Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Baba Yaga: CalArts Story Assigment I

The Baba Yaga
Treatment Rough Draft

Vasilisa the heroine


BABA YAGA is an adaptation of the Grimm fairy tale Hansel and Gretel and the traditional
Russian folklore of the ‘Baba Yaga’, the wise woman and cannibal witch. It is a fantasy action and horror-drama in the style of Pan’s LabyrinthIn the 1905 Siberian famine a Russian family struggle for survival in the bitter winter. The peasant family is torn apart by desperation and the horrors of starvation and destitution. The children and father are eventually reunited by salvation, self-sacrificial love and prosperity borne through hardship.

BABA YAGA is about portraying the darker elements of human experience that give rise to folk tales such as Hansel and Gretel—the desperation of poverty, the insanity of suffering, and the power of trauma in storytelling as a rite of passage and growth. Reality and fantasy are deliberately confused.


Vasilisa is the teenage daughter of the family. As the elder of the two children she is clever, responsible, caring, motherly, and beautiful. Her name, derived from a third-century Christian child-martyr, alludes to early Russian princesses. She is based on both the characters of ‘Gretel’ and ‘Vasilisa the Beautiful (and Wise)’ who, according to Russian legend, outsmarted the witch Baba Yaga and brought justice and peace to her family. Vasilisa emerges from the story having traveled a rite of passage into adulthood.

Baba Yaga is the Russian witch who eats lost children. Her name means ‘old woman, grandmother’ in many Slavic languages and ‘old hag with broken teeth’ in Romanian. She is hideous to behold—her nose is hooked with flared nostrils, her figure like twisted iron, her fingers are needles and her eyes are two small red dots burning within black cavernous sockets. She flies in a cauldron, beating the wind and covering her tracks with a branch of silver birch tree. She lives deep in the woods in an enchanted hut that moves on chicken legs. She was a wise woman once but famine has transformed her into a demon.

The Grandmother is the allusion to Baba Yaga in the real world. Her face is hardened by crevasses of age that betray a life of little joy, like a mask of sorrow behind which two glinting black eyes glare conspiratorially. Her daughter, the children’s mother, died in childbirth with Taras, and the grandmother has since become a selfish, weak, conniving, and bitter woman whom starvation has driven into madness. The relationship between the Grandmother and Baba Yaga, and whether they are one in the same, is deliberately ambiguous. 

The Father (‘Batko’)2 of the family is a kind, simple, loving and selfless man. He works hard for the good of the family, particularly for his two children, Vasilisa and Taras. He is suspicious of the Grandmother, whom he knows thinks only of self-gain.

Taras is Vasilisa’s child brother. He is vulnerable, naïve, and very trusting—he has not lived long enough to understand the savagery of human nature nor the injustice of suffering. He looks to Vasilisa as a child would his mother.

The Enchanted Hut is an ancient, enchanted log cabin perched on chicken legs. Its design is described in folklore and believed to have derived from the storehouses and pagan funerary monuments of the hunter-nomadic indigenous peoples of Siberia. These huts were built on stilts fashioned from tree stumps in order to protect from damp and wild animals. The Enchanted Hut is loyal only to the most wise.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Forget Me Not: The Story

 Original screenplay by Emily Dean
All Rights Reserved 2011

A long time ago there was a girl with a flower in her hair. She lived with her mother in a house on a hill.

They did everything together and the days were filled with sunshine and laughter.

But one day the flowers did not grow.

“Mother, why do the flowers not grow?” asked the girl.

“Because they have forgotten,” her mother replied, “but I love you.”

“Why do they forget?”

“All things have their own Time and Story,” her mother said.

Soon the trees lost their leaves.

“Mother, why do the trees lose their leaves?” asked the girl.

“Because they have forgotten,” her mother replied, “but I love you.”

“I don’t want them to forget because they leave me.”

“You cannot keep their Time or write their Story, only your own,” said her mother.

Soon the birds left their nests and flew away.

“Mother, why do the birds leave their nests and fly away?” asked the girl.

“Because they have forgotten,” her mother replied, “but I love you.”

“When is my Time and what is my Story?”

“When your Time comes you will know your Story,” said her mother.

As time passed, the warm Sun began to fade and the days grew shorter.

“Mother, the Sun forgotten us.”

Her Mother did not reply but only sat and stared out the window. Time passed and still she did not speak.

Finally, the girl cried out, “Mother, have you forgotten me also?” And then she wept. She wept for her Mother, she wept for the Sun, she wept for the birds, she wept for the leaves, and she wept for the flowers.

And from those tears she wept grew a little fragile Forget Me Not.  And her Mother, seeing the flower, plucked it from the earth and gently placed it in the girl’s hair.

Drying her eyes, the girl said, “I understand Mother. I know you love me and I love you. Though I cannot keep your Time, I am grateful my Time was a part of yours. Though I cannot write your Story, I am grateful to know it in my own. For our Time and our Story are shared.”

And with those words she held her mother’s hand and stayed with her for what was left of their Time together. And the birds returned to the nests they’d left for the winter, the trees and seedlings grew their leaves, and flowers budded on old branches long thought to be dead.

In loving memory of Brian and Suzanne Ridley

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Forget Me Not: Beginning the Story

How do I begin to describe the creative process that has gone into the production of my film Forget Me Not and the people who have inspired and helped me along this journey? The story is too long, the history too vast, for one article. So I have written this article ‘Forget Me Not: Beginning the Story’ as the first installment of several more to come about the film.

Do I begin by describing that fateful afternoon in August 2010 at Urban Bites café in Newtown, Sydney, when I unexpectedly bumped into Rob Coleman (currently the Animation Director at George Miller’s Dr D Studios) after which I went home and penned the entire Forget Me Not fairytale within an hour? Or perhaps I begin by recalling my animation presentation on Alzheimer’s Disease during Ian Brown’s Animation Directing class at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School a few months prior? Or do I trace it as far back as my undergraduate days when I discovered the power of storytelling while writing my Honours thesis under the mentorship of Professor Richard Waterhouse?

The answer is – as many answers often are – a little bit of this and a little bit of that. But undoubtedly and predominantly, what affected me to make this film and what stayed foremost in my mind throughout the creative process, was the recent passing of my godparents – Brian and Suzanne Ridley.

I will always remember with great admiration their cheerfulness of heart, fortitude of spirit, and gratitude for each and every day in spite of the most difficult hardships following Brian’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s Disease and Suzanne’s ill health. I will always remember the way in which they continued to be a support for one another, their family and friends, and the community of my hometown, Bungendore NSW, in the face of extreme challenge. I will always remember the many long stories and endearing poor-taste jokes they shared with me and my family over Christmas dinner every year. And I will always remember, with fondness and cheer, them as they were before illness took hold of their lives. Yet I can never forget, with the utmost humility and respect, their bravery and strength of character throughout those final years.

Alzheimer’s Disease is so often overlooked in contemporary society as it is a slow killer – perceived as an issue of the aged – but its effects are heart-breaking and traumatic to those diagnosed, their family and friends, and sends shockwaves to all generations.

I am humbled that my little film Forget Me Not has the power to speak to so many others and I thank everyone who has been supportive of the project over the past year. As always I thank my wonderful creative team without whom the film would not have happened and I look forward to continuing the story of Forget Me Not.

Emily Dean
Dir. Forget Me Not

Monday, January 24, 2011

Some of My Ink Work

 Highschool Anti-Bullying Poster (2004)

Face (2004)

The University of Sydney, Wesley College Informal 'Westock', featuring Faker and The Cops (2007)
Webbed (2007)

Hope (2008)

Jungle Girl (2008)
Ink on canvas

Album Cover Design for Paul Doust (2009)

Some quick sketches

Some 10 minute doodles from AFTRS Animation Directing class last year (February - June 2010).

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Back at CalArts

So I'm back at CalArts after a pretty wild Christmas break, which has rendered me temporarily pooped.

Things I did in 3 weeks: 
21 Dec 2010: Flew to Sydney
23 Dec: Flew to Canberra
25 Dec: Drove to Bungendore NSW and spent Christmas with the family at 'Scribbly Gums'
27 Dec: Drove to Sydney where I hung out with Sash and finished my film 'Forget Me Not' for Tropfest 2011
31 Dec: Quiet night in for NYE watching Coraline and Burn After Reading
3 Jan 2011: Flew to Singapore
4 Jan: Flew to Hanoi
5 Jan: Caught a bus to a tiny rural Vietnamese village 3 hours out of Hanoi
6 Jan: Bus, row boat, and 1 hour walk to the summit of famed Buddhist mountain-cave temple at Chua Hueng
7 Jan: Flew to Hoi An
9 Jan: Flew to HCMC/Saigon
10 Jan: Bus and boat trip to the Mekong Delta where I visited a traditional rural marketplace... for a different blog post.
11 Jan: Flew to Singapore
12 Jan: Flew to LA with a stopover in Tokyo.

POOPED! And the semester hasn't even begun!!! Not to worry, my NY resolution (for the next 6 months) is to trial Tim Ferris's 4 Hour Body Diet, Polyphasic Sleep cycles, and Russian Kettlebell workout to keep everything in pace. Let's see how it goes.

Til next time... xox