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October 6 at 8:29am

Why Don’t Grown Ups Get How Great Animation Really Is?!!

By Ted Hope

Guest post by Bill Plympton.

I’m very excited to be given the opportunity to pontificate about the state of indie film on the wonderful “Hope for Film” site.

If some people don’t know me, it’s understandable. My name is Bill Plympton, I create animated shorts and animated feature films.  And because they’re animated, it’s very difficult to get any press, respect, or even distribution for my films. I also have two other strikes against me – they’re not family oriented films, and they’re very low budget. So there you go! That’s my dilemma. How do I get distribution for a film that no one wants to touch?

I think a lot of the prejudice is because there is sex and violence in my films, and the audience in America believes that animation is sacred territory. How dare I put raunchy material in a purified, Disney-created art form? That’s blasphemy! I’m tainting the holy art form of cartoons.

Yet Quentin Tarantino puts tons of sex and violence in his films and they’re very close to being cartoons. So, why can’t I? Why can’t the U.S. Public make that great creative leap from kid cartoons to adult animation?

Sure, when I was a kid I loved the Disney cartoons, but now I’m an adult, and I don’t want to see animation about kids playing with toys and animals singing. I want to make my animation about love, passion, jealousy, revenge, sex, adultery – the really cool topics.

When “Idiots & Angels” opened at the Tribeca Film Festival, we got wonderful reviews and enthusiastic sold-out audiences. We were sure that a distribution deal and riches were coming our way.  But we must have shown the film to fifty distributors, and none of them picked it up. It was very frustrating. The film went on to win numerous prizes all over the world, and sold to over ten territories, so it’s done quite well internationally. In fact, it was a big theatrical success in France.

I believed in the film enough to try for an Oscar nomination, thus according to the Academy rules, I had to enter the film this year or forget it.

So, without a distribution deal in place, I decided to handle the release myself. Now this isn’t the end of the world, in fact there are some positive aspects of self-release. But let me first list the negative points:

1.     I had to lay out a lot of money for prints and trailers.

2.     I had to hire press agents.

3.     I produced posters and postcards myself.

4.     I called all my press friends begging to get any kind of interview or articles.

5.     I organized street teams of students to canvas the city.

6.     I booked myself in every art school I could think of to give me a Master Class, to make the schools aware of the screening.

However on the positive side, here are the benefits of self-distribution.

1.     The rights to the film remain in  my hands, thus I can control when it’s released how it’s released, and where it shows. And if I want to rerelease it, it’s my decision.

Often times, as you know, distribution companies will decide to put the film on the shelf and refuse the release the film, and you’re stuck with a film that will never see the light of day, and there is no recourse.

2.     All the money, if there is money, comes directly to me.

So many times I’ve had a distribution company handle my film and all the royalties get gobbled up in crazy expenses – transportation, prints, luxury hotels, miscellaneous expenditures – or I may not get a statement at all.

One exception, when Lionsgate Films released “I Married a Strange Person” and I actually got a royalty check from them! Whoopee! So miracles do happen.

3.     I get to control the images and style of the release. I can talk directly to my audience.

It’s interesting that when I released my first animated feature film in 1992, with October Films, “The Tune” was the first low-budget, self-animated film to hit the theater. Now it seems like everyone I know is working on an animate feature. I started a whole movement of cartoonists and who think they can make their own film. “Sita Sings the Blues”, “Queer Duck”, “My Dog Tulip”, “Waltz With Bashir”, “Persepolis”, and many others.

And I think it’s very cool – I love the competition because I believe that these filmmakers will prove that there is a market for non-Pixar, non-Dreamworks homemade indie films.

If you want to see what I’m talking about, check out my newest animated feature, “Idiots and Angels” – made with a budget of $135,000. It plays at the IFC Center on October 6th – 12th and then at the Laemmle Sunset 5 on October 29th – November 5th and also at Chicago Music Box on December 3rd for a week.

To find out more about the film, check out idiotsandangels.com or plymptoons.com!

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48 Comments

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  1. Perry / Oct 6 at 8:29am

    The tag on this post says 'angels and insects' — so no one will find the post if they're looking for 'idiots and angels' (the actual title of the film). moderator: can we fix?

    keep up the hard work, Bill!

    - chris

  2. Brian Newman / Oct 6 at 8:29am

    I noticed this post – which is great – and wrote this one about the doc being made on Bill now – Plymptoons – and their kickstarter campaign at my blog
    http://springboardmedia.blogspot.com/2010/10/adventures-in-plymptoons.html

    I highly recommend Idiots and Angels, and the short before it – The Cow who wanted to be a Hamburger!

  3. Otukel / Oct 6 at 8:29am

    50 distributors said no to “Idiots and Angels.” Now that's disheartening. The great Bill Plympton is such an under-appreciated madman.

  4. Isaac / Oct 6 at 8:29am

    Thanks so much for this post, Bill.

    I've always loved animation, and although I think Wall-E and Up are two of the greatest films of the past decade, I've been so hungry for the kind of films you make: well-made animation features with their own vision that are actually made for grown-ups.

    The world of 'comics' can contain Superman, Batman, Clowes' “Ghost World,” Burns' “Black Hole” and all kinds of sequential fiction that have no relation to superheroes whatsoever (and I love superheroes – at least in their more twisted incarnations). So why not animation? “Persepolis” got me excited, but it was “Waltz with Bashir” electrified me and gave me that feeling of “I have to make an animated film before I die.”

    I'll be out of town and so won't be able to see “Idiots and Angels” at the theater, but I will look for the DVD and wish you the very best of luck with your self-distributing adventure. Do keep us posted – we're all learning the new how-to-do-it when it comes to getting our films to their audiences.

  5. Jon / Oct 6 at 8:29am

    Bill, I love your stuff and Alexia's new endeavor on documenting it all ( http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/alexiaanastasio/adventures-in-plymptoons-a-documentary-on-oscar-no ). But you really have to look at a Bill Plympton work to understand what he's talking about (like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ygHqzsrQ_Jw ).

    Bill, you're an original. There is nothing more compelling and more important, in my book, than originality, after having a great story that is, which seems to be inherent in your work. You talk about animation like all of animation should be embraced. Yeah, there's some great stuff out there by people like Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy), Matt Groening (The Simpsons) , Trey Parker and Matt Stone (South Park), and you. And you are underrated, probably because you don't have a hit TV series. But a lot of people are missing the boat.

    Why? Probably because a lot of people just won't look at racy, sexy, on the edge stuff (or let anyone else know that they look at it). It's forbidden. Taboo. If you can't get a PG rating you've lost a huge market. But I love your stuff and I love that you ignore that market.

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