Katherine Waddell on Balloon Animal


In our lastest interview, we spoke with actress, producer, and co-founder of First Bloom FilmsKatherine Waddell, whose debut feature production, Balloon Animal, recently received multiple recognitions from national and international film festivals. She is currently working as an executive producer on “The Inventor” an animated feature starring Daisy Ridley, Stephen Fry, Marion Cotillard and Matt Berry.

PH: Which scene was your favorite to work on in Balloon Animal? Can you talk about how you set up this scene? 

Katherine Waddell: I am going to mention a very brief and particular scene, which is the skating scene from the montage. It’s where we see Poppy go to a thrift store and buy skates and then attempt to teach herself how to roller skate in an empty parking lot. We then see her enjoying an ice cream at the end. It’s very quick, but to me, it’s one of the most powerful scenes in the whole movie. The set up for this scene was actually quite difficult! Only I was in the scene, but it was precarious because I was skating, and I actually didn’t really know how to skate! You can’t see it, but off-camera, there are about 30 crew members waiting with bated breath to make sure everything worked out, especially because the ground was so uneven so it was proving difficult to get clean movements with the skates. It was also late at night and our very last shot of the day, but luckily everything worked out and I think it ended up being very beautiful! 

PH: Describe this scene and the significance it has to the rest of the film.

Katherine Waddell: So as mentioned above, we see Poppy escaping the circus nightly to go out and explore this small town she has fallen in love with. She ends up at a thrift store where she finds a pair of roller skates that she buys, and then proceeds to head to an empty parking lot where she tries to teach herself to skate. We get to see her make these small attempts to skate and get to see the joy on her face as she enjoys herself, by herself. The montage, and subsequently this scene, comes at a crucial point in the movie where we see Poppy starting to take small steps that are selfish, but in a good way. She is seeking joy and comfort without anyone relying on her or needing anything from her. That’s why this scene is one of my favorites – when we see Poppy have this big smile when she’s able to skate a few feet without falling, it’s just so pure, and it’s only for her to enjoy and experience, and no one else. 

PH: What tools/process did you use in your production of this scene? 

Katherine Waddell: I had gotten the skates earlier in the year, but it was actually really hard to learn how to skate, so by the time the scene came, I still wasn’t ready, but honestly it worked out. As the actor, not knowing how to actually skate helped because Poppy doesn’t know how to skate – even if it was nerve-racking! We also practiced a lot beforehand with the camera, seeing how fast I could actually move in the skates, making sure the camera could follow along and get a shot that both the DP and director loved, and just overall making sure that it was a well-rehearsed dance before actually starting to film.

PH: What technical challenges did you encounter while working on this scene? Was there another direction you initially wanted it to go? 

Katherine Waddell: I think because the ground proved to be a little more uneven, and the mini sidewalk/patio that we filmed on was shorter than expected, it was a little technically difficult at first. As mentioned above, we really had to practice a bit to make sure that the camera was in-sync with the skating movements and that we could get shots that were long enough to cover what we wanted and that it actually felt like it was “practicing” and not just moving back and forth on two feet. I feel like we definitely probably wanted longer shots or maybe for Poppy’s skating to be even better, but honestly, the footage we ended up getting was perfect and reads super well on camera. She is nervous, but excited and enjoying herself! It’s palpable. 

PH: Can you describe what pre-production was like for this scene? How did it come about?

Katherine Waddell: We knew we were going to have a montage so it was really up to writer and director Em Johnson to come up with ideas on how to fill it. As creative partners, we both loved the visual of Poppy trying to learn how to skate, especially after Drew mentions earlier in the film that he is a roller skating champion. However, we wanted to make sure she was doing it on her own, and not with him, so we could assert her independence and that she wasn’t doing this for romantic reasons, but because she wanted to do something fun on her own.

As I mentioned earlier, I had tried to learn to skate, but it just wasn’t happening for me! And then of course, this was one of those filming days where not a lot seemed to be going right for us. It was dark, late at night, one of the last shots of the day, and I am pretty sure we were running behind trying to get it set up and me into costume and hair from the last scene. But, it all worked out! It all came together, and once we cut on the last little tidbit of her eating an ice cream cone, everyone got to enjoy some too, so hopefully that was a minor stress reliever from the fear of whether or not I was going to topple over! 

PH: What was the dialogue like between you and the film’s director regarding this scene?

Katherine Waddell: I think Em and I mostly focused on making sure the technical aspects of the scene were running smoothly. There was a lot of talk about obviously camera movement, length of time skating, being safe, trying different emotions with each take. Most importantly though, is that we wanted to capture that glee of her really enjoying herself. It was all about capturing apprehension, concentration, but also curiosity and delight in trying something new that was all her own. Overall, while the moment is brief, I think we nailed it.


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