An imaginative fifteen year-old is stubbornly determined to lose her virginity despite the pathetic pickings in the outskirts of Houston in the early 90’s in this Oscar Nominated animation

My Year of Dicks is a hilarious and provocative work of animation thirty years in the making. Emotional and genre-mashing, an imaginative fifteen year-old is stubbornly determined to lose her virginity despite the pathetic pickings in the outskirts of Houston in the early 90’s. This charming, heart-stomp, retro-romantic-comedy pulls no punches with its female-forward look at sexual awakening. Icelandic director Sara Gunnarsdóttir (Diary of a Teenage Girl, “The Case Against Adnan Syed”) is known for her honest, emotional artwork, and creator/writer Pamela Ribon (Moana, Ralph Breaks the Internet, My Boyfriend is a Bear) has been telling unusual stories with unusual heroes for a long time. This is an adaptation of her mortifying memoir NOTES TO BOYS (AND OTHER THINGS I SHOULDN’T SHARE IN PUBLIC), which NPR called “brain-breakingly funny.”

The film’s raw narrative mixed with the surreal animated style certainly gives us a sense of nostalgic flashbacks. Sara wanted to build an inviting, painterly world that reflects the feeling of looking back at our teenage years, while still staying very present with young Pam in the moment. With Pam bravely sharing her teenage years, the story opens up the world of teenage girls, to share their humanity and vulnerability. We are delighted to have spoken with creators Sara (director), Pamela (writer) and Jeanette (producer) who gave us their insights one the making of the film. Read the full interview below.

Can you tell us what inspired you to bring this story to life?

Pam: There has been some version of this story in my performance life for about as long as I’ve been performing. In high school, I wrote a lot of notes to boys, and I often kept the first drafts. At some point I began reading those letters on stage, in addition to creating epistolary stage shows, and encouraging audience members and readers to write letters of their own. This is adapted from my memoir NOTES TO BOYS (AND OTHER THINGS I SHOULDN’T SHARE IN PUBLIC), where I collected any of these letters and stories and wrote about how ill-equipped I was to be the woman I knew I could be. The more I’ve shared these stories and letters over the years, the more I’ve seen the audience reaction change – from mortified laughter and pity, to mortified laughter and empathy. I’m usually chasing empathy, and I’m still amazed this film has reached as many as it has so far. [Tell your stories! They are necessary!]

What was the animation process and how was the structure planned out?

Sara: As I read the script and saw how Pam had attached a different movie genre to each chapter I immediately thought of some of my favorite animation artists and friends who would lend a great animation style to each one. This was my first time doing an animation project at this scale so I really wanted those artists to not only join me for a few sequences in each chapter, but have us do the whole thing together. There were 7 of us animating the film. Having such a small and talented group allowed us to approach the characters quite freely. I wanted everyone to feel like they could allow their drawing style to come through, even outside of the genre sequences, in the loose rotoscoping process. I believe it brought a sense of abstraction to Pam that enhances the emotional aspect of it and helps us see her as a real and complex person.

You decided to use different animation styles for the film, what are the reasons for switching things up for specific moments?

Sara: Like I mentioned earlier it was already established in Pams script. I felt like it was an exciting way to approach the film and gave us such rich groundwork of inspiration for each chapter. I think it is quite smart as Pam is a teenager that is trying to figure out who she is. We all do it in our adolescence, where we try on different types of personalities for ourselves and we tend to be hugely influenced by movies and popular culture in general. I also believe that attaching the aesthetic and tone of different genres to each boy allows us to connect to Pam’s experiences on a more general level than if we had not done this. It’s like we’re speaking in a film language we all know and connect to in a visceral way.

What were the biggest challenges for ‘My Year of Dicks’?

Sara: For me personally it was at the very beginning, standing in front of this huge endeavor, and trying to find the film’s tone and rhythm as I started putting boards and animatics together. It took a bit of time and a lot of drawings to somehow find it. I guess this might be true for every project though. The last chapter I boarded and timed was THE SEX TALK and things were getting easier but I hit a bump when doing the talk itself. It took me longer than the rest and was harder somehow, but I’m very happy with how it turned out.

Pam: Learning the differences between a 3D and a 2D pipeline as a writer – I did not get as many shots on goal as I’m used to! I was constantly like, “We’re just going to record that line and it’s in the film?” Madness.

Jeanette: To be honest I don’t think I encountered that many challenges on my end. So much of producing is small and achievable steps. An email here, a message there, a phone call there. There’s thousands of them, but as long as I just look at each of them as one at a time and don’t let the magnitude of it all get in the way, it’s easy to keep moving forward. That being said, music licensing is a fun and interesting game.

Do you have any tips or advice to offer fellow filmmakers?

Sara: Never quit! Be courageous!

Pam: But like, take breaks! Sleep is important! It’s not courageous if you know it’s necessary! Find a friend and do it. (Oh, no, it still sounds like I’m talking about losing your virginity.)

What do you hope people will take away from ‘My Year of Dicks’?

Pam: I hope people are encouraged to talk about their sexual experiences, their questions, their uncomfortable feelings. I love hearing stories of families watching this together and then talking about what it “was like” for them. Multi-generational vulnerability brings us closer together, and strengthens us as a society. Pleasure and consent shouldn’t have different rules when it comes to gender. Questions will find answers, and if discussing sexuality is forbidden or forgotten, shame and secrets easily take leadership roles in a person’s growth. I hope this film helps people remember the ones who were good with their hearts.

What are your favorite short films?

Sara: The first short film that I saw that completely blew me away was SON OF SATAN by JJ Villard (based on a short story by Charles Bukowski). I was in my first year at CalArts where they played it for us and it opened up to me what animation can be. Another one that I really love and left an impression on me is CATERWAUL by Ian Samuels. One last film is DRIFTERS by my husband Ethan Clarke and it’s brilliant use of the frame.

Jeanette: A film that continues to blow my mind each time I see it is Yul et le Serpent by Gabriel Harel. He has the most interesting command of cinematography and while his shot choices are incredibly ambitious (with a phenomenal attention to detail in the animation), he balances it all out with an understated style, and I think this combination of factors makes this film play beautifully every single time. I would love to, one day, have the opportunity to work with him.

Pam: I absorbed so much short form comedy and content during the Liquid Television/Nick at Night/Pee-Wee’s Playhouse years. There was an old SNL short made by Gary Weis that was simply Simon & Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound” playing over a montage of people reuniting at an airport for the holidays (read more about it). Truly sublime. Just that relatable feeling of relief that a reunion brings, over and over. Pure love, pure humanity. Seeing something in the middle of a comedy show that simply said, “Hey, while we’re laughing, isn’t this feeling ALSO GREAT?” It really stuck with me.

Which films can you say directly inspired this film?

Sara: I tend to get general inspiration from MIND GAME by Mazaki Yuasa, and this project is no exception to that. But then we looked at a lot of films when thinking of all the different genres. For Vampires we looked at films like; LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and DANGEROUS LIAISONS. Un Gross Penis was heavily inspired by THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER since it’s the film playing at the cinema. We also looked at directors like GODARD and DAVID LYNCH. For The Sweet One we were looking at SAILOR MOON mostly. In the horror genre we looked at films like; CARRIE and REQUIEM FOR A DREAM. These were some of the more prominent ones.

Pam: Skate Kitchen and Mid-90’s gave me the courage to present this story without an adult narrator. No flashbacks or invisible protagonists from the here/now/future to look back and laugh on how naive or innocent people could be. I never wanted someone in the film to say, “Back then we didn’t have the Internet.” (What an immediate turn-off.)