Whenever I see the name New Media Ltd I can’t help but think of the Simpsons episode where Homer is trying to name his Internet company and Marge suggests “Compu Global Hyper Meganet” (clip). As you might expect, the group’s generic name is meant to be ironic, and this is reiterated every time Mike Anderson, Ryan Dickie, and Abigail Horton release a new project that completely melts the faces of everybody on the entire Internet.
Their first short “Night Stalker” debuted at SXSW in 2016 and introduced a delightfully bizarre combination of 3D-scanning, motion capture, and hand-animation that has since become something of a trademark. I had the opportunity to ask the trio of filmmakers a little bit about their work, and true to form, some of my questions were answered individually while others were answered as one strange collective harmonious voice.
“The Giant” by New Media Ltd
Jeff Hamada: I know that Abby and Ryan are based in New York and Mike is, or at least was, based in Portland. Are you guys all living in New York now? I like to imagine that the image of the three of you sharing one pair of headphones is real and your bodies have actually started to merge together.
New Media Ltd: We are still bi-coastal! Mike is in Portland, Oregon, and Abby and Ryan are in Brooklyn, New York. We talk on the phone so much that yes, essentially we have been fused together by communication technology. We also do tons of screen sharing and Dropboxing. The merged floating heads you imagine are probably real, every day, floating somewhere over the Midwest.
Jeff Hamada: How long had you guys known each other before you made “Night Stalker”? What was the project that brought all of you together?
Ryan: Mike and I met in 2009 through a friend of mine from college, and started collaborating on music videos and commercial projects. In 2012 we worked on feature film called Blue Ruin and that’s when we met Abby. A few years later, Mike asked us if we’d like to work with him on a music video that ended up being the music video/short film “Night Stalker”, so we all collaborated on that. It went really well and felt right so we’ve been working together ever since.
“Night Stalker” by New Media Ltd
Jeff Hamada: In what ways are each of your sensibilities different?
New Media Ltd: Well, besides solo writing/directing careers, we all have worked a lot of different freelance jobs in film. Mike comes from production design and animation, Ryan from cinematography and editing, and Abby from production. We’re able to bring those different skills to the table. Creatively, we certainly have different interests and styles but are each able to bring some of that to our scripts and work and they inform each other well.
Jeff Hamada: Do you ever find it hard to work as a trio?
Abby: We make sure to have our own solo work going on the side where the really dark and personal stuff can come out, that’s important. But no, working together is great. I think I’ve learned three times as much in the past two years as I would have otherwise because I’ve got two really smart people challenging me and encouraging me everyday. You just have to all agree that the project and the work is number one. And we’ve been able to navigate the business side of things together, too, which has been an unexpected perk.
Mike: Yeah man, a thousand times agreed, I never could’ve learned this much this fast alone. I don’t have any formal filmmaking education so it’s has been incredible. It makes the solo stuff so much better, as well. I’m really surprised that trios aren’t more common. It’s really efficient. People often ask us about the inefficiencies of it, about having to compromise and whatnot: but the other side of that is that one person can be building EPK’s and answering emails while another is putting together a new project brief and another is wrapping the edit on the last project.
Yeasayer “Silly Me” – directed New Media Ltd
Jeff Hamada: I had this idea that if I ever released an album I would call it “Download Free Music” or something really annoying for people to try and torrent. I was reminded of this when I tried to Google “New Media Ltd” for this interview. I can appreciate the level of your trolling. What were your other choices for names?
New Media Ltd: Excellent name for an album! We decided on New Media Ltd very very quickly. Mainly because we laughed soooo much when we came up with it. But also because it didn’t sound like a band name and it would allow us to be whoever we wanted — a collective, studio, single person, corporation, whatever. It was also pretty freeing to not sweat the Google searchability stuff and just focus on making the work good enough to bring attention to us, instead of the opposite.
"it didn’t sound like a band name and it would allow us to be whoever we wanted — a collective, studio, single person, corporation, whatever"
Jeff Hamada: There’s something about your work that feels tangentially related to Encyclopedia Pictura. When I first saw their Seventeen Evergreen video it felt so fresh and strange and the videos that followed it all seemed to come from the same universe. I had a similar revelation watching “Night Stalker” and then your first video for Yeasayer. How would you describe the universe that your videos live in?
New Media Ltd: That’s a rad video! Thanks for the flattering comparison. We maybe don’t see everything as existing in exactly the same universe, but we work really, really hard to make sure each piece has a really defined set of rules, even if the things that happen are totally insane. It’s important to us. The wilder the ideas, the more they seem to need a framework, somehow. Ideally, that’s what makes it feel more like a “universe” than like a “style,” maybe – that there’s a sense of causality that’s consistent throughout, not just a shared humor or visual aesthetic.
For us, because we work like a writer’s room, constantly talking and overthinking things, even when we write a new story it stills sits in the framework of things we like. We’ve never defined it, though. Maybe it’s better not to define it: it’s way more fun to explore it, and be like “So this is what our candy commercial is like, and this is our fashion dance video,” or whatever.
Jeff Hamada: Can you talk a little bit about how you combine physical and digital methods in your work? I know it involves 3D scanning, what are we actually looking at?
Mike: Ha! It’s a big ol’ mess. We 3D scan some real things, some things we make by hand and 3D scan, other stuff we model in the computer. We mix up motion capture and hand-animation and store-bought digital assets. All the lighting is CG. Down the road, it’s going to get even messier. It doesn’t really matter to us how we get there, it’s really just that the final output looks perfect and serves the project. It’s kind of the Rauschenberg approach to animation. If New Media Ltd animation is a car, it’s a truck, and it’s license plate is GITRDUN.
Fashion film for Phelan’s C4 collection – directed by New Media Ltd
Jeff Hamada: What was the last thing you saw that really blew your mind?
Abby: I know I’m a bit late to the game here but I’ve been going through Xavier Dolan’s catalogue lately, and Mommy knocked me off my chair. He is emotion > intellect and to me it’s a really pure form of cinema that I could watch forever!
Mike: I’m watching Cowboy Bebop, that old anime right now. There’s so many references and genres that they’re trying to cram in there at once that it should be an unwatchable mess, but it’s totally balanced. It’s like watching an incredible juggler. Or like, the world’s greatest Jenga match.
Ryan: Twin Peaks: The Return and Shin Godzilla were remarkable, Lynch and Anno are two of the greatest storytelling masters of all time! So happy to see their later works have lost no potency.
Yeasayer “I Am Chemistry” – directed by New Media Ltd
Jeff Hamada: Who are some other filmmakers inspiring you these days?
Abby: El Popo Sangre. He is a France-based CGI artist who makes amazing short films and visual explorations. The stories are insane but always come to a really intimate, beautiful musing on the world.
Mike: Watching Neill Blomkamp’s approach to creating work with Oats is really, really interesting. I mean, the guy is releasing work on Steam and selling the 3D assets. If there’s any 21st century equivalent to the first thing that Lucas would’ve done with ILM, it’s gotta be something like that.
Ryan: I’ve really enjoyed Hirakazu Koreeda’s last two films, he loves his characters and is so patient with how the drama unfolds, really beautiful and heartbreaking moments throughout while never losing his sense of humor. I’ve also been digging around Robert Altman’s back catalog and finding gem after gem after gem. That trailer for the new Lynn Ramsey movie is incredible!
Jeff Hamada: Yeah, that film looks really intense. I’m very excited to see what Blomkamp does with Oats Studios—it’s actually close to where I live!
“Club Policy” – directed by New Media Ltd
Jeff Hamada: What’s next for New Media Ltd? Are you working on anything right now where the tone/style is more like “Club Policy”?
New Media Ltd: Yeah! We are pitching a short form episodic series at IFP Week in September. It’s called NowQuest and it’s about teen siblings traveling the universe for 10,000 years, having madcap adventures, very stoned, on their slow slow journey to negotiate the fate of humanity. Half live action, half animated. It’s conceptually very depressing but supposed to make you laugh a lot. ;)