A 9 minute 3D animated musical short about a lonely widower awaiting a Pacemaker to save his life who gets his real second chance at true love by opening his heart and accepting his grandson's identity. Starring Alex Newell (Tony winner from Broadway) and Phil Lawrence (Bruno Mars), Pacemaker, the first animated musical with a trans teen as the main character, began its journey to the screen over two years ago.
The film was released on November 14th 2023, during Transgender Awareness week, and is available to watch here.
As writer and director Christopher Lennertz explains, the story's origin and music are deeply rooted in his family’s experience.
“The idea for Pacemaker began after my father-in-law had his second pacemaker surgery. My son Tobi had come out as gay but not yet as transgender. I had an idea to write a musical where a grandfather comes to accept their gay grandchild after retelling the story of his love for his widow. He and Tobi had a special connection with music and the love he had for Tobi’s grandmother.
After Tobi came out as transgender the following February, I wrote the script's first version that embraced Tobi’s new identity along with the first demo of the song "The Rhythm Of My Heart.”I knew it had to be vivid and joyous like their relationship and in the mold of the many animated musicals that inspired me to be a composer and songwriter…but it also needed to have a depth and honesty that tackled a subject that was still somewhat taboo.“
Co-director Brian Vincent Rhodes (Spies in Disguise, They Cloned Tyrone) added the following about the technical process, "Given that we incorporated dance and genuine choreography, ensuring seamless integration of the animation was crucial. We opted for an 'on twos' animation style that harmonised with the 'real world' of Cody and Grandad. To juxtapose this style, we employed a classic, smoother animation technique for the flashback dance choreography."
With production held in A.R.C's East London studio, producers Alex Bedford and Ben Parkin said: “combining our love of animation, music, and emotional, highly visual storytelling was a dream. Over the past 18 months the entire team in the US and London formed a tight family. Our trust, shared beliefs, and passion for the story resulted in a special film with a unique look that we hope will ignite a spark of inspiration in every viewer. Now for the feature!”
Accomplished producer Darlene Caamaño Loquet (In the Valley of Elah, The Bling Ring, and Casa De Mi Padre) was sent a draft of the script and a rough demo of the song. As Darlene explains, “The work blew me away. I had exactly one suggestion for Chris: I wanted to link Grandad’s experience with Abuela with Cody’s journey about acceptance. We needed to have that character realize that he, too, had been judged harshly for who he was and have that realization in the song flashback. Chris did his magic, and it all came together better than I had imagined. For a producer, that is rare, so I knew I was meant to produce for Chris.”
Magdiela Hermida Duhamel had previously worked with Chris, so she was elated when he approached her about the project. “We both love musicals, and when Chris brought Darlene to the project, it was a game-changer. Her expertise, collaboration, and friendship have been a transformational experience. Once we had a song, she knew who would be an excellent fit for the project.”
Magdiela Hermida Duhamel (Inside Out 2, Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia, Marvel Studios' What If…?) had previously worked with Chris, so she was elated when he approached her about the project. “We both love musicals, and when Chris brought Darlene to the project, it was a game-changer. Her expertise, collaboration, and friendship have been a transformational experience. Once we had a song, she knew who would be an excellent fit for the project.”
Christopher Lennertz continues: “We all worked together to develop our look with an amazingly diverse group of artists. We married a vivid 3D sensibility with the beauty of painterly, impressionistic brushstrokes that not only help show the depth of emotions in a complex story but also highlight the dream sequence in a way only animation can accomplish. The result captures the magic of classic MGM musicals with an almost fairy tale style of book illustration.”
Pacemaker is a film that brought people together. Darlene Caamaño Loquet explains, “This experience has been the type of creative collaboration I have dreamt of my entire film career. Good, talented people were coming together to tell a story about love and acceptance. No egos, no drama, just love and commitment to making the best animated musical short film. This team does feel like my family, and I feel honored to be a part of it.”
A final thought from composer, screenwriter, and co-director Christopher Lennertz, “The most amazing thing about this whole experience is that I’ve been able to learn from brilliant LGBTQ+ artists and creatives as well as my son while strengthening the connection I have with him. Seeing the courage that he has while becoming his true self reaffirms our mission every day. Hopefully, this story can inspire conversation and understanding in families worldwide.”
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LA premiere at Outfest 2023
Brian Vincent Rhodes, Christopher Lennertz
Christopher Vincent Rhodes & Brian Vincent Rhodes
Darlene Caamaño Loquet
Magdiela Hermida Duhamel