Founded by Izzy Bristow, Helena Houghton, and Cat Rock, The House of Funny Noises is a Bristol based film collective that aims to make short, sweet, and sickening puppet films and media. Working with friends and other local artists, in less than a year, they have produced and released six films. We caught up with them to find out how their year has gone, the challenges they faced, and what the future holds.
How did The House of Funny Noises form, what are you all about, and what are the goals behind your collective?
Helena Houghton (HH): Initially, it started during the first lockdown, while we were all out of work with not a lot to do, we took part in the LA Guild of Puppetry’s 48 hour Film Project. We decided to play on hard mode and make everything! We were up at 2:00 AM till 2:00 AM two days later making BELLY and after that we just thought, ‘great, let’s keep doing this!’. Since then we have made five more films and we are really enjoying ourselves.
As a collective, we are all about making films that are short, sweet, and sickening. Our main objective is to experiment, we love to push our imaginations to make fascinating and sometimes disgusting visuals, as well as tell concise thought provoking stories. We really enjoy taking a story and turning it on its head. For example, when filming SPROUT for the Raindance 60 second film competition we were given the theme ‘love in lockdown’, so we chose to make a dramatic romance and betrayal starring spider plants. We like to subvert expectations and find ways to make something fresh.
Over the last year, you’ve created a variety of puppet films; what have been the challenges you’ve faced?
HH: Working to deadlines has been difficult, a lot of what we have done has had a very quick turnaround time, so getting to grips with making puppet films fast, organising that, has been interesting.
We’ve all had to learn how to film and edit properly. I have some experience from university, but that was a while ago, and for Cat and Izzy it was their first time doing film like this and we are all still constantly learning and pushing ourselves. Mostly, I think learning how we work together has been the biggest challenge, but it’s also been great. We are definitely growing with each project and I think doing it all in the middle of a pandemic is quite an achievement. We make an excellent team.
What have you learnt from the experience, often with very quick turnarounds, of making puppet films?
HH: As a collective, I think we have learnt that communication is key. We all work in different ways and that is difficult, but also has a lot of merit. Everytime we work together we learn from each other. We have started doing a ‘lessons learnt’ meeting at the end of each project so when we move on to the next thing we document what works and what doesn’t.
We have picked up a host of skills through doing this, all of us are puppet makers originally, but we do everything, all the lighting, camera work, and post production ourselves so that has been a fun learning curve. Importantly, you need just as much rehearsal time as filming, it’s no good spending lots of time making a fancy puppet and set without getting to know them before you shoot!
I have learnt a lot about the way I work with others, as a very visual worker, I need to sketch and storyboard things out before we get into anything, to feel like I have a good idea of what we are making and how we want it to feel. Also, I have learnt a lot about live action puppets through Cat and Izzy’s guidance, getting better at designing mechanisms and learning more about performance.
Izzy Bristow (IB): Editing, I have learnt so much about what it is to have an idea, build it up into something, and then have the reality of time and budget slap us in the face. Oddly enough, what is left when all the extra bits are shed away is a much more concise and elegant version of the original idea.
Cat Rock (CR): Opportunity comes to those who are prepared! This is one of my favorite quotes and it really sums up what I have learned from working in the House of Funny Noises. You need to take the time to build your skill set and working practice so that you have a solid base on which to stand. With each project we have learnt a little bit more and developed as a group, on the next project we work better together and more efficiently, building on what we experienced before.
Over the last year (it’s nearly our anniversary!), we have grown so much and now we are in a position to take on opportunities and challenges, bringing our point of view into the puppetry world. We have prepared ourselves with the skills and determination to grab the opportunities to come.
What have been your favourite moments, and films themselves, from amongst the pieces you’ve produced? What do you hope audiences take away from them?
IB: I think SNOT (Going Out) is my favorite. Cat did an excellent job of figuring out the limitations of the LA Guild of Puppetry’s Halloween 48 hour Challenge and then creating a film that looks like it didn’t have anything holding it back at all. The story fits perfectly in the time allotted and within the small set she made all on her own (due to scheduling problems it was a film Cat took on without us but with Matt Gibbs behind the camera).
CR: One of my personal favorite moments was from our first film BELLY. I performed an upside down mouth monster and then we recorded foley for the scene. It was funny, grose, weird, and utterly fun to film. The cherry on top of the cake is that when the judges from the LA Guild of Puppetry’s 48 hour Film Project were talking about the film, which won honourable mention, one judge said, “The chin puppet was very effective. Too effective! Incredibly gross. Congratulations, but I never want to see anything like that again…” This made my day!
HH: My favourite film is probably SLINGJAW WRASSE. It’s quite hard to be both funny and informative, and Izzy wrote a fantastic script, plus the beautiful yellow puppet made by Nick Wilsher and finished by Izzy is wonderfully eye-catching.
HH: Any time we make something a bit messy too; we had so much fun making the fish egg scene in SLINGJAW WRASSE. We had a big tank of water, lots of gunge that Cat had made, and bright pink boba beads. We played around with getting just the right amount of gross for the shot and again on SNOT (Going Out) the creature was so gooey.
I think we hope our audience will just enjoy them, each film is individual. We want to make people feel the expression we put into them. SNOT is kind of gross and scary, WORM is a bit cute and fun, SLINGJAW WRASSE is that combo of informative silly and nerdy, etc, etc.
What’s next for the House of Funny Noises? What more can we look forward to in 2021?
HH: We are thrilled to say that we will be making a short film for the Beverley Puppet Festival’s ‘Sanctuary’ project, which we are looking forward to telling you more about in the future! Currently, we’re working with the festival team to gather ideas and inspiration from the people of Beverley.
In April, we’re taking part in the next 48 hour Puppet Film Project from the LA Guild of Puppetry. Later in the summer, we’ll also be helping Puppet Place run the second ever Bristol 48 hour Puppet Film Challenge, for which we have just organised one of the judges, so stay tuned for that announcement.
We have also been having a great time collecting a folder of all the story ideas we would like to do. Some are epic, spooky fantasy, such as ‘BELTANE’ (WT), written by Matt Gibbs, that we are seeking funding for, while others are surreal comedies like our as yet unnamed boob film, which will focus on the comedy and double standards of breasts. We hope to be filming that one late spring, early this summer. We have a lot to keep us busy and we are excited to rise to the challenge!
Discover more details about the Beverley Puppet Festival’s ‘Sanctuary’ project and The House of Funny Noises involvement, and – if you’re a resident of Beverley – learn about how you can submit your stories and ideas.
The House of Funny Noises was founded by Izzy Bristow, Helena Houghton, and Cat Rock.
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Interview with Helena Houghton, plus additional comments by Izzy Bristow and Cat Rock
Interviewed by Matt Gibbs