ABOUT THE FILM

"

Long live my happy head

had me in tears more than once but despite everything it leaves you with such a sweet and even hopeful feeling. A truly wonderful film that we are proud to include in our International Competition."
"
Yorgos Krassakopoulos
Head of Programming,
Thessaloniki Documentary Festival

What would you do if you were told you had a dramatically life-shortening illness when you were 32 years old? Start making comic books about it of course! Well, that's what Gordon did anyway.

Gordon is a Scottish comic book artist with a big bushy beard, very expressive eyebrows - oh, and an inoperable, incurable brain tumour. By making autobiographical comics about his experience, he is able to communicate his thoughts and reactions to cancer in a medium and a language that is disarming, accessible and inviting.

Approaching his 40th birthday, Gordon has found the love of his life, Shawn - a warm-hearted and protective American man who lives in Bath County, Virginia. Their relationship may be long-distance, but they talk on the phone everyday they’re not together and visit each other as often as possible. Although his previous comics looked at his own personal experience, for his next book Gordon has chosen to focus on the people who look after people with cancer - the carers. His tumour is growing again though, and he’s on chemotherapy whilst meeting and interviewing people who have cared for and lost their dearest loved ones.

Long Live My Happy Head is a film about cancer and comic books, but it’s fundamentally a love story. We journey with Gordon and Shawn through one of the most difficult times of their lives only to see them emerge from the other side even stronger than before. Through intimately captured observational footage and video diary, stylised key interviews and animations created from Gordon’s comic illustrations, this film immerses the audience in Gordon’s world, and reveals how art, love and a sense of humour can soothe our deepest fears of mortality and losing the people we care most about.

WHERE TO WATCH

Find out about upcoming film festivals, cinema screenings and other places to watch.

WATCH ON BBC iPLAYER
WATCH ON BBC IPLAYER
Dec 8, 2022
/
12pm
Dec 8, 2022
DATE  TBD

Bright Lights Film Series

Emerson College, Boston, MA, USA
Mar 27, 2022
/
9.30PM
Mar 27, 2022
DATE  TBD

UK Broadcast Premiere

BBC Scotland
Mar 17, 2022
/
6:20 PM
Mar 17, 2022
DATE  TBD

World Premiere - BFI Flare Film Festival

London, UK
Mar 19, 2022
/
11:00 AM
Mar 19, 2022
DATE  TBD

BFI Flare Film Festival

London, UK
Mar 19, 2022
/
5PM
Mar 19, 2022
DATE  TBD

International Premiere - Thessaloniki Documentary Festival

Thessaloniki, Greece
Mar 20, 2022
/
4:45PM
Mar 20, 2022
DATE  TBD

Screening + Special Guest Q&A - Komedia Picturehouse

Brighton, UK
Mar 22, 2022
/
Mar 22, 2022
DATE  TBD

Screening + Director Q&A - City Screen Picturehouse

York, UK
Mar 23, 2022
/
7:45PM
Mar 23, 2022
DATE  TBD

Screening + Director Q&A - Highland Cinema

Fort William, UK
Mar 24, 2022
/
6PM
Mar 24, 2022
DATE  TBD

Screening + Special Guest Q&A - Cameo Picturehouse

Edinburgh, UK
Mar 24, 2022
/
5:45PM
Mar 24, 2022
DATE  TBD

Screening + Director Q&A - The Parade

Marlborough, UK
Mar 25, 2022
/
6:30PM
Mar 25, 2022
DATE  TBD

Screening + Director Q&A - Picturehouse @ FACT

Liverpool, UK
Mar 25, 2022
/
TBC
Mar 25, 2022
DATE  TBD

Screening + Director Q&A - Belmont Filmhouse

Aberdeen, UK
Mar 27, 2022
/
6:30 PM
Mar 27, 2022
DATE  TBD

Sands International Film Festival of St Andrews

St Andrews, UK
Jun 11, 2022
/
8pm NZST
Jun 11, 2022
DATE  TBD

Doc Edge Film Festival - Virtual Screening + Director Q&A

New Zealand
Jun 19, 2022
/
11am PDT
Jun 19, 2022
DATE  TBD

Frameline LGBTQ+ Film Festival + Director Q&A

San Francisco, CA
Jul 15, 2022
/
Jul 15, 2022
DATE  TBD

Graphic Medicine International Conference 2022

Chicago, USA
Sep 27, 2022
/
72 hour window
Sep 27, 2022
DATE  TBD

MONIFF Monadnock Int'l Film Festival

New Hampshire, USA
Oct 14, 2022
/
8.30pm
Oct 14, 2022
DATE  TBD

Washington West Film Festival

Washington, VA, USA
Oct 16, 2022
/
Oct 16, 2022
DATE  TBD

Damn These Heels

Utah, USA
Oct 19, 2022
/
Oct 19, 2022
DATE  TBD

OUTshine

Fort Lauderdale, FL, USA
Oct 19, 2022
/
6pm
Oct 19, 2022
DATE  TBD

B3 Biennial

Frankfurt, Germany
Oct 19, 2022
/
3pm
Oct 19, 2022
DATE  TBD

Q-Fest

Wisconsin, USA
Oct 21, 2022
/
Oct 21, 2022
DATE  TBD

New Haven Documentary Festival

New Haven, Connecticut, USA
Oct 28, 2022
/
11.30am
Oct 28, 2022
DATE  TBD

Windsor Int'l Film Festival

Windsor, ON, Canada
Nov 19, 2022
/
9pm
Nov 19, 2022
DATE  TBD

Portland Queer Film Festival

Portland, OR, USA
WATCH ON BBC iPLAYER
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NEWS & STORIES

Stay in the loop with tales from behind the scenes and stories related to topics and themes covered in the film.

MEET THE TEAM

Get to know our talented team of people who made Long Live My Happy Head happen.

Co-Director, Editor

Will Hewitt

Will Hewitt is a Scottish BAFTA winning documentary director and editor. He is co-founder of Melt the Fly, where he has been a driving force behind the emerging production company’s recent success. Will directed and edited their Scottish BAFTA winning short, Harmonic Spectrum, as well as his first feature, Long Live My Happy Head, collaborating with acclaimed editor Barbara Toennieshen. Will’s films have been supported by the BBC, Scottish Documentary Institute and Creative Scotland, as well as the Open University.

Co-Director, Producer

Austen McCowan

Austen McCowan is a Scottish BAFTA winning producer and director based in Edinburgh. As co-founder of Melt the Fly he is passionate about unearthing stories that give audiences an alternative perspective on the world. He has produced and directed films with support from BBC Scotland, Creative Scotland and the Scottish Documentary Institute, and his debut feature, Long Live My Happy Head was an official selection for BFI Flare and the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival in 2022.

Editor

Barbara Toennieshen

Barbara discovered her passion for editing during her film studies and has been fascinated by the possibilities of cinematic storytelling ever since. She looks for the story behind the plot, for vertical narratives and opportunities for projection, but above all for people and not clichés. Her work has been awarded at the Berlinale, IDFA, Sundance and Hot Docs, with her most recent documentary, The Wall of Shadows winning almost 30 prizes. Based in Berlin, Barbara is a member of the German and European Film Academies and also DOK:SCHNITT:ZUKUNFT, a collective of well known editors that campaigns for better conditions in documentary filmmaking.

Composer

Alexandra
Hamilton-Ayres

Alexandra is a British-Belgian film composer, rising in the neoclassical scene as one of the UK’s upcoming artists. Her critically-acclaimed debut album, 2 Years Stranger, was described by BBC Radio 6’s Mary Anne Hobbes as “hauntingly beautiful”. Merging her film scores and artist work is fundamental to Alexandra’s love of story-telling through music and her most recent film collaborations include creating scores for Long Live My Happy Head and BAFTA Scotland-winning director, Emma Davie’s, The Oil Machine.

Animation Art Director

Ross Hogg

Ross Hogg is an award-winning animation filmmaker based in Edinburgh, who focuses on creating dexterous, hand-crafted animation using a variety of materials. His work celebrates the vibrancy and physicality of the medium and has screened internationally at prestigious festivals. Ross has received seven BAFTA Scotland nominations,  winning the BAFTA Scotland New Talent Award for Animation in 2014, the award for Short Film in 2016, and for Animation in 2017. Ross currently works on a range of exciting animation projects whilst teaching on the Undergraduate and Masters Programmes at The Glasgow School of Art.

Executive Producer

Amy Hardie

Amy Hardie’s The Edge of Dreaming, was the first Scottish feature documentary in competition at IDFA 2009 and awarded the Grand Jury Prize, Kiev International Film Festival. Her most recent feature Seven Songs for a Long Life was chosen as one of the best five films of 2015 (VultureHound) and shown in over 100 UK cinemas before international festival screenings. It’s now the first documentary in the UK to be ‘prescribed’ by doctors for their patients in over 240 GP centres. Amy is currently directing the feature documentary The Sniper’s Wife, funded by BFI and Creative Scotland.

Executive Producer

Geoffrey Smith

Geoffrey Smith is a double Emmy award-winning director who was at the BBC in London for over 13 years. He has made 24 films for all the major UK broadcasters, won over 40 International awards, was listed in the 2009 NY Times Best Films list for the “The English Surgeon”. Geoffrey is currently developing several feature documentaries and is in demand as a consultant and script editor on a range of international projects. He is passionate about getting documentaries out into the wider community and for the last 5 years curated and ran the Castlemaine Documentary Film Festival in Victoria, Australia.

Original Artwork

Gordon Shaw

Gordon is an illustrator and comic-maker. He is captivated by the magic that comic panels hold, a magic that he feels no other mediums can even echo. He can find inspiration anywhere. “We just need to often stop, step back, and take in the world around us. Whether it’s bridges like Brooklyn, Forth, or Jeff; or smaller things such as the goosanders who are in the local river for but a few months, (we’re friends now) – they can bring joy and whim to this face, mind and heart.” Gordon hopes to reflect some of this in his work - his book, BITTERSWEET, is on Brain Tumour Research’s Recommended Reading List and he’s currently working on a graphic novel that gives unpaid carers space to tell us their stories. Check out Gordon's online shop.

Co-Director, Editor

Will Hewitt

Will Hewitt is a Scottish BAFTA winning documentary director and editor...

Will Hewitt is a Scottish BAFTA winning documentary director and editor. He is co-founder of Melt the Fly, where he has been a driving force behind the emerging production company’s recent success. Will directed and edited their Scottish BAFTA winning short, Harmonic Spectrum, as well as his first feature, Long Live My Happy Head, collaborating with acclaimed editor Barbara Toennieshen. Will’s films have been supported by the BBC, Scottish Documentary Institute and Creative Scotland, as well as the Open University.

Co-Director, Producer

Austen McCowan

Austen McCowan is a Scottish BAFTA winning producer and director based in Edinburgh...

Austen McCowan is a Scottish BAFTA winning producer and director based in Edinburgh. As co-founder of Melt the Fly he is passionate about unearthing stories that give audiences an alternative perspective on the world. He has produced and directed films with support from BBC Scotland, Creative Scotland and the Scottish Documentary Institute, and his debut feature, Long Live My Happy Head was an official selection for BFI Flare and the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival in 2022.

EDITOR

BARBARA TOENNIESHEN

Barbara discovered her passion for editing during her film studies and has been fascinated by the...

Barbara discovered her passion for editing during her film studies and has been fascinated by the possibilities of cinematic storytelling ever since. She looks for the story behind the plot, for vertical narratives and opportunities for projection, but above all for people and not clichés. Her work has been awarded at the Berlinale, IDFA, Sundance and Hot Docs, with her most recent documentary, The Wall of Shadows winning almost 30 prizes. Based in Berlin, Barbara is a member of the German and European Film Academies and also DOK:SCHNITT:ZUKUNFT, a collective of well known editors that campaigns for better conditions in documentary filmmaking.

COMPOSER

ALEXANDRA
HAMILTON-AYRES

Alexandra is a British-Belgian film composer, rising in the neoclassical scene as one of the UK’s...

Alexandra is a British-Belgian film composer, rising in the neoclassical scene as one of the UK’s upcoming artists. Her critically-acclaimed debut album, 2 Years Stranger, was described by BBC Radio 6’s Mary Anne Hobbes as “hauntingly beautiful”. Merging her film scores and artist work is fundamental to Alexandra’s love of story-telling through music and her most recent film collaborations include creating scores for Long Live My Happy Head and BAFTA Scotland-winning director, Emma Davie’s, The Oil Machine.

ANIMATION ART DIRECTOR

ROSS HOGG

Ross Hogg is an award-winning animation filmmaker based in Edinburgh, who focuses...

Ross Hogg is an award-winning animation filmmaker based in Edinburgh, who focuses on creating dexterous, hand-crafted animation using a variety of materials. His work celebrates the vibrancy and physicality of the medium and has screened internationally at prestigious festivals. Ross has received seven BAFTA Scotland nominations,  winning the BAFTA Scotland New Talent Award for Animation in 2014, the award for Short Film in 2016, and for Animation in 2017. Ross currently works on a range of exciting animation projects whilst teaching on the Undergraduate and Masters Programmes at The Glasgow School of Art.

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER

AMY HARDIE

Amy Hardie’s The Edge of Dreaming, was the first Scottish feature documentary in...

Amy Hardie’s The Edge of Dreaming, was the first Scottish feature documentary in competition at IDFA 2009 and awarded the Grand Jury Prize, Kiev International Film Festival. Her most recent feature Seven Songs for a Long Life was chosen as one of the best five films of 2015 (VultureHound) and shown in over 100 UK cinemas before international festival screenings. It’s now the first documentary in the UK to be ‘prescribed’ by doctors for their patients in over 240 GP centres. Amy is currently directing the feature documentary The Sniper’s Wife, funded by BFI and Creative Scotland.

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER

GEOFFREY SMITH

Geoffrey Smith is a double Emmy award-winning director who was at the BBC in London for...

Geoffrey Smith is a double Emmy award-winning director who was at the BBC in London for over 13 years. He has made 24 films for all the major UK broadcasters, won over 40 International awards, was listed in the 2009 NY Times Best Films list for the “The English Surgeon”. Geoffrey is currently developing several feature documentaries and is in demand as a consultant and script editor on a range of international projects. He is passionate about getting documentaries out into the wider community and for the last 5 years curated and ran the Castlemaine Documentary Film Festival in Victoria, Australia.

ORIGINAL ARTWORK

GORDON SHAW

Gordon is an illustrator and comic-maker. He is captivated by the magic that comic panels hold...

Gordon is an illustrator and comic-maker. He is captivated by the magic that comic panels hold, a magic that he feels no other mediums can even echo. He can find inspiration anywhere. “We just need to often stop, step back, and take in the world around us. Whether it’s bridges like Brooklyn, Forth, or Jeff; or smaller things such as the goosanders who are in the local river for but a few months, (we’re friends now) – they can bring joy and whim to this face, mind and heart.” Gordon hopes to reflect some of this in his work - his book, BITTERSWEET, is on Brain Tumour Research’s Recommended Reading List and he’s currently working on a graphic novel that gives unpaid carers space to tell us their stories. Check out Gordon's online shop.

IN THE PRESS

Stay up to date with news and reviews from the outside world and see what other people are saying about the film!

Original Soundtrack

Listen to the Long Live My Happy head soundtrack on Spotify.

LISTEN NOW

GET IN TOUCH

Reach out directly to the filmmakers or follow us on social media to stay up to date with the film. We’d love to hear from you!

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Jun 9, 2022
The Story Behind the Edit
BY
Will Hewitt

It’s a frequently repeated sentiment that directors shouldn’t edit their own films and for good reason. There are some exceptions to the rule, David Osit, for example, filled the director/ editor roles on, ‘Thank You For Playing’, ‘The Mayor’ & ‘The Vow’, David is both seasoned at what he does and possesses a rare ability to be objective with his own material, I do not have these attributes. The reason people echo this statement is because it’s hard to see the wood for the trees, you’re not looking at the material for what it is, you’re looking at it and reliving everything that came before the shot. It’s really hard to let scenes go after the effort it took to capture them, but audiences don’t see this, and good editors know that. I had already put months into the edit for 'Long Live My Happy Head' but it was clear something wasn’t crystallizing in the structure, and although I thought I’d been brutal and killed plenty of darlings, it wasn’t enough to see the story differently to how I experienced it in linear reality. It wasn’t progressing us to where we needed to be or making the most out of the material. We realised that to make the best film possible, we needed to bring in an experienced editor to help us with the sculpting process. The next thing was to find one.

I love the simplicity of how this worked out. I picked my favourite film from IDFA 2020, the fascinating and wonderfully made documentary ‘Garage People’ (Dir. Natalija Yefimkina), a film that explores the lives of everyday people in the Russian Arctic who find refuge and solace in their garages. It actually had four editors credited, but the first email I sent out was to Barbara Toennieshen: In our first call she asked me how I knew she was the main contributing editor for the film and the truth is, I didn’t, it was pure coincidence. You notice a lot of curious coincidences in doc filmmaking. 

Having already seen ‘Garage People’, Barbara sent me her other project “The Wall of Shadows” (Dir. Eliza Kubarska), it was refreshing to see a climbing film that didn’t focus on the endeavours of affluent westerners ‘conquering’ the elements, instead it focused on the societal dilemmas of Sherpas and the precarious job they do to survive, often resulting in conflicts between earning money, their responsibilities to their families and commitment to their faith. The film was a combination of Nepalese and Russian dialect, neither of which Barbara spoke, but that is testimony to her talent as an editor... It also gave me confidence she wouldn’t have any issues with the Scottish dialect or thick accents in our film either. She’s at the top of her game with work awarded at the Berlinale, IDFA, Sundance and Hot Docs.

Barbara turned out to be a perfect fit for ‘Long Live My Happy Head’. I asked her about how it was working with Austen and myself as directors and what it was like sharing an edit with me.

Austen, Barbara & Will.

Will:  Why did you decide to edit our movie?‍

Barbara: Well, when you sent me the trailer I was from the very first minute drawn in by Gordon, someone whose life is threatened by cancer - and so positive…, positive and inventive in his way of dealing with it. I liked Gordon. I liked his laughter and I was deeply touched. “Wow! This can be a meaningful movie. I want to do it.” I could connect to the subject quite well because I myself have had cancer, not a life-threatening one, not at all... and I also lost good friends, through cancer. So I have experienced all kinds of people's behaviour dealing with it. Gordons attempt is life affirming. It made me curious to learn more about him.

‍Secondly I liked and trusted you. The approach you had and also your honesty and sincerity....  I had a big respect for the way you and Austen did it.

Will: Thanks for that. So what you're saying is mine and Austen's ethical ideas about the film is what you liked. But there was also the fact that this was our first feature film and there was a lot that we didn't know. We had created a huge bank of footage and we didn't know what to do with it. Basically, we didn't know what the story was or how to approach the challenge of this enormous library of stuff? How do you find the story in that?

Barbara: Well, it wasn't more enormous than a lot of other documentary movies.

Will: That's good.

Barbara: And since you already had ideas about it and worked so long with it, there was already something there. But it was stressful because there was this extremely tight time frame. And it was quite clear "I have no chance, I will fail if we don't push the time a bit further..." I was so happy that you finally arranged that additional three weeks.

 

‍Will: It's very important for us. That last bit.

 

Barbara: Yep, it made a big difference.

Edit delivery at Savalas

Will: It was a really enjoyable process. I think because me and Austen were alone with it for such a long time, eventually we reached the point where we brought other people in like yourself, the animators and Alexandra (the Composer), and then suddenly it became a lot better.

Another question is, how do you deal with co-directors? Because it's different from a single director. Sometimes we have a three-way conversation where we don't all agree. How was this process?

Barbara: I did not have any issue about working with the two of you. I also liked it because you have very different… What's the name? Strengths, but not strengths, but very different... Help me.

Will: Yeah, different attributes.

Barbara: Austen is good at talking, at motivating and visualising things and having goals and thinking big, all those things. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think you are more watching and gathering things, taking things in and taking your time. You are not as fast in having an opinion or something like that. I would also say you're more sensitive in a certain kind of way. Austen is also sensitive, but in a different way. You're the calmer one.

Will: In terms of story, what did you find most challenging?

Barbara: The beginning. The exposition. Especially Shawn, to get Shawn into the picture in the right way. Also this COVID time with all the material we had there...

Will: There was nothing easy about this movie. [Laughs.] The animations were quite hard as well, to figure out where they were going to go.

Barbara: Yeah. Also the end, you know, I mean because you had so much material, where you went on and on and on... You did not stop filming. I would really say it was challenging from the beginning to the end.

I think you learned a lot, I mean throughout the movie I could realise that you learned a lot. That in the end you were way calmer and more focused.

 

Will: I think the hardest thing for me was the lack of medical appointments that we could get access to because of COVID. The one key scene where Gordon gets good news, we had nothing in terms of material. We had a Zoom call with Gordon where we got the audio of them telling us, but we had to really struggle with that bit.

Barbara: Yeah. It was a very important turning point and it had to be emotional. Yeah, that's right. Maybe this was the hardest part.

Will: Yeah. But also the maturity you brought to the edit. When me and Austen edited that scene, we had that big kiss between Gordon and Shawn that went on forever. Austen had been isolating for a whole week to be able to film their reunion and then he got this kiss, which is the real kiss after they've been apart for maybe five or six months and we're just like, “of course that has to be the part.” But then you took it out and just had this little hug and we were like, “Why?” But it's that kind of maturity with the edit where I think your experience really came in. Because I think if you linger on them kissing too long, you kind of lose the real feeling of it and then you start to feel like a voyeur.

Barbara: Yeah.

Will: Was there anything you really enjoyed in the edit? What gave you the most energy or what were your best days on the job?

Barbara: My best days on the job. Oh, God, you ask me things... Drinking with you in the end! [Laughs.] Our last night on Zoom.

Will: My favourite bit was when you came to Edinburgh and then when we stayed with Pippa and my parents and then we went swimming.

Barbara:  I really enjoyed hanging out with all of you. I think we would have had a good time together without COVID and sharing a room and working together. I think it would have been very funny also.

Will: I appreciate that. For us, it was very defining... Well, I don't know. There's going to be life before this film and then life after it. Two different versions of ourselves, me and Austen have definitely changed.

Barbara: Yeah. But that's also part of it.

Will: Yeah, I really appreciate that you got more out of it than just another editing job. That's great.

Barbara: Yeah, it's a lot more. Actually, this movie, together with some others I did, this kind of movie and also working people like you is why I love this profession.

Will: Thank you. I will have to write “Barbara said this with a big smile on her face”.

Barbara: Thank you Will and all the best for you and Austen.

Mar 18, 2022
The Story Behind the Animation
BY
Will Hewitt

Initial Approach

Animation was never a concept we discussed in terms of whether we should include it or not. It was always a given that if we were making a film about Gordon with any authenticity, animating his comic book had to be done. There were however countless and sometimes draining discussions about how the animation should work as a storytelling tool for the documentary.

The biggest leg up we had was the fact that Gordon has already created a stunning piece of work in his comic “Bittersweet” and the panels from this book formed 6 out of the 8 animations we created. We decided the animated space would be a realm of deep internal reflection for Gordon and should be used that way to punctuate the observational narrative of the film. Gordon had already put in the time to really consider the words in the panels that express feelings that for most of us are incomprehensible. They hold a lot of emotional weight, so for us as Directors it was a matter of where to put them.

Animation Team 

We approached Ross Hogg and Iain Gardner to be our animation team, they both responded with an energy that settled our anxieties and fuelled our spirit. Ross had direct experience working with animation and documentary hybrids before from his flamboyant and professional collaborations in the past with Duncan Cowles, perhaps a creative duo after the hearts of myself and Austen? It was a steep learning curve  trying to figure out what animation we needed when we didn’t even have a rough cut yet, animators do not work that way! There is no luxury to ‘just try this out quick’, everything you do has to be a certainty otherwise you are wasting your own money and everyone's time. Iain had an amazing pragmatism that was instrumental in getting us to understand the process in an achievable way. However, he unfortunately had to drop out right before we began animatics due to his Wojtek the Bear project which he’d been developing for a near decade finally had it’s green light for Co-Production with Poland. What initially came as a blow was quickly rectified by Iain’s own recommendation for his replacement, and we can’t wait to see his film. It was Owen Rixon & Anthony Lee who came on board with their company The 2D workshop.

We structured the work so that Ross Hogg would be the animation Director, deciding on the animatics, composition and duration and Owen would take on the actual animation line work. We made sure Gordon was consulted on the work and it was immensely exciting, showing him parts from the works in progress as it came together. We had to fix the animation durations into the rough cut which was a scary prospect because once it was getting animated you were essentially committed to it. The main challenge was us not realizing the level of detail that has to be relayed to the animator for them to produce the desired scene - What are Gordon’s eyebrows doing? How fast does he walk? How does he breathe? None of which we had considered until viewing the first animatic drafts. Early on to help Owen we sent him an edit cut together of all of Gordon’s mannerisms from footage we had captured for him to build an idea for Gordon’s physique. We eventually realized that rather than writing endless notes that are up for subjective interpretation, the quickest and more detailed way to translate a movement and composition was for me and Austen to film ourselves acting out the motion in the office, so you get the correct duration, framing and nuance of the scene. 

"It was a real pleasure to be involved in making the animated sequences for ‘Live Long My Happy Head’. Having the opportunity to delve into the creative challenge of translating Gordon’s comic panels to the cinema screen was a very rewarding experience. We were always very conscious of staying as true as possible to the source material and doing justice to Gordon’s work, and it was great to see Owen Rixon bring ‘comic Gordon’ to life in such a believable and sensitive way." - Ross Hogg, Animation Art Director

Animating Tumour Rick

Animating Rick took a lot of testing to get right, and a supernatural being we have no reference as to how it moves or what it sounds like. Gordon’s description was that he was ‘craggy’ and ‘scratchy’. We didn’t want Rick to be so smooth that it gave him a smooth sense of speed but equally we didn’t want it so immobile that the animation became rudimentary. Our ideal was to have a very complex rocky texture to Rick’s form that was always morphing but that was simply far too complicated for time and budget, instead Rick was created with a constant hover, he’s never totally static one place but floats through the air and is able to get right up into Gordon’s face whenever he wants to taunt him. The ‘craggy’ effect was excellently created in the SFX design by Pete Smith, a kind of polystyrene screech and pebbles clashing.

"I wanted the sound design to convey Rick's movements in a way that gives a real sense of the materials we see in the animation. With Gordon's instructions in mind, I recorded rocks scraping against each other and pebbles falling and shifting and then manipulated the recordings with various plugins in pro tools to try and inject a sense of movement that matched what I was seeing in the images" - Pete Smith, Sound Designer

Voice acting 

The voice of Rick also went through some debate, Gordon had imagined it as a mix between the Big Man from Chewing the Fat and The Shredder for TMNT. We settled on Gordon doing the voice of Rick rather than an actor as it felt more authentic, the idea of Rick is Gordon’s creation. We experimented with Sound Designer, manipulating Gordon’s voice to sound like these references but the results we’re not suitable in the end, Gordon put the accent on himself during the recording sessions, it was way later in the process during the final dubbing mix at Savalas when working with Kahl Henderson that we duplicated Rick’s voice and lowered the duplication by quite an extreme pitch that gave his a real demonic depth. The recording sessions weren’t what you would imagine with a studio booth, this was at the height of the 2nd lockdown in Scotland so we couldn’t be in the same room or book any studio time. The solution was to sanitize an audio shield and mic, pass it through into Gordon’s flat while Austen and myself sat outside his window in Austen’s VW T3 at the end of a long XLR cable. We would direct Gordon via WhatsApp and mute ourselves when G was delivering his lines. I would monitor the MixPre6 from the van while Austen took notes on each take, Gordon took to it with ease and his narration injected such life and passion to the animations, it literally felt like his book had come to life.

I have to add here because I can’t help myself… my proudest moment of near pointless detail, we did actually have a celebrity voice actor. The big pink bear that grunts when receiving loo roll from Gordon is genuinely Chris Bear from the band Grizzly Bear. I'll remain coy about how this came to be but it definitely makes me happy knowing that

Texturing 

Gordon’s comic’s are riso-printed by Edinburgh based CIC company, Out of the Blueprint. Riso printing is a Japanese method that can create a large number of high quality prints cost-effectively by reducing it to 2 or 3 colour cartridges. ‘BitterSweet’ is printed using Black and Pink. OOTB were extraordinarily supportive and accommodating, printing us all possible combinations between 25% - 100% pink and black combinations on the exact same paper used in Gordon’s published book. These prints were scanned at a high quality dpi and used by Ross Hogg for the texturing of the scenes, the different percentages can be used to create depth and shading in the scene. We found we had to colour the whole scene rather than the specific parts of the image which is what Gordon does in his book as it translates better to the cinematic experience. 

Original Animation

There are two animations that don’t originate from Gordon’s work; the opening title shot and the MRI Soundsystem. For the opening shot we gave creative control over to Gordon, his favourite film of all time is The Big Lebowski so the idea was to parody the psychedelic bowling scene. As much as we loved this idea it caused huge problems for the film, mainly because you can’t use another film to set the tone and introduce your own. Alexandra Hamilton-Ayres tried her best to create a Kenny Rogers inspired score from “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” but it really threw the mood off right at the beginning and confused the audience which is not a good thing for the opening of a feature film. In the end, Alex created a beautiful score that was complimentary to the rest of the film and all that remains is an easter egg where Gordon is wearing ‘The Dudes’ toolbelt. A subtle nod to the idea. I guess there’s a word of warning here about giving up complete control on your own creative projects, it's definitely a hotbed for creativity when experimenting and collaborating but you have to weigh it up against budget realitiesand make a call for what's best for the film.

The second original animation was Gordon’s experience in an MRI machine transforming into him floating through space enjoying a techno rave. This created so many challenges for us, firstly is that it was a step further for creative interpretation of Gordon’s work that we hadn’t done before, we had to very clearly communicate the idea and why we thought it necessary to get his approval. Secondly as it was original, there is no source material for the animators to work from so we had to put a lot more effort into the communication which we didn’t always successfully get across which meant a lot of versioning and amendment time was spent on it. Where most shots can be considered to be from a tripod perspective as comic panels don’t move, this required a complicated three dimensional track and pan movement and parallax background. It was the most difficult one to create but watch the film and I’m sure you’ll understand why we did it. It's a very humorous, abstract expression that turns a frightening experience into one of joy. 




Mar 10, 2022
The Story Behind the Soundtrack
BY
Austen McCowan

Long Live My Happy Head wouldn’t be half the film it is without it’s incredible soundtrack. It underpins both the light and dark sides of the story, and perfectly captures the bittersweet tone that carries throughout. The original score was composed by Alexandra Hamilton-Ayres, and performed and produced by a team of talented musicians, sound engineers and orchestration professionals. 

The story of how it came to be takes us all the way back to Gordon’s first experiences of having an MRI scan when his tumour was diagnosed in 2012, and the inspiration he took from the unique sounds they make. In overly simplified terms, MRI machines work by using incredibly powerful magnets to create a strong electromagnetic field. Then radio frequencies - not unlike an FM radio signal - are fired through the body, and through the wonders of science, we get really detailed images of the inside of the human body! This process also makes a lot of noise. Different variations of scans produce different patterns of sound, and Gordon likened these rhythmic bangs, clangs and bleeps to the sounds of the hardcore technow of his youth. It was the inspiration for one of his first pieces of Graphic Medicine - this flyer for a fictional club night called MRI Soundsystem. 

For a long time, Will and I knew we wanted to somehow use the sounds of the MRI in the music of the film, but we didn’t know exactly how it would work. It was time to find someone with a musical mind who could bring fresh ideas to the table - we needed a composer! Conscious of the gender balance of the project, we decided to look for a female composer and Will began scouring the incredible directory of the Alliance For Women Film Composers - the first directory of women film composers of its kind. The AWFC is a community of composers and colleagues that exists to promote and support the work of women film composers through advocacy, education and by providing a platform for it to be shared and discovered. It was here that he came across Alexandra and was first struck by the artwork for her debut album 2 Years Stranger which features the surreal and unmistakable ghoulish shape of her dad’s radiotherapy mask. Gordon had shown us his own radiotherapy mask from when he was first treated in London; an unusual souvenir and a reminder of a difficult time. We listened to the album and fell in love with the ethereal blend of piano and synth. The album is Alexandra’s musical reaction to her dad falling ill with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) and the resulting time they spent going in and out of hospital. Songs like Waiting and Coma felt like they really captured the feeling we wanted for the film, and in particular Coma (for Strings) which saw Alexandra collaborating with the UK’s first free-form string orchestra for people from marginalised genders, Her Ensemble, the strings bringing a really powerful cinematic quality to the music. 

“The starting point was a conversation with Will and Austen about my previous album and Gordon’s creative venture into creating an MRI Sound System installation,” says Alexandra. “I was really keen to combine the human and illustrated elements of the story using the music and so when we were able to get recordings of the MRI Machine, that became a starting point for the score.”

It’s harder than you might think to get a good sound recording of an MRI machine, simply because you can’t get a microphone with any magnetic components anywhere near it. We managed to overcome this hurdle thanks to the incredibly helpful team in the Imaging Centre of Excellence at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.

Alexandra used the MRI recordings in a number of different ways, borrowing from the characteristics of the various patterns of sound, and directly sampling them and adding her own palette of effects. “I used granular filters and created harmonics to give a slower oscillating sound which had more emotional depth. I also put the machine sounds through a Roland MX-1 to create some of the rhythmic textures” she says, “which I then gave to violinist Ellie Consta to mimic with bowing techniques.” 

“It was really fun to experiment with different ways of creating sound,” says Ellie. “We used lots of extended techniques in order to replicate the sounds of the MRI scanner, such as using the wood of the bow to create tapping noises and using the bow hair on the bridge to create sound effects.”

During the first lockdown in 2020, Ellie formed Her Ensemble to make a positive impact on the gender gap in the classical music industry. The catalyst came when she learned that just 3.6% of the classical music pieces performed worldwide in 2019 were written by women. In 2020 that rose to 5% - the highest percentage recorded to date. Alexandra and Her Ensemble have an ongoing collaborative relationship, writing, playing and performing together regularly as well as collaborating on film scores, such as Long Live My Happy Head. 

Lockdown not only provided the space for Her Ensemble to form, but it had a knock-on effect on the narrative of the film too. It became impossible for us to film with Gordon in the hospital, and our focus shifted to what was happening to him and Shawn. This also affected Alexandra’s direction with the music. As she explains, “the more removed Gordon’s story was from the hospital, we removed him from this mechanical sound world of the MRI and turned to a more string and piano-based sonic space featuring players from Her Ensemble, giving a more organic feel.” This change in the character of the sound blankets the audience under emotional weight of what’s happening to Gordon and Shawn during this challenging times, but it also creates space for contrast, allowing for moments of lightness as we see when Gordon’s friends come together on zoom to celebrate his 40th birthday to dance the night away. It’s a piece of music that puzzled us for a while, and thanks to the wonderful talents of composer Freddie Prest, the moment manages to create this fleeting sense of joy perfectly. 

One technique Alexandra used to achieve this change in tone was in her approach to recording the strings, “I chose to record the score in a church space with wood and stone acoustics to give a really natural reverb and a switch between the more produced electronica.the key blend between these soundworlds being a series of synths and drum machines.” The church was St Matthias in Stoke-Newington, London - a wonderful space with wooden floors and towering stone arches - but recording in such a space has its challenges, especially with only one day to record the strings for the entire score. Alexandra assembled a team of women, all of whom are connected in some way through the AWFC. Sarah Playford, an excellent composer in her own right, did the orchestration, Kezia Tomcett was the copyist - ensuring all the players were playing from the parts that Alex intended, Katie Earl was the assistant engineer to Fiona Cruickshank, who was the sound engineer on the day and mixed the final tracks. Strings were performed by four members of Her Ensemble - Ellie on solo violin, Coco Inman also on violin, Christine Anderson on Viola and Deni Teo on Cello. So much of the film to that point had been made during the coronavirus pandemic; we’d been pitching online and attending film festivals virtually, even editing the film remotely with Barbara Toennieshen based in Berlin. Will and I felt it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up, so we headed down lo London to watch the score being recorded. It was an incredible experience, and quite emotional at times. Watching the faultless efficiency and skill of the team was one thing, but the acoustics of the space were absolutely beautiful and perfectly accentuated the delicacy and emotion that Ellie, Coco, Christine and Deni were channeling through their instruments. What an experience! 


Working with Alexandra and the exceptional team she put together has been a truly rewarding experience. The score for Long Live My Happy Head has had so much care and attention put into it at every stage, by everyone involved. It’s a very gratifying feeling to have, sitting in the cinema and hearing just how detailed and nuanced every aspect of the music in the film is, and we’re extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to work with such an amazing group of people.  


Music Credits
Composer

Alexandra Hamilton-Ayres

Orchestration by

Sarah Playford

Score Recorded and Mixed by

Fiona Cruickshank

Assistant Engineer

Katie Earl

Score Coordinator

Ed Marquis

Copyist

Kezia Tomsett

Strings Performed by Her Ensemble

Solo Violinist - Ellie Consta
Violin - Coco Inman
Viola - Christine Anderson

Recorded at St Matthias Church, Stoke Newington

COMING SOON

The soundtrack is available on Spotify from the 22nd March. Input your email below and we'll give you a nudge when it's out!

Dec 8, 2022
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12pm
DATE  TBD

Bright Lights Film Series

Emerson College, Boston, MA, USA
Learn more
Mar 27, 2022
/
9.30PM
DATE  TBD

UK Broadcast Premiere

BBC Scotland
Mar 17, 2022
/
6:20 PM
DATE  TBD

World Premiere - BFI Flare Film Festival

London, UK
Mar 19, 2022
/
11:00 AM
DATE  TBD

BFI Flare Film Festival

London, UK
Mar 19, 2022
/
5PM
DATE  TBD

International Premiere - Thessaloniki Documentary Festival

Thessaloniki, Greece
Mar 20, 2022
/
4:45PM
DATE  TBD

Screening + Special Guest Q&A - Komedia Picturehouse

Brighton, UK
Mar 22, 2022
/
DATE  TBD

Screening + Director Q&A - City Screen Picturehouse

York, UK
Mar 23, 2022
/
7:45PM
DATE  TBD

Screening + Director Q&A - Highland Cinema

Fort William, UK
Mar 24, 2022
/
6PM
DATE  TBD

Screening + Special Guest Q&A - Cameo Picturehouse

Edinburgh, UK
Mar 24, 2022
/
5:45PM
DATE  TBD

Screening + Director Q&A - The Parade

Marlborough, UK
Mar 25, 2022
/
6:30PM
DATE  TBD

Screening + Director Q&A - Picturehouse @ FACT

Liverpool, UK
Mar 25, 2022
/
TBC
DATE  TBD

Screening + Director Q&A - Belmont Filmhouse

Aberdeen, UK
Mar 27, 2022
/
6:30 PM
DATE  TBD

Sands International Film Festival of St Andrews

St Andrews, UK
Jun 11, 2022
/
8pm NZST
DATE  TBD

Doc Edge Film Festival - Virtual Screening + Director Q&A

New Zealand
Jun 19, 2022
/
11am PDT
DATE  TBD

Frameline LGBTQ+ Film Festival + Director Q&A

San Francisco, CA
Jul 15, 2022
/
DATE  TBD

Graphic Medicine International Conference 2022

Chicago, USA
Sep 27, 2022
/
72 hour window
DATE  TBD

MONIFF Monadnock Int'l Film Festival

New Hampshire, USA
Oct 14, 2022
/
8.30pm
DATE  TBD

Washington West Film Festival

Washington, VA, USA
Oct 16, 2022
/
DATE  TBD

Damn These Heels

Utah, USA
Oct 19, 2022
/
DATE  TBD

OUTshine

Fort Lauderdale, FL, USA
Oct 19, 2022
/
6pm
DATE  TBD

B3 Biennial

Frankfurt, Germany
Oct 19, 2022
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3pm
DATE  TBD

Q-Fest

Wisconsin, USA
Oct 21, 2022
/
DATE  TBD

New Haven Documentary Festival

New Haven, Connecticut, USA
Oct 28, 2022
/
11.30am
DATE  TBD

Windsor Int'l Film Festival

Windsor, ON, Canada
Nov 19, 2022
/
9pm
DATE  TBD

Portland Queer Film Festival

Portland, OR, USA