“Peter and the Wolf” won the Oscar in 2008 in the category “Best Short Animated Film”. The film was a coproduction of the Se-ma-for Studios and the British BreakThru Films. The movie was directed by Suzie Templeton. It has received an Annecy Crystal and Audience Award at the 2007 International Animated Film Festival in Annecy, France. The film had its opening night in September 2006 in London, but the Polish premiere took place in November 2007.
Oscar for “Peter and the Wolf”
interview with Zbigniew Żmudzki
I like taking pride in the talent of the Polish people, their skills, class, and charm. Zbigniew Žmudzki is the best example of our national pride. Dignified, composed, and handsome countryman was the leader of the Polish team working on “Peter and the Wolf”, whose efforts helped the film to receive a 2008 Oscar. The glamour and splendor accompanying Oscars for years and the ceremony at the Kodak Theater on Hollywood Boulevard provide the winners with an unsurpassed setting, full of actors, directors, producers, composers, and other artists whose faces are sometimes seen for the first time by the general public. The Oscar evening can lift them above the crowd and turn their lives into a legend. I met with Zbigniew Żmudzki, a well-mannered. handsome man, who has experienced the Hollywood glitz, who has walked the red carpet, and who looks at the whole event from a distance.
Zbigniew Żmudzki: We stayed at a hotel located only 150 m away off the Kodak Theater, so we decided to go to the event on foot. In the morning at breakfast time the production manager of the “Katyn” team, a large group of about twenty people including TV reps, asked us if we were going with them or had our own limo. I was greatly surprised, because they started to persuade us that there was not a chance to get there on foot despite the short distance that we were to overcome. There were a lot of guards, C security people, checkpoints, and so on… One of my animators caught on to this idea and we borrowed a large limousine from the “Katyń” team. Of course, it turned out that, even on Sunday and with almost no traffic in view, this 150-meter distance proved extremely hard to get through; the street was closed and we had to take a long detour. We were going for half an hour, our throats started to get completely dry and harsh out of excitement, when the animator asked the driver if there was some whisky in the car. The 15-meter limousine was luxurious and certainly equipped with a small cocktail cabinet. The driver replied that there was no whisky, only champagne…
Ewa Kotus: So, in such a royal way, with champagne in your hands, you came to the red carpet?
Zbigniew Żmudzki: Not really. Our “animated” greed (laughing) immediately kicked in, since we realized that we could not drink the whole bottle, because we were too uptight, too intense, and that could really make our heads spin, but to take just a small sip was really too much of a waste. In the animated film we are used to saving every penny, to using every little bottle cork, every piece of cloth found, just because we may use it for Peter’s hat, for instance. This lead us to become very thrifty and practical. We got to the red carpet without champagne, going from one checkpoint to the next, even through metal detectors.
Ewa Kotus: What did you feel when you were walking down the world’s most famous carpet along with the most prominent American stars?
Zbigniew Żmudzki: Well, certainly we were excited. When we got to the Kodak Theater, we saw two entrances, one for celebrities and invited guests, who had a real chance to appear on the stage and one for the remaining guests. The red carpet was divided into two uneven parts separated by a rope, the smaller one, one third of the whole carpet, was intended for the stars. There were a lot of journalists, a lot of wires, cables, and electronic equipment on this side of the rope. On the other side there were cheering onlookers, who screamed the American way each time they saw a celebrity. We had to walk the carpet for about 300 meters, but we were moving rather quickly, because some good looking gentlemen in tuxedos were rushing us kindly with a smile on their faces. Fortunately, the whole walk was protected by a transparent awning, because, contrary to the popular song saying that it never rains in California.., it was continuously raining. A little further down the carpet the two lines connected into one. The Kodak Theater is huge; it
can seat over three thousand people.
Ewa Kotus: Which of the celebrities did you meet there?
Zbigniew Żmudzki: My attention was immediately drawn to George Clooney, who paced up and down the carpet, probably to be caught by as many cameras as possible. I heard that some celebrities arrive to the Oscars just to walk the red carpet and if they are not nominated they don’t even bother going inside the theater. When we entered the building I met Alexander Petrov, an excellent Russian animator, who was also nominated in the very same category as we were. Later at a bar, I talked to Nikita Michałkow, whose film “12” had been nominated in the Foreign Language Film category. I must say that I met a lot of famous people that special evening and had a chance to talk to them.
Ewa Kotus: Why did Suzie Templeton and Hugh Welchman alone receive the Oscar?
Zbigniew Żmudzki: In this category an Oscar is given to the director, not to the studio or the producer. There is yet another option – a person who initiated the film or who is the author of the idea can appear on the Oscar stage. In this case it was the British producer. That’s why only Suzie Templeton and Hugh Welchman walked on the stage, while we were sitting in the upstairs mezzanine.
Ewa Kotus: So, the division of the audience into the main floor and the mezzanine is not coincidental?
Zbigniew Żmudzki: Oh, no. The main floor (parterre) is occupied by all the nominees and stars, who were likely to appear on the stage. An interesting fact is that early in the morning there were a lot of well-dressed people showing in the hotel, who were hired by the organizers to fill unoccupied seats in the parterre. If one of the celebrities wanted to go for a drink or home, his or her seat was immediately taken by a seat-filler. In the upstairs mezzanine there is a total freedom, on the other hand; people were coming and going without a problem.
Ewa Kotus: Did you expect to receive an Oscar?
Zbigniew Żmudzki: I was certainly hoping to. I knew we had made an excellent movie. Of course, I didn’t say that to anyone out of superstition. Even when I was asked by British journalists to comment on the nomination, which they wanted to immediately publish all over the world, I was rather reserved in my comments, because I was afraid we might not get the statuette. I also listened to what the experts were saying. A few months before the event I saw the nominated Russian movie at the Festival in Vilnius. There I talked to a Russian film critic from Moscow. I told her that I liked “My Love” by Petrov. She replied, “… because you haven’t seen “The Old Man and the Sea” by Petrov. In this movie he’s replicated all the tricks that he used in the previous movie. In my opinion, this is not a good film.” I could only hope that this movie might already be written off, because this was how critics perceived it. Another film, “Madame Tutli-Putli”, is good, but it is our film that has received the Annecy Crystal at the prestigious International Animated Film Festival in Annecy, France. Not only that, our film has also received an Audience Award. I have read numerous reviews, critiques, and articles. For example, the director of SMF wrote in his Annecy review that we were experiencing an animated film renaissance with films such as Madame Tutli-Putli, which is the best contestant for the Grand Prix. This was the case until Peter and the Wolf had appeared. The film wiped off the competition. The audience gave it a standing ovation. At the Oscar banquet Alexander Petrov said this to me, “… you know, your “Peter and the Wolf” just overwhelmed everyone at Annecy and was well received by the audience. You’ll win an Oscar”. Maciek Szczerbowski, who has made “Madame Tutli-Putli” (he left Poland when he was 11, but speaks Polish fluently, using expressions that he finds appealing), said these words, “… you’ll probably crush me, probably crush me..”.
Ewa Kotus: “Peter and the Wolf” is based on a ballet by Sergey Prokofiev. This has been Poland’s biggest animated film production in years. The setting built in the Łódź Film Center and Se-ma-for and the shooting took eight months. The production team comprised of over hundred and twenty members. The film was a coproduction of the Se-ma-for Studios, which you run, the British BreakThru Films, Norwegian Storm Studio, and Channel Four. It was shot in Poland. All the puppets and decorations were made in Poland as well. The public may not realize what knowledge and experience is required to make such a wonderful film.
Zbigniew Żmudzki: I think that people like films that are easily understood and visually attractive… Everything in this one is perfect – brilliant music by Prokofiev and excellent set design. I don’t know whether you have seen movie called “Ichthys” (dir. Marek Skrobecki). It tells a story of a man, who enters a restaurant and orders a fish. A waiter takes his order, goes to the back of the restaurant, puts on his fishing clothes, and goes fishing. He’s been trying to catch a fish for a long time until the poor customer and the whole restaurant fall apart. That’s the film that brought the British producers to Poland. For a long time they have been looking a studio that could make Peter and the Wolf. I sent them “Ichthys” with our business proposal, which prompted an immediate e-mail response, saying that it was absolutely fantastic. Suzie Templeton considered that picture to be very close to her ideal of the animated film, hence it impressed her a great deal. She wrote that she would be extremely proud to make her own film with the makers of that movie. In Los Angeles I met a lady, who held a position in Canada similar to the director of the Polish Film Institute. The Canadian Institute allocates a lot of funds to the animated film, which is the apple of their eyes. They enjoy a great success in this field; two of their movies were nominated to Oscars the same year. When the lady heard that I work for Se-ma-for she said, “Bravo! I’ve seen your film about a guy who ordered a fish in a restaurant, but I don’t remember the title. Listen, that’s an excellent movie. It’s too bad that it didn’t receive an award at Annecy last year or that it couldn’t be nominated for Oscars.”
Ewa Kotus: How do you feel when you hear the famous “and the Oscar goes to…”?
Zbigniew Żmudzki: When the nominees were being announced, I can’t deny that the tension was also rising. An animated character appeared on the screen (it is a tradition that the nominees in this category are announced by a cartoon, which is very nice) to name the winner. When the character is reading the name, his lips are covered by an envelope so that you could not read his lips. The animation is done much earlier, but the voice is that of an actor sitting in the backstage. When I heard “Peter and the Wolf” I thought that Adam Wyrwas, an animator sitting right next to me, would pounce on me and give me a deadly squeeze, but he froze completely motionless. He is rather impulsive, but I, on the other hand, am the picture of calmness. Eventually, I threw myself on him, on the Norwegian producer, and the British cameraman. Four isles down from us there sat Agnieszka Odorowicz, director of the Polish Film Institute. In order to get to her we would have to go to the main hall and it was a long walk. Each of the isles had their own separate entrance, so I decided to jump over four rows of seats… I will not show you a huge bruise on my leg…
Ewa Kotus: Were you moved?
Zbigniew Żmudzki: No doubt about it. We were a bit emotional. Even some tears were shed but only when we were out in the hall. Everyone began to congratulate us, including the world’s top animation masters, actors, directors, and even Nikita Michałkow left his company to give us his regards.
Ewa Kotus: The Oscar is a reward for your professionalism and skills that you have achieved.
Zbigniew Żmudzki: The composer of the soundtrack for the Oscar-nominee Mongol was seated next to us. When introducing himself he said he was from Finland. I caught onto this and said, “then you certainly know the film Nalle Luppakorva, which was made at my studio”. He was really delighted, because that was his favorite bedtime story in his childhood. Let me explain that Finish Nalle Luppakkor va means Earflap Teddy Bear (Miś Uszatek).
Ewa Kotus: Beautiful Earflap Teddy Bear, so beloved by children. Thank you very much for your time.