Animator Debra Solomon has had it rough. One night, her husband came home to tell her that their marriage was over. The love song-like romance Solomon had hoped for was ending. In order to deal with the problems she was facing, Solomon turned to songwriting. She decided to animate two of the songs she wrote without knowing exactly where this side project would take her (a longtime animation lover, Solomon created the animation for the children’s television show “Lizzie McGuire” as well as the animation for the series’ movie adaptation). After seeing the animations, her friend, producer Amy Schatz, took them to HBO who wanted Solomon to make an animated short. Solomon was set to write, direct, produce and perform in the musical, a long and difficult process.
The result is Getting Over Him in Eight Songs or Less, an animated musical short that follows a woman as she deals with her broken marriage through a journey of healing that includes online dating and a little retail therapy. Getting Over Him in Eight Songs or Less premieres on Valentine’s Day, February 14 (the irony!) on HBO2.
Solomon talked with MM about her love of animation, the process of making Getting Over Him in Eight Songs or Less and what she hopes viewers will take away from the short.
Michael Gerali (MM): What started your interest in animation?
Debra Solomon (DS): I grew up with “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” lived for Saturday morning cartoons and was a fan of “The Jetsons,” “The Flintstones,” “The Gumby Show,” “Davey and Goliath,” etc. Yet it was not the stories of any of these shows that grabbed me, or the characters… it was that while watching them you were in a different visual world. My interest in storytelling originates with coming from a family of storytellers and from loving the comedy of Lenny Bruce, Shelley Berman, Phyllis Diller, Dodie Fields and Allan Sherman—who all, at one point or another, used their own lives as subject matter. So it is the blending of the cartoon world with the comedian’s way of presenting a story.
MM: What was the process of making Getting Over Him in Eight Songs or Less like?
DS: After the breakup of my marriage, for a six-month period I wrote over 30 songs. I had also begun working on a piece as a comedy routine called “The Friendship Crusade.” When I performed it in a comedy club I felt like it needed a beat behind it, so I made it into a song and called it “I Wanna Know Everyone In My Building.” I animated that song and “Teach Me To Be A Woman.” At that time I had no idea where I was going with the project, but I did feel that the songs worked together. I shared them with my friend Amy Schatz who is a producer at HBO. She loved the work and told me that I should show the films to [longtime HBO executive] Sheila Nevins. Sheila loved the idea of telling this story of getting over him in songs. I got great input from Lisa Heller at HBO as well.
Creating the structure around the songs and the choosing of those songs was the hard part. Writing this film was a little bit like getting my graduate’s degree in writing musicals. Animating it was a long process as well. I worked without storyboards and rode the rails of the songs, creating stream-of-consciousness animation that is a construction of metaphors that start with my experience, but lead off in many directions. I don’t climb around on the outsides of windows peering in, or axe my way into people’s homes, or headbutt the doors of my neighbors—it is my art to seemingly draw the audience into the very heart of my life and experience… just as any good writer draws on his experience and then mixes it with other elements. Hence, this is my story, but not at all—at the same time.
MM: You wrote, directed and animated the short, as well as wrote and performed the songs; did all of this ever become overwhelming?
DS: There was a month or two that I was recording and working on the animation full tilt with three people painting the film. So it was an odd horse race where I was out ahead, pulling the songs together and recording so that I could animate and keep the painters, who were right behind me, busy. Every song required four or more studio sessions to record it. In 2008 I got laryngitis and lost my voice for three weeks. I thought the entire production would just stop; somehow, I stayed out in front. I think perhaps because everyone went on holiday for Christmas and by the time they got back I was able to sing again and start recording and begin animating once again.
MM: What do you hope audiences take away from the film? Do you think this will be able to help women who are going through the same issues as the character is?
DS: I have had a lot of women and men say to me, “That’s my story.” In that that recognition is some validation for the viewer—an updraft of feeling when one sees a hard time they’ve experienced, captured and overcome, that they can then laugh at. Yes, I guess that there is a healing element in there, but one that is not my original goal in making a film. If I set out to do that, it would be more of a bedtime story for women. I hope that anyone else that can’t connect with the film in a visceral way can enjoy the music and the humor in the film.
MM: What’s up next for you?
DS: I am working on a longer film, which will also revolve around music. I guess you can make that… I’m working on another musical.