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 - 


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 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!