Monday, January 27, 2014

Slamdance

I'm not bragging, but by my estimate, I may have have more films screened at Sundance and Slamdance than any other filmmaker.  That's because not only do my features get in, but also my short films are usually accepted.  That said, it's always exciting for me to go to Park City to attend this "mad winter carnival" where indie films are picked up for distribution.

This year, I was hoping that "Cheatin'" would be selected for Sundance, but you just never know how tough it's going to be, so instead it was chosen for the opening night slot at Slamdance.  Hey, that ain't bad!  I've known the guys who run Slamdance - Dan Mirvish, Paul Rachman and Peter Baxter - for a long time.  So I'm always happy to be part of the "Sundance alternative". 

                                       Introducing "Cheatin'" on Slamdance's opening night.

Sundance is all about the agents, executives and the business side of filmmaking, where Slamdance is more concerned with the more low-budget indie films.  Their focus now is on films by first-time filmmakers (but they keep a couple slots open for veterans like me), so as a result you can see films from directors who are right on the verge of making it big.

I found this year that "Cheatin'" was the only animated feature in either festival.  In a way, it was an honor to be the director of the only animated feature screened in Park City, but it also shows how little the programmers respect animation. 

                                         Signing for fans after the U.S. premiere of "Cheatin'"

It's my belief that the festivals are looking to bring in the big stars, and a lot of press, and for that they need live-action films.  Since I know there are many great animated features out there that would fit very well into the Sun/Slamdance festival programming, it's very discouraging.

I looked at the top grossing films of 2013, and out of the top 10, 5 were animated (I'm including "Gravity").  So why the hell don't festivals respect animation more?  What's their prejudice?  My theory is that they don't understand it, they feel like it's a small genre category.  Yet, audiences seem to love it, can't they see that?

                                 These fans got some great DVD's AND a Plympton sketch!

In any case, back to Slamdance.  It's held in the Treasure Mountain Inn, and the screenings are held in two rooms that hold about 100 people each.  The seating is a bit awkward, with bad sight lines, but the films are so good, no one cares.  My favorite film of the festival was "Eliot", a documentary about a Kung Fu / karate wanna-be who lies to everyone, telling them he's the Jean Claude Van Damme of Canada.  It's hilarious and scary.  But all of the films I saw were excellent, except for one.

The staff was very helpful - anything I needed, they bent over backwards to get for me.  I felt so much more loved than at Sundance, where the films from the studios with the big agents get all the attention. 

                                  They've still got "Hot Dog" art at the Festival Co-op!  Cool!

The highlight for me was the "Hot Tub Summit", organized by the genius Dan Mirvish.  It was held, naturally, in a giant hot tub (clothing optional) with about 30 filmmakers talking about the ins and outs of indie filmmaking.  The group included a number of big-name filmmakers - it was a whole new way to learn about the business, and I felt so clean afterwards! 

                                            Things getting steamy at the Hot Tub Summit...                              
            
So, if you want to have a great time in Park City, and see some great films, go check out Slamdance!  I give it an "A"!

--Bill P.

                                                With Dan Mirvish at the Hot Tub Summit

Friday, January 24, 2014

Obscure Namesakes #21

Obscure Namesakes #20


Monday, January 20, 2014

The Wind Blows

Last fall, I was at the famous Telluride Festival picnic (my film "Drunker Than a Skunk" screened before "Nebraska") and I was talking to a woman who worked at the New York Film Festival.  I had just learned that my new animated feature "Cheatin'" had been turned down, and Miyazaki's film "The Wind Rises" was selected.  I asked her why she chose the Miyazaki film and she said, "Because it's the last film he'll ever make."

I told her that Miyazaki always claims that each film will be his last. "No," she said, "this one definitely is his last."  Then, sure enough, in early January he announced he was coming out of retirement to make another feature film.

Damn!  He fooled us again!  I think he's used this ploy now five or six times!  The thing that gets me angry is that my film was entered in some very prominent festivals, and in three or four cases "The Wind Rises" was also entered, that his film got in and mine didn't. 

Both films were entered in festivals like Toronto, Venice, Telluride, New York Film Festival, and the Hamptons Film Festival, and my guess is that the programmers all thought, "Wow, this is Miyazaki's farewell film, so we have to program it."  Then they looked at "Cheatin'" and thought, "It's a good film, but we already have an animated film in the line-up, so out it goes."

Now, of course this is just a theory - perhaps "Cheatin'" is not as good.  But I do know that festivals tend to be very stingy in programming animation, and you rarely see more that one animated feature per festival (unless it's an animation festival, of course...)


I tell you, Hayao has a real scam going, he's figured out how to play the game - tell everyone he's retiring, and his film is a festival lock.  I've seen "The Wind Rises", and I think it's one of his weakest films, very sentimental and pro-military.  It's certainly not one of his classics - but because he's the Japanese "Master" and he's retiring, he gets in on all the great festivals.

My friend Signe suggested I should learn from him how to play the game.  I think for my next film I'm going to "retire" right after I finish production - or how about "dying" right after the production, so it will truly seem like my last film.  Then I'll perform a miracle and magically appear at the festival, reborn - imagine the publicity I can generate from that scandal!

--Bill

Michael Sporn 1946-2014

 



Friday, January 17, 2014

Simpsons fallout

I don't know how many of you saw the new Couch Gag I did for "The Simpsons" recently (broadcast the same night as the Golden Globes).  I had a lot of fun making it, and apparently it got a lot of hits on YouTube, someone said over 250,000.  Wow, that's more people than usually watch my films!

Then I heard that there's a rumor going around that near the 0:27 mark there are apparently some "nasty" frames of animation.

You know, I really didn't think that observant fans would spot the naughty art - after all, the images flash by so fast at that part it's hard to make out any details.  The problem is that now the FOX lawyers are going to check it out, and then I'll be in big trouble.  Matt Groening's never going to talk to me again and my TV career will be in shambles and I can't afford a lawyer.

So, if they send me to prison on porn charges I hope you, my fans, will come and visit me often.  In fact, it might be a good opportunity for me to churn out a new feature film - no interruptions, phone calls or annoying meetings.  I can work night and day in peace and quiet.

Hey, thanks, FOX lawyers!

--Bill P.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Best Animated Shorts of the Year

By the time you read this, they may have already announced the 5 animated short films nominated for the Oscar.  Nevertheless, I'll give you my 5 top shorts of the year:


"Subconscious Password", by the great Chris Landreth - hilarious.


"Feral", a beautiful story about a boy raised by wolves, by Daniel Sousa.


"Hollow Land", by Uri Kranot and Michelle Kranot.  Stop-motion animation about immigrants.


"Mr Hublot", by Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares - a beautifully animated CG film with great character design.
"Betty's Blues" by RĂ©mi Vandenitte - a gorgeous Delta Blues musical.

--Bill

Friday, January 10, 2014

Simpsons / Slamdance

Big announcement!  I completed another "Couch Gag" for the opening of "The Simpsons" - it's my third one, and it's running this Sunday, January 12 at 8 pm.  It's a pretty cool clip of animation, I think you'll love it.  You should tell all your friends and check it out!


Also, coming up in Park City on January 17 is the North American premiere of my new feature film "Cheatin'" - I'm honored to say it's the opening night film of the prestigious Slamdance Film Festival.
Check out the great line-up at Slamdance.com - 

I'll be there to introduce the film, as soon as I can find a place to stay - I've got a couple irons in the fire so something should work out.  Hopefully I'll see you in Park City!

--Bill Plympton


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Worst Films of the Year

So, if I can make a list of the best films of 2013, surely I can also make a list of the worst films of the year...


"The Wind Rises", or as I like to call it, "The Wind Blows" by the Japanese Master, Hayao Miyazaki.  A sugary, melodramatic story about a kid who later designed the Japanese WWII fighter "The Zero".

"The Great Beauty" - an art film for elitist snobs.  No real story and a bunch of intellectual platitudes.

"Inside Llewyn Davis" - and I LOVE the Coen brothers.  This film had some great side characters, but the lead is the most uncharasmatic character ever in a Coen brothers film.  And what's with the cat?

"The Unknown Known", by Errol Morris.  An interview with Bush's Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.  Instead of asking him questions about how the Iraq war started, he shows images of water, spiffy graphics and talks about his marriage.

"Under the Skin", starring a sexy Scarlett Johansson.  The director, Jonathan Glazer, also made the wonderful "Sexy Beast", but this is a bomb.  I saw it at Telluride and it will never get distribution in the U.S., because it's so boring.

"The Congress" by Ari Folman ("Waltz With Bashir"), written by Stanislaw Lem.  Made no sense to me at all.  Maybe if I were stoned it would have been better.

--Bill

Monday, January 6, 2014

Top Ten List

Well, it's after New Year's, and as per the movie critics' tradition, it's time for my Top Ten Movie List.

This year has been a very good year for films, both critically and in box office, so it was difficult to narrow my list down to ten - but anyway, here it is:

#10 - "Captain Phillips" - a great action film with political overtones.

#9 - "Prisoners" - a terrific kidnap film that takes very surprising turns.

#8 - "Philomena" - a tragic forced-adoption story with hilarious comedy from Steve Coogan.

#7 - "Despicable Me 2" - the rare sequel that's as good as, or better than, the original.  Plus, it was animated in France.

#6 - "Saving Mr. Banks" - Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks are great as P. L. Travers and the great Walt Disney.

#5 - "Ernest and Celestine" - another French animated feature that's just a wonder to watch.  Great design!

#4 - "12 Years a Slave" - from director Steve McQueen, the most powerful anti-slavery film ever made.  It will take home a lot of Oscars.

#3 - "This Is the End" - by Seth Rogen, James Franco and Jonah Hill.  In my estimation, the funniest film of the year.  I saw it on an airplane, and I was laughing so hard it bothered my seat neighbors.


#2 - "The Wolf of Wall Street" - by Martin Scorsese, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.  A very funny look at Wall Street corruption.

And the number 1 film of the year!!!....


"Gravity" - it's such an unusual film - a unique concept, yet it had me on the edge of my seat throughout.  I was a mass of sweat at the end.

--Bill

Friday, January 3, 2014

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 / Despicable Me 2

It's awards time, so I'm getting a lot of DVD's in the mail, by way of soliciting my votes.  The great part is, I get to catch up on all of the animated features that I missed when they were released in theaters.


I was a big fan of the original "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" - in fact, the director, Chris Miller, worked for me as an intern years ago.  I found it original and clever.  The follow-up, however, didn't work for me - I found it too frenetic and haphazard.  It's like they tried to cram as many jokes into it as possible, thereby losing any character or story possibilities.  It's always good to leave a little room in films, so people can catch their breath.  Also, I found the colors too garish and the character design very amateurish.  I think they should have put my buddy Chris Miller back at the helm.


On the other hand, I believe that "Despicable Me 2" is a rousing success and as good as, or better than, the original.  The design (by Carter Goodrich, one of the best designers in the business) is wonderful, and the voices and story are terrific.


But for me, the best part was the bad guys.  I love bad guys, and if the evil characters are fun to watch, then the whole film is fun to watch.

Also, as opposed to "Cloudy", there was a very deliberate sense of pacing and tone in "Despicable Me 2" that made the film a delight to watch - and I wanted the film to continue, it felt too short.


We'll see at Oscar time if the other Academy members agree with me on "Despicable Me 2".

My score for "Cloudy 2" is C+ and for "Despicable Me 2", A-

--Bill