen The Astronaut at this location, but we’re open to screening each Twilight Story Time episode in locations throughout Nottingham. But with that said, it’s important to remember that this film, as well as every other, will be available for free on YouTube worldwide and accessible to anyone who has an internet connection.
The new library feels like a very welcoming and inspiring space, and it’s great to combine film and literature for children. What do you think the future will look like for libraries?
Let’s not forget, libraries are free to the public and need to be kept thriving in order to ensure that everyone has access to literature and learning outside of the educational system. Our films deliberately mimic a physical picture book, because whilst we are a film story company, we believe that print is not dead and that libraries are essential. We are trying to fill a gap in a market that ignores that.
Is there anything else you'd like to add or shout about?
I’d also like to say that I’m about to become a father for the first time. It’s an exciting but also somewhat daunting feeling, especially given the world that we live in at the moment. But I hope that this project will bring a sense of warmth and familiarity to a great many children throughout the world, and that they enjoy watching these films as much as we enjoyed making them.
Finally, we’d like to say a special thank you to all of our voice over artists as well as Susan Pennington and Drew Lawson at Spool, the Central Library for taking a punt on us, and yourselves at LeftLion for the feature. We love being from Nottingham as we’re surrounded by a wealth of talented and passionate people. Thank you.
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