by Charmaine Gorman
If you haven’t seen the quirky animation web series where German meets New Zealand, meets New Zealand, meets German, then you are in for a treat. New Zealander William Connor and German Steffen Kreft created Lifeswap and it mixes the classic idiosyncrasies of life and travel, and tradition and home, into one nice bundle of animation entertainment.
The series began in 2013 when William and Steffen wanted to work together, utilizing their already founded skills in language, animation, illustration and cultural talents. After working together on other cultural programs they sought to challenge themselves and explain their own differences in depicting Germany and New Zealand in a crossover animation series, and after the pilot was funded by the Goethe-Institut in Wellington, it grew from episode to episode with further funding, an explosion of ideas and scenarios and best of all, a following of fans.
We are very happy to have both William and Steffen here for our ’10 questions with….. Life Swap!’ They tell us where their inspiration comes from; the best bits about NZ and Germany and plans for Lifeswap future.
1.How did you two meet?
William: We met at a party in Wellington in 2007 and found ourselves sitting back to back at the point where two circles of friends met. At some stage, someone told Steffen he could talk to me in German because I was a high school German teacher. I remember we turned around and talked about telling stories through film and theatre and outstayed everyone else at the party, totally absorbed in this topic and, gradually, also each other!
2.What was the last film you saw at the cinema?
William: Funnily enough it was Lifeswap! At the monthly Sunset Cinema event in Carterton in the Wairarapa where we live, a Lifeswap episode is shown as a light entre before each feature film. That night we watched a fascinating Iranian drama called ‘About Ely‘.
3. Are the characters in ‘Lifeswap’, Duncan and Jörg, based on yourselves?
William: Ha! To a degree they are. But, they’re also inventions, designed to efficiently embody various cultural traits we have observed in a way that I don’t think we do in person. Jörg is a little more earnest and not as smilingly charming as Steffen and I like to think I’m not quite as naive as Duncan. We definitely have a soft spot for both though.
4. Favourite films of all time?
William: I love any film by Mike Leigh. I think ‘Secrets and Lies‘ is my all time favourite.
Steffen: A Single Man
5. Had you both already had experience in animation before this series?
Steffen: I studied graphic design in Germany but already part way into my studies I focused much more on animation than graphic design and my final year project was a stop motion animation of Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant. When I did my Masters in digital media in Wellington, I made a mixed media animation describing my personal experience of coming out. William wrote some of the dialogues, acted in it and helped me with the animation, so this is where our collaboration started. We have also worked the marionette play The Kitchen at the End of the World together. After my studies in 2009 I co-founded the animation studio, National Park.
6.What is your day job right now?
Steffen: I am a director, illustrator, and animator for my company ‘National Park’ and I also do some of my own freelance work, like Lifeswap.
William: I am currently setting up my own German lessons for tongue-tied expats who live in Berlin and have developed enough of a bad conscience about not being able to talk to their elderly neighbours to want to take classes. I also translate and am currently working on three writing projects – Lifeswap, a similar series for Australian school students and a new marionette play set in a world where all the failed ideas and half creatures that never made it to the real world accumulate like beautiful, strange trash.
7. Are all the situations in the series, moments that have happened to you in real life?
William: Yes! Every little inter-cultural scenario featured in the series is based on a real-life experience. Steffen and I drew up a list that we constantly add to containing all the weird and hilarious and perplexing and fascinating quirks we notice as we move from Kiwi culture to German culture and back again. The humour comes from putting the spotlight on these tiny idiosyncrasies or differences and making them into a big deal, making light-hearted fun of them, sometimes finding quasi-scientific explanations for them. If a theme recurs a lot and seems to reflect some deeper psychological truth about our countries, it will often become a ‘main theme’ while the lighter things, like the German love of felt slippers, are the fun sprinkles that surround it.
8. What is your favorite thing about Germany?
William: I love so many things about Germany! I love how political and socially awake Germany is. I feel like this country has done real work in these areas. I love Apfelschorle, cycle lanes and bicycling in nice clothes. Lastly, I adore the Pfand machine at Lidl. How civilized is it to buy all your toast spreads using the money you win from disposing of your Spree Quelle bottles. Amazing.
Steffen: Schweinshaxe and Sauerkraut at Die kleine Markthalle in Berlin
9. What is your favourite thing about NZ?
Steffen: The open, friendly and easygoing people.
William: The unfeasibly cheerful and helpful customer service. Sometimes I ring up Kiwi Bank just to feel better about myself.
10. What’s next for ‘Lifeswap’?
Steffen: William has written the scripts for the next two episodes. In the next one, Jörg is going to Australia so we will explore the triangle of the three cultures. We are also exploring the idea of making a feature film… but it is not quite clear yet if it is going to be under the Lifeswap umbrella or if it is going to be a totally different story. Either way, it is going to deal with the wonderful and special culture that emerges when Germans and New Zealanders come together.
Basically, our bi-cultural dialogue is not only within our four walls anymore, but through Lifeswap, we are sharing our experience with so many people who can relate to it all over the world, and the opportunities that lie ahead for us and Lifeswap are really exciting.
Thank you, lads! If you haven’t seen an episode yet but are now about to google search it, why not head directly there instead, and we’ll see you at the movies!
Charmaine Gorman is an Australian actress and writer living in Berlin with her family. As a content writer and editor, she works for many clients around the world, she also facilitates the Robert Marchand acting and directing workshops in Berlin.
MORE FROM OUR BLOG