This week in Bristol and Me, we speak to Peter Lord, patron of Slapstick Festival and co-owner of Aardman Animations
It’s the spirit that makes Slapstick Festival special, that crossover between golden-era slapstick and more recent visual comedy. Some people think that, because they’re black and white, with funny old Model T Fords trundling around the dusty streets of California, it’s quirky ancient history, but it’s very satisfying when a joke somebody made 100 years ago is delivered in Bristol in 2019 to a great roar of laughter.
Three classic elements of comedy are recognition, anticipation and surprise; a skilful comic can play on surprise as if it was a stringed instrument. The very first thing we did, the Aard Man animation in 1972, was a good slapstick idea, albeit not very well executed – you think he’s going to fall down a hole and instead he picks it up and then falls down a nonexistent one. The best joke in film history, I think, is in Nick Park’s The Wrong Trousers, when Gromit is on a runaway toy train – obviously, he could step off at any time, but in the moment it seems like life and death – and he picks up the box labelled ‘spare track’ and lays it out ahead; impossible to do, but extremely funny.
Aardman’s transitioning to employee ownership is about Dave Sproxton and I planning to retire, though in no great rush. People often think ‘How do I cash in on this thing I’ve built?’ but we didn’t think in those terms. We’re taking some money out, but without impacting the structure, so it can stay British-owned, Bristol-based and independent. The challenge will be to keep generating creativity from the ground up; young people with big ideas are the heart and soul of our business.
This year’s big release is Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, featuring an alien landing. It’s set in England, but we’ve referred to classic sci-fi movies by placing the familiar stone farm buildings in a wider, more golden landscape, slightly resembling the prairies of middle America where most
sci-fi films appear to be set. It was lovely to work on.
Slapstick Festival runs from 16–20 January. Ffi: slapstick.org.uk