Q&A: Dan Golden, Oscar Nominee and Sound Composer of Animated Short Feral
Boston has not exactly been under-represented in the past year in terms of awards season frontrunners, but I’m happy to say that we have a welcome addition to the breed of locals in the spotlight.
Dan Golden, of Natick, is on the rise right now as he and his creative partner, Daniel Sousa, are nominated for an Academy Award this year in the Short Film (Animated) category. The two, who are long-time friends since their college years, put together an animated short called Feral, about a little boy who grew up in the woods and is rescued to civilization by a hunter. Golden worked as a sound composer on the film, while Sousa did the animation and directing.
Here, Golden talks about being a two-man show up against studio productions, the lengthy process behind a 12-minute film and who he’s looking forward to seeing at the Oscars.
First, congratulations on your Oscar nomination! What was your general reaction when you heard the news?
Thank you! It was not something we expected. We knew that they were going to announce [the nominees] a few Thursdays ago, and we were like, “Why are they announcing it at 5:30 in the morning in L.A.?” My wife was like no, they announce it on Good Morning America with the few top categories. And the rest you can go online to check. But it was the first time I felt anything nervous! It’s really such a crapshoot that I didn’t really have expectations. We my wife went online and then I saw her get teary, and I was like, OK, looks like we made the cut.
I was totally unprepared for how big of a deal people make of it. It was kind of cool to be shortlisted. Since it happened it’s been this nonstop—it’s like going to the circus for the next month or so. But it’s very exciting and we’re very thrilled about it. We’ve been making these short films together for quite a while. So to actually get this kind of exposure is tremendous.
Seems like Feral is very much a two-man show. What was your role like in comparison to your partner Dan Sousa’s?
We’re definitely the anomaly in the scheme of this. Because even in a short film, they tend to be full-on studio productions. Like Pixar does them and will set aside a crew to put these shorts together. But it kind of propels the tradition of animation, having a non-commercial outlet. Dan [Sousa] has been doing these pretty much since we graduated in the mid-1990s. It’s really him—he’s the animator, the director, the storyteller. And we both work as visual artists so we can communicate these ideas to one another. But I’ve always had a strong passion in music, and I had a lot of difficulty determining which direction career-wise to go in early on. I chose visual arts, but I’ve always been attached to music.
We first started to film out of school in the mid to late nineties. I chose to jump at the chance to come in as the one doing the music and sound design. I thought it was a great outlet for the music I like, which is not necessarily a [conventional] song, but creating soundscapes and some composition. And we’ve worked ever since. So ultimately, Dan comes up with a story and he uses me to bounce off ideas, but he does animation tests to come up with a look. And then I’ll come in as the process develops with some soundscapes.
We benefit from the fact that we’re close friends. It’s a good relationship, and there’s somewhat of an informality to bounce things back and forth.
How long did the project take from start to finish?
It’s a 12-minute animated film. And it happened over the course of five years. We weren’t full-time by any stretch. Dan had a pretty active schedule with teaching and taking on commercial work. So he would try to open up blocks of time, whether it was during the summer or whichever. There were a couple of times where he turned away work for maybe a few months so he could really focus on the project. But he had a grant through creative capital that helped with some funding and to hire me on one end.
It was very laboring technically. It’s 24 frames per second, and a lot of the times the animator is drawing each frame. So if you start doing the math, it’s an incredible amount of drawings, artwork and steps along the way to make this thing come together.
Yourself and Sousa have made quite a bit of animated shorts together such as Fable and Drift. But do you feel like Feral demonstrates your best work so far? Or are you more of the “there’s always room for improvement” type?
It’s definitely the most complicated film that we attempted together. Certainly for Dan in animation, there is a lot more going on and in terms of sound, it was complicated as well. There’s a lot more action going on between the characters. In terms of the films we’ve done before, they took more of a linear path. “Feral” definitely achieved more of a cohesiveness with it. It’s a challenge to not let a film get away from you where you have areas that don’t come together. And since we’re not using dialogue to drive the story, there’s a lot we have to think about to help the audience to know what’s going on.
Is animation without dialogue a typical trait of your films?
Yes. Dan tends to like mythological and fairytale-like scenes. He likes to create this timeless-quality. So we try not to make anything that might date the film or the story. We play back-and-forth with the dialogue, and then it seems like a narrator. So then we want it to just be action and sound, and how those interact together to drive the story. Technically in “Feral” I did record some children to create some of the sounds.
Who are you looking forward to seeing in-person on the red carpet or at the ceremony?
I haven’t really thought of that so much. I was kind of hoping that [film composer] Hans Zimmer would be up for a nomination —he’s definitely a composer that I wouldn’t pass up the chance to shake his hand. But I saw that John Williams did something for a feature film, but I’m not sure if he’d be there.
As far as celebrities, it’s more of a taking in the environment kind of thing. It’s funny because my wife is a tailer and works in the movies. She was working with John Travolta on The Forger that was here in town. It’s kind of ironic that I’m the one that got us to Oscars, but she’s the one that know these people.
Ben Affleck told Playboy in a Q&A earlier this week that when he won his first Academy Award for Good Will Hunting, he didn’t even think to practice what he’d say if his name was called. He ended up making something up on the spot. Have you considered what you’d say if you win?
It’s horrifying to even think about that. It makes me nauseous! I’m really such a behind-the-scenes type of person that the thought of having to be that far in front of the film is really scary. There’s this luncheon [for the nominees] they’re having and I was thinking that this is such a cool thing to be a part of. But I was reading that some people from The Academy have this pep talk, urging the nominees—regardless of what their chances are—to have some sort of preparation. Because you’re going to be in front of millions of people. And that doesn’t well. But it would be foolish not to have who you’d like to thank. But for us that comes down to Dan because he’s more of the coordinator, whether it’s funding or who’s helping out with what. But I guess not getting tongue-tied would be the best thing you could hope for.
Watch Feral‘s trailer here:
The 86th Academy Awards airs on Sunday, March 2 at 7 p.m. on ABC.