I’m making a video game.
This is a thing that’s happening.
Life is weird.
Late Night Work Club’s GHOST STORIES is finally out. I did some lengthy interviews this week here and here, if you want to read a lot of me talking about this. I also did a more general interview last week here.
There’s no way I’ll be able to get this all into a coherent post, so enjoy these personal snapshots:
- This all came out of a few of us being both really enthusiastic about indie animation and bummed out about the animation scene. The idea to do a project like this with no profit motive, no lengthy festival run, no barriers to entry- it seemed like a no brainer. So much so that when we first talked about it we kept thinking “how does this not already exist all over the place”? I’m sure it does somewhere, we’re not unique little snowflakes, but I’m unfamiliar with it. But when you work and obsess so hard over something for almost a year and you get VERY used to an idea. It even becomes mundane. So it was really great once people started seeing it that so many responded to the somewhat subversive element of this. First in interviews where people were wierded out that we weren’t treating this like a FILM, but more a mixtape of animation. “But why isn’t it like (insert past feature-length animation anthology)?” “How are you going to monetize this distribution model?” (Answers: “why would it be?” and “we don’t really plan to.”) There was a lot of giggling while answering certain questions.
The second kind of response that stands out is the people that immediately got exactly what we were doing. People talking about how this is “a moment” in indie animation. People talking about how this was an important point, something they’ve been waiting for, etc. People who immediately connected with the ever-so-slight change we were trying to cause. If I was close to tears at all in the past few days, it was reading those comments. I was talking to Jake last tonight about this, and he said “I think we ended up putting something sincere out there, and we got a sincere response”. Thank you. I am overjoyed this worked.
- I want to spend a week in Caleb Wood’s head.
- Louise’s short is like the quiet part of the bookstore. You’re walking through all of this noise and activity and information and you find this corner with the picture books and it’s just silent, and you just stand there for a second feeling weirdly cozy.
- Charles motherfucking Huettner, am I right? He’s been one of my best friends for a while now, and I am as happy as I could be that his work is getting the attention he so richly deserves. He’s just very, very, very good. And he’s a really great guy. Go Charles Go!
- I need to offload all 600-something gb’s of this project from my hd this week. Remind me.
- Dave Prosser is one of my animation crushes. There’s a wit to his work, and wit is actually pretty scarce in animation. His designs are perfect, the way things move is perfect, everything is just perfect. Can I be Dave? Just for a while?
- At the beginning of this project, Alex Grigg said to me “It’s my first time making a short like this, and I’m really worried that my inexperience is going to show and it’s not going to be good at all”. I wouldn’t worry about that, Alex. Phantom Limb was actually one of the first totally completed shorts I saw from the group and at that moment I remember thinking that it has all been worth it just to help produce this. Bravo, dude. Knocked it right out of the park. He finished before the rest of us, and had to sit on his film for months. Dude is a saint.
- Sean Buckelew doesn’t write dialogue, he transcribes that shit from his weird brain that is tuned into some sort of frequency that picks up people’s actual thoughts. Also: not rotoscoped.
- Ciaran described his short early on as “really dark and depressing and about sheep”. I don’t actually find it that depressing.
- I have watched and rewatched the ghost fox try to eat the ghost mice at the end of Mountain Ash about a billion times. I love how it’s sitting up like people. It thinks it’s people!
- Ha ha ha we wanted to have this thing out in April. What idiots we were back then. You should see the original googledoc. I think it has end of february as the due date. lolz.
- Conor said “my short’s about guy whose ass is haunted”. I didn’t believe him then.
- My awesome wife Bethany has been keeping me sane and reasonably healthy, keeping the trains on time in our actual lives, and is almost single-handedly taking care of most things that need to be assembled and shipped. She is a marvel and I love her very much.
- Let’s talk about Eamonn O’neill for a second. The first thing I ever saw from him wasn’t his award-winning short I’m Fine Thanks, nor was it his OTHER award-winning short Left. It was a 3rd year project called My Day. I was working a crappy studio job and I came across it on some blog or another. I watched it about 10 times in a row. It captured so nicely this claustrophobic social anxiety we’ve all felt, where someone’s nature intrudes on us in this really aggressive manner even if they’re not trying to do it, and WE feel bad even though the other person is obviously, if unconsciously, the aggressor. Eamonn’s films all do that pretty well, actually. It was around that time that I started wanting to make my own work, to do what I do now. Eamonn’s film helped push me in that direction. I don’t know if I’ve ever told him that. He’s one of my heroes, and he’s a lot younger than me. That happens sometimes.
-Eimhin McNamara is one of the co-founders of LNWC and was working on a short but he got his hands mauled up by a dog and then his laptop got stolen. Poor Eimhin. Next time, brah.
- My short isn’t my favorite I’ve ever done. It’s not the deepest, it’s not the longest. Part of that was because I was working on a much longer short that ended up being too big and too personal for LNWC, so I spent the last couple of months putting a new short together. The main character is based on the woman who delivered the mail at our old apartment. I should track her down and tell her I put her in a cartoon. No way that’s going to come off as creepy, right? I stripped out a lot of things from this short. Both Charles and Bethany tell me that this actually makes it work better that I’m not hammering home the plot and subtext. It’s there if you want to go looking for it. I do really like the world and the character, so maybe we’ll revisit her and it again sometime. Might be fun.
- I wasn’t able to make it to the LA premiere, which took place at Cinefamily the Thursday before the online release. Apparently it sold out HARD and the audience full of animation students and industry people loved it. I was so ecstatic that it went well but it also felt like missing my own birthday party. Before it started the theater mistakenly had “LNWP” on their marquee. Late Night Work in Progress.
- Apparently the London screening twice in one evening packed a hip bar far over legal capacity. London has been uniquely kind to LNWC over the months. Thanks, UK’ers.
- I’m a bit all over the place emotionally this week. I’m incredibly happy and proud. I feel a very strong affection for the LNWClubbers themselves and a gratefulness to the thousands of people who supported us so wonderfully during the process and release. I’m also still riding out stress and anxiety that has built up over the last few months. And I’m also having that post-christmas feeling where the endorphins are slowly coming down and you feel this sense of slow deflation. I’m also very sleepy. Which is to say, I’m a bit of a basket case at the moment. In a good way. I don’t know how momentous this was for anyone else, but it was a massive deal here. And for someone who usually has his feelings pretty well thought out and controlled, I’m actually pretty lost at the moment. May take me a few more days to find the river bottom. Just floating along for the time being.
- We’ll be doing screenings with possible Q/A’s with members that can attend throughout the fall. If you’re interested in setting one up, drop us a line at latenightworkclub at gmail. We’ll probably do some fests, some other fun things, etc. We sold out of our Uncanny Mystery Packs but there’s talk of putting something small and not-limited edition up in our shop. Stay tuned. In the meantime, one of the best ways you can support us is to keep spreading the word.
- LNWC continues. Right now conversations are already happening. Can you hear them? Listen harder.
- You can make things. Please do. We did! We’re good at what we do, but we’re not special. You can do it too.
- I keep trying to sum everything up, get a really good paragraph going about exactly how I’m feeling in a way that feels both like a conclusion and a stepping stone to the next thing we do, and how those things tie together, and what you can take from it. Something deep and tweetable. But I can’t, it’s all still too swirly in my head. So I’ll just say thanks to everyone who supported/supports us. I’m going to sleep now. Hugs.
I know it’s not everyone’s thing, but I think more creative people – animators, illustrators, designers, game devs – should do editorial work from time to time. Aside from the personal satisfaction, it’s important because we make culture. And while money and institutions may favor more entrenched and regressive ideas, creative people tend broadly to be more progressive in their views. They may have the banks and the elected officials, but we’ve got the artists. And that’s not a small thing.
I did a short editorial cartoon recently about misogyny, particularly as it manifests itself in some anti-feminist men’s movements, and what I think is at the root of a lot of it. The piece is a satire. I’m assuming no man is sitting there saying “I am afraid of women” to himself. But I think a lot of the root of their anger and hatred of women comes down to fear of women and what women represent to them. It’s sad to me.
If you are wondering about the Matrix reference, feel free to google “red pill men” and fall down that particular internet rabbit hole.
In the weeks since posting this video, I’ve received the standard internet troll-rage (lots of death and rape threats from what I assume are kids) as well as objections with varying degrees of civility and points to make. But above and beyond that I’ve gotten to meet and make friends with a load of other feminists and anti-misogynists, and that has been pretty priceless.
However, two types of responses I’ve gotten have been what’s made this all worth it.
First, I’ve received a few messages and emails from men who saw a bit of themselves in the cartoon and realized that they’ve been holding onto years-old grudges and insecurities that were poisoning their views of women and, even more sadly, themselves. Takes a lot of guts to own up to that, and they have my greatest respect. I think we’ve all had to do that kind of thing more than once in our lives, maybe not in regards to women, but something. And it’s never easy. So fedora’s off to those guys.
Secondly, a few feminist women have been in touch to say that the video made them see some angry guys with a bit more humanity, and prodded them in the direction of trying to understand them and see them as people instead of internet monsters.
So, you know, mission accomplished?
I wrote out a rather long-winded response to some of the objections I was receiving, which you can read here.
Additionally, due to popular demand, there is now a Feminazi Stole My Ice Cream tshirt available, with 25% of proceeds going to Planned Parenthood. Get ‘em while they’re hot!
Oh, I suppose I should tell you a little about the actual production of this video.
It was made 100% in After Effects over 4 or 5 nights in mid-April 2013. I was suffering from some intense creative block and thought a quick little project would get the gears going. I was right about that, but couldn’t quite predict that the next 10 days would be thoroughly creatively destroyed by the internet reaction. Live and learn!
Note: due to band / label issues this video is currently, shall we say, underground. As such it can not be hosted on my standard Vimeo account or my website. Thankfully, due to some very sweet and supportive people, it continues to exist in readily viewable form across many sites. Thanks, internet people. Enjoy!
I first came across Tomas through his old band, Catch 22. It was 1998, I was a senior in high school in northern New Jersey. Catch 22 were local heroes, having just released Keasbey Nights on Victory Records, which was straight crazy. This ska band signing to Victory Records, then THE home to tough guy hardcore? Bizarre! So the trumpet player from my band put on this cd called Keasbey Nights and it was just awesome. The songs were just so so so good. We were singing along that entire autumn, the last fall of my first terrible ska band, the last fall driving around with Brandon and Kevin and Jessica, watching the leaves turn. That winter my terrible band was set to open for Catch 22 at Skater’s World, the local rollerskating rink that threw punk rock and ska shows every weekend. It was our home turf, where I first started regularly going to shows a couple years earlier. We were all excited, but then the band took the stage and the singer was different. I didn’t know him by name yet, but Tomas was gone. And worse, his replacement was Jeff, the drummer for The Derringers, who were the first local ska band I loved. And his being in this band meant that The Derringers were probably not long for this world, and goddammit this was a disaster. And it was true. Catch 22 were never quite the same, and The Derringers were soon to be gone. I have no idea if all of that has anything to do with Tomas, but in my 17 year old mind it did. Damn it, Tomas. Damn it.
Tomas of course went on to do great things with Streetlight Manifesto (and BOTAR of course) and I went on to an exciting career as a weird animator. All that to say it’s funny now that he and I ended up working together, 15 years later. That makes that story only 2 years younger than I was then. Time.
I made this video in bits and pieces over the winter, probably about 2 months of work all told.
I normally write big long statements about pieces like this, about what I was trying to say and whatnot. But this time I’m not. I’m interested in what, if anything, people take from it. I will say it’s a story about not being ok, and trying to be. Some of this vid is about ideas I think about a lot, and some of it is more directly about my own life. I guess everything anyone makes is like that.
And Tomas’ great song really pushed it in the direction in ended up going. We were apparently mind-melded at some point last fall when all of this was coming together, as I think the vid and the song comment on eachother nicely. I think. But I don’t know. That’s your call. Either way, I am grateful to Tomas for trusting me with an open brief, and allowing me to go nuts with the story and direction.
It was made in the mode you should all know by heart now if you’ve been following me for any length of time. After Effects with some light Photoshop texture stuff.
Note: next paragraph contains links to pictures of an actual dead person and an actual living person pretending to be an actual dead person.
The dead woman was inspired by a photo my wife saw in her Death And Dying class in college, of a young woman who had committed suicide, laying on the car she landed on, almost as if she had just walked up and laid down. It was this really weird mix of someone looking so alive while being inert, as unthinking as the wrecked car beneath her, not to put to fine a point on it. And what happened to her that led up to this moment? And it was just very heavy, and something to grapple with. And it stuck with me obviously. It was also very directly inspired by this photo which ended up in my big folder of images years ago.
I hope you like it. Thanks for watching and caring.
PS – My wife took a Death And Dying class in college. It was nonessential, she just thought it sounded cool. They did things like walk around cemeteries and identify different kinds of tombstone imagery and find the place where all the children were buried. She loved it. My wife is awesome.
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.
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.
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.
Wow. So this is finally out in the open. Check it out! I am actually a little too tired to even write a bunch about it, but you are in luck because there is a ton of info on the site and the blog linked there. Go watch, check out the different artists and follow along. We’re doing something cool here, I think. The kids seem to like it, so that means we’re probably on the right track. I am super proud and humbled to be involved in this project with these people. Career highlight, this one.
Remember how back in August I did a vague post about this? Good times.
I have of late been doing some work for The Pacific Science Center’s Wellbody Academy exhibit. Tic Tac Ewww! is a game where kids look for behaviors associated with bad hygiene in 90-second videos of different environments filled with various animated characters. When they spot one, they cover that behavior with a tile on a gameboard below the screen. I’ve been in charge of design and animation and was given a relatively open brief as far as character and environment design. One of the more fun and challenging aspects to this has been working on the timing and diversions to make it challenging, so kids are often looking to the upper left when one of the behaviors they are trying to spot is happening in the lower right. Although sometimes subtlety goes out the window and you just slap a giant pink octopus in the middle.
I’ll be working on it until January, at which point we will have completed 5 “levels”. 3 of those levels are featured in the video above.
I’ve loved working on this and would love to do more things like it. Get at me, educational an museum people. I am reasonably priced.
This is something I’ve been working on for the past several months and will be working on for several months to come. And now I’m going to gush about it.
Late Night Work Club is a collective of indie animators. That is, animators who do independent, non-commercial work. It’s a project to bring a whole bunch of us together and make something great. It’s a very big project and there are a lot of us. To get an idea of the full roster, to our Vimeo page and check out the likes. Check out the work of these super talented kids. Some have been around for years, some are just starting out. But they’re some of the most interesting and talented animators working today, toiling away at nights and on weekends when most people are, well, NOT.
Art by Jake Armstrong
We all do this because we love it. We’d better love it because there’s rarely a lot of money in it. And there aren’t enough places that really celebrate the people doing their own thing out on the fringes of animation. It can get all tradition-obsessed or stiflingly stuffy very quickly, as it does with most art forms. Most of us aren’t necessarily aiming for prestige, animator cred or our own kids show (although those aren’t always unwelcome). We’re doing it because it needs to be done, for us. Like people have to form bands, like people have to found tiny record labels where people spend their weekends in living rooms and garages with friends assembling cds with hand-folded inserts, like people have to make tiny games that they give away, like people have to make xeroxed mail-order indie comics. It means something to us. It’s our scene.
Art by Erin Kilkenny
It means something to me, making things and seeing what other people make. Things that are personal, interesting, or just really weird. I’ve long been an advocate of giving a shit, and this is my community. And I’m very excited about this. It all may sound really earnest, but one of the perks of not being a kid anymore is that sincerity stops being a vulnerability you hide.
Art by Dave Prosser
The project itself has been underway for most of us for a while now, and full details and whatnot will be revealed in the not-too-distant future. Until then, subscribe to our twitter and keep an eye on the LNWC tag on tumblr for a steady stream of whatnot. We’ve been posting art, some from our individual pieces and some that’s just cool stuff for you guys. I think you’ll like where this goes in the coming months.
SO MUCH IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW. This is the first year in which I have basically had back-to-back-to-back-to-back projects lasting the entire year. Amazing to remember that in January I was honestly a little worried I’d never work again and would have to resume my long-lost career at the grocery store. Life is funny like that. So much exciting stuff happening that I can’t show you yet, so here are some WIP pics.
And, of course…
Exciting times ahead.
WARNING: This is going to get very political very quickly. If you are not inclined to reading that kind of thing, skip to “So here’s an idea:”.
This is kind of a companion piece to a post I wrote almost a year ago, on the occasion of a big day of action for OWS. Remember that? I do. Like most other people, I was (and am!) supportive of many parts of OWS. But I also firmly think that lasting change tends to happen in a gradual, boring, difficult manner, and that’s precisely why most people don’t get involved in the things that actually make those changes. I have endless respect for people who don’t simply take the streets and hold up signs for a bit, but rather go and really work with mayors and council members and state representatives and congressmen and senators. One of the signs of a stable democracy is that a sudden mass demonstration doesn’t change massive things in a matter of months. You might bemoan that fact, but remember that every year thousands of people march on Washington in support of overturning Roe vs Wade. If the powers that be looked out their window and did whatever the biggest gathered crowd said, well, that would be a rather flimsy version of democracy. For better or for worse (I’d argue for the better), we have structured our society to absorb a lot of shocks. That means that, while big events may come, go and indeed inspire change, the actual work gets done over decades by non-profits, advocacy groups and the people who keep knocking on doors when the streets empty, the news cameras click off, and the signs are put back in the closet. It’s thankless work, honestly, and it’s done tirelessly by those people you probably find annoying – the people who aren’t talking so much about revolution, but ballot initiatives and voter registration and meetings on weeknights when you’d rather be doing anything other than listening to someone go on and on about socialized medicine vs socialized healthcare. I think it was Dorothy Day who said “Everybody wants a revolution, but no one wants to do the dishes”.
Furthermore, we’re at a point in the US where campaign finance laws have given those with the most money unprecedented power over our political system (and they already had quite a bit). SuperPacs are flooding TV with some absolute bullshit, and spending millions of dollars doing it. A lot of great, worthy, noble groups don’t have that money. Funny how money rarely follows those who are trying to do something other than make money. Hm. The only way to overcome so much money and power is to meet it with an opposing force. Or rather, a bunch of tiny opposing forces. You may not be able to out-spend them, but you can out-culture them. And in the end, that’s what brings about the biggest and best changes.
During the height of OWS I saw loads of artists and designers making all manner of things for the cause(s). Full-disclosure – I almost helped start a group project dedicated to just that. But then I started to have second thoughts about where OWS was going, and then the holidays came and we got busy. And I feel sheepish about that. I bet everyone who was involved does to some degree. And the people who are really helping to push along the various causes are still doing it, but without our help since it’s, you know, not exciting anymore. I was looking around last week at the various single-payer health insurance advocacy groups in my state. You know what? They almost to a one have sites that are poorly designed and logos that are just awful. They’re organizers, not designers. But they need to communicate, to get people excited, to have a visual presence. And a lot of them have no money and no idea how to do it, so they have someone’s kid design something sub-par for them.
At the same time creatives are, for whatever mad reason, still doing spec and low/no pay work for massive, for-profit companies. Doritos, Apple and Axe Body Spray are still getting loads of free work thrown at them morning, noon and night. Shitty clients are still offering to pay in exposure and something cool for your reel. Crowdsourcing sites still have thousands of designers lining up to work for… let me check what’s on the front page of Crowdspring right now… oh yeah – $500 print design for T-Pain (obviously he can’t afford to hire someone, dude’s got a hat budget to watch). Most of the people who throw work at Mr. Pain won’t see a dime for it, and yet this is somehow valuable for “the experience”. Doing free work to help a wealthy man become wealthier is valuable. For some reason. Promise.
There are a lot of things going on here, and it can be frustrating. It can make you feel powerless, or worse, make you cynical. Let’s be honest- cynicism isn’t a product of age and experience, it’s a defense mechanism. The only reason we associate it with maturity is that, over time, more people just give up. And that’s sad.
So here’s an idea:
If you’re going to do free/spec/low/no-paying work, don’t do it for for-profit companies. A good reel is a good reel and good work is good work. If you do amazing stuff, no one is going to care if it doesn’t resolve to an MTV logo at the end. The vast majority of stuff on my reel is personal work, done for no one but myself, and I still somehow bring in clients. You don’t have to play the game. Find a non-profit, charity or advocacy group that you believe in, and do your amazing reel-building work there.I’m not talking about the American Cancer Society or Amnesty International or other big groups- they can afford to pay for good work. I’m talking about your local group that is trying to convince the city council not to shut down more bus routes, the regional advocacy group for single-payer healthcare, the people going door to door on issues that you care about. With all of the creatives out there, there shouldn’t be a good cause with terrible branding. It’s silly. If you’re going to work for free, work for something better. DO something better. You may not be able to organize something yourself. You may be a terrible speaker and have a crippling fear of other humans. But you have skills they don’t have, and that is important. Do what you can, where you are, with what you have. I can’t really design logos that well and I don’t know the first thing about websites, but I can make dumb little cartoons. What can you do?
It’s tempting to always want to start your own thing. It’s exciting, getting something going that’s your own. And if you have a really great idea, go for it! But I think it’s just as important (if not more) to find people who are already doing the work you can’t (or won’t), and support them. Change doesn’t just happen through nonviolent resistance and impassioned speeches (as vital as both of those things can be). It happens bit by bit, as the culture changes. Look at how far marriage equality has come in the past two decades. That happened because the culture slowly changed. We’re creative people- we make culture. We can change culture bit by bit, and be a great help to those who do the hard, frustrating work of seeing something through year in and year out. People love to play with the aesthetics of a cause. Commercial artists sell posters with ripped art from actual events for which people lived and died, and people cheer. Stop pretending to be involved and get involved.
We’re about to have an election. You may have noticed this. I honestly can’t wait til it’s over, no matter who wins, if only so we can get on with the things that need to be got on with. We’ll be at the beginning of another big cycle, with elections in two years and another presidential election in four. A lot can be done in that time. Remember 2004, where Kerry’s “War on Marriage” was a major thing that worked against him? Now being anti-marriage equality is a hindrance in more and more states, and the country as a whole. That’s only 8 years. That’s not long. The country changed, and it changed between elections. Instead of flaking out, getting bored or cynical and waiting for another election year or exciting protest event to whip you up into a sudden fit of civic responsibility, use your skills for something meaningful. Help others. Help yourself. Help the people who are making a difference, as opposed to those who simply want to personally profit off of your free work.
PS – Sorry to use the term creatives. Still hunting for a replacement umbrella term.
PPS- “BUT SCOTT, I’M NOT A LEFTY LIKE YOU AND I HATE ALL OF THE CAUSES YOU MENTIONED!” That’s fine. I’m certain that the people making the Atlas Shrugged movies will take all the help they can get. They might even pay, too, in order to avoid being “looters”! Point is, unless you just don’t give a shit about anything, there’s someone you can help. I’m going to argue for shit-giving.