Film Courage: Where did you grow up?
Cinzia Angelini: I grew up in Milano, Italy but spent lot of my time during weekends and summer vacations in Trento, more in the North, where my families are from. It’s a great area both for summer and winter vacations and I have lot of amazing memories from those years.
FilmCourage: What are the best qualities that each of your parents taught you?
Cinzia: Compassion and Honesty
“[My love for animation] began in front of a tiny black and white TV as I was watching Japanese animated series like Conan, Mazinga and Lupin. I was fascinated by everything, always wondering how they did it.”
MILA – Writer and Director Cinzia Angelini
Film Courage: Did your parents lend support toward creativity or encourage another type of career/focus?
Cinzia: Yes, both very supportive, especially my mom who is a painter herself. She always believed in me and did all she could to encourage and protect me. Sometimes parents and people in general don’t really support young adults that want to become artists hoping for careers that are more “stable.” She was amazing and I owe her so much! I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for her faith in me.
Film Courage: Did you go to film school?
Cinzia: I went to an animation school in Milano. I was studying graphic design during the day and animation at night. After the first few months I felt in love with animation and I knew that animation was what I wanted to pursue in life.
Film Courage: Do you remember the first animated film you watched?
Cinzia: I remember watching Cinderella at a movie theater with all my cousins back in Italy. I think it was a Christmas and I must have been 4 or 5 years old. I remember some of it, hearing kids laughing. I remember the screen being so big and Cinderella’s dress so blue!
Film Courage: How did your love for animation begin?
Cinzia: It began in front of a tiny black and white TV as I was watching Japanese animated series like Conan, Mazinga and Lupin. I was fascinated by everything, always wondering how they did it. I imagined a long line of drawing being moved very fast behind the TV… not so far from reality!
Film Courage: You have a question on the MILA Facebook “If you could be a child again, how old would you be? What would you do?”
Cinzia: How would you answer this? I would like to be 10 again and spend the summer vacation in southern Italy, fishing octopuses, running with the bike with all my friends, capturing lizards and spending the summer evening outdoor with music and great Italian food. Falling asleep on my mom’s arms as adults would carry on with stories, laughing, singing, playing guitar. That would be nice.
Cinzia: This story is very personal to me because it was inspired by what my mother went through during WW2 in Italy. She would tell me about how frightening it was when she would hear the planes fly overhead and the sounds of the explosions from the bombs dropping. Thankfully, she didn’t incur any losses of family, but many people did, as you know, but the fear and the memories still haunt her. So, I started thinking about how tragic events, especially war affects children and how that will stay with them forever. I have two children myself and the thought of them ever having to deal with something like this is unthinkable as a parent and I really wanted to create “Mila” so that hopefully we, as a society can start a conversation not only amongst ourselves, but with our children. They are our future leaders, so if we can help change the course of one future leaders’ actions away from unnecessary war, then I feel that we might be able to help avoid history repeating itself and of course, less death and destruction and children having to grow up so fast without their parents or loved ones.
Film Courage: When did you learn the full story of your mother’s history?
Cinzia: I was a child. I heard that story of her not being able to even move when the attacks would start over and over again. Maybe it was my mom’s way of coping with it; sharing that with me so many times during the years. My grandmother also told me a lot of stories about those difficult times. How some of her friends died under the bombs, how the Nazis just came in and occupied the house, how the family escaped at night up the mountains to avoid the bombings. So much courage, strengths and resilience. Extremely difficult times and it’s sad to see it happening again today, every day.
Film Courage: What did she teach you about resilience, either from outright discussion or by observing her?
Cinzia: She taught me that human beings can be extremely strong but at the same time incredibly fragile and that life must be protected and respected at all times. She often says that if man would experience what it means to give birth we would have less violence and conflicts in the world. I agree. I am a mother and I think women have an embedded respect for life because we know what it is to carry one inside you.
Film Courage: How did you see your mother’s early experiences enter or shape her adulthood?
Cinzia: She has always been sensitive when she heard people scream. In a situation of tension and chaos she tends to get confused and freezes. If she hears old bombers go by, like during the 4th of July in the US, she starts taking about WWII right away, remembering the feelings she experienced. It’s something that stays with you for the rest of your life.
Film Courage: How long was the idea floating around in your head before you started writing MILA?
Cinzia: I played with the idea of doing a film about war for few years. I was really effected by conflicts that we had in Europe in the nineties and of course by all the stories I heard growing up. Only in 2007 I decide to pick a story that was close to my heart and create a character and a script around it.
Film Courage: When did you approach your mother about the idea?
Cinzia: I don’t really recall but she was surprised. She is so humble and would have never thought to inspire a story. She loves to see the progress and I love that I am able to share it with her. She is a mom to the entire Mila Team!
“Mila” – #LetsMakeADifference for Child Survivors of War
Film Courage: How long did it take you to write the first draft?
Cinzia: It was a long progress because the story that inspired Mila is not so interesting from a character stand point. A little girl that freezes with terror. How interesting is that? In Film you want a character that is active and moves the story forward and changes and evolves with it. I did not have that in my mom’s story so I built around it keeping the core idea of showing how much a kid can be emotionally effected by a conflict but also how strong and how creative a little girl can get in order to survive emotionally.
Film Courage: How many people did you share the script with during the writing process?
Cinzia: A lot of people at the studio I was working at at the time. It can be scary to share your stories. If feels like being naked in public but you have to do it because it’s the best way to improve it.
Film Courage: How long have you been planning the film? What went into the pre-planning?
Cinzia: I started developing it with few colleagues and friends back in 2007/8, I then had to stop for a year because of the arrival of my second child but also because of work and started back in 2010. Mila is set in Trento during 1943, so research was a huge part of pre-production. Finding the right design and look for any props, cloth or building in order to belong to that era and the city was key. I cannot even think how many emails, meetings and discussions we had about any and every little details of the city, the interior of a house, the colors, textures and design. We spent 3 years just building everything as texture and look dev artists were working on what was modeled. 2013 -2015 were dedicated to finishing up look development, rigging and animation. We are now on the second half of animation, working on CFX, FX and Lighting. Pre-production, Production and Post kind of overlap, I would say overlap by a lot on Mila. It’s the nature of having a volunteer based project. It’s not easy to do an animated film when you have millions of dollars in budget. Imagine when you have nothing or close to nothing. But it’s doable, we are doing it!
Film Courage: Since beginning MILA in 2010, what has the last 6 years of your life been like? Were there times you feared the movie would not see completion?
Cinzia: Yes! Many. I have less and less of those moments as the film is progressing well and the final results are extremely encouraging not only for me but for the entire team. The last 6 years have been incredibly exciting and at the same time very demanding. I definitely learned how to multi task! You have to when you have a full time job, two kids, a husband and Mila!
I find the strength in my family, my team and of course in Andrea, my producer, that is a force behind us all!
Film Courage: How did you calculate the budget?
Cinzia: Well, animation is expensive and even if you have a volunteer team, like we do, there are still a lot of expenses. The thing we definitely have to spend money on is the rendering, so we basically worked out our budget needs starting from there, what kinds of server, file sharing and other production costs we might need to keep the production moving and to make the pipeline work. It’s been tricky, and changes as we progress. Whether we need to think about software or hardware, promotions or a plane ticket to certain events like when we recorded our orchestral score in Italy with a live orchestra. I could not miss that!
Film Courage: Why are you currently crowdfunding?
Cinzia: Like I mentioned, animation is expensive and there are a lot of production costs that still have to be addressed in order to make the film. We have received grants from the Trentino Film Commission and Fondazione Cassa Rurale in Trento for rendering, but we need more not only to render the entire film but also for the day to day production costs. We have been very lucky to find some amazing sponsors who have supported us through some software licenses to social media/press but we really need the help of those who believe in projects like ours and understand the advantages of crowdfunding. Crowdfunding can be stressful, but every independent project will need to raise money to fund their project at some point so it’s been a great tool.
Film Courage: What are your plans for distribution?
Cinzia: Right now, we’re not focusing on this as of yet, since we really just want to finish the film and the head to the film festival circuit, but it’s something we discuss and are working on a plan now.
Film Courage: How did you meet your producer Andrea Emmes?
Cinzia: Through a friend of mutual friend of ours. March 2010, we were introduced and I had the chance to tell her about Mila and she was so moved by the project that she asked how should could help. I felt right away she was someone that had experience and had passion and determination to make things happen. Andrea is incredible, the best producer you can dream of, she makes it happen and especially as an independent filmmaker you need that strong partner in the production side of things. That is key for any production but specially for an independent one.
Film Courage: In the MILA campaign’s pitch you say “I started working on Mila because I believe animation can talk about serious matters.” What psychological reasons contribute to people being willing to hear a story or message when it’s in an animated format?
Cinzia: Mostly, you see animations are very lighthearted or silly in content and that is very relevant and important as a lot of times, that is how we can find our escape from the stressful situations that life brings our way. However, I think there is a part of us that regresses psychologically when watching an animated film, that brings us back to that childlike state of mind where we are more open to receive new things and absorb things like a sponge. Kids are so amazing, and so open and honest, and I think we can really tap into our inner child to find strength, resilience and hope as children have less filters or walls. As adults we tend to see things with the added burden of our experiences whether negative or positive which can actually cloud our ability to try new things, accept a different perspective whereas children are so open and honest that they see what they see and are willing to honestly take something new in and make the most of it. Also, for me, animation is the medium I love most, so it made sense for me to present Mila in this format. We see the film through Mila’s eyes, a 5 year old little girl, who lives through the bombings of WW2, loses her family and yet is still able to choose to find the joy and hope in life and persevere. I think that’s powerful and hopefully our audience will be moved by the story and Mila that it might allow them to open their minds to a new perspective on war and what it does to children.
“Everyone can relate [to MILA]. Kids and adults. People that suffered war or suffered for other reasons not necessarily related to war. MILA represents the innocent and vulnerable little kid that is inside each and everyone of us.”
MILA – Writer and Director Cinzia Angelini
Film Courage: From your Indiegogo campaign page, we understand that MILA is a volunteer-based project comprised of more than 250 artists from around the world. Can you explain how this works in making the film?
Cinzia: We started out pretty small in the beginning, all volunteers of course, but when we really realized that we were going give this a go and make the film, more people became interested. The story is very moving and that resonates with a lot of people, whether than relate to loved ones lost in a war or not, because we all go through struggles and challenges in life and we all need to be reminded that we can choose hope. We can find inner strength to change our outcomes and make a better life for ourselves or others. Another thing that has pulled such talent to us is that though we are all excited to work on an acclaimed project for a big studio or where ever, it’s not our story, or our vision. It’s the studio and we’re paid to help make that a reality. With “Mila”, though it is my story, everyone of us feels a bit of “ownership” on the project because we are able to make this on our own, high quality and make a difference in the world. As creative people, we are always going to be creating, and I think artists are more willing to volunteer on a project that can be impactful and are willing to give more of themselves because it can not only enhance their own lives whether it’s working in a position that they wouldn’t have gotten in a big studio before, able to show their work now, password protected, on their portfolios which is rare since for most films, you have to wait years until the film is completed before you can show your work, but also many of them feel what they do on Mila can help others or be a tribute to family that they lost through war, etc.
In getting new talent, we’ve reached out to friends we know in the industry as well as social media outlets, also Zerply.com, one of our sponsors has been a fantastic resource for us in finding new people. After we explain the project, our process, etc. we discuss how much time they might have to offer, find the right place to put them and the rest is just staying in constant communication as lots of things can come up and change. We’ve been very lucky as we have a lot of people who were working with us in 2010 come back now to help out in other areas.
Film Courage: Who are the MILA family members? What does the film represent to them?
Cinzia: Everyone that has worked on the film is considered a “Mila Family member”. Even though we all work remotely all around the world and may never meet each other in person, we feel like a strong family because we just have this unified love for the project and for Mila. It just kind of happened and we fully embrace it. Our culture and philosophy is to treat our team with love and respect and gratitude. Their time and talent is a gift that we don’t take for granted.
As for what the film represents for them, that varies from person to person. Many of us have sent us heartfelt letters of how the film moved them because of grandparents they lost in WW2. Others have mentioned that this was a chance for them to finally work in their dream field because where they live, the opportunities really don’t exist to work in animation. Everyone has their own reasons and it’s been really humbling every day too see these amazing people put everything they have into this project, for free, knowing what our end goal is and what we hope to present to the world. It’s beautiful.
Film Courage: Who do you think can closely relate to the character MILA?
Cinzia: Everyone can relate. Kids and adults. People that suffered war or suffered for other reasons not necessarily related to war. Mila represents the innocent and vulnerable little kid that is inside each and everyone of us.
Film Courage: Can you tell us why MILA’s campaign is using the slogan #LetsMakeADifference?
Cinzia: We went through many iterations of this which are all good, like #LetsChosePeace or #LetsChoseHope, but we realized that “Making a Difference” was something that really resonated with us and others because it was really an active call for others to get involved, to do something big or small to make a difference in the world. So many people feel that they are insignificant and they can’t make a difference in the world or grand scheme of things and we believe that every one of us can make a difference, it’s just different for each of us. For some, they can make a difference by helping causes like our own by making a financial contribution. Others can help by spreading the word on social media, talking to their friends, writing their congressman. Another way people can help make a difference is to actively volunteer at their local charity, like UNICEF, who has now lent their support to Mila. Together, we can do anything.
Film Courage: Can you share who will be doing the film score? How did you discover Flavio Gargano? What elements will be / are important in telling the story of MILA? What moods are you conveying with the music?
Cinzia: It was clear from the very beginning that Mila had to be a musical piece. I wanted to support the visuals with the strongest possible way, a universal language for all, every nation, every era. I didn’t want any dialogue but only music and the emotions it can bring. Flavio Gargano found me on Facebook in 2010. He was inspired by an old teaser and wrote me that he wanted to be part of it. He has been on Mila since and is finalizing the score now that we have a locked reel.
Film Courage: Who performed the completed score for MILA? How did you feel upon seeing/hearing it come to fruition?
Cinzia: I was recently in Rome when we recorded the music for the trailer and it was a magical experience to hear a full orchestra play the music for my film. Flavio posted on the Italian forum for musicians that we were looking for some musicians hoping to record 7 or 8 instruments to mix with the computer generated music. Something you usually do for indie productions. Flavio called me a few days later and told me we had 150 applicants… He auditioned for 3 days and picked the elements for a full orchestra. And if you are wondering, yes musicians volunteered their time!
Film Courage: Do you have tips on working with, being specific with a composer and giving notes/feedback?
Cinzia: Hard to tell because everyone is so different in how they work. I think musicians rely more on the emotions and who the character is and what it feels more than the story per say. It’s important as a director to be able to express what the character feels but also how you want the audience to feel in that particular moment. Visuals are very important for a composer because the create watching your reel so the better visuals you can provide the better.
Film Courage: In the 20 years’ worth of working in animation, what has been most surprising to you?
Cinzia: I think realizing how powerful artists can be when they get together and work united in one direction. Especially on an independent project like Mila which the artists are motivated by different reasons as to why they are working on it.
“We worked hard to prepare a campaign that would give our fans the chance to help the production, the artists, and the #MilaMovement.”
Cinzia Angelini, MILA Writer/Director
What/Who is Mila?
Set during World War II, “Mila” is a complex and unusual subject for animation. The story is of five-year-old Mila, and is set in 1943, during the bombing of Trento, Italy. It focuses on the collateral damage affecting the civilian population – especially the children. Cinzia says, “the film was inspired by tales of my mother during the War, when she was Mila’s age.”
“Mila” is a universal message of hope, perseverance and compassion. “Mila” will take you on an emotional ride using powerful visuals and an original, captivating orchestral score.
The crowd-funding campaign is organized and managed directly by the Mila Team.
Cinzia Angelini has worked as an animator and story artist in feature productions for more than twenty years. She began the American chapter of her career at DreamWorks, followed a path that would lead to collaborations with all of the major studios in Hollywood. Her work includes “Prince of Egypt”, “Eldorado”, “Spirit”, “Sinbad”, “Spider-man 2”, “Open Season”, “Meet the Robinsons” and “Bolt”, the “How to train your Dragon” and “Kung Fu Panda” DVD specials, as well the Universal Theme Park Despicable Me ride, “Minions Mayhem”. Cinzia recently worked as a story artist on the Minions Movie and is currently working on various upcoming projects for Illumination Entertainment. Cinzia is also directing her own independent short film, “Mila”, a collaboration of 250 artists from 25 countries around the world, due out in 2016. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two children and their dog, Pepper.
Cinzia was born in Italy and studied graphic design and animation in Milan, after which she began working as storyboard artist and traditional animator for TV shows at several Italian studios. She then spent three years working in Munich and London for studios such as Amblimation and Warner Brothers.
Cinzia began the American chapter of her career at DreamWorks, following a path that would lead to collaborations with all of the major studios in Hollywood. Her work includes “Prince of Egypt”, “Eldorado”, “Spirit”, “Sinbad”, “Spider-man 2″(Best Visual Effects Oscar Winner, 2004), “Open Season”, “Meet the Robinsons” and “Bolt”. Cinzia’s work also includes the DVD specials “How to Train your Dragon” & “Kung Fu Panda 2″ and the “Minions Mayem” Theme Park project for Universal. Cinzia recently worked as a story artist on the Minions Movie and is currently working on various upcoming projects for Illumination Entertainment.
Over the course of the last few years Cinzia created, and is currently directing “Mila”, a high quality CG short film about a little girl whose life takes an unexpected turn in WWII. “Mila” is an online, world-wide collaboration produced with 250 artists from more than 25 countries. They are united by a common goal, under a virtual roof of sorts, in their unique volunteer effort. “Mila” is set to be released in 2016. Cinzia also loves to paint and illustrate children’s books. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two children and their dog, Pepper.