Monday, December 11, 2017

Don Hertzfeldt in NYC

I remember, some time in the 1990's, discovering a crazy little stick-figure film called "Billy's Balloon", one of the funniest shorts I'd ever seen.  Then a little later, I met the animator, Don Hertzfeldt, at one of the Spike & Mike shows in California - he looked like a young Johnny Depp.

Apparently, he was a fan of my short films that were also being shown in the Spike & Mike festivals - so we were mutual admirers.  By then, Don had a string of hits - "Ah L'Amour" in 1995, "Genre" in 1996, and "Lily and Jim" in 1997, in addition to "Billy's Balloon".  Then came his Oscar-nominated short "Rejected", which is of course a classic.  This buddy of mine, Gabe Levinson, decided to put together a collective screening of our shorts, called "The Don & Bill Show", which started in Austin and then screened all over the country, it was a big success.

In Austin, Mike Judge (of "Beavis & Butt-Head" fame) asked me to introduce him to Don, which resulted in them producing the glorious "Animation Show", which was a huge hit for a number of years.  I remember we had a booth in San Diego Comic-Con to promote "The Animation Show" and whenever Mike stopped by, a crowd of autograph seekers would ensue. 

Don's from Santa Barbara, but now lives and makes his films in Austin, TX, and he's moved on from the classic animation stand and shooting on film to digital animation production.  And last week he came to town to show his new short, "World of Tomorrow Episode Two".  I got tickets for a show at the IFC Theater as soon as I could. 

When I arrived at the IFC for his show, there was a 2-block long line of people, waiting patiently in the rain for Don's show.  His fans are very dedicated.  Then I found out that my tickets were being held under the name "Bill Clinton", so either someone misheard the reservation, or I got the tickets that belonged to the ex-President.  I wonder if anyone at the theater was expecting the Secret Service to show up and check the place out. 

But will they play "Hail to the Chief" when I walk into the theater?
One of the interesting things about Don is that he doesn't do commercials.  He says he's too slow, so he turns them all down.  Then the ad agencies end up contacting someone who can imitate his style.  I, on the other hand, rarely turn down commercials.  I like doing them and I love the money, it helps keep my studio running. 

Don, in fact, doesn't need the work.  His films sell so well on DVD, TV, internet and in the cinemas that he gets enough money without selling his soul. When I lecture about being an independent animator, and I talk about how it's possible to make money and still stay independent, Don is one of the shining examples of successful indie filmmakers.  What else can I say, he's like a rock star.

out for drinks after with Don, Gabe, Wendy et al.
If you haven't seen his films, please check them out, they'll blow your mind. 

See you next time,

Bill

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Interfilm Berlin

I've been showing my films at Berlin's Interfilm Festival for as long as I can remember.  It's a festival that shows ONLY shorts, which are a much bigger deal in Europe (more about that later).  They invited me over this year to show some of my shorts and also do a Master Class.

They booked me on Norwegian Air, a real cut-rate outfit, and sure enough, before take-off at JFK they had problems with the plane's door - so we left NYC an hour late.  And naturally it was then a tight fit to catch my connecting flight to Berlin.  I was racing through the beautiful Oslo Airport only to find long, slow lines for customs and luggage checks.  I just made my flight to Berlin by seconds, but, sure enough, my luggage didn't.

(Which was almost a disaster, since my luggage held my DVDs with the shorts I wanted to show in my Master Class - I called my office manager in a panic from Berlin, but thanks to some German efficiency, the festival had already requested links from my staff, so they already had copies of most of the films I wanted to show.  It turned out my office manager had told me to bring the DVDs only as a back-up - whew!)


I stayed at the wonderful artistic Meyers Hotel, and hoped to get my luggage in time for the evening show, since there was also merchandise in the luggage that I wanted to sell to the crowd.  It was a packed, standing-room only crowd, and the show went very well.  But unfortunately because of Norwegian Air, I couldn't sell my original art from "Revengeance" or sign any "Cop Dog" cards, which was a bummer.  But everyone seemed to have a good time.


The next morning, the wonderful TV channel Arte did a long interview/documentary about me as an American independent filmmaker.  I love Arte!

My suitcase finally got delivered, as I was checking out of my hotel.  Fortunately, the trip home was mishap-free.

But I would like to discuss the whole phenomenon of short film festivals.  In the U.S., shorts-only festivals are few and far between.   The only two of substantial merit that I'm aware of are the Aspen Shorts Fest and the Palm Springs Short Film Festival.  I've been to both festivals and had great times there, but sometimes the cinemas are half-full and have very few business opportunities.

But in Europe, shorts festivals abound and are thriving.  The most obvious example is Clermont-Ferrand.  It takes place in an ugly industrial town in the middle of France, yet the place is packed with fans of short films.  They have, by my count, 5 very large 1000-seat cinemas that can be packed from morning until midnight with people who love short films.  That's crazy!  Plus, they have a film library where one can see every film in the festival and even every film that was entered!

In the past, I would get sales from my short films, even when my film was rejected by the Clermont-Ferrand Festival.  How about that?

Here are some of my other favorite shorts-only film festivals:
Filmets in Barcelona, Spain
Expresion En Corto Festival in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (though I think it has a new name now...)
International Weekend of Animation in Wiesbaden, Germany
Palm Springs Short Film Festival
Aspen Shortsfest
Flickerfest International Short Film Festival in Sydney, Australia
Tampere International Film Festival in Finland
Uppsala International Short Film Festival in Sweden

I'm now working on three big projects, two of which I will reveal in the coming weeks, I'm not allowed to discuss them just yet.  The one I can discuss is the Jackie Greene featurette - I'm almost done with the 6 music videos, and then I'll start on the connecting storyline.  We're planning to enter the (as-yet-unnamed) 30-minute short on the festival circuit - it's looking very exciting and here is some of the artwork from the last few videos:








Next week, I'll have a report on my night with the great Don Hertzfeldt, the rock-star of animation.  He's coming to town soon to show his new short at the IFC.  See you then -

Bill P.

Monday, November 13, 2017

BitBangFest, Buenos Aires / "Coco"

I just returned from sunny Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I heard a story that explains a lot of mysteries. 

Apparently, 30 years ago, some mysterious woman came to Buenos Aires from Los Angeles to visit the famous cartoonist Caloi, and she brought along a videotape of some animation that had appeared on MTV (which at that point was a new channel, and only in the U.S.).  Caloi and his wife Maria viewed the cassette, and for the first time they discovered the weird animation of Marv Newland and this guy named Bill Plympton.

At this time, Caloi was using his substantial fame to create a TV series to spotlight independent animation - so he included work from Marv and me in his show.  Apparently the show was a big success and Caloi kept asking for more of my films on his show, and I promptly supplied them.

Later, I got to meet Caloi and Maria in person in Annecy, and eventually visited them in Buenos Aires, where they hosted a giant BBQ for me.  So, all that explains why there were lines of fans around the block to see my recent Master Class in Buenos Aires, and why I got recognized as I arrived in the airport.  And why numerous artists in Argentina credit me with inspiring them to become animators (what a responsibility!).

This is very weird, because back in the U.S., hardly anyone knows or cares who I am.  In any case, my appearance was a big success at the 3-year-old Bit Bang Festival, which took place at the prestigious DaVinci Art School.

With the director of the BitBang Festival, Barbara Cerro
having ice cream with Barbara Cerro
speaking to the audience at the Bit Bang Festival
with Carlos Valiente, whose father, Rodolfo, wrote the book on animation
with Juan Pablo Zaramella (on left)
with Walter Tournier, Maria Veronica Ramirez and Rodolfo Pastor at a party
One of the great side trips was a BBQ at Carlos Nine's house.  Unfortunately Carlos died a few years ago - but his lovely wife Alice and his sons Santiago and Lucas (with his wife Nancy) welcomed me.  I had visited the house about 10 years ago when I had a film in the Mar del Plata Festival.  I took a cab to the great Carlos' house in the suburbs and got to visit with him, even though he spoke little English and I had to habla Español.  He showed me a bunch of his paintings and illustrations and I went nuts.  They were soooo beautiful!  He was on a whole 'nother planet.  My brain explodes when I see his work and weirdly, he's not well known in the U.S. or even in Argentina!  It's only in France that he's famous - naturally. 

I tried my best to get his work shown in the U.S.  Four years ago I organized an exhibition called "Icons of Animation" at the Society of Illustrators - also included was work from Peter de Seve, William Joyce, and myself.  The show was a tremendous success, but alas, Carlos is still not very well known here in the U.S.

But I digress.  It was wonderful to see his son, Lucas Nine, who is also a very talented illustrator and animator.  He worked on "Bu Bu", a short animated film created by Carlos for the wonderful animated feature "Anima Buenos Aires".  To my mind, "Bu Bu" is one of the most genius short films of all time - it's so good, it almost makes me want to quit animation.  Lucas also made a fabulous animated short in the style of the old Fleischer brothers, called "Les Triolets", and it's also hilarious.

with Lucas Nine and his wife Nancy
I hope to return to lovely Buenos Aires again some time, to visit with all the artists and my friends there.

with Maria Veronica Ramirez at her gallery show
with Maria Veronica Ramirez
eating Argentina BBQ with Juan Pablo Zaramella
Also, I just saw the new Pixar film "Coco" - as you may know, it's already been a big success in Mexico, partly because it all takes place there, but also because it's a wonderful film. 


I do have a few criticisms, though.  I'm a big fan of Frank Capra, and one of the things I love most about Capra's films are his secondary characters.  Sometimes he would have up to 20 supporting characters and each one would have a strong personality and each would be able to carry a film by themselves.  However in "Coco" there are 12 or 15 supporting characters, and they're all forgettable - so why have them?  They just clog up the story - there's no need to include these characters if they add nothing to the emotional thrust of the film.

But I did love the film's message, about the importance of family and family history.  At the Academy screening I went to, the audience broke out in applause at the end, which is very rare.  I give "Coco" an A-. 

If you noticed that I haven't been posting that much, it's because I'm juggling four projects at the same time right now - when things slow down a bit, I'll fill you in on all the juicy details...   See ya,

Bill P.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Bucheon Animation Festival

About four months ago, I was invited to the Bucheon International Animation Festival in South Korea. I'd heard good things about the festival, and they wanted to screen four of my films, so I thought I should go.  But of course, this was before Trump got into a war of words with the fearless leader of North Korea, Kim Jung-Un.  Well, as my trip got closer the rhetoric became red hot, and I wasn't sure there would be a Korea for me to visit.  People said, "Don't go - you'll never survive the nuclear blast..." but I did, and to my great surprise, the people there seemed oblivious to the war-like threats between these two bombastic leaders.  In fact, they seemed very apolitical.

So with that in mind, I was able to relax and enjoy the animated films - they had a wonderful program of feature films including "Revengeance" (co-directed by me and Jim Lujan) and four great short programs, plus programs of student and commissioned films.


The last time I was in Korea - about 10 years ago - I was told that Seoul had around 30 animation schools, which blew my mind because even the U.S. only has about 20.  So I figured that upon my return to South Korea, I'd find a populace mad for animation.  However, to my disappointment there weren't mobs of fans at the festival.  Even though there were some great animators there - Eric Goldberg ("Aladdin") brought the great Burny Mattinson, who has worked for Disney from 1953 to the present.  He's a great storyboard artist and directed "The Great Mouse Detective".  Their table was a fascinating revelation on the roles of art directors and storyboard artists on a big animated feature.


Luckily, I won 2 prizes at the closing ceremonies at BIAF (one for "Revengeance" and one for "No Snow for Christmas") and I felt a real warmth and friendliness from the staff there, from the director all the way to the volunteers.  It's a festival with a lot of heart - be sure to enter your film next year in the lovely Bucheon Animation Festival.


Now that Oscar season has started, I've been getting a lot of DVD's to watch - here's a short list of the highlights so far:

"High Rise" by the great Ben Wheatley, a powerful metaphor of British society captured in a high-rise apartment building - starring Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons and Luke Evans.  The film is very brutal and graphic, which is typical Ben Wheatley.  I give it a B+.

"Blade Runner 2049" - A delight to see, directed by Denis Villeneuve.  But unfortunately a bit confusing.  I think I liked the first film better, but this film could qualify for my stoner film list.  I give it a B.

and "Okja", by Bong Joon Ho.  Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Tilda Swinton and Giancarlo Esposito. This one came out of nowhere for me - I had never heard of it before, yet when I started to watch it, I was amazed by the originality, the humor, the details - what a crazy film!  It's about a huge mutant pig created to solve the world's hunger crisis, and how it prevails with the aid of a little girl and a crazy animal liberation gang.  Check it out, it's a wonderful film.

And finally, I was invited to the 93rd birthday celebration for the great New Yorker cartoonist, George Booth.  It was held at the prestigious Society of Illustrators, and a bunch of my old illustrator buddies were there: Steve Brodner, Peter de Seve, Felipe Galindo, plus J.J. Sedelmaier, who organized the whole event and the exhibition of Booth's cartoons.  For 93 years old, George is very sharp and funny - he was quite friendly to me even though he had no idea who I was.  I hope that when I get to be 93 I'll be as funny as George is.

                                                                   with George Booth

                                                                         with Peter de Seve

Now I'm off to Argentina for another animation festival there - you can read my report on that next week.  See you then!

Bill P.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Lots of Stuff

The lots of stuff begins with New York Comic-Con - I've been a loyal attendee and booth vendor since the second time it was held (2007, I think).  I've always liked it because I can catch up with all of my East Coast cartoonist buddies, also it's been a great opportunity to sell my DVDs and books, much cheaper to get to than the San Diego Con, because I live and work so close to the Javits Center.

This year I was able to connect with Bob Camp ("Ren & Stimpy"), Mike Richardson (Dark Horse Comics), Dan Pinto (Titmouse animator), Andy London and actor Jared Gilman ("Moonrise Kingdom").  That was all great, but unfortunately we didn't do a lot of business - which is partly my own fault because I've been so busy that I haven't had time to release a new book or DVD.  It's too bad, because I have plenty of material to fuel several books or DVDs.

                                                                      with Andy London at New York Comic-Con

                                                                                 with Jared Gilman at NYCC

                                                    with the twins from "The Shining", all grown up now

                                                                                Drawing a caricature for a fan

So I sort of felt that I was wasting my time sitting in the NYCC booth all day - when I could have been watching or making movies.  So now I'm not sure if I'll make the time for New York Comic-Con next year.

More stuff - I just returned from the Woodstock Film Festival (my 19th year there, I think) where I screened "Cop Dog" and "Revengeance".  Both films were very well received - lots of positive comments and great applause.  Plus the weather was a great "Indian Summer" weekend, and I stayed at my favorite hotel, the Woodstock Inn at the Mill.  What a terrific room, and what a beautiful setting.  Plus I got to meet Lori Singer, start of "Footloose" and "Short Cuts"!

                                                                             with Lori Singer in Woodstock!

My favorite film that I saw there was "The Ballad of Lefty Brown", with an acting tour-de-force by Bill Pullman.  Watch for him at Oscar time!  Variety published a great article about Bill Pullman winning an honorary award at Woodstock for Excellence in Acting - but later in the article Mitch Myers had some great things to say about "Revengeance" too.  You can check it out here:

http://variety.com/2017/film/news/woodstock-film-festival-bill-pullman-1202591874/

And I finished another music video for Jackie Greene, this one's called "Good Advice" and you can watch it here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4B4G9u2K7c

I'm now finishing up another music video for Jackie - it's called "Tupelo" and I get to animated the King of Rock & Roll - Elvis!  That's been a lifelong ambition for me.  I've got one more music video to do, it's called "Back of My Mind" and I'm just now putting together the storyboards.  Incidentally, I just saw that Jackie will be playing in Woodstock in early December.  Who knows, I may make a surprise appearance...

One more thing, I went to the Academy of Motion Pictures' party to celebrate their recently inducted new members.  What a great time!  Here's a photo of me with Whoopi Goldberg -


I'm off to South Korea for a few days, for the Bucheon Animation Festival - I'll tell you all about it when I get back!

--Bill P.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

MVIFF / NY Comic-Con

Before I get to my stories about the great Martha's Vineyard International Film Festival, I want to announce that the fantastic New York Comic-Con is just one week away.  I've decided to stop going out to the San Diego Comic-Con because it's too expensive, and too much of a hassle to get all of my merchandise and personnel across the U.S. every year.  So now you can see me for sure at MoCCA Fest in April and at the NY Comic-Con at the Jacob Javits Center every October.

This year we moved to a new studio space, and the good news is, we're four blocks closer to the Javits.  But we have a smaller office now, and we realized we have way too much stuff - so we'll be offering a lot of my books, DVD's and even original art at deeply discounted prices.  So please stop by and check us out in Booth 2944 at NY Comic-Con, October 5-8.  I will be there every day signing and doing sketches. 

Since the beginning of the Martha's Vineyard International Film Festival, superbly run by Richard Paradise, I've been organizing the Animation Shorts program.  This year I had a great line-up of films from around the world.  Some of my favorites were:

"Pittari" by Pat Smith (my Scribble Junkies partner)

"New York City Sketchbook" by Willy Hartland

"Big Bag" by Daniel Greaves and

"Our Wonderful Nature - The Common Chameleon" by Tomer Eshed.





Wendy Zhao and Willy Hartland were fortunately there to help do a Q&A to a packed audience.  And we got to ride up to Martha's Vineyard by ferry from Manhattan, which was a first for me.  That sure beat taking the train, and I met some other filmmakers on the boat, like Romina Schwedler, who's from Argentina, which is where I'm going next month! 


Richard did a great job of organizing a terrific festival and I got to hang out with some of the other directors and that's one of my favorite things about film festivals.  If you have an animated short - or even a live-action one - please send it to Richard and go - it's a fantastic festival!!

See ya,

Bill

Monday, September 25, 2017

World Premiere of "Body of Water"..

I traveled down to Lima Peru for a workshop made possible by Fundación Telefónica, it was a great event and I was able to premiere a music video that I had literally just finished days before, "Body of Water" for the Blake Drummond Band.  I was happy the reaction was positive, lots of energy. There really is no substitute to screening on a huge screen in front of hundreds of people.  You can watch the video now on Vimeo here:


Also was able to meet lots of new friends, and watch some great films! I'll def be heading down to Peru again soon.







Friday, September 22, 2017

Stoner Films

Before I begin this episode of "Scribble Junkies", I have a pop-up quiz for you.  Which denomination of U.S. currency has animation on it?  And what is animated?  The answer will be found at the end of this blog.

So, back to the topic at hand. As a long-time fan of weird, off-beat films, I thought it would be interesting to make a list of the Top 12 "stoner" films.  Now, these aren't films like the ones Cheech and Chong made, that are about stoners.  No, these are the films that give you the feeling or near-experience of being stoned.

So, for better or worse, here is my list of the top stoner films, in ascending order:

#12. "Dead Alive", 1992, New Zealand, dir. Peter Jackson.  An over-the-top gruesome zombie comedy that just keeps getting weirder and weirder.  I also live the visual style that at times looks like a set made out of toys.

#11. "Crank", 2006, US, dir. Mark Neveldine, starring Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Dwight Yoakam.  A professional assassin is injected with a poison that will become lethal if his heart-rate drops.  I know it's an absurd premise, but that's what makes it a great stoner film.

#10. "Brazil", 1985, UK, dir. by Terry Gilliam.  A classic paranoid futuristic thriller, also visually delightful (which is a very important aspect for stoner films).  A high point is the plastic surgery facelift scene with Katharine Helmond.

#9. "Being John Malkovich", 1999, US, dir. by Spike Jonze, written by Charlie Kaufman, starring John Malkovich, John Cusack.  One of the most twisted concepts for a feature film, my favorite scene is when we see the POV of Mr. Malkovich selecting his handkerchief.  It takes boredom to new heights of surrealism.

#8. "This Is the End", 2013, US, dir. by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen.  Starring Seth Rogen, James Franco. What's great about this film is that it starts normally enough and then every 10 minutes, the plot makes an extreme twist into a whole new reality (kind of like drugs).

#7. "Yellow Submarine", 1968, UK, dir. by George Dunning.  Starring the Beatles, naturally.  There are two reasons why this is on my Stoner Films list: the amazing Beatles music and the totally trippy colors and designs of the late, great Heinz Edelman.  This is, in my mind, at the top of the list of the greatest animated films ever.
#6. "Koyaanisqatsi", 1982, France, dir. by Godfrey Reggio.  A souped-up documentary about a world gone haywire, and the cinematography is so extreme and amazing that the human brain just naturally goes into psycho-mode.
#5. "Mind Game", 2004, Japan, dir. by Masaaki Yuasa and Koji Morimoto. To my mind, this is the "Citizen Kane" of animation, but this isn't your normal animé film.  This film goes to a whole 'nother level of weirdness, plus the artwork is gorgeous.  Check it out, you'll love this movie!

 
#4. "The Saragossa Manuscript", 1965, Poland, dir. by Wojchiech Has.  I first saw this film while in college and it's still stuck in my brain.  It's a story within a story, ad infinitum.  After a while your brain gets so twisted around, it seems like it's going to explode.

#3. "El Topo", 1970, Mexico, dir. by Alejandro Jodorowsky.  A gunslinger travels across the Old West, with his 7-year-old naked son, killing lots of people - but the film is filled with all sorts of symbols and violent surrealism - a classic!

#2. "Trolls", 2016, US, dir. by Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn.  I've written about this film before, but just to remind you - the overly cutesy characters and backgrounds, the retro pop music and the way over-the-top psychedelic colors put this film at #2 on my list of stoner movies.

#1. "Forbidden Zone", 1980, US, dir. by Richard Elfman (Danny Elfman's brother), starring Hervé Villechaize, Susan Tyrell.  Probably the craziest low-budget psychotic film ever created.  What if Ed Wood dropped a lot of acid and made films in the 1980's?  You'd get something like this mind-warp masterpiece.

Plus, I've added one more bonus film:

"I Married a Strange Person", 1998, US, dir. by Bill Plympton.  I hate to self-promote, but whenever I appear at a Comic-Con I get dozens of people referring to this film as the weirdest film they've ever seen.  And I actually created the film for that purpose.  So I believe that qualifies this film to be on my Top Stoner Films list.

If you have any other suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

And the answer to my question from the beginning of this post - the right answer is a $100 bill, and the animated object is the Liberty Bell.  Congrats to all those who got it right!  And to all those who didn't, you've got to get your hands on more Benjamins...

--Bill P.