Song Of The Sea – Interview with Irish animator Tomm Moore

It’s got to be pretty gauling for the big animation studios in Hollywood that everytime Kilkenny’s Cartoon Saloon studio has stepped up to the plate, this little Oirish operation keeps getting so much critical and awards love. It happened in 2009, with ‘The Secret Of Kells’ – the Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences (that’s the Oscars to you, dummy) immediately nominate it as one of the greatest animated films of the year, as does the Annie Awards, Annecy International, Edinburgh Film Festival, our own IFTAs, and a host of others.


And just to prove that Kells wasn’t some sort of one-trick-underdog, Cartoon Saloon have repeated the trick with this year’s ‘Song Of The Sea’. Same magical, Celtic beauty, mysticism and mischief; same heavyweight love from film boards around the world. So, how does this barely-out-of-nappies little Irish animation studio keep hitting home-runs? We caught up with co-founder Tomm Moore – and the man behind the camera on both ‘The Secret Of Kells’ and ‘Song Of The Sea’ – to find out…
Song Of The Sea’ has been getting a lot of awards love – does it still surprise you, given that this is a relatively small film from a quiet corner of the world?

It’s definitely a little surreal. Sometimes it takes a few months for stuff like the Oscars to sink in. Fantastic to get the recognition, always, as your hope is that people will notice this small film and actually go and see it. That’s the goal for every small film. In place of a huge marketing budget, let’s go wave like fools on the awards circuit.


All that critical acclaim doesn’t pay the rent though – do you consider the commercial potential before, during or after the process? Do you have to put your John Lasseter cap on?

John has great instincts when it comes to knowing what will work for audiences, and you certainly hope that you’re delivering something people want too. My wife is a primary school teacher, so I actually use those poor little tykes as my test audience, showing them different cuts of the film as we go along. It’s a great way of getting a genuine response, as kids tend to say exactly what they’re thinking. But yeah, it’s certainly something we consider along the way, and we’ve been lucky in that we’re actually friends with quite a few of the guys in Pixar. So, we’ve been able to run a few ideas by these guys too, and if it works for them, you can be pretty sure you’re on the right path.


For Pixar, the Beatles of modern animation, the mantra is story, story, story. Would it be the same for you guys? Or is the animation itself the main driving force?

Pete Doctor is going to swing down to us when he’s at the Galway Film Fleadh, to show ‘Inside Out’ to us here, so, that’s really sweet of him. But, yeah, story is king for Pixar, and that’s what makes them such a special studio. ‘Toy Story’ looks kinda dated now, but the story is still powerful. John Lasseter has been a great friend, even introducing me to Myazaki at the Governor’s Ball. They’re an incredible bunch at Pixar, and we’d certainly look to them for advice, and as a blueprint of how to get things right. We have a little brain trust, just like Pixar, just on a much smaller budget. And expectation. We don’t have to answer to shareholders who are worried about the $150million…


The worldwide box-office for Kells was $739,454. ‘Song of The Sea’ is doing better already – $857,522 worldwide, all from the US box-office. So, early days – still, where would you hope to make the bulk of your money on these films?

It’s a long tale. ‘The Secret Of Kells’ only started paying for itself six, seven years down the line, and so the challenge is there to make movies with the kind of budget they need, and making that money back along with a small profit. There’s so much going on, with the internet especially, that makes it more and more difficult for smaller films, but you have to keep trying. If you make good films, they’re far more likely to find an audience.


On paper, you look like an overnight sensation – I’m guessing, given that this is animation, that overnight senstation took about 327 years? Does it feel that way?

It does feel like 327 years at time, and then, it can also feel like only yesterday that I started out. I’m 16 years into my career, and you realise that each film takes about 5 years. So, how many films am I going to make in my lifetime? And you’re always learning, always pushing forward. I’m taking painting classes at the moment, and it made me realise that I really don’t know my arse from my elbow…


 SONG OF THE SEA – Irish release date – July 10th