ShortList 2020: 'Cosmic Fling' Makes Space Isolation More Poignant Than Ever

Animated short about a man stuck on an asteroid debuts in a world of lockdowns and quarantines

Jonathan Langager has spent a decade working on his animated short about a man stuck alone on an asteroid in space. Just months after premiering “Cosmic Fling,” his story about isolation and the desire for human contact that has suddenly become more relevant than ever.

“We released our film just a few months before everyone went into quarantine, but it’s going to be interesting seeing how people react to it now,” Langager told TheWrap. “We have it set to screen for some virtual film festivals but also some socially distanced outdoor festivals in Europe, and I think people there will really identify with it after being stuck in their homes for so long.”

“Cosmic Fling,” which is one of the finalists of TheWrap’s 2020 ShortList Film Festival, follows an interstellar garbage man picking up trash floating through space, etching the days, weeks and months that go by on a billboard attached to his asteroid home. But one day, he spots a woman floating by on a passing comet and begins plotting a way for them to meet with the help of his trash-catching harpoon.

Starting in 2010, Langager spent years not only tweaking the story of “Cosmic Fling” but also figuring out what would be the best medium to film it in. It was originally conceived as a CGI-animated film, and live-action was also considered at one point. Instead, Langager tried something else: marionettes.

“I’m interested in whatever medium allows me to express my weird fantastic sensibility, but on a budget, there’s something charming about the scrappiness of puppets,” he says.

With the help of master puppeteer Phillip Huber, who worked on the famous puppet scene from “Being John Malkovich,” and a team of crafters and VFX artists, Langager used a mix of practical and computer effects to create the 10-minute short over three days of shooting. Since marionettes do not have the expressiveness of stop-motion puppets, Langager used live-action actors to play the two astronauts, using digital effects to splice their faces into the foggy helmets of the two puppets. While losing that facial expressiveness was a downside of using puppets, Langager says that their ability to easily tell a story through detailed design and physicality without the need for high-tech rendering software makes it worth the trade-off.

“With CGI you can tell the difference sometimes when the animation has a high budget vs. a lower budget. But with our puppets we could express physicality with the characters and the sense of loneliness in the setting on a lower budget. There’s also a bit of a connection to actual space exploration as well because puppets were used on TV when explaining the Apollo missions in the 1960s, so there’s always been that history of using puppets to make space relatable.”

Langager also got some help from the most famous family in the craft. He applied for and received a grant from IBEX Puppetry, a company founded by Jim Henson’s daughter, Heather, to preserve and expand puppetry as an art form. After it was completed, “Cosmic Fling” was screened at the Jim Henson Company headquarters in Hollywood and will be released by the company as part of Heather Henson’s showcase series “Handmade Puppet Dreams.” The film has also received an award for best animated short at the Santa Barbara Film Festival and has also screened at festivals in San Jose, New York and Montreal.

Watch “Cosmic Fling” above. Viewers can also screen the films at any time during the festival at Shortlistfilmfestival.com and vote from Aug. 6-19.

The Scene at ShortList 2019: TheWrap's 8th Annual Short Film Festival (Photos)

  • In the top row, ShortList 2019 filmmakers, from left to right: “Hula Girl” directors Amy Hill and Chris Reiss, “Cat Days” director Jon Frickey, “Green” director Suzanne Andrews Correa, “Sister” director Siqi Song, “How Does It Start” director Amber Sealey and “Enforcement Hours” director Paloma Martinez.

    In the lower row, TheWrap CEO Sharon Waxman, ShortList host Harvey Guillen, “One Cambodian Family Please for My Pleasure” director A.M. Lukas,  “No Sanctuary” producer Moriah Hall, “Departing Gestures” co-directors Brian Bolster and Jonathan Napolitano and TheWrap writer Steve Pond.

    Ted Soqui

  • ShortList filmmakers attended the ShortList opening night dinner, presented by Amazon Alexa, on Wednesday, August 21 at Eveleigh West Hollywood.

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  • TheWrap awards editor Steve Pond, “One Cambodian Family Please for My Pleasure” director A.M. Lukas and TheWrap head of operations Claude Memmi at the ShortList opening night dinner.

    Ted Soqui

  • Guests enjoyed an intimate evening of dinner and conversation at the ShortList opening night dinner.

    Ted Soqui

  • We’re Magnetic global director of consumer research and insights Rachel Krautkremer, “How Does it Start” director Amber Sealey, Amazon head of entertainment & culture, XCM Andrew Saunders and Endeavor (WME-IMG) senior global marketing manager Alexandra Stabler at the ShortList opening night dinner.

    Ted Soqui

  • “Enforcement Hours” director Paloma Martinez, “Green” director Suzanne Andrews Correa and “Cat Days” director Jon Frickey at the ShortList opening night dinner.

    Ted Soqui

  • “One Cambodian Family Please for My Pleasure” director A.M. Lukas speaks at the ShortList opening night dinner.

    Ted Soqui

  • TheWrap CEO Sharon Waxman speaks with ShortList filmmakers and jurors at the ShortList opening night dinner.

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  • “What We Do in the Shadows” star and ShortList host Harvey Guillen poses with TheWrap CEO Sharon Waxman.

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  • “Departing Gesture” producers Thomas Harrington, Brian Bolster, Jonathan Napolitano and Kayleigh Napolitano.

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  • ShortList jurors Landon Zakheim, Todd Berger, Wendy Guerrero, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Steve Pond, Gena Konstantinakos, Orlando von Einsiedel, Sharon Waxman and Tristen Tuckfield.

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  • Host Harvey Guillen and jury member and actress Marsha Stephanie Blake.

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  • “Cat Days” director Jon Frickey, “How Does it Start” director Amber Sealey and “Departing Gesture” co-director Brian Bolster.

    Ted Soqui

  • “One Cambodian Family Please for My Pleasure” composer Britta Phillips, director A.M. Lukas, and cinematographer Meena Singh.

    Ted Soqui

  • “Sister” director Siqi Song.

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  • “What We Do in the Shadows” star Harvey Guillen, while hosting at the ShortList ceremony.

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  • The ShortList 2019 jury panel.

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  • Jurors Tristen Tuckfield, Gena Konstantinakos and Todd Berger.

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  • Director & co-founder of Grain Media Orlando von Einsiedel speaks during the jury panel.

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  • Jurors Wendy Guerrero, executive vice president of 30West Tristen Tuckfield, and Gena Konstantinakos.

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  • Gena Konstantinakos, vice president of Development & Video Programing of Topic.

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  • Jurors Gena Konstantinakos, Marsha Stephanie Blake, and Wendy Guerrero.

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  • Guests mingle with food and drinks at the W Hotel Hollywood.

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  • ShortList film curator Landon Zakheim.

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  • Guests chat with wine in hand at the W Hotel Hollywood.

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  • Steve Pond introduces ShortList finalists during the filmmakers panel

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  • “Sister” director Siqi Sing, “Cat Days” director Jon Frickey, and “How Does It Start” director Amber Sealey

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  • (L-R), “Departing Gesture” co-directors Jonathan Napolitano and Brian Bolster, Siqi Song

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  • “Green” director Suzanne Andrews Correa

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  • “One Cambodian Family Please for My Pleasure” director A.M. Lukas

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  • Senior Vice President Original Programming of Starz Karen Bailey announces the finalists for Telling Our Stories, a new film competition by Starz and WrapWomen

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  • “No Sanctuary” takes the student prize, accepted by producer Moriah Hall

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  • “Departing Gesture” takes the audience prize, accepted by the co-directors Jonathan Napolitano and Brian Bolster

    Ted Soqui

  • “Enforcement Hours” takes the industry prize, accepted by director Paloma Martinez

    Ted Soqui

  • Guests mingle at the W Hotel Hollywood

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  • Guests pose for pictures after the awards ceremony

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  • (L-R) Senior Vice President Original Programming of Starz Karen Bailey, “No Sanctuary” producer Moriah Hall and Sharon Waxman

    Ted Soqui

  • Sharon Waxman and “Enforcement Hours” director Paloma Martinez

    Ted Soqui

  • “Departing Gesture” directors Brian Bolster and Jonathan Napolitano

    Ted Soqui

Finalists and jurors come together to celebrate this year’s finalists

In the top row, ShortList 2019 filmmakers, from left to right: “Hula Girl” directors Amy Hill and Chris Reiss, “Cat Days” director Jon Frickey, “Green” director Suzanne Andrews Correa, “Sister” director Siqi Song, “How Does It Start” director Amber Sealey and “Enforcement Hours” director Paloma Martinez.

In the lower row, TheWrap CEO Sharon Waxman, ShortList host Harvey Guillen, “One Cambodian Family Please for My Pleasure” director A.M. Lukas,  “No Sanctuary” producer Moriah Hall, “Departing Gestures” co-directors Brian Bolster and Jonathan Napolitano and TheWrap writer Steve Pond.

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