Daily post 24 Sep 2008 09:04 am

Money Panel

- I had mixed feeleings about last night’s ASIFA East event – a panel of Independent Animators who had made feature films or were involved with features in progress. It was hosted by Cartoon Brew’s Amid Amidi and featured panelists: Emily Hubley, Daniel Kanemoto, Bill Plympton, Tatia Rosenthal, and me.

- Bill, of course, has done six features. Idiots and Angels is the most recent.
- Emily had done a live/animation mix feature, The Toe Tactic.
- Daniel started a feature, Articles of War, ran out of funds after finishing a short – a part of the film – and is raising more capital.
- Tatia has finished a clay animated feature, $9.99, which is about to be released.
- I’ve done preproduction on a feature, Poe, and am still trying to put it together to get it into production.

The audience was overflowing with lots of people sitting on the floor. SVA students surrounded pros like John Canemaker, Candy Kugel, Don Duga, Irra Verbitsky, Bridget Thorne and many others. It was well attended.

The disappointment for me did not come from the panel. Their comments and answers I often found elucidating and interesting.

Amid asked the nuts and bolts questions to get it going, and then he opened it to the audience who had a very large number of questions.

The problem, I thought, was that the questions were centered ENTIRELY on the nuts and bolts: raising the budget, spending the budget and organizing the budget. The fact is that there were a bunch of people who had some experience on the panel, and all anyone was interested in was how to get money. Maybe it’s the mood of the country; maybe everyone these days is ready to do their own feature; maybe my head is too high in the clouds, and I thought there’d be more thought about the “Art” of it.

Feature films are completely different from short films. Timing is different, story is different, art direction & animation are different. It’s all different. There were no questions about the actual art of the feature. I was a bit surprised at that.

There was no one who talked about constructing the story and making it a palatable feature. This has been the hardest part for me. Who wants to make a beautiful film that puts people to sleep – even if it is financially successful. It’s really hard work, and I can’t say how much I love doing it and wish I were able to jump in full throttle. (I will, of course, do it full time as soon as the check arrives.)

Perhaps the next panel will talk a bit more about the art and less about the financing of it.

The two stills above come from obvious sources.
Bill Plympton’s image, upper Right, comes from his feature, Idiots and Angels.
Emily Hubley produced Toe Tactic. This is the still upper Left.

17 Responses to “Money Panel”

  1. on 24 Sep 2008 at 9:46 am 1.Tim Rauch said …

    Agreed… I had gone there wanting to ask “how have you had to adjust between making shorts and the making features” but somehow ended up with a more ham-handed question. Either way, I had a good time, got to meet Bridget before the discussion and heard Tales of Ottawa at the pub afterwards. I was amazed at the turnout! They should all join and pay membership fees…

  2. on 24 Sep 2008 at 9:59 am 2.Clint Edwards said …

    Thanks for the update post, Michael. I tried to get in, but the place was so mobbed that by 7:00 people were spilling into the hallway. I guess I’m not so sorry to have missed the conversation if it was only about financing and little to nothing about the art.

    It also seemed to be some kind of mandatory event, since I was mostly surrounded by students wondering aloud if “so-and-so was taking attendance.”

  3. on 24 Sep 2008 at 11:04 am 3.Dave Levy said …

    Hi All,
    Some SVA instructors brought their classes to the event and we even had an unexpected class arive from Phili. Great to have a packed house and hopefully this event served as a good introduction to ASIFA-East. MOST of the time, students DON”T go to ASIFA-Events until well after they graduate. And, its always a good idea to get to an event early. If you arrive at the start time, you are not garanteed you’ll get in.

  4. on 24 Sep 2008 at 12:01 pm 4.Mark Mayerson said …

    I’ve written some unproduced scripts for animated features, and it was difficult to fill up the running time without the story feeling padded. Just outlining a story that long is a difficult thing and having the story flow at a good pace and in a believable manner is a real challenge. Everybody wants to make a feature, but I recommend writing a feature script first before letting your dreams get the best of you.

    The problem for independent features isn’t raising money (though that’s difficult) as much as it is getting the film seen and collecting money from the viewers. History is full of films that get theatrical or DVD distribution and never make back their distributor advances (which are usually a fraction of the budget). That’s the challenge facing everybody right now, not just animators. Even the live action folks haven’t figured this one out yet, and generally animation is playing catch-up with whatever business model live action develops.

  5. on 24 Sep 2008 at 12:40 pm 5.Tom Sito said …

    Nice post Mike. Artists have worried over money since Praxiteles. Most of the writing Leonardo DaVinci left behind other than his scientific notes, were budgets and expense listings. Beethoven constantly worried about money, and when George Gershwin went to Paris and wanted to talk music theory with Maurice Ravel, all Ravel wanted to know was how much in royalties Gershwin made from pop tunes like ” Do-do-do What ya Done-Done-Done to Meeee..”

  6. on 24 Sep 2008 at 1:38 pm 6.Michael said …

    You’re right, Tom. Money problems are historic for artists. They represent about 75% of my job – it’s the part I don’t like, but it’s reality. However, a room full of students shouldn’t only have questions about money and budget for features. There’s too much else we have to learn about the subject. When they actually try to do a feature, they can seek budget answers. They should do what Mark suggests: write a script – a good script first and see how tough it is.

  7. on 24 Sep 2008 at 4:21 pm 7.Emmett Goodman said …

    I agree with you Mr. Sporn. There were way too many questions about money last night. It left me feeling a little nerve-wracked. I wanted to know what you guys were looking for in your features. As far as I’m concerned, most of the students there wanted to do features that entertained audiences (although I admit I too wish to do that), as opposed to consciously try and break new artistic ground. Making an independent animated feature is something I wish to be a part of. But I also believe that a good story, and a solid script (a la Pixar) is key to making a feature, especially if you want it to be seen. It shouldn’t take a genius to see how different it is from making a short.

    I had a question, which I didn’t get to ask. But I might as well ask you. What is your opinion of an animation director moving back and forth between independent features and commercial features? I’m looking along the lines of guys like David Lynch and Steven Soderbergnh, who start off independently, then make trips to the commercial world, and then back again. The way I see it, you gain enough credibility on both sides, but I wanted to hear an opinion from you or the other panelists.

  8. on 24 Sep 2008 at 4:47 pm 8.stephen said …

    hi michael,

    I’m sad work kept me from attending, but probably would have been tempted to ask a similar question. independent fundraising is so mysterious to me and many other young animators. Raising money seems like the difficult part (along with the falsely daunting problem of “learning software”), when in reality, making the film and making it good is the hard part. Or is it that nothing about the process is at all easy?

    how’s that picasso quote go? something like, “bankers go to dinner and talk about art. artists go to dinner and talk about money.”

    Ah well. I’d love to hear some posts along the lines of what you’d like to share about the independent feature process.

  9. on 24 Sep 2008 at 5:32 pm 9.Robert Schaad said …

    Thought the panel discussion was informative, with occasional(but much needed)humorous side comments. Yes, Michael in retrospect, it did seem to weigh too heavily on the financing aspects.

    Bring on the next panel (more about the art).

  10. on 24 Sep 2008 at 7:43 pm 10.Oswald said …

    I’m glad you brought that up! Whenever there’s talk about doing independent animated features, people are generally enthusiastic about it but worry about the money first.
    As soon as the question arises who would be willing to actually start production on a feature (pretending the funding worked out), hardly anybody seems to be ready to build a story that holds an audience for 90 minutes. Nina Paley sure was, but if she had worried about the money first, I’m sure we wouldn’t have her delightful film now.
    I also think that features are an area where classic storytelling/screenplay skills are indispensable, no matter if the story is scripted or boarded.
    I believe there is a lot to learn from live action writers that can and should be adapted (not imitated) to the specifics of animation. I also believe that there are many alternatives to the great Pixar/Disney model of shaping a story that is artistically successful AND appealing to a large audience, even for people who are not geniuses like Miyazaki.
    I agree with Mark Mayerson that the whole funding question is important but secondary, if there is a good script/story that needs to be told.

  11. on 25 Sep 2008 at 12:12 pm 11.Dayna Gonzalez said …

    Have to agree with you there, Michael. I learned an awful lot about financing but very little regarding the creativity involved in making the films. Each filmmaker’s work was so different from the other and it would have been great to hear more questions geared towards discussion of techniques used and artistic choices made. I would love to know more about Tatia’s use of stop motion and hope to find a more behind the scenes article somewhere. Or maybe I’ll just ask her next time I see her. Your scene of Poe running frantically across the ship was wonderfully animated and I’m curious to know if the scene was hand-drawn and scanned in, or if After Effects was used to add in the motion of the ship and the angles of the floor changing.

  12. on 25 Sep 2008 at 2:41 pm 12.Michael said …

    Hi Dayna, All of the character work was done by hand on paper and scanned into photoshop (where it’ll be colored.) That also includes the LS of the ship and water. Any movement or distortion of the ship bgs were done in AE. I would have liked to have heard Bill talk more about his work as well as Tatia.

  13. on 25 Sep 2008 at 10:02 pm 13.Mike Rauch said …

    I was disappointed too, but I couldn’t quite figure out why. I think your post here is pretty on point. I agree with Stephen that the financing questions are often areas that are more shrouded in mystery if you’re new to the process. And while the artistry obviously matters very much to me, it’s the business side that I’m currently trying to wrap my head around (although I don’t think my own independent feature is in the very near future!). It was interesting to touch on the business stuff, but it was quite heavy on that. I tend to think, however, that it would be easier to talk about artistry with ONE filmmaker. Even more so if you had seen that filmmaker’s feature (or feature in progress), and could ask questions in response to what you had seen.

    If you’ll answer it here, one of the questions on my mind that night: As an independent filmmaker how do you maintain a balanced judgment of your own film? How do you step back and maintain a clear perspective on such a large project?

  14. on 25 Sep 2008 at 11:32 pm 14.Michael said …

    That’s a good question, Mike. My focus with all of the films has been on the storyboard. If that works in the animatic form, then I know it’ll work in the final. I stick to it and stay loyal to what I wanted to do at the beginning. THE HUNTING OF THE SNARK was 20 mins. and took 7 years to make. The storyboard, done in two days, was great and exactly what I wanted; it absolutely shaped the final film. The same is true of a feature; you know if you’re doing what you want to do.

  15. on 26 Sep 2008 at 2:27 am 15.Amid said …

    I didn’t particularly mind the “nuts and bolts” direction of the conversation that evening. I had more questions about the artistic end of things but quickly realized that that’s not what either the speakers or attendees were interested in discussing. My first question to the panel was about “why a filmmaker would want to make a feature” and almost every filmmaker began offering information about their budgets and financial struggles. In other words, the direction of the discussion was established early on by the speakers themselves, and as it turned out, most of the attendees were interested in similar issues.

  16. on 26 Sep 2008 at 8:28 am 16.Michael said …

    I agree with you, Amid, that is what the audience made up, primarily, of students were interested in discussing. That, I think, is the shame of it. Students should only be interested in the “Art” of making films. They won’t have the same opportunities when they leave school.

  17. on 26 Sep 2008 at 5:30 pm 17.Dave Levy said …

    I think that students, like us established people, are interested in figuring out how these films are financed and distributed. They probably each assume (however flawed that might be) they already have the creativity to pull off a feature, or (better yet) the understanding that they one day will have the experience that requires. I do wish we had probed the creativity behind each film at least once that night. But, this conversation on your blog is better late than never.

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