The film, which is being screened Thursday at the Alys Stephens Center as part of the 2011-2012 Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers, uses vignettes of animated canines to interpret the emotions of the main character, Mona, played by Lily Rabe, and those she interacts with.
“The idea in the film is that [grief] not only slows your own personal development, but it also slows the cogs of society and community of the human experience at large,” Hubley says of using the chatty animals to tinker with and awaken the character’s psyche, unbeknownst to Rabe’s character.
The conception of the production, however, was several years in the making. A short filmmaker by trade, Hubley began writing the screenplay in the early 2000s, and went on to participate in Sundance workshops in 2002 and 2003, but “I continued to re-write it up until we shot,” she says of her full-length feature debut, which was filmed over a six-week period in New York at the beginning 2007.
The canine voices, which included actors Eli Wallach and David Cross, helped to give the movie a “timeless quality,” says Hubley, who strived to represent many underlying ingredients of Mona’s feelings in the film through their banter, from old New York theater to modern comedy and music. All five voice actors recorded at the same time, which made all the difference, says Hubley.
“It made it logistically difficult, but there are relationships between all the dogs, and I think if they had just been doing it all isolated … I don’t think they would have had quite the energy between them,” she said.
A New York native, Hubley’s exposure to animation began with her parents, who were also animators and took the family to many international animation festivals when she was growing up.
“A lot of what they did rubbed off on me,” says Hubley, who now resides in New Jersey. “We were very lucky to be exposed to that.”
The movie itself was a family affair, with Hubley’s sister and her band creating the music, her brother making the edits and even her young niece performing onscreen as a young Mona.
“I never planned to do animation — I wasn’t an artist, really,” Hubley says.
Adding to the energy of the film was casting Jane Lynch in the role of Honey Strumpet, a poetry vamp who makes an unforgettable impression on Mona at an open mic night. The role was originally to be played by Debbie Harry, but when the Blondie frontwoman dropped out at the last minute, the cast was left in dire straits.
“I realized ‘Oh, it would be really fun if this part was … just a really fun centerpiece of the film,’ so I did want it to be someone funny,” Hubley remembers. Her producer made the connection for the film, and Lynch flew out just in time.
“When she came in, she did give everyone a boost in the arm,” she says of the pre-Glee actress, who later came to the premiere and several screenings after. “She really made everyone laugh — it was fun.”
While Hubley “had so many strokes of luck” when creating her feature debut, which first showed at SXSW in 2008 and made its theatrical debut at the Museum of Modern Art in 2009, whether she will do another is up in the air.
“I started making films in 1980, and in a way, you can really draw a line from the film that I made right out of college to The Toe Tactic, and that sort of ended a chapter,” says Hubley, who is working on another short film. “I feel like I’m just sort of going back and staring from scratch again.”
The Toe Tactic, screening and director meet and greet will be held Feb. 9 at the Alys Stephens Center in Birmingham. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online.
Erin Williams is a graduate of Faith Christian School and the University of Alabama. She is a performing arts aide for the Washington Post Style section.