Can you tell us about the background to the project?
It's an obvious subject for S4C to tackle and I think 20 years ago when Chris Grace at S4C was beginning his animation portfolio it was very tempting to say "we've got this great classic let's rush to the screen with it". But of course there was no infrastructure of animation in Wales and if you're going to do this story, you really ought to do it with Welsh people and get as many Welsh people as you can to work on it. So it's been a long process, it's been a long gestation of establishing (a) the industry and (b) the international credentials that says "we are a company who can produce serious, well told stories in animation that nobody else is doing". In many ways, doing the Mabinogi has become a peak for that process.
The Mabinogi can't be the easiest story to adapt
Adapting it is not the easiest thing in the world and to be honest it's surprising how little it's known within Wales. We were quite shocked when we went to the BBC (one of the partners involved) and their education department told us that as a 10-year-old you might do a little bit of it and act it out, but generally you wouldn't even do it as 'A'-Level text. So (a) we had to make it for an audience of today and (b) we had to make it interesting. Now the stories are interesting but sticking them together was a challenge. It wasn't easy because the stories are not necessarily connected. Many of them, when you look at them, are full of narrative holes, and obviously when they were being told orally you can kick sand over all those sort of things and cause a distraction but we looked at it and it looked like a string vest ... it had that many holes in it! So we had to find some way of unifying it but still take on board the fact that it is a disparate being and therefore you've got to retain some of that flavour as well. We used the analogy when we were trying to convince people that this sort of approach would work with something like "Pulp Fiction" which again seems to tell three or four different stories at the same time, it shifts time, it's never linear time, and there's one character who dies in one part and later on appears alive. You don't have any trouble watching it, you do get engaged and in the published screenplay it says: Pulp Fiction - 3 stories about 1 story. The struggle for us was to find that one story that was going to unify it. We've got these multi-protagonists and we need to be able to take them together from the beginning of the film to the end. They've been on journeys, their own journeys, but in a way they're a unified group at the beginning and they're a different unified group at the end. They all change in different ways but they've got to change because the audience wants to go along and have that experience. So that's how we devised this live action beginning and ending to bring the characters together so that we knew who's stories we were trying to follow.
What problems did you encounter whilst adapting the original texts?
If you adapt anything, you change it - that's inevitable. One of the things that we'd worked on previously, sometimes we write and sometimes we work as script editors, and we'd script edited two films based on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. What really excited us about the Mabinogi was how much more modern the actual problems were in the Mabinogi, which gave us more to hold onto. But it does mean changing things and you have to sometimes combine characters or shift the action slightly. One of the things that we found was for example with Manawydan who has to solve this problem with Llwyd, and he really has to outwit him, to out-think him, he does it on his own in the story but we found that that didn't create enough tension so we brought Cigfa (Manawydan's niece) in so that she could be some sort of sounding board. But one of the things that buoyed us up at the beginning was that one of the advisors, Sioned Davies, said "don't worry too much about changing things because when they were telling these stories all those hundreds of years ago that's what everybody was doing, they were always adapting, they were always changing it, and all you're doing is saying here in 2002 let's tell these stories for 2002's audience.
And yet you have remained pretty faithful to the original texts
I hope we've been faithful because there is some sort of mission. It is a good read and it's fascinating to think how old it is and it deserves a wider audience so you want to tell it as much as it is. So I hope the approach we have taken is the right one ... only bums on seats will tell us.