Support Your Scene

I don’t think any of us who got into making animation and putting it online have any illusions of it being a great financial decision. Or if they did, they were gravely misinformed. My making stuff has never been motivated by that. I’d do it anyway, and most of us do it anyway having never seen a dime for it directly. And that’s fine, mostly.

Mostly.

The amount of attention we’ve been getting for Late Night Work Club (thanks a million, by the way!) has enabled me to go on and on about this in a few different interviews, and will mostly likely allow me to go on about it some more in the coming months. But you can probably tell that a lot of us think this whole online animation dynamic is just… busted. And more than that, it doesn’t reflect our actual interaction with one another. I’ll explain.

Everyone’s experience differs of course, I know some of you people in foreign lands have more access to funding for your work. But let’s break down how this whole thing works for people like me and Charles Huettner, two animators making independent work out in the middle of nowhere that is Pennsylvania. We’ve talked about this quite a bit and have pretty much the same ideas going forward.

We make a short, either some fun little 30-second thing or something bigger like the Blood Pact we have going this year (What? You didn’t hear about the Blood Pact?). Traditionally, we should hide them away from the public and send them to festivals. If they do well, we can just keep them going to see how many accolades we can ring up. Some of those have cash prizes attached to them.  Most do not. And then when that is done maybe we can try to get a distribution deal of some sort with a big content provider or someone who sells to them, though such things are pretty rare, especially if your work strays from specific content and format guidelines. At that point, once everyone else is done with them, we can put our shorts online for the rest of you shoeless plebs to gawk at while we get back to work making another short to send away for years. That’s a best case scenario, too.

There’s also grant money, but I live in the US where such talk is commie talk. They are few and far between as well. But why are we even talking about grants? Why do grants come into this? This is our thing, not their thing.

I make stuff partly because it makes me personally happy and fulfilled, and I need to get some things out I suppose. Same reason I write or play guitar or something. But I also make them because I like connecting with others. I like putting something out there and having people enjoy it, think about it, have their day or week changed by it, and respond to it. It’s this communication and connection that keeps it going. I know that when I hear a song or see an illustration or watch an animated short, I am super thrilled when I click with it. I guess that’s art and stuff. So the idea of primarily making things to send them off to exclusive screenings to be judged against whoever else got into the exclusive screening, and then presenting it to you guys sometimes years later… it just feels depressing. And hollow. For me, at least.

A note: I need to keep saying this lest people misunderstand. I have no problem with fests at all. Fests are great! Great places to see amazing work and reportedly get black out drunk with amazing people. Or fistfight them. Or whatever. Fests can also, at their best, elevate truly great work to a place it deserves to be. Same with awards shows. I have a problem with the sometimes ridiculous exclusiveness policies some fests have. And I feel like they are a poor substitute for the dynamic we enjoy when we just directly ask people on the internet to get involved with us and our work. If I have to pick one on day one, it’s going to be the Vimeo/Twitter route. But that’s still seen as amateurish in a lot of animation circles, and I think that’s ridiculous and hopelessly out of touch.

It’s all so… outdated. And it smacks of FILM. Not people who make films, but FILM, with a capital FILM. I don’t really think of myself as a filmmaker, though I suppose that’s stupid because that’s what I do. But there’s this language of film that creeps in that seems silly to me, all steeped in tradition and proprieties and expectations. I tend to see what I do and what a lot of us do as a direct analogue to indie comic makers or indie game makers or indie musicians. And they all have massive scenes around them full of support and their own language for what they do. They all have their own individual challenges and rewards. When I buy something from one of them, I feel like I’m supporting their work, and it’s work that isn’t for everyone. But to the people it is for, it means a lot. Supporting. That’s a good word. Supporting your scene. I like supporting people whose work I care about. I begin to care about them as people. I follow them on twitter and see them struggling or triumphing or whatever and I want to be a part of them doing well. I feel like they deserve it because their work has connected with me, and that’s something. And I feel like they deserve to have their rent or mortgage come a little easier because of it. Poverty is only cool and romantic to people who aren’t poor. A lot of artists could keep being artists longer if the people who care about them and their work stepped up to support them in tiny, affordable ways that they can feel rad about.

So fuck this whole thing. This whole thing is broken. This whole thing is stupid. The language we used to talk about what we do is busted. I suppose it’s not busted for everyone if they fall into those more traditional channels naturally. But a lot of us aren’t them. And the people who enjoy what we do and want us to keep doing it aren’t those people. So let’s build a new set of assumptions and a new language.

From here on out, every time I make anything of any substantial heft, I’m going to be offering it as an HD download for maybe $5 or so. That will also come with some extra goodies. I’ll also be offering prints and other fun stuff in little packs to go with them for a little more. And it’ll also be available to watch for free on my Vimeo, and the tip jar will be open. And I think other people should do the same. I know Charles Huettner is. If you don’t want to support me, that’s fine. But if you don’t support Charles you’re kind of an asshole. That’s just how it is.

You can already see this elsewhere- other animators and filmmakers have been doing this sporadically forever. I bought an HD download of David O’Reilly‘s Please Say Something a few years back. I could watch it online, but I really liked the film and thought David could use a few extra bucks for pizza or whatevs.  Don Hertzfeldt has his whole thing built around stuff like this. But it’s rare. And as such the assumption that maybe this is what you SHOULD do isn’t out there.

None of us feel entitled to your support. Probably no one will get rich off of this or anything. But I think there should be an assumption going forward that you support the people whose work you connect with in whatever small way you can. This isn’t a demand or an obligation, and I am implicated in this as well. But I already like supporting things I believe in. If you don’t, that’s your call. It’s not your responsibility to subsidize our work, and anyone who demands you do is deserving of the blank stares they’ll get in return. But I guess for me, when I support other people it’s not out of obligation. It’s because I give a shit, and I feel like it makes us more of a community. We need more community here. A community for artists and the people who connect with their work in some way. A place for us to support one another. It’s already out there, we just need to pull the ropes a bit tighter and hoist this tent we’re under a little higher and a little larger.

Many people won’t get the message or, if they do, care. Agreed. Some people take “information wants to be free” as “creators who ask for support are entitled jerks cuz internet bro”. That’s fine. But if you’re reading this blog post you’re probably not those people.

Many artists won’t be able to connect with others such that they can see some support come in. Also agreed. But that’s the case in every medium and nothing is changing that. That puts pressure on the artist to make good work and let people know it’s out there.

Some artists will be really obnoxious about it. That’s just people and you can block them out if you want and support the ones that are just the raddest.

I want to kick in a few bucks for a pdf comic I really enjoyed, not because it gets me anything – I’ve already read it. But I want that person to make more, and be able to feed their cat. I want to buy an album on Bandcamp for $10 when they’re asking $7. I want to buy an HD download of whatever Eamonn O’neill makes next, as I’m sure it’ll be brilliant and I want that guy to make things forever. I want to support the people who made FTL. I can’t wait to experience the next episode of Kentucky Route Zero. I want my subscription to HP Podcraft to keep them going because they’ve given me hundreds of their own hours. And I want this to be the new normal for all concerned.

To not get involved, to not touch the things that matter to you, to not support something… that’s just a sad place to be. Get involved. Throw your arms around something.

I have two big shorts in the tubes right now. One or both will be done by the end of the year. I’ll be making some cool stuff to go along with them, stuff you’d probably dig even if you didn’t know the films. And I’ll be going straight to you guys with them. Other people should do the same. We’re doing it with Late Night Work Club, and you will not be sorry for supporting that, I assure you.

I know most people don’t care and won’t support no matter what. But I’m not talking about the faceless mass of mindless internet consumers. I’m talking about you. I’m talking about a cultural change in our little corner of the world. I’m talking about a different assumption. I’m talking about seeing indie animation like you see indie games or comics or music. Because we’re all doing the same thing at heart, just in different directions. I’m talking about getting involved, and supporting your scene, and being supported by others who can support. And let’s be honest, that’s just about all of us.

I’m not financially well off by any means, but I keep a few bucks in my Paypal account because I know the people whose work I love may also not be financially well off by any means. And it doesn’t matter if they enjoy making it. That’s not payment enough. The question isn’t whether they enjoy making it, it’s whether I enjoy encountering it. And I really do.

So here’s to those who support and those who make things worthy of support. I’m already the former and hope to be the latter.

Thanks, guys.

PS – I’m aware of the existence of Kickstarter. Kickstarter is cool, but it’s a different thing altogether. But by all means people should use it if it is appropriate for them.

11 comments

  • 03/06/2013 at 4:32 am // Reply

    Scott, thank you for those thoughts!

    I had similar ideas over the last week.
    One aspect I was thinking about was that we all have to remember to put all the energy in making our works awesome measured by our *own* standards and stop focussing about how to get the next thing viral. The internet may be absolutely overrated when it comes to getting rich just by spending some time there. But! The internet is all about sharing: our works, our hopes and fears and sometimes a few bucks as you describe it.

    Did you see the TED talk about the Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer? I think a lot of people long for a new culture, and there is a need for it.

    • 03/06/2013 at 5:16 am // Reply

      Oh definitely. I’m certainly not talking about “let’s make things to maximize profits and go as broad as possible”. I’m talking mainly to the people on the supporting end. And I don’t think anyone has any illusions of wealth. I said recently on twitter that most people define financial success as something left in the bank at the end of each month, and I think that is the scale I’m talking about here. It’s about surviving well.

      Amanda Palmer is mostly pretty great.

      What’s interesting is that these ideas are just starting to be big things on the internet, when they’ve been around forever. Anyone who was into anything not particularly mainstream pre-internet is familiar with all of this. Glad to see it become more of a common assumption in 2013.

      • 03/06/2013 at 5:33 am // Reply

        It’s probably because those idea hit a nerve… When I went to art school they didn’t teach me anything about how to make a living from what I learn, or how to find supporters for my work. – The internet makes those things a lot easier now.

        More and more people seem to understand that “against each other” doesn’t work well in the long run and change course. I just start to understand how this is going to work for me and my work.

  • 03/06/2013 at 5:30 am // Reply

    I’m down with this in a substantial way. Good work expressing it so well.

  • 03/06/2013 at 10:41 am // Reply

    Could not agree with your sentiments more. Onus is (at least partially) on audience for becoming more savvy — to think of spending money a vote that rewards and sustains the work they enjoy.

    I think it’s also on filmmakers to be creative about what bonus features could be (HD downloads, posters, etc). I’d wager, the more intimate look you can get at something that you already like as a fan, the more likely you’d give more and more often. That the more effective this system is – the less “faceless” it also is.

    Side note: it’s a shame tip jar isn’t part of vimeo’s embed options.

    Side, Side Note: some people thinking in this space that are not vimeo
    https://www.elevision.com/
    http://vhx.tv
    http://www.reelhouse.org/

  • 03/07/2013 at 7:20 pm // Reply

    You guys are doing awesome work. Please help yourself to as much of my money as you’d like.

  • 04/09/2013 at 11:44 pm // Reply

    never mind – see the email now

  • 04/15/2013 at 1:17 pm // Reply

    Scott, why is Kick-starter a whole different thing? Why can’t you get funding for say, your film and provide exclusive release with the additional goods you’ve talked about – for those that support you? The more you give the more you get?

    I believe you’ve got good credential/connections for people to know you’ll produce something of worth.

    Much love, M’

    • 04/15/2013 at 11:51 pm // Reply

      I think Kickstarter is fantastic, and who knows – maybe someday I’ll try it. I know many others have, and I have supported several myself. But Kickstarters are these one-time event things. Everyone comes together to make this one thing happen, and then it’s over. And then maybe you can do another one again. It also sets these expectations that I think can be detrimental to artists (or at least artists like me). If I did a kickstarter, I’m no longer simply concerned with making things that I feel strongly about and hope others will too. I’m having to think about rewards and end dates and living up to backers’ expectations.

      What I’m interested in helping to grow is a more day-to-day culture. I do a lot of twittering partly because I really like getting to know people, other artists and non-artists alike. I’m interested in people be engaged with our work in that manner. An artist makes something and puts it up and says “hey, if you care please support, and you can get this other cool stuff I made”. It requires people to care, it requires them to be engaged, it requires the artist to be doing what they would do normally, but better. This may all be rather high hopes, but I’m willing to push it slowly in that direction.

      Example: I have a decent-sized animated short I want to make. It’s the next thing I’ll do after finishing my short Potential this year. In this next short, one of the characters has a crappy punk band. I thought it might be cool to record a 3-song demo of that punk band and include it with the download. I think that’s a neat idea. I think it’d be cool if someone I whose work I liked did that. But me doing that and putting it up is a lot different from offering it as a tiered reward. Both are great! But they are different.

  • 04/25/2013 at 7:29 pm // Reply

    Yes, and people back you because they believe in you and what you do, regardless. Even Hitchcock made crappy movies (although i wouldn’t call them crappy because I respect his work). Point is, u can’t please everyone.

    And I see your point. It does require people to care. You’ve made me (+1) care by sharing your view and because you have formidable knowledge and skill.

    And put it out there (more) i guess, i.e that you want to include a punk band in your short film? Most of these bands are on myspace and other networks who probably looking for such an opportunity… is it a helluve job, but try and give it a shot.

    Much love, M’

    ps. James Victore (graphic designer/artist) made me care too, the very same reason im mentioning him here. check out his utube channel. I’m a self-reliance-something wanna-be, and he’s been a good mentor.

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