“Requiem for a Crab” is a short film that is unique, off, darkly funny, and entirely memorable for its sheer creativity. It follows the story of Charlie, a grown man who wanders around in a crab-shaped mascot costume. Fitting enough, the audience is first introduced to Charlie in a psychiatrist’s office. It is assumed that he is mourning his deceased adopted father, Pops, but it quickly becomes apparent that Pops is far from gone. Instead, his ghost—which is reincarnated in the form of a crab—follows Charlie everywhere in an attempt to convince him to commit a murder.
“Requiem for a Crab” was featured at this year’s Rock the Shorts which was organized by Roxanne Marciniak. The festival aired on ShortsTV, but all film selections for the festival come through Roxanne and her team at Rock the Shorts where it won “Best Comedy.” This wonderfully weird and hilarious tale was born from the mind of writer and animator Patrick Gehlen. Although this film is his directorial debut, Patrick has had a remarkable career. He has worked on A-list shows such as “The Mandalorian” and “Game of Thrones” for which he won an Emmy for his role as Previs Lead.
Patrick recently discussed his career and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get interested in movies and television and why did you gravitate towards special effects?
Patrick Gehlen (PG): It started when I was a wee lad and my dad took me to see Star Wars. I fell in love and my dad then got me some cool books about the behind the scenes and I decided I probably wanted to make monsters in movies for a living.
MM: How did you break into the industry?
PG: I actually got my BA in Fine Arts, and then enjoyed the irony of framing my $60,000 diploma with the $5 an hour job I got at Aaron Brothers framing things after I graduated. Luckily I had received a computer as a graduation gift, which I mostly used to play games. But one game, MYST, changed everything. It wrecked my life for three weeks until I solved it. The creators had included a 20 minute documentary on the CD-ROM (yes…CD-ROM), and I realized this amazing piece of interactive art was just made by some nerdy friends with some computers. So I found out what 3D program they used, got a student copy, and started teaching myself 3D. I then made an awkward transition from a painting major in grad school into a mostly non-existent computer art program at UGA. I started learning Maya and Electric Image, and when I graduated, it turned out one of my mom’s friends in choir just happened to be a freelance VFX artist and he needed someone that knew Electric Image…so that lead to my first job. I never looked back and have never cut a reel…I just got every new gig from word of mouth.
MM: How did you come to work on super successful shows like “The Mandolorian” and “Game of Thrones”?
PG: I met the future CEO of The Third Floor, Inc. (and future dear friend), Chris Edwards, while working on “Peter Pan” back in 2002. About five years later, he reached out saying he had started his own company and offered me a gig. I’ve been riding with The Third Floor since 2008. In fact I’m pretty sure I’m their longest standing soldier at this point. As TTF’s reputation increased, we got to work on more and more amazing projects, including most of the Marvel library of films. So when Eric Carney, one of the owners of TTF, went over to Belfast to work on Game of Thrones with VFX Supervisor Joe Bauer and VFX Producer, Steve Kullback, he took me with him starting at season five. It was some of the hardest work I’ve ever done, but was also one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. And in for the 2019 Emmys they were gracious enough to include me on the ticket for my role as Previs Lead. After GoT wrapped, I moved over to help out Mando.
MM: Have you any especially cool behind-the-scenes stories from those shows that you’d like to share?
PG: I’d say a career highlight was on GoT, Season Six. I worked closely with Miguel Sipochnik on “Battle of the Bastards” to help bring the climactic battle on the field to life to match his vision. He told me he wanted a “one’r” shot of John Snow making his way through the carnage and barely surviving. So I designed the one-plus minute shot of John staggering through the battle, where the camera never loses him as chaos reigns all around him. And on the day, Joe Bauer was kind enough to invite me to come watch them shoot it. Getting to sit behind Miguel, watching hundreds of extras and sixty horses charging all around each other as Kit Harrington worked his way through the battle was amazing.
MM: What was it like to attend an Emmy ceremony and then actually win one of those beautiful gold statues?
PG: It was a lot of fun, I won’t lie! My lovely and incredibly supportive wife, Kimberly, was there…and rightfully so after having endured what amounted to several military style tours of duty away from home, ranging from four to seven months each, while I was in Belfast.
MM: What made you decide to start writing your own films and how on earth did you think up the plot of “Requiem for a Crab”?
PG: I’ve worked on helping so many directors to realize their film visions over the years, I knew I really wanted to take a crack at telling my own tale. And it just so happened that The Third Floor started a Directing Master Class program about three years ago for it’s employees who wanted to try their hand at directing. It involved workshops with actors, learning how to pitch an idea, and then finally it culminated in directing a scene from an original script. So, that provided the launching pad and motivation to really give it a go.
It started with a random image in my head of a guy in an animal costume crying at a therapist’s office. I knew he had lost his mascot mentor, but I wasn’t sure of much beyond that. The writing guru attached to the Master Program, Chris Stout, encouraged me to just start exploring what that conversation would be like and it just kind of unfolded from there. The mentor idea gave way to Pops being his adoptive father…and then once he was in there, Pops just kind of took over. It honestly surprised me when it turned out he had committed suicide (spoiler) and he went from being a character that popped up at the very end of the film to being the main antagonist throughout which, of course, made my life much harder in post!
MM: Pops, the enraged and homicidal ghost crab, is animated. How much did your professional background contribute to your ability to make this film?
PG: It contributed everything. I learned from my many years in the biz, that planning is everything. So, I planned out all my shots and camera angles beforehand and had a detailed shot list for each day of shooting. It turns out that previs is very useful! I managed to conscript some very talented coworkers to help out on the side, but the lion’s share of work fell on my plate. I think I animated about 70% of the shots with Pops and did all the compositing as well. But I knew better than to spread myself too thin, however, and got my friend Nina Hirten to edit the film. Shout out to Nina…she’s amazing…woot! And, my great friend from work, Jourdan Biziou (one of our lead supervisors) was my DP. It’s important to limit the number of hats you wear, I’ve found. Having supremely talented friends to lean on certainly helps.
MM: So, why a crab? Why not an elephant, or a dog, or even a lobster?
PG: Serendipitously enough, it turned out the most affordable, but coolest looking costume I could find online happened to be this really goofy crab costume! Originally I had been thinking of a penguin, but that costume changed the direction of everything, and gave birth to Pops.
MM: How long did it take you to film this movie and how have you been getting it noticed?
PG: The film was shot over three, nonconsecutive days in late 2019. The animation, compositing, editing, SFX, etc took another six months.
MM: How did you find out about ShortsTV and what did you enjoy most about working with them?
PG: Very positive overall. I mean, it’s a very quirky, very odd little film, so I get why some of the more mainstream festivals may have balked at selecting it. But the folks whose sensibilities drift towards the odd and darkly comic…their response has been very, very enthusiastic. I also had a few friends who have dealt with the loss of a parent confide that the ending really got to them.
MM: What other themes and topics might you approach in future movies?
PG: I have an incubating idea involving Muppets, as well as some ideas for an animated series that I would be very interested in developing. But rest assured, whatever the topic, they will likely end up kind of odd, surreal and a bit off the beaten path!
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
PG: In a perfect world, I would like to be directing/writing my own odd films. I am currently developing pitches for an animated comedy detective show based on my old tubby buddy kitty (RIP), called…Inspector Jimmy. Picture gourmet Garfield meets Sherlock Holmes! A renowned gourmand and Food Whisperer, when Jimmy’s seemingly magical nose sniffs anything that IS or WAS food, the aroma vapors come to life for him alone, and reenact clues of any wrongdoing performed nearby. Teamed up with a fiery armadillo from Scotland and a stoic, yet mysterious monkey, Inspector Jimmy takes on armies of giant robot clowns, villainous bears in enchanted pants, and Criminal Moose Masterminds…all in the name of justice, the law and a fine, fine supper!
I’m also working on developing an animated music video I made last year called “Astronaut Spaceman”, which deals with the subject of the climate crisis, into an idea for an animated series. The music video, of which I am very proud, can be found on YouTube here: Astronaut Spaceman