By: Elyse                Categories: Animation

This is an excerpt from Bill Plympton’s Make Toons Without Selling Out. This living legend breaks down how to make a career outside of the world of corporate animation – and without compromise. Learn time-saving techniques, the secrets to good storytelling, and the business-side of short and feature-length animation films.

Dogma Point #1: Make Your Film Short

Whether it’s a short or a feature, it shouldn’t run too long. I judge a lot of film festivals, and if I see a short film with a running time of 20 minutes, already I hate that film. I don’t want to see that film. Why? Because if it’s a bad film, then I’m stuck watching 20 minutes of crap! But if it’s only 5 minutes of crap, that’s okay. I can let my mind wander for 5 minutes, then be ready for the next great film.

Also, it’s very difficult to sell a 20-minute film. Cinemas won’t want it (because it would take time away from showing a feature). DVD collections won’t want it. TV stations don’t want to buy and show a 20-minute film, and the Internet prefers films in the 2- to 5-minute range. Plus, it’s a lot cheaper to make a 5-minute film.

Dogma Point #2: Make Your Film Cheap !

I run an independent film studio. I have to pay my employees, overhead, and make a living, and like I said earlier, I don’t take grants, corporate, or Hollywood money. So it’s very important that my films are successful and make a profit. If I spent $50,000 or even $1 million (like some shorts cost these days), I’d have a very beautiful film, but I’d be out of business in a week. The cost of my films runs about $1,000 per minute. If I can keep my film budgets in that vicinity, I’ll always be able to show a profit. There are a number of ways to keep the budget low:

-Don’t use expensive voice-over talent.

-Don’t use expensive music by famous artists.

-Don’t use very slow, work-intensive computer programs, such as Maya.

-Don’t have a long production time.

-Don’t use a large number of people in the production.

Dogma Point #3: Make the Film Funny

I don’t know why this point is true, but it’s a lot easier to sell a funny film than a serious film. If you want to make a film about your inner turmoil, an abstract film, or a film about politics, go ahead, but no one is going to want to watch it, except for your parents. And no one will buy it. Everyone loves stories, from kids’ bedtime stories to thousand-page novels. I see so many films that are avant-garde and abstract; while watching them, I spend my time searching for any kind of plot or meaning. It’s simple; it’s human nature to look for reflections of oneself in life’s many experiences, and that goes for films, no matter how obtuse. And if you can also tell a story in a funny way, people like it even more.

To demonstrate the difference, I remember when

I was nominated for an Oscar in 2005; my film “Guard Dog” was up against a Canadian film called “Ryan,” a computer-animated film created by an artistic genius named Chris Landreth. His film broke all my Dogma rules. It was long—about 16 minutes. It was expensive— it probably cost around a million dollars. And it wasn’t particularly funny—it was the tragic story of a drug addicted alcoholic Canadian animator.

But you know what? “Ryan” won the Oscar—and it deserved to win. It was a much better film than mine. It’s a masterpiece, but it will never show a profit, because it was such an expensive film to produce. But that’s okay, because it was a Canadian film, and the Canadians prefer prizes over profits. They make films to glorify Canadian culture, and that’s great!

But I can’t do that—I need to make money. I need to pay for my staff and my studio. So when I make a film that wins awards but loses money, it’s a disaster. It’s interesting; I look at my Dogma points—short, cheap, and funny—and it describes all of my girlfriends (yes, that’s a bad joke).

Another wonderful example I like to talk about is a film called “Bambi Meets Godzilla,” by the great Marv Newland. It follows all of my Dogma points perfectly. It’s very short—about a minute and a half. It’s cheap—I heard he spent $500 making the film. There are only about 15 drawings in the whole film—and it’s terrifically funny.

That film has gone on to be a huge success. I heard that it’s made over $100,000 over the years.

It’s the Deep Throat of animation. God, I wish I could make a film as good as “Bambi Meets Godzilla.” That’s my career goal: to make a film that’s more successful than Marv Newland’s famous short. But I fear I never will: there’s only one Marv Newland.

Excerpt from Make Toons That Sell Without Selling Out © 2012. Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved. Make Toons That Sell can be purchased, and wherever fine books can be found.

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