Kate Jessop is an award-winning animator who has had her short films shown at countless festivals around the world. She has a diverse repertoire, including poetry adaptations, visuals for theatre and promotional material, which between them explore topics such as romantic love, sexuality and personal identity. Her most recent project is writing and directing a web series, Tales From Pussy Willow, an edgy, poignant series that cleverly picks out both funny and shocking elements of sexuality, misogyny and the generational gap.

Kate took some time out to talk to Now Then about her latest project.

How long have you been doing animation?

About 15 years, although I’d say I’m a mixed media filmmaker, as I incorporate live action techniques as well. I started out in Manchester doing music videos for bands I was friends with. I then started working with Comma Press doing film adaptations, produced by Ra Page. I’ve done an array of non-narrative and motion design commissions too.

What do you enjoy about animation?

I love animation. It’s simply the best medium of all the arts. Where else do you see a subtle interplay of design, rhythm and narrative all come together? It also allows you to address some difficult topics, which is why it’s used in documentary a lot.

I love the interactions you get with actors, but with Tales From Pussy Willow I didn’t want it to be fully live action. The animated bodies and environments add a slight otherworldly element to it, which I think softens some of the sharp dialogue. Some of the scripts can be quite breathtakingly close to the bone and I think it being partly animated makes it more digestible.

How would you describe your work?

I’d say all my work broadly is about the human experience realised by an experimental process. It can be cultural commentary in a humorous way, like Tales From Pussy Willow, or a more reflective way, like Little Elephant.

Tales From Pussy Willow is your first web series. What was the inspiration for this?

I like writing comedy as a way of processing the world and things that have happened to me. Although the series is funny, it also addresses serious issues such as misogyny and catcalling. People have said they find watching some of the episodes quite painful, but I’d like to think I’m holding a mirror up to society and calling people out on their nonsense.

I’ve been writing comedy for years, just scribbling into notebooks. A couple of years ago I just got it all down into scripts and sent it to some people, as I wasn’t sure if it was funny or not. I got some very positive feedback, so decided to make it. Anna Maguire (one of the actors in Tales From Pussy Willow) was one of the first people I sent the scripts to and she immediately said yes and has been in every series since. You can expect an array of topics from muso boys inspired by my time in Manchester to cat calling from feminist ally builders.

Parents Chat is a funny take on the difficulties of coming out to your parents. Do you think this will resonate with a lot of people?

It already has, I’ve had people thank me for writing it. This one and The Astronaut seem to really resonate with people. Parents Chat is the first script I ever wrote and then actually directed and was the opening episode of season one. It’s one of those episodes where it’s a real meeting point between the intersection of sexuality, race and class. It has some sharp lines in that I’ve heard people physically gasp at when sat with an audience. But it’s important for people to address some of the viewpoints that are represented in the characters.

Staffroom and That’s Fine By Me both expose the hetero-normative structure of society. Is this something you grapple with a lot?

I think it’s something that every LGBT+ person grapples with on a daily basis, as the world is designed to a hetero-normative structure and it can be exhausting when you don’t fit into that structure. The episodes explore femme invisibility and generally navigating bureaucracy and social systems as a queer person.

What techniques have you used in this series?

We spend a day in the green screen studio filming the actors’ faces. I then key and mask the footage and composite onto animated bodies in animated worlds. Award-winning animator Leo Crane has joined me in my Animation Girl Band and helps out on some of the animated sections. It takes a long time and a lot of work. It was a technique I pioneered first of all in a music video years ago then thought it would apply well to comedy. I made a video explaining the process behind Pussy Willow, here.

How did you feel when Tales From Pussy Willow won two awards - Best Comedy and Best LGBT series – at London Short Series Festival?

It was brilliant. It was nominated for three awards – also Best British Series – so I thought to win one would be amazing, but two was incredible. It’s been nominated a bunch of times, including at Manchester’s Pilot Light TV Festival for Best UK Series, as well as internationally.

You’ve just set up a Crowdfunder to help make series three. What goodies are up for grabs to supporters?

You can have a place named after you, be a background character or some people may enjoy the “I’m So Queer I Shit Glitter” t-shirt. Some organisations or companies may be interested in the product placement perk, where your brand is featured in an episode. Or you could just come to the private screening. Check out an array of perks available to support the making of the next season until 16 December. 

What can people expect from series three?

You can expect more of a surreal twist in the episodes with the return of Orgasm Unicorn and a new fully animated episode with no humans involved, called The Secret Lives of Lesbians Cats.

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