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Writer Hugh O'Conor & director Jessica Patterson discuss Worry World
19 Dec 2023 : Luke Shanahan
Worry World
We spoke with writer Hugh O’Conor and director Jessica Patterson to discuss their animated short film Worry World. The film is eligible for the Best Animated Short Film category at the 96th Academy Awards.

Worry World was written by Hugh O’Conor and directed by Jessica Patterson. The film received its World Premiere as part of the Screen Ireland shorts programme at this year's Galway Film Fleadh and went on to receive the James Horgan Award for Best Animated Short Film, qualifying the short for submission to the Oscars. Worry World also received the Audience Award for Best Short - Animation at the Newport Beach Film Festival.

Set in a black-and-white world in which all thoughts are on display, Worry World follows a rebellious factory worker who thinks in colour and makes an unexpected connection.

The short features voice acting from Florence Adebambo and Domhnall Gleeson, and was produced by Shauna Cullen for JAM Media.

We caught up with writer Hugh O’Conor and director Jessica Patterson to discuss how the two creatives crossed paths, the stylistic influences on the short’s animation, and the journey the short has taken from script to screen.

IFTN: I believe you started working on this project in 2016, what were the concepts that initially inspired the script and how has it developed since then?

HUGH: “It’s crazy to think it’s that long ago! I had been working on an animation project, The Overcoat, based on Gogol’s short story, with Giant Animation and A Film Estonia, which took a good few years to make. I loved the process, though, and dreamed of making another animation, with potentially more of a graphic novel style.”

“I remember thinking how we all live in our heads so much, but nobody really knows what each other are thinking from moment to moment. So what if our thoughts were actually visible, how weird and potentially terrifying would that be? And what if the rich paid to hide their thoughts? How would that story play out? It was a concept that seemed really suited to animation, in terms of being able to show people’s thoughts, almost like speech bubbles in comics, and transitioning in and out of them.”

“That led to a very rough first draft of a script, which I eventually got to show to Jess. She had so many brilliant ideas, as did Shauna, our producer with Jam Media, and the whole animation team. So we decided to go for it - if we could!”

IFTN: Jessica, at what point did you come onboard the project?

JESSICA: “I joined the project quite early on. Having met Hugh in July 2018, we began chatting through the script and discussing development early the following year. Hugh had a really strong script with an already solid sense of story and plenty of ideas for the world of the short, so when I came on board it was to begin working out how we might translate this to animation.”

IFTN: What were some of the inspirations for the animation style of the short?

JESSICA: “We drew a lot of inspiration early on from cartoons and illustrations found in The New Yorker, with a particular focus on the work of artist Liana Fynk, how she tackles big topics of discussion through minimal and organic linework. Richard McGuire’s graphic novel ‘Here’ was another piece of work we returned to often as an insight into the potential of windows as framing for the past, present and future, or equally to display inner thoughts, along with ‘Marfa’ by The Brothers McLeod which I think I watched on repeat for most of 2018.”

IFTN: The film is largely wordless, but we get a few moments where we get to hear the voices of the leads, Florence Adebambo and Domhnall Gleeson. When casting the film, what were you looking for in the actors you were searching for?

JESSICA: “As there was such limited dialogue in the film we realised we would only have a brief moment to allow the audience to connect with our leads that bit more before the ending. We knew from the outset we were looking for Irish voices. The location of the story is pretty ambiguous so we wanted to maintain a connection to home, particularly when sending the film out into the world. Due to the highly stylised design it was also important to us that the characters sounded like real people. Natural, with a degree of uncertainty, as though they haven’t used their voices in a prolonged period of time. We were so privileged to get to work with both Florence and Domhnall who, despite only having a few lines to work with, instantly added their own sense of depth to the words.”

IFTN: When writing the script, how did you go about deciding where to embrace silence and where to introduce language?

HUGH: “Since the idea in Worry World is that our thoughts are all around us, almost as a source of shame and punishment, then the need for language becomes redundant, except for the elite few who can afford it. That meant trying to tell the story in a purely visual way, which animation can do so creatively. This was a really exciting challenge, if at times quite tricky to make work. It also made any moments of dialogue between our characters even more special, which Florence and Domhnall brought to life so beautifully and emotionally.”

IFTN: How did it feel to receive the Oscar-qualifying James Horgan Award for best animated short at the Galway Film Fleadh?

HUGH: “I first met Jess at the Fleadh in Galway in 2018 when we both screened our shorts at the Town Hall, so to premiere Worry World there five years later, and win the James Horgan award, really was a dream come true. The range and quality of the films in competition for the Oscars this year is incredible, so to even be in the conversation is a huge deal for us. Mainly we’re just excited that it’ll hopefully inspire more people to see it!”

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