5 Questions: ‘Patti’s’ James Runde

James Runde Wisconsin Film Festival

“It’s honestly a really weird film. It’ll be interesting to see if anyone laughs at all during the screening.”

Judging by laughs alone, James Runde made quite the impression on last year’s “Wisconsin’s Own” audience with the college campus inanity of White and Lazy. Patti is trimmer in scope and more slight than White and Lazy, grumbling its way into the Wisconsin Film Festival at a brisk 2.5 minutes. Don’t be deceived by its length though, as you’re unlikely to see anything quite like it this year.

Or at the very least, hear anything like it. Runde and creative partner Casey Long (Lonely Baloney, WFF 2016) forego natural foley work, verbalizing the sights and sounds of a day in the life of their titular bartender with grunts and groans. I caught up with Runde to talk about blue collar stories and generational differences for “5 Questions:”

1. The film guide describes this as a “brief, entertaining window into Patti’s dive-bar world” and while that is definitely true, this also seems like an intersection of Patti’s world and that of her new trainee.

Yeah, I think that’s true. I don’t really know what the film is about to be frank. At first, I imagined a longer story with Patti and Jenni (the trainee) having a more developed relationship, but then I kept cutting out plot points until Casey and I boiled it down to basically two scenes. When I watch it now, I think it’s about employees of different generations and the differences in their working styles. That’s not to say that the characters represent their generations or anything, but just that these two particular people are coming from different places.

Also, I just think it’s funny. It’s really not a big deal that the glasses break, and watching Patti jump at the crash always makes me giggle. Same with Jenni’s sniffling earnestness while being scolded — I just find it funny and cute.

2. You include these “hehs” and “heys” in the background that work like a second soundtrack. Describe your thinking behind using onomatopoeia and vocalized sound effects instead of foley.

Well, basically, I gave each character a unique onomatopoeia to make them feel more cartoony — Patti is constantly sighing, the boss says “hey” in a kind of hot-shot way, the barfly does a dopey stutter kind of thing, and Jenni always sniffles. All of them are characters obviously, but they’re animated, not real people, so I tried to amplify that by having each repeat a sound. To me it adds kind of an absurdist element, which hopefully will be amusing.

As far as using vocalized sound effects, I thought just doing everything with my own voice would unify things. The animation is very singular and minimal, stark black and white, so I tried to come up with the sound effects equivalent of that style. It also helps punctuate the editing in kind of a nice way.

3. The animation style is so striking. How did you go about it?

Well, I really like black and white ink drawings. The pictures I was imagining for Patti were probably subconsciously coming from people like Raymond Pettibon, who did all those SST/LA punk posters and album covers in the 80s. But at any rate, I started the project knowing I just wanted simple black on white stop-motion animation, so I began drawing the characters individually with my mouse in Adobe Illustrator. I would obviously fine-tune the lines after drawing them because you don’t have too much control drawing with a computer mouse. But basically, I treated the animation as a series of electronic drawings, and the film is edited to reflect that. There’s really no motion within a single drawing — all of the actual movement in the film is created by cutting from one drawing to the next. It sounds labor intensive, and it is, but you can do a lot with copy/paste.

4. White and Lazy and Patti share at least two things in common. They’re both stories about regular people: your character in White and Lazy and virtually everyone in Patti. They also both have senses of humor. Do you see any connections beyond that?

Yeah I’m always attracted to stories about “regular people” because they tend to be more accessible. It would be really hard for me to actually make an arty film because I find those to be really off-putting to people outside of a small grad school circle. I always include a good amount of humor in my movies for the same reason. Anyone can relate to a good sense of humor, just like they can relate to having to collect the rent, clean the dishes, pour a beer, take a smoke break, etc.

The other similarities between the two films, at least for me, are that they’re both very midwestern (take place in winter, based on passive aggression) and have a sorta 90s homespun/hand-drawn aesthetic. I just really like that look a lot. It feels authentic or something. Ultimately both the films just kinda feel like me. If you know me, you’ll probably be able to pick that out.

5. How did you and Casey share the workload? Or wasn’t it that simple?

Casey was mainly an idea provider, and the film definitely wouldn’t be the same without her. Basically, I had all these story ideas and was doing all this animation, and Casey would look over my shoulder and give me encouragement or sometimes a “What about this…,” which was really helpful. She also was a big advocate for shortening the film. I was stressing myself out trying to get all the animation for a 7 minute film done, and she kept reminding me that I could cut stuff. In the end, I think the film is better shorter. It feels like a dive bar haiku rather than the more prosaic story I originally had.

That said, I don’t think either of us anticipated the wacky vibes it has with the vocalized sound, though. It’s honestly a really weird film. It’ll be interesting to see if anyone laughs at all during the screening.