Sunday, August 24, 2008
Here I Go Again On My Own
If I were inclined to appreciate 80s hair-bands, I might be singing, “Here I go Again On My Own,” by Whitesnake because as of Monday I completed my latest project (directing six spots for the Electric Company). All I have lined up now is teaching one night a week at Parsons this Fall and one night a week at SVA this Spring. The rest of my time is ripe with possibility. I’ve learned long ago to seize such time because it is often fleeting. Most of us agree that although we love animation this doesn’t automatically mean that all of our employment is spent on “dream jobs.” The realist in me adds, “nor could it be.” Dreams are ours to make. Opportunities are ours to take. If anyone from Hallmark Cards is reading this, I’m available for a job in the copy department.
For me, time on my ownsome means time spent on a personal film (see images above from my in-progress short!). The new film is a third collaboration with musician, producer, and voice over artist Bob Charde. I used to refer to my films as independent films. Maybe if I had called them personal films I might have actually made something personal. I started out on the right track by making a film called Snow Business, which started out as a concept film (a snowman traveling through a city by accidental means) but, I realized later that the film was really based on part of my life experience. As a child, I used to eagerly anticipate my father coming home from his Ad agency job in Manhattan. As a family, we always waited until my dad got home so we could all eat together. Sometimes he wouldn’t get home until 9 PM. It was such a special feeling when his car pulled up and he came up the stoop of our house. Before we would eat, I would get to hear a play-by-play of the day’s events at the office and I’d fill him in on my day too. It was OUR time and I cherished it.
That longing is in the film Snow Business, which at its core is about a boy longing for time with his Dad. That personal truth gave them film a powerful center and I believe it went a long way to overcome any production problems with the film. Yet, I didn’t fully understand this at the time and I thus allowed other influences to creep into my second film, ensuring that it had nothing personal in it whatsoever. At the time I was obsessed with getting a development deal for my own television property (something I wouldn’t achieve until 8 years later). I allowed this to corrupt my second film (and my third film too, but that’s another story) in which I tried to draw the current hot look on TV. For content I aimed at shock value, which was a two-part rebellion. Firstly, I was working fulltime on Blue’s Clues and secondly, Snow Business had also been a family-friendly affair. I was oddly concerned that I would develop a reputation as a children’s filmmaker. All of this added up to a sad cocktail on which to base a film.
Although it took me years to get my personal films back on the right track, I can't say that nobody tried to warn me. Once in a while somebody comes along and has the guts to tell you something painfully honest that you desperately need to hear. Shortly after my second film debacle, David Cutting (an animator at Blue’s Clues) said to me, “David, I think with your second film–– you really threw out the baby with the bathwater.” The last time I heard such stinging honesty was years earlier at SVA when an foreign student told me through his broken English, “Your work is no good.”
I think the demands and pressures on the next generation of independent filmmakers to do something "commercial" with their films must be even worse than what I had experienced. If your animation doesn’t become the next big viral sensation on YouTube does that mean that it's a failure? Whenever one thinks of the marketplace when making personal art the “personal” goes right out the window. I’m now just under half way through production on my newest film. I’m proud to say that it doesn’t look or feel in any way like the product you see today on TV or in the viral sensations perpetuated on line. Although it is a kid’s film, I’m not using any of the assembly-line techniques of puppeted animation that dominate much of kids TV these days. Content-wise, the film spends its entire time in the company and conflict between two characters engaged in an average day’s activity. The tone is quiet, the pace is slow, and the characters do not scream their lines. I am blissfully out of step and I LOVE IT!