More Tough Choices Ahead for Independent Animators

This time last year, I speculated that the ‘You’ part of ‘YouTube’ was about to become as irrelevant as the ‘Music’ part of ‘MTV’. As it turns out, that speculation has turned out to be correct. Unfortunately, the future looks even more gloomy for independent creators for an even more troubling reason.

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Six Questions Every Creator Needs to Ask Themselves

Everyone can create, but should everyone create? Plenty of great ideas never get off the drawing board, and seemingly terrible ones manage to make it all the way to YouTube. Everybody is different of course, but before they even start creating, here’s six questions every creator needs to ask of themselves.

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Independent Animated Features: 10 Questions That Need Answering

Visit the B&R Facebook page
Visit the B&R Facebook page

Yesterday, I was treated to a screening of an independent animated feature film called The Stressful Adventures of Boxhead and Roundhead. Written, directed and animated almost single-handedly by Australian Elliot Cowan, it’s a film that I’m still mulling over in my head the next day; a good sign if ever there was one. I’m not going to comment on the film itself just jet, however, the entire project has prompted some questions of my own on independent animated films in general and especially those done by one man bands or very small studios.

  1. If Elliot can make a feature, why do so many others either fail or never try?
  2. Is perseverance the key to finishing an animated feature?
  3. What’s the general gameplan for what happens after the film is made if there even is one?
  4. What’s the ‘secret sauce’ to making related merchandise that sells?
  5. Why is financing so ridiculously complicated, and costly for even small budget films?
  6. Have characters in general become too complex in animated features?
  7. Should independent films even worry about targeting an audience?
  8. Are traditional promotional/marketing channels already dead or merely dying?
  9. Why are international sales such a formidable barrier in the age of the internet?
  10. Are 35mm prints dead for technological or cost reasons?

Creating Content From the Indepdent’s Perspective

Independent animation has undergone a real transformation over the last decade or so as the drop in the cost of technology was mirrored by the rise of the internet as an entertainment platform. Online video distribution is nothing new at this point, and has become the default method by which creators get their stuff in front of viewers. Irish animator Terry Reilly recently got in touch and his Pegs series of shorts provided a great opportunity to see the game of creating content from the independent’s perspective. Read more

How David OReilly Engages His Fans

DOR-Octo1.jpg

David OReilly is infamous for the unique style of animation in his personal films and the particular brand of comedy that inhabits them. As an independent animator, David is a master at understanding how they become a brand onto themselves and he uses it to his benefit. Such a move is often the result of necessity but rarely is it pulled off with the pastiche that OReilly manages. With his latest venture, David illustrates yet again, how independent animators can engage with fans and earn a living at the same time.

The Fans

OReilly has acquired an audience (or devoted mass if you prefer) through his short films and commercial works. These include the films Please Say Something, The External World and his initial foray, Octocat. Videos for the likes of U2 have heightened his public profile among non-animation fans too.

These fans not only provide an audience for every new thing that he creates, they also function as his makeshift publicity department. The advantage to this is that word of mouth is by far the most reliable and effective form of advertising even if it may take a while to reach large numbers of people.

Acquiring fans is one thing, but OReilly also manages to keep them, chiefly through continually honing, improving and experimenting with his craft. His reasons for not repeating himself bear remembering in this regard and his ever increasing profile within the animation industry is proof of that. They will culminate later this year when his episode of Adventure Time hits the airwaves.

The Content

Although fans are important to any independent animator, it is necessary to interact with them and continually present them with new and exciting material. The risk is that if you do not, they will move on to somebody else who does.

OReilly is only one Irishman however, and animation being the slow process that it is, it would be impossible for him to create new animated films constantly and within short time frames. Instead, he opts to create new animation when it is possible, and in between, keeps his fans happy and engaged through other, non-animated creations.

OReilly’s twitter and instagram feeds exemplify his unique sense of humour and provide the primary channels of engagement. They are a practically free way of maintaining his profile without any additional cost to himself.

David is also the master at engaging his fans in conversation through them. A clear example was his recent pondering of why critically acclaimed content garners tiny viewership on YouTube and yet videos of cats can garner millions. His response was as much genius as it was entertaining: he posted a video of puppies and then decried it as a despicable act for which he was truly sorry.

The result?Nearly 12,000 views but a ton of interactivity with fans as they eagerly entertained the notion that the video was ‘disgusting’ even though it clearly was not (click to enlarge):

Via: David OReilly.com
Via: David OReilly.com

The upshot is that OReilly kept his fans engaged and interested in him without having to revert to creating new animation.

The T-Shirts That Combine Fans And Content

Via:
Via: Skreened.com

The latest idea (and the one that prompted this post) was the recent announcement that David had designed 40 T-shirts. “OK, so what” I hear you say, “that’s not a big deal”. Well, no, it probably isn’t, but since he has decided to also sell them, it sort of is.

Why? Well quite simply, these T-shirts bring fans and content together in a way that allows OReilly to make money. Firstly, the T-shirts are a way of proving that he values his fans and secondly, they adhere to David’s unique style without the need to create new animation. The result is that you have happy fans, with a David OReilly creation and all without the need to create expensive, time-consuming animation!

Of course the true genius of these T-shirts is that they exhibit not only OReilly’s unique sense of humour (and his desire to lead a Comic Sans revival), but also his interest in animation too. Observe:

Via: (a href="http://skreened.com/dumbstuff/cartoon-character"> Skreened.com
‘Cartoon Character’
Via: Skreened.com
‘Cartoon Boy’

Needless to say, the use of these copyrighted characters would fall under the parody rule of fair use.

The Payoff

(no pun intended)

What is there to be gleaned from all of this? Well, a few things:

  • OReilly creates animation that garners fans of his work
  • He engages with his fans on a constant basis
  • He creates non-animated content as a way to satisfy fans until new animation can be created
  • The content he creates is exciting and of equal quality to his animation.

The result is that David OReilly succeeds at things where plenty of others fail. Yes, anybody can create a T-shirt and sell it online without much overhead, but simply offering T-shirts is not enough. Neither can you rely upon merchandise sales alone to bring in money or keep your fans engaged. Again, simply offering it is not enough. David demonstrates that you must keep fans ‘primed’ for new content and when you deliver, it must be exciting enough for them to want to purchase it.

In addition, the T-shirts themselves are broad enough in appeal so that non-fans and people who may have never heard of him before will get to know him; i.e. they will grow his fanbase. Imagine that, growing the potential audience for your animated properties without creating any new animation. Genius!

Although by no means a model that can translate to any and all independent animators, what David OReilly conducts is a high-wire act that constantly entertains his fans, keeps them engaged and interested in what he’s doing. the result is that he can create merchandise that not only sells, but increases his profile further. He is a model for others to follow.

TANK Teaser

Nate Hamilton has sent in a link to the teaser for his latest short film, TANK. The film is set when: “a boy finds a connection between his fish tank and a pond in the woods. There looms inside the pond, a giant amphibian.”

Nate has a production blog up which seems to be well worth following to see how someone goes about creating an independent film (hint, there’s a lot of work). In the meantime, enjoy the teaser!

 

The 7 Reasons Why DreamWorks MUST Remain Independent

With the recent announcement that DreamWorks is making a large investment in China (both as a studio and as an entertainment provider), I thought it would be interesting to repost a post from last year on why the company must remain an independent entity. You’ll recall that this was written while the brouhaha broke out surrounding their distribution deal with Paramount ending this year. Anyway, Steve Hullett over at the TAG Blog seems to concur that an independent DreamWorks is the kind that Jeffrey Katzenberg desires. Here’s 7 reasons why that’s a good thing.

 

 

Via: Wikipedia

Although DreamWorks Animation is already independent, it does distribute it’s films through Paramount, who in return, collect a fee from the gross receipts. Such an arrangement has worked well until now, just one short year away from the end of the current agreement.

There has been a lot of talk about DreamWorks being either acquired or selling itself to a larger corporation as a way to ensure its survival. Of all the big guns, only Warner Bros. seemed likely as they don’t already have a theatrical animation division but the noises from inside that company suggest they are not interested. The question is: Why would DreamWorks feel the need to be part of one of the larger studios anyway? The answer is money, but instead of analysing that reason, I offer you X reasons why the studio must remain independent.

  1. Katzenberg is not a quitter. He built DW up from nothing and I doubt he would like to sacrifice his independence to be under the boot of a board of directors again. He’s taken the company this far, there are few reasons why he can’t take it further.
  2. When you’re number 2, you try harder: Yes, it’s an old Avis slogan, but it rings true. If you’re number 2 in the market, you will try harder than the leader when it comes to your products. DreamWorks isn’t quite there yet, but last year’s How To Train Your Dragon was infinitely superior to Toy Story 3.
  3. It’s been done before: Back in the late 40s, a relatively small animation studio lost their distribution deal with RKO. They managed to haul a distribution team together and form Buena Vista. A distributor I think you all should be familiar with.
  4. An independent keeps everyone on their toes: As an independent, you have to do your best every time.That means others must compete on at least the same level of quality. If one player ups their game, everyone must. Corporations have a habit of getting comfortable in their shows which can lead to a stagnation of quality.
  5. The money is in the long tail: Walt Disney himself knew it was better to create a good film that would be popular for a long than one that would be a flash in the pan. Good films make money for decades after they’ve been paid for. DreamWorks can rely on this for income provided their films are up to scratch (see point 4)
  6. It’s a tougher road , but the ultimate rewards are better: No-one likes to take the hard road, it’s more work for what appears to be less reward. However, that burden of responsibility will ultimately result in a stronger company as everyone shares in the responsibility for success.
  7. It affords more freedom to experiment: Right now, on the cusp of the digital revolution, DreamWorks has the freedom to go in directions that were never possible before. As an independent, it has the freedom to try and experiment with new distribution and sales models to see if they work. DW can has the chance to become the industry leader in the digital age, an opportunity that should not be passed up.

Making An Animated Feature Film With Elliot Cowan

All-round nice chap Elliot Cowan, known to his legions of fans around the world as the creator of Boxhead and Roundhead, has embarked on the formidable task of creating a feature film featuring the quirk duo.

Below is the video he recently posted detailing how exactly he manages to squeeze making a film into his already hectic day. Besides making us all appear instantly lazy, it’s all done in Elliot’s very affable Australian way.

Don’t forget to stay up do date with the obligatory Facebook page!

DreamWorks MUST Remain Independent: The 7 Reasons Why

 Via: Wikipedia

Although DreamWorks Animation is already independent, it does distribute it’s films through Paramount, who in return, collect a fee from the gross receipts. Such an arrangement has worked well until now, just one short year away from the end of the current agreement.

There has been a lot of talk about DreamWorks being either acquired or selling itself to a larger corporation as a way to ensure its survival. Of all the big guns, only Warner Bros. seemed likely as they don’t already have a theatrical animation division but the noises from inside that company suggest they are not interested. The question is: Why would DreamWorks feel the need to be part of one of the larger studios anyway? The answer is money, but instead of analysing that reason, I offer you X reasons why the studio must remain independent.

  1. Katzenberg is not a quitter. He built DW up from nothing and I doubt he would like to sacrifice his independence to be under the boot of a board of directors again. He’s taken the company this far, there are few reasons why he can’t take it further.
  2. When you’re number 2, you try harder: Yes, it’s an old Avis slogan, but it rings true. If you’re number 2 in the market, you will try harder than the leader when it comes to your products. DreamWorks isn’t quite there yet, but last year’s How To Train Your Dragon was infinitely superior to Toy Story 3.
  3. It’s been done before: Back in the late 40s, a relatively small animation studio lost their distribution deal with RKO. They managed to haul a distribution team together and form Buena Vista. A distributor I think you all should be familiar with.
  4. An independent keeps everyone on their toes: As an independent, you have to do your best every time.That means others must compete on at least the same level of quality. If one player ups their game, everyone must. Corporations have a habit of getting comfortable in their shows which can lead to a stagnation of quality.
  5. The money is in the long tail: Walt Disney himself knew it was better to create a good film that would be popular for a long than one that would be a flash in the pan. Good films make money for decades after they’ve been paid for. DreamWorks can rely on this for income provided their films are up to scratch (see point 4)
  6. It’s a tougher road , but the ultimate rewards are better: No-one likes to take the hard road, it’s more work for what appears to be less reward. However, that burden of responsibility will ultimately result in a stronger company as everyone shares in the responsibility for success.
  7. It affords more freedom to experiment: Right now, on the cusp of the digital revolution, DreamWorks has the freedom to go in directions that were never possible before. As an independent, it has the freedom to try and experiment with new distribution and sales models to see if they work. DW can has the chance to become the industry leader in the digital age, an opportunity that should not be passed up.

Now You Can Read About The King Of Indie Animation

Via: Bill Plympton on Scribble Junkies

A real quick post to relay the news that Independently Animated, a whole book dedicated to the amazing career of Bill Plympton launches today March 22nd. I’m at work so I can’t post a lot but it was co-authored by my good friend David B. Levy so you know it’s a good read.

You can buy it here or, read this great interview with the man himself over on Cool Hunting.

EDIT: I lept before I looked. Woops! Oh well, it’s as good a time as any to post it 🙂

Re-Releasing Animation on the Big Screen

The silver screen. Once the dominant screen for entertainment in the US, it fell somewhat dramatically with the arrival of television. However, the film industry remains adamant that their products are released to the local movie house first, just so that everyone in the food chain continues to get paid.

At least that’s how it is for mainstream movies. Hundreds of independent cinemas continue to exist throughout the country. Some continue to show the mainstream releases, but their numbers are few. Instead, let’s hear it for the independent cinema that shows independent movies!

The two I am most familiar with (the E. Street Cinema in DC and the Senator in Baltimore) show a diverse mix of film, both American and international. Personally, I like to promote the independent arts. Sometimes because the products are honestly better, but often because you can only find films you like in an independent theatre. I have to admit though, I am still ashamed that I did not go and see Marjane Strpati’s fantastic film Persepolis when it was playing at the Senator.

Anyway, onto my point. Wouldn’t it be a neat thing to show old animated films at such cinemas? Think about it, once a film finishes its theatrical run, does it ever get another? History suggests, rarely if ever. The exception so far seems to be mainly the Disney films. Fantasia springs to mind, as does Beauty & the Beast (although the latter is getting a no-doubt tasteless and pointless conversion to 3-D). The exception to this has been The Little Mermaid, which got trotted out again in the mid-90s only to crush Don Bluth’s latest release.

The reason I post is that I received an e-mail from GKids, the absolutely wonderful people behind the US release (have you seen it yet?) of The Secret of Kells and who deserve every success the film brings them. Eric Beckman is one hard working man I tell ya. In said e-mail, regarding their upcoming run of films at the IFC Center in New York, I noticed that Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece Spirited Away will be playing at the start of May.

I almost died when I found out that I can’t make it (I’m taking a later bus, stupid me). but it got me thinking. What if these independent film houses, and I guess it could run as sort of a national circuit or something, showed some old animated movies every now and again.

I mean, its technically possible, I’m sure prints survive out there somewhere, and everyone loves old animation (hey am I right folks?). Don’t you like to see movies on a big-ass screen? I know I do. Personally, I think there would be plenty of people who would line up to see The Aristocrats or The Jungle Book or even An American Tail again. You could even run some shorts before the feature. Tom & Jerry anyone?

Think how much money you’d make. The films are already paid for, all that’s needed is transport and/or copies and perhaps the requisite [ugh] license. Right?

Great! Everything’s sorted then. See you at the pictures.