Wednesday, April 7, 2021

New Short Film - Demi NYC

As you may have already heard, or maybe not, I've started a new short film.  I was sent a script by the New England writer, Dan Leonard, about the coronavirus pandemic.  I don't usually do political shorts, but this script was a wonderful story, full of visual ideas that I could really have fun with.  Plus, I've never really done a serious film before and I wanted a change of pace.  

Right now, the temporary title is "Demi NYC", but we're considering different titles right now.  Last week, Dan and his wife, Lorena, came to visit my studio and I showed them how I make the animation.  So I'm happy to present to you all that demonstration, and also to alert you that they're about to run a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for production of the short.  I hope you all can help support the new short, it's going to be one of my best films!  Please check it out on Vimeo here - 

https://vimeo.com/534124082



--Bill P.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Alamo Drafthouse, COVID-19 and a new short on the way

I miss those pre-COVID days, when I was able to travel around the world and make appearances at local cinemas.  Back when "Cheatin'" came out, I had a booking agent that arranged for me to visit a bunch of the cinemas that were premiering the film, I think I went to about 13 cities on one trip, and I felt a bit like a rock star on tour.  You know how bands sometimes have t-shirts that list all the cities on their tour?  I should have had a t-shirt made.

But because of the pandemic, one of my favorite venues, the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, TX has closed for financial reasons.  I remember the first time I visited there, it was run by Tim League, a great guy, and I did a two-man show, co-starring the great Don Hertzfeldt. Of course, we had a packed house, because of Don's local fan base there. 

What really surprised me was that they had a kitchen and served food like burgers, salads and hot dogs at the seats.  Wow, what a cool concept, something more than just popcorn and candy - and in fact the idea was such a hit that Alamo Theaters got franchised across America.  

Now, some purists were offended by the idea of eating in front of a classic film.  They said it would disturb concentration and appreciation of the film.  However, the Alamo preferred to show over-the-top, wacky films - comedies, horror and action movies, so drinking and eating complimented the enjoyment of the film.  It made for a perfect date-night event, get the dinner and the movie out of the way in one fell swoop, then you can get on with the romantic portion of the evening....

I hope that after COVID-19 is gone (and I hope this happens soon) they will revive the Drafthouse plan, because it's such a great concept. And it really would be a shot in the arm, so to speak, for the struggling movie houses.  

Speaking of COVID-19, I'm now working on a short film that is about the pandemic.  Here is some art, posted below, and I'll be talking more about this project very soon. 

Thanks, 

Bill P.



     



Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The Simpsons (again)

Guess what, folks?  Last fall I was asked to do another Couch Gag for "The Simpsons"!! Yeah!!

Now, you've heard my rap before about how I love the Simpsons show, the Simpsons people and the Simpsons audience.  So whenever I get invited to do another opening for their show, I go out and celebrate.

This time, producer Al Jean asked me to send in a storyboard idea - and I thought I'd go really off the deep end and submit a totally off-the-wall, bizarro surreal concept.  It's Homer's head, and his facial features start becoming his family members as they ooze out of his orifices.  I thought, "Those producers at The Simpsons are going to think that I'm taking way too many drugs" - but surprise, surprise, they loved it!  Then I thought, "Oh my God, now I have to animate this totally twisted beast..."

It was a gas making this nightmare come true on my drawing board - and thankfully, they loved the finished version.  The producers called me months ago and said it would be broadcast on their 700th episode on March 7.  But now I heard that because some NASCAR race ran into a rain delay, that it may run on March 14 or even March 21.  But still, it's going to open their 700th episode - what an honor!

So please tell all your friends to tune in to "The Simpsons" and you might want to get a little buzzed first, to really get maxed out on the weirdness factor.  Thanks to all you Plympton and Simpsons fans for following my work and spreading the word!  

Sincerely, 

Bill P.


                                    








Friday, February 19, 2021

Don Hertzfeldt

I met Don Hertzfeldt long ago - I think I was doing a Spike & Mike show, and I believe he was showing "Billy's Balloon" (one of my all-time favorite comedy shorts).  We became good friends, because our senses of humor were very similar, dark and surreal.  

Over the years I've visited him in Austin - he even let me sleep over in his house.  He showed me his monster animation camera stand that he'd had shipped to his house from a long distance away, and he assembled the damn thing all by himself.

And whenever Don was doing a show in NYC, usually at the IFC Center in the Village, he'd always have a standing-room-only crowd, lined up all around the block.  Then after the show, he'd sign autographs and sell DVDs - man, what a rock star!  Then we'd go out for a drink together at a bar next door and talk about animation.

I remember one night while we were a bit high, I was joking about his style.  I was convinced he was actually a great artist but only used the stick figures as a gag.  So I handed him a napkin and asked him to do a realistic portrait of me - and sure enough, he drew me as a stick figure Bill Plympton.


The reason I'm talking about Don is because he's now involved in a Kickstarter campaign to finance his new BluRay of "World of Tomorrow, the First Three Episodes" and it's crazy how popular this is.  He originally asked for $30,000 but with 19 days still to go, he's already raised over $326,000!  And it's growing every day!  He might break $1 million for a BluRay disc!  What the fuck?  That's crazy!!  I had a Kickstarter campaign late last year and it took me three weeks to pull in just $80,000.

One of Don's advantages is that he has a very engaging and funny web-site that he's used to build up his digital audience.  Don has definitely used the internet to create his super-stardom.  Go for it, Don! Also, the copy on his Kickstarter page is hilarious, it's like a question and answer session between two people and by the time you scroll down to the bottom, it's gone completely off topic.  So if you get a chance, you've got to check out his campaign, you'll love it!  And donate if you want to get his BluRay or the other rewards!  

The campaign is here:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/worldoftomorrow/world-of-tomorrow-the-first-three-episodes-on-blu-ray

Now, here's this week's gag cartoon!

--Bill

Friday, February 12, 2021

Blue Sky

I've been a fan of Blue Sky Studios for years - I've hung out with Chris Wedge many times.  Once we went to a film festival in Majorca, where he got stung very badly by a school of jellyfish - and I was ready to pee on him if he needed me to, but the pain abated, thankfully.

Also, I'm good friends with writer Karen Disher, designer Peter DeSeve and storyboard artist William Frake, who all work for Blue Sky.  I've admired many of their films, like "Robots", "Ferdinand", "Epic", and of course, "Horton Hears a Who", which is a classic.  Plus they had two money-making franchises, the "Ice Age" series and the "Rio" films. 




I've even lectured up there (Greenwich, CT) and was very impressed by their abundant talent and the joy they take in their craft.  But when Disney bought out Fox, everyone was nervous about the future of Blue Sky, why would they need an East Coast version of Pixar that competes with Disney and Pixar?  That wouldn't make sense.  But Disney let Blue Sky continue to make their films, until "Spies in Disguise" came out and wasn't much of a success.  I think after that, the writing was on the wall, as they say.

Now, a lot of very talented people are going to be out of work, and may be forced to move to L.A. to continue their animation careers.  My hope is that they can write and create remotely, or maybe form another studio here on the East Coast.  Dream on, right? 

Even though my mini-indie studio often has trouble surviving, at least I'm able to continue to produce films without worrying that Disney executives will be pulling the rug out from under me.  That's the biggest benefit of working as an independent.  Although if Disney were to offer me a boatload of money to buy my studio, I might consider it. 

You can read more about the closing of Blue Sky on Cartoon Brew here:


Here's this week's gag cartoon - thanks for listening!

--Bill 


Friday, February 5, 2021

Good news

About a month ago, my office manager, John H., signed me up to get my COVID-19 vaccine, which was very exciting - and he got me a slot at the Javits Center, where we've been many times with a booth at New York Comic Con.  The only problem was, the earliest available appointment there wasn't until the end of March!!!  What?  I've got to walk the NYC streets, day after day, for two more months, blocking the little coronavirus droplets from getting into my nose?  

Fat chance - so, naturally, I committed to staying inside as much as possible, except to walk 5 blocks every day to my studio and occasionally to the store.  A pretty dreary life...but I must say, I've gotten a lot of drawing done for "Slide".  

Meanwhile, my producer, Rachel, was checking for earlier vaccination appointments through various healthcare systems online - you apparently have to start looking for them very early in the morning, because by 10 or 11 am any open slots usually get filled up.  Then, of course, the news broke that Trump lied about the amount of vaccine that was on hand, it turns out there was no reserve, and he didn't order as much for the country as he could have!  So some states, including New York, went through all their doses and had to start cancelling appointments everywhere while they waited for more vaccines from the government.  Suddenly it seemed like a good idea to keep that Mar. 31 appointment, because it was a sure thing, and maybe by then there would be more doses arriving.  

Then, just last Friday, I got a phone call from my buddy, and brilliant animator, Signe Baumane, about open slots at the Armory in Northern Manhattan.  Apparently they had just gotten a big batch of the Pfizer vaccines, and there was nobody showing up to get their shots.  And if I hurried up there (a short subway ride) I might be able to get a shot.  

When I got there, the place was practically empty.  I only had to wait 15 minutes to get registered, and prove that I qualified because of my age, then I got the needle in my arm.  I didn't feel a thing, and in fact it felt very good to get the vaccine.  I was smiling all the way home, now I can sleep peacefully at night.  I'm already booked to get my second shot, in three weeks - and I feel so free and easy now. 

I think there was some controversy about this vaccination site I went to, because at some earlier point people from New Jersey or Connecticut were getting shots there, and there was concern that the local population was being under-served.  By the time I got my shot, I believe they were reserving 60% of the shots for neighborhood residents, and they had added some Spanish-speaking volunteers and hotlines to make the process easier.  The other 40% of their doses were going to other qualified NYC residents, including my age group - so by traveling uptown, I didn't jump the line or take somebody else's dose, I had an appointment and everything I did to get the shot was legal and legit.  Then we cancelled my March 31 appointment to free up my time-slot at the Javits Center for somebody else. 

I know some people might be having a hard time scheduling appointments, especially older people who might not be very good with computers and web-sites - and that's exactly who's qualified to get the vaccines right now!  All I can say is, keep trying, and I feel very lucky, and it's great to know people who ARE good with computers!  

Here's my gag cartoon for today's edition - 


Bill P.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Update on "SLIDE" Production

I've been working on "Slide" since 2017 and it's been a slow process, for a number of reasons.  One is that I'm financing the film myself (with help from my fans through Kickstarter) and whenever I'm just about to go broke, I make a music video or take on some other job to pay my bills.  But also, I'm really putting my blood, sweat and heart into this film.  I believe this feature will be my epic.  I'm drawing everything that appears on the screen - the characters, the backgrounds, the vehicles, animals and even the special effects. 

So, it takes me much longer to create these scenes than with any of my other films.  Plus, as you'll see, I'm using a different technique than I usually do.  It's a style I used a lot when I was an illustrator - lots of cross-hatching and ballpoint pen.  But I think it looks gorgeous.  It has a feeling of impressionism - the art is kind of blurry and soft-edged. 

So I had my staff, John and Rachel, choose some of their favorite drawings from the production so far.  Just remember that when the film is finished, all this magnificent art will be up for sale.  I hope you like the art - see you next time!

--Bill P.


The Lucky Buck Saloon (exterior)

The Lucky Buck Saloon (interior)

Izzy and Jeb in their office


Delilah being forced to sing

Friday, January 15, 2021

Milton Glaser (1929-2020)

I just learned, to my amazement and sadness, that the great Milton Glaser has died.  Maybe due to the pandemic and my own isolation, I found this out seven months after his death on June 26, 2020 (his 91st birthday!). I realize he was quite elderly but he was a demi-god, or semi-god, to me, and gods don't die.

My first awareness of him was back in college - Portland State - in the late 1960's when my classmate and artistic genius, David Harriman, turned me on to Pushpin Studios in New York, and specifically, Mr. Glaser.

Of course, it was my desire to do something in illustration after school, since I didn't have the technical knowledge at the time to make animated films, which is what I really dreamed about doing.  That's when I fell in love with Glaser's work.

His classic Bob Dylan poster was all the rage at that time - and I copied his different typeface designs for the film and music posters I was creating.  So I started collecting the Pushpin graphic magazine religiously.  Also, I looked for his art in New York magazine (which he co-created).

It was at that time I decided to move to New York City, because Milton taught a class at the School of Visual Arts on design and illustration.  That's it!  I'll move to New York and be one of Milton's apprentices!  So I signed up for classes at SVA, positive that because of the strength of my art that I'd be assigned to his class.  Better think again, Billy Boy - by the time I arrived and saw my class schedule, I realized that Milton's class was a very popular one, and only he chose who his students would be, via a portfolio review. 

Damn, I missed my chance - after two semesters I decided I couldn't afford art school and began to take my portfolio around.  

Here are a couple of incidents that I heard about Milton Glaser that are very revealing.  Apparently, when the Beatles decided to do an animated feature film, with themselves as characters, the producers and George Dunning, the director, asked Milton Glaser to be the design director.  Unfortunately, he was too busy designing restaurants and running his studio to take on such a heavy commitment, so he recommended German illustrator Heinz Edelman, who had a style very similar to Milton's, and of course, he did a super brilliant job.  But the story goes that the artist Peter Max was an intern at Pushpin Studios at the time, and he felt that he should have been chosen for the job.  And because his style is now so close to Milton's, he claims that he was the true designer of "Yellow Submarine". 

And another legendary story, that Mr. Glaser was asked to design a promotional ad for New York City, which at the time was having severe financial and cultural difficulties.  He was in a cab, on his way to meet the client to present his sketches when he got the idea for the "I Love NY" logo.  He sketched it down and the client loved it - but not only that, he decided to make the design copyright free.  He could have been a billionaire if he'd copyrighted the idea - but he wanted to give it to the world, and that's one reason you can see his design in every tourist stop in every city all over the world.  Thank you, Milton!

You'll be happy to know I finally met the great man at an SVA function about 10 years ago - and he was kind enough to chat with me for a while.  Of course, he had no idea who I was - I don't think he was much of a fan of animation.  He's way too busy.  I even sent him a DVD of my film "Your Face" but sadly, I never heard back from him.  

Still, I got to talk to one of my ultimate heroes - who knows how my life would have turned out if I had been able to take his class?  Oh, well, it's too late now.  

Thanks for reading, 

Bill P. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

January Update and Animated Shorts

Well, we finally made it into 2021, relatively safe.  And I'm extremely happy that my Kickstarter campaign was successful.  "Happy Happy Joy Joy!"  Thanks to all of you who helped with your support and who helped spread the word, I'm able to continue working in my studio, and I'll try to finish "Slide" animation this year. 

Right now I'm drawing my ass off (figuratively), doing about 15 seconds of animation per day.  I would love to finish the animation by this spring, that's my goal.

Also, at the same time, I'm watching all of the animated shorts that have qualified for the Oscars in 2020 - all 96 of them.  And some of them are over 20 minutes long - please, animators, try to make shorter films!  20 minutes is just too long for a short film - it's hard for me to vote for such a film. 

Also, I'm watching animated feature films - the latest was "Soul", directed by Pete Docter of PIXAR.  Now, you all know how I love PIXAR films, John Lassiter and his crew really revolutionized the movie business.  They made animation the leader in box office income.  

However, I must say I had some problems with "Soul", it's about a guy who loses his soul, and the problem for me was that there were too many ectoplasmic characters that had different roles and rules. And these rules never made much sense to me.  All these strange characters from an alternative mindscape never connected with me.  I didn't understand them and didn't really care about them.  What was that pirate all about?  

It's too bad, because I found the normal real-life characters totally engaging and beautifully rendered.  From a purely visual standpoint, "Soul" is a delight, but as an engaging story, it failed - which is rare, because PIXAR is usually very strong in the story department.  

Well, here's my first gag cartoon of the new year. 

Thanks, 

Bill 

Friday, December 18, 2020

Successful Kickstarter campaign for SLIDE

WE DID IT!! Or, rather, YOU DID IT!!

For anyone out of touch or who hasn't checked in with me for a while, we just completed a Kickstarter campaign to raise funding for my upcoming cowboy comedy called "Slide".  It ended last night, and we met our goal with about two hours to spare. 

I've done a few Kickstarter campaigns, and this one was probably the most unsettling, because of the pandemic and so much unemployment and evictions, I thought this might be the absolute worst time to try to raise some money.  But then again, quite a lot of film productions are shut down right now, animation is one of the few mediums that can keep going.  And, as my office manager pointed out to me, a lot of people are working from home, spending more time on-line, and nobody's going on vacation or spending money on Broadway shows, concerts or fancy dinners.  So, just maybe, we had a shot.

Things were slow at first, but my fans came through with flying colors - we were hoping to reach $78,000 to finance the completion of "Slide", but we did even better, $84,000!  Wooopeeee!!

What was different about this campaign was the use of so many filmed promotions we made, plus we did a number of streaming events where I talked about the film's story, did live drawing demonstrations for some of the characters, and even sang and played a real live lap steel guitar!  Imagine that!!  The cool thing was that people on Facebook watching the stream really responded to what they saw.  They loved the drawings (which we raffled off to backers), the characters and the music.  That makes me feel a lot more excited about "Slide". 

Now, I have enough money for me to turn down commissioned work for a while, and just concentrate on the animation and post-production involved with completing my newest epic.  I'm going to become a hermit and just chain myself to my drawing board and get this film done!  

By the way, if you did miss the Kickstarter campaign, we're still accepting donations, and we'll still offer the same cool prizes if you want to be one of the supporters of "Slide".  Just contact me or my staff through the campaign at KickstartSlide.com

So, I wish all you people who contributed to my campaign a healthy and happy 2021, and likewise to everyone else who reads this.  Have a great holiday season and thanks for keeping my studio alive and busy for another year!

Love, 

Bill P.

Friday, December 11, 2020

KickstartSLIDE.com

 Hey, fans - 

We've seen a great outpouring of support for my next feature, "SLIDE" via our Kickstarter campaign.  But we've only got a week left in the campaign, and we're only about halfway to our goal.  YIKES!  As you may know, a Kickstarter campaign is "all or nothing" so we've got to reach the goal in order to collect any funds.  So we still need your help!

We've got some totally cool rewards that also make perfect Christmas gifts for your friends with an interest in animation - or hey, just keep them for yourself.  But if you want to send anything as a gift, we can send you a certificate of support to put in somebody's stocking!  That way, even if the rewards come in January or February, they'll know that they're on the way!  

We're offering a series of "how-to" animation lectures from yours truly, which includes a live session on Zoom or Skype to critique a personal portfolio of work.  

OR...a collection of all my animated DVD's, which we're calling the Full Plympton Experience, plus we'll send you a copy of "Slide" on DVD once it's released (after theatrical and Oscar-qualifying screenings). 

OR...you can provide a voice for one of the characters in the film "Slide" and I'll draw a caricature of you as a bad guy (or gal) right into the film!

OR...a set of three frameable prints, based on artwork from the film.

OR...better yet, original color-pencil art from "Your Face", "How to Kiss", "25 Ways to Quit Smoking" or a "Simpsons" couch gag.  How about that?  

OR...we've just added copies of my hardcover book "Independently Animated: The Life and Art of the King of Indie Animation"!  I will sign the book, which is another great gift if there's someone in your life who studies or loves animation!  

Please check out the campaign at KickstartSlide.com to see a list of all the awesome rewards you can get by pledging.  We've just updated the rewards based on fan comments we got during my LIVE Facebook sessions - so if you want to combine rewards, upgrade your pledge or want something else, please let me know! But do it quickly, because we've only got a week left!

I'll be honest with you - it's tough being an independent filmmaker in these days of no cinemas, no comic-cons and no live film festivals.  Plus, I'm going head-to-head against $200 million blockbusters from Disney, Pixar and Sony.  

I believe that people want to see animation that is unique, different and a little more adult.  And I hope you do, too!  So please help me complete "Slide".  I think it's going to be my greatest film ever.  An epic with the best art, funniest story, greatest characters and coolest music.  Imagine if Mel Brooks had made "Blazing Saddles" in animation!

Anyway, please help spread the word and get other people excited about "Slide"!  Direct them to KickstartSlide.com so they can check out the campaign!

Thank you so much - this week's gag cartoon is below.

--Bill P.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Support SLIDE on Kickstarter!

So maybe you've read my recent blog posts about the COVID-19 pandemic.  We closed my animation studio for about two months, but by June I'd had some projects lined up, so we re-opened as soon as we could.  I only had to furlough my long-time office manager for 6 weeks, and I kept my other two employees paid with one of those PPP loans from the SBA.  

Now that those projects are finished and I'm back working on "Slide", my staff and I debated about whether this would be a terrible time to raise funds for the new film, what with Trump basically ignoring the pandemic, rampant unemployment, and long lines at food banks.  But with film festivals and even Comic-Cons going virtual, and all the NYC cinemas still closed, a lot of my revenue has been cut off.  Thank God for music videos, "Simpsons" couch gags and royalties from international streaming services like Kanopy.  

But all is not lost, it turns out that it may actually be a great time to crowd-fund a project - most live-action filmmaking went on hold when the virus hit, and nobody's spending money right now on exotic vacations, expensive Broadway shows or even fancy dinners at exclusive restaurants.  So maybe we can raise some money to keep my studio open and continue work on my new cowboy comedy, "Slide"!  

Our Kickstarter campaign began a few days ago on November 30, and it ends on December 17.  Yikes!  That's only two weeks from now!  So our little studio cooked up a bunch of reward tiers to raise some much-needed moolah and we've got some incredible prizes:

You can be part of a Zoom-based holiday party with me and my staff in our NYC studio!

One hour of private tutoring in animation, combined with my nine Vimeo lessons, which cover all aspects of animation production, from concept and storyboarding, to financing and distributing your own film!

An opportunity to be in the voice cast of "Slide", for a character based on your own photos!  This includes getting your name in the film's on-screen credits and on IMDB!  

We've also got an 8-DVD set of my classic features and shorts compilations, plus a DVD copy of "Slide" after it gets released and a streaming link once the film is finished!  

Also, we're offering tickets to the NYC premiere of the film, because we believe that someday theaters will re-open and we can watch movies together again in public!  Hey, call us crazy dreamers, that's OK.  

And if you want to give any of the rewards to someone as a holiday gift, we can supply a gift certificate that you can give to the intended recipient, so there will be something to unwrap!

Please check out the campaign at KickstartSlide.com to find out more!   You can also watch a cool video of me there, in which I play my pedal-steel "slide" guitar and talk about the inspirations for the film.  

Also, I'll be on Facebook Live Thursday, December 3 at 3 pm - go to my Facebook page and I'll see you then!  Thanks for watching!

--Bill Plympton 

Monday, November 23, 2020

Virus news + Animation News

As I was watching the news recently, I heard about something called "coronavirus fatigue".  Apparently, Americans are tired of staying in their homes, not partying, not going out to restaurants, always wearing a mask and such.  They feel they need to get out and be free, after all, this is America - and what about personal liberty? 

Then, I was reminded about the book by Tom Brokaw, called "The Greatest Generation".  My parents, who were part of this generation, lived through the travails of the Great Depression, 25% unemployment, massive homelessness, and a terrible standard of living.  And then along came World War II - which meant food and gas rationing, forced migration, terrible deaths, and wounding of civilians.  Plus there was the constant fear that the Axis powers would conquer Europe and maybe even invade America.  People fought back when they ran paper drives and scrap metal drives, practiced blackout drills, and women took over shifts in factories and manufacturing plants while men were off fighting in the war. 

And the Greatest Generation survived.  I never heard anything about "Depression fatigue" or "War fatigue", they battled on, they did what they had to do, they were American tough.  And what do we have today?  A bunch of babies whining about being forced to wear masks. 

Where's our "Greatest Generation"?  What are we, a bunch of wimps?  Come on, America, show the world that we can be tough, too.  Our collective enemy is just an invisible virus, instead of a couple European dictators, but the fight is similar, it's just going to take everybody pitching in and doing their part. I rarely talk about politics here, but this is something that's been bugging me, and we all have the power to do something about it.

On another front, I have some very exciting news for animation fans, but unfortunately, I can't disclose it at the moment.  But I swear, after Thanksgiving, I'll have a terrific announcement to make.  So please check out this space in about 9 days.  Stay tuned!

In the meantime, here's this week's gag cartoon.  

--Bill P.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Last Trump Cartoon?

In a previous Scribble Junkies edition, I talked about my experience going to the polls to vote.  Well, my prayers were happily answered - eventually.  So yesterday, I rushed to my drawing board and created this cartoon.  I hope it's the last time I have to draw this fat piece of doo-doo.  

Please feel free to spread the art around and send it to all your friends.  It's my gift to the world - 

Thanks, 

Bill P.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Indie Features, Part 4: Window Horses

In my campaign to highlight indie animation features, I would like to let Ann Marie Fleming tell her story about the production of her film, "Window Horses". I met Ann Marie at a number of film festivals and we bonded as indie animation survivors. "Window Horses" is a lovely film that was a big hit on the festival circuit and she has an in-depth story to tell about its production, so I'll turn it over to her:


I have a million reasons why I made "Window Horses" - my little peace, love, and understanding film through the power of art, but since you asked me how I got an independent animated feature actually MADE, I’ll concentrate on those boring but essential things.

I am a Canadian independent filmmaker, and I work in a variety of different genres, so when I decide to make an animated film, it comes from several places, both creative and practical. "Window Horses" primarily takes place in a poetry festival in Iran. I wanted to talk about overcoming differences by seeing what we share in common as human beings - and I am not just talking about the obvious cultural and language differences, I’m also talking about generational, experiential, political and personal. I wrote the script in 2008 and it would have been impossible to make as a live-action film, for many reasons, including that Canada was about to cut off diplomatic relations with the country. I thought this was all the more important to make the film in an environment of rising tensions and fears of others. What we have in common: Poetry and family and sharing stories.

I am not Iranian, and it was intimidating deciding to tell this story in this time of “not about me without me". So I embedded myself in the story by having Rosie Ming, half Iranian-half Chinese Canadian young woman, be played by my avatar, Stickgirl, who I have had many filmic adventures with for over 30 years (gasp). She’s always been my more open, braver self. The story is told as an outsider yet is deeply personal… traveling to the poetry festival is definitely a parallel to the opportunities and hospitality and education I’ve received from accompanying my films to festivals around the world. Anyway…because this film was about different points of view and how the imagination can change how we see the world I was able to have the privilege of working with many different artists who created different segments of history and poetry. So the film has many textures.

I often write, direct, produce and animate my own films. Originally, this was supposed to be a very low-budget art film, animated completely by myself and the incredibly talented Kevin Langdale, who I have worked for on many projects. So, I was thinking of the design of this to be very simple, mostly negative space, and line drawings. We have the good fortune to have a few avenues of government support for film funding here in Canada. I applied for a Canada Council grant. Even though it is not much money, it’s totally arms-length, peer-reviewed process and gives you the most freedom. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful. I then approached the National Film Board of Canada to come on as a co-producer on my project. The NFB takes copyright of your project in proportion of the amount they contribute to funding. Again, no. They weren’t funding features. So, I applied for Telefilm development funding to rewrite the script.  I hired Kevin to work on design and storyboard with me. Although there was a lot of enthusiasm for what we’d created, I was discouraged from applying for production without a distributor. I tried the NFB again. Nope. I then got some executive producers involved who had experience making, with Edison and Leo, a much more financially-ambitious stop-motion animated film. That’s when the political situation in Iran worsened, and Canada cut off relations. I was told to change the location to China, as I have Chinese roots. I tried. I rewrote it but was not satisfied. The story wanted to take place in Iran.

I made a comic book out of our storyboard and thought I could use that as a promotional tool, or even get it published (it now looks so crude compared to how the film turned out - I ended up making a graphic novel from the final artwork from the film). I decided I would go back to the Me-and-Kevin model and fund the film myself out of my line of credit. I could pay Kevin and I could just not pay myself. (Of course, I was not counting all the other expenses outside of actual animation :-) )
 
A friend had run an Indiegogo campaign and recommended that I try it. I was not very excited about the idea of crowd-funding, but thought “why not?” I realized that I needed a voice to amplify my message and reached out to my old friend Sandra Oh, who I had been trying to work with since the early 90’s when her career was first starting. I thought there would be some synergy between her and my story. There was! And, unknown to and lucky for me, she had just stepped out of 10 years as Christina Yang in "Grey’s Anatomy", becoming an international household name for a generation for Asian Girl Empowerment. And she was happy to throw her voice behind "Window Horses". Also, she was really familiar with Stickgirl over the years. 
 
Indiegogo really helped us hone our campaign. We didn’t want to listen to their game theory that you have to ask for a very small amount, get it early and build on it. But they were right. I thought you should ask for what you really need and when you achieved that, the donations would stop. I liked the idea that you could keep the money you raised and it wasn’t all or nothing like Kickstarter, which was where most film projects went. People like to support a winning thing, and once you’ve achieved your goal they give you more. Weird. What was unexpected and unpleasant was that there was a backlash from celebrities raising millions of dollars for their pet projects by crowd-funding. All the attention was on Sandra and people didn’t realize it was little old me trying to make the film. Also, hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers do not translate to financial support. Anyway, it was a full-time job, I had to hire a crew just for the social media updates and materials for the Indiegogo page, and created a website. And Kevin was animating trailers, promo poems (we had a contest), and we were creating designs for merchandise.
 

All of this was happening while I was traveling all over the place to record voices. I wasn’t even incorporated at the beginning, and suddenly we were in production because Sandra had said “yes” and I didn’t know how long her window of opportunity would be. Also, because she was involved, suddenly the expectation was of a higher caliber of artwork than what I’d been happy with. And my little CrazyLife automated animated message updates weren’t good enough. Speaking of crazy life, we were animating all of our material for the campaign. Which was nuts. (Thank you, Kevin). So the campaign cost me quite a bit of money. But it worked. It raised the profile of the film. Press from all over the world wanted to hear what Sandra was working on and we got to talk about diversity, inclusivity, girl power and ART as a way to a more peaceful world without any film! Sandra was totally a wind under this film’s sails and her involvement was instrumental in getting it made. We did an incredible amount of community outreach.
 
Shohreh Agdashlloo, Sandra Oh, Ann Marie Fleming in Toronto
 
Also, traditional funders paid attention. I applied for a small amount of funding from Telefilm, again, and got it. Mongrel came on as Canadian distributor with an advance. The NFB offered to come on board. That and our Canadian tax credits built this film. This was still an incredibly small budget - under $750K US - which may sound like a lot to someone creating a masterpiece in their own kitchen but there was no way that I could be doing any animating. BIG Production is more than that per minute.   
 
Money did not come in all at once - tax credits don’t come in for up to 18 months AFTER the production is finished - and I covered the interim financing because I am lucky enough to own a home and stupid enough to go in to my line of credit. People were extremely generous with their time and everyone agreed to basically the same rate (and the SAG/AFTRA performers worked under Favored Nations). Everything was new to me and I was learning on the fly. There was a revolving door of production managers and animators as other gigs offered better pay and more security. Ruth Vincent, who had been involved in the early days when I was trying originally trying to raise Telefilm money, came back on as line-producer with her connections to the larger animation community and brought the project home in terms of budget and the overwhelming amount of paperwork. I feel such amazing appreciation for everyone who worked on this film. I hope they loved what we made together. 

This film was made incredibly quickly, once production started. The Indiegogo campaign started Oct. 2014 and the film premiered at Annecy in May 2016. Animation started around Spring 2015 and I was having trouble finding animators. Kevin was designing as fast as he could. The script was written as slightly futuristic multi-cultural pluralistic world but real-time changes meant design changes. For instance, I thought we could do a lot of beautiful, reusable backgrounds with smoke, since a lot of people smoke in Iran, adding mystery and diminishing the need for details. Then, like the rest of the world, smoking was banned in public spaces, etc. So much for my airport scene. Suddenly, we needed architecture. I had many Iranian consultants over the years, helping with poetry selections, telling me to take the tie off of customs officials, because that was associated with the old regime. Telling me the fortune-telling bird at the tomb of Hafiz was no longer allowed to be that close to the steps or that the music that I loved belonged to a particular group that was very politicized. I tried my best to represent a variety of experiences without alienating others. Hard.
 

Music is always a huge part of my work, and I was connected with a young Iranian composer, Taymaz Saba, who did the score. Taymaz was steeped in world musical history. I was attracted to his choral work, and even though there are not a lot of vocals in the film, save the wordless interpretation of the call to prayer,  I think that sensibility resonates. Music is something that I think about as I am writing the script and of course its mix is one of the satisfying finishing touches.
 
Then, it was a year an a half of traveling with the film, presenting it in front of so many different audiences, cultures, in different languages. The NFB was in control of its festival life. It was seen all over the world as the same film - I mean, people had the same questions and took away many of the same answers. That was incredibly gratifying as a storyteller. But it did not find broad international distribution, to understate it, although it was shown broadly in Canada and around the world, if you happened to be sitting in an Air Canada plane. Because my equity partners were from the government of Canada, I have to share revenues with them forever but the repayment schedule is not defined. As much as they are investing in the film as a revenue-generating product, they are investing in me as a filmmaker, in Canadian film production and in representation of what we stand for as a country, if that doesn’t sound too grand. So even though the film has not made back its money yet, my partners are relatively happy with their participation. Oh, and during this time I am still trying to fulfill my Indiegogo contributors' perks. Note: distributors don’t like it when you’ve already promised artist copies to your contributors. 


Okay, so that’s the boring stuff. What this film does, apart from its content, is show that a few people can do amazing things. It just takes a lot of passion and tenacity. You’ve got to really be obsessed with your project because it is going to ask everything from you. It sure helps to have a name involved with your project but my film scaled up a lot because the expectations of it grew. Yes, it ultimately helped the film, but the whole ship became a different animal, to mix metaphors. It’s hard to follow the complete trio of your  Plymptoons mantra: “keep it short, keep it cheap, keep it funny” when you are making a feature. I feel a bit re-traumatized reliving the nuts-and-bolts process of financing this film. Amongst other things, I suffered double frozen shoulder, hair loss, a concussion, a threatened lawsuit and was called an enemy of the state. Never, once, in the whole process did I ask myself “why am I making this film?”  A lot of other people asked me, but I never had to.  I love my work.
 
BILL: Wow, that was very a informative piece about the production of "Window Horses".  Check out the film's web-site at www.windowhorses.com for upcoming screenings or to learn where you can watch the film online. I believe it's on AmazonPrime, it may be on other platforms, also.  Ann Marie also has a new short film, "Old Dog", which had its festival premiere in September.  So keep an eye out for that, too!