Taxi’s Steve Baker, one of Australia’s most awarded directors, discusses his craft and the global success of ‘This Is Desmondo Ray!’
This is Desmondo Ray! can only be described as an internet sensation. The web series by writer-director Steve Baker, following a peculiar little man’s search for love, has been screened and awarded at over 20 festivals worldwide.
Some of the most notable awards and screenings include: topping the Web Series World Cup since May, winner Best Web Series at Cinema Jove, Spain, winner Best Director and Best Animation series at Buenos Aires Web Fest, four awards at T.O. WebFest, Toronto, and winner Best Direction Animation Project at the Australian Directors Guild ADG Awards.
We asked Steve Baker to reveal the process behind Desmondo’s creation and gain some insight into his unique storytelling style.
Q: Is there a lot of Steve Baker in Desmondo Ray?
Steve Baker: There are definitely parts of me in him. I think that’s only natural when you create a character as singular as this, but he also has his own personality and, as strange as it sounds, his own soul. When I wrote the scripts, I kind of let him jump into my skin and write with me. After all it’s his journey, so it needs to make sense for him.
Q: Why did you create Desmondo? Has it achieved what you wanted it to?
Steve Baker: It began out of my continuing desire to tell stories about outsiders trying to find their place in this mixed-up crazy world.
I have no idea what it has achieved for me just yet. Time will tell. But what I do know is I have no regrets creating this character. He’s become a very big part of my life and I enjoy his company.
Q: Why a web series?
Steve Baker: Back in 2013, I made a three-minute short film with Taxi, The Video Dating Tape of Desmondo Ray, which we premiered online instead of the usual festival circuit. It ended up being a fortuitous decision because it was Vimeo’s Staff Pick about a day after it was uploaded and it just took off on a life of its own across the internet from there. So, due to the popularity of that short, we really wanted to expand Desmondo’s universe, and it made sense that we’d continue his story online in the form of a web series.
Q: How has Desmondo developed from the beginning of the Dating Tape to the end of the web series?
Steve Baker: There actually was a slight shift in tone from the original Dating Tape to the series. As a storyteller, I’m far more interested in complex characters, instead of complex
plots – the sort of characters who ask big questions from the most intimate settings. And I’ve always used the combination of humour and heart to create a lingering bittersweet atmosphere. But I’m also drawn to the darkness, and I really wanted to take this opportunity to introduce a dark pain simmering beneath the surface. Whenever I watch a film, or read a book, or look at a painting, I just want to have some kind of emotional reaction to it. Falling under a film’s spell is kind of like a drug, and I love trying to create that feeling for the audience. So being able to add even more atmosphere and emotion into this story, on top of everything else, hopefully feels like a rollercoaster ride of emotions for the audience.
Q: The mix of live action and animation is as unique as the story. Where did that come from?
Steve Baker: I really wanted Desmondo to be the ultimate outsider and feel completely alien to the world around him. What better way to do that than to make him an animated character in a live action world. Plus, I work in both mediums so it was a great excuse to play around in both.
Q: When did you know you had achieved success with Desmondo? Which of Desmondo’s many accolades mean the most to you?
Steve Baker: Tricky ones to answer…
I guess I rate success a little differently to most filmmakers. For me, it’s successful if I managed to connect emotionally with the audience. I’ll take one amazing comment over a million hits any day. Not that I’m opposed to lots of hits, but at the end of the day, they’re just numbers. Reading a genuinely heartfelt message from someone on the other side of the world who just got a tattoo of Desmondo is something that I’ll remember forever. Fortunately, I’ve had a lot of great feedback, so yeah, I guess it’s been successful.
I won’t rate any award over the other, but on a personal level, it’s always satisfying to get a directing award. Only because there are still way too many people who think animation magically directs itself.
Q: Is there more to come?
Steve Baker: We honestly don’t know yet. It hasn’t been ruled out and I’ve had some interesting ideas on how to keep expanding Desmondo’s story, but it takes a long time to create a series like this and I have a lot of other ideas and characters in my head that I want to explore, so we’ll see.