All creative folks have this dualism going on:
The Desire to Do My Own Stuff vs. Needing to Do What Others Want
This battle is absolutely unavoidable. Nobody gets to just do their own thing all the time and nothing else. Ever. To expect that is to be childish. So why should we think that such a business model is even reasonable? I’ve known exactly one guy who was able to succeed at doing only his own thing, make a living from it and it only. Yet by the 6th year of doing that the fanbase was so large the very thing that was his was no longer his- it belonged to the fans. And whenever he tried to veer from formula the sales dropped, the letters came in asking ‘Where’s the Silly Song?” In the end even he couldn’t do what he really wanted all the time- and this was his own stuff! This is a universal condition. You cannot escape it. You will always have this battle. You try to have one side winning, but no side ever really defeats the other. To ignore this is peril. Or at the very least massive frustration and probably the consumption of huge quantities of tequila.
So we need to be able to expand the horizons of our ideas, to look for different ways to make a living while still being able to devote a goodly portion of our time doing “our own thing” and hopefully that “thing” can be another feeder stream into our revenue flow. That’s the primary force behind my discussion: let’s get the compensation systems at least to a point where making our own films is a revenue generating business activity. Sure, making a short film may not be the most profitable aspect of my business, but the very least it ought to have the ability to break even or make me a little money to justify me spending my time on it. That way if I take 4 months out of my year and spend it making a film I won’t go absolutely bankrupt from it in the end. It may not be super profitable, but I have to expect that the investment will at least not lose me a ton of money (allowing that I’m any good at this stuff. The “good” factor is an unspoken assumption in all of this.). If I can be assured that making my film is at least not a total wash then I can make up for lost ground the other 8 months of the year with the other pieces of my income mosaic. As it is right now if I make a short film I pretty much have to relegate it to an “extra hours” status- there’s no reasonable revenue stream for it. Meaning it’s not a viable business activity, except as a promotional or advertising piece. Sure, that advertising aspect is valid, but if that’s all I can hope to get from a short film then it still falls in the “left over time” bin. After all I can make a perfectly good advertising reel using my client work. In other words, from a business sense there’s a better, cheaper, faster, easier solution than the short film to meet the marketing need. To not go that path would be irresponsible. That’s why I think it’s important that we be able to at last make some money in real, measurable and direct terms from the actual short film content itself. Elsewise I have to put it on the back burner out a sense of being a responsible businessman if nothing else. Then I need to spend all my time working on “stuff other folks want” to pay the bills. And that is too similar to sitting in a big studio somewhere, one of hundreds of worker drones slogging through the latest Hollywood executive fart product to be worth the bother of trying to be indy in the first place. At least for me it is.
So yes, I’ve said it. The Great White Hope for Indy Animators is not in a single magic bullet income or distribution solution that will allow us to pour all of our energies soley into our animation and nothing else. Instead it’s in a pragmatic understanding of the realities of the business world and being willing to “nut up” and deal with them head on, without apologies and with vigor. Sooner or later we have to poke our heads up and realize this is a business and we’d better well be ready to get serious about that. There are no easy rides here. Nobody will give us a free pass out of charity. If we want to survive as independent animators then we must come to peace with the idea of being independent businessmen, first and last. It is possible to be a decent person and be a businessman. We don’t have to play like Hollywood executives to succeed. It can be done.
Does this admission make me a dirty, unartistic bourgousie sellout? Heck if I know, I was never from the french beret/black turtleneck/art school crowd. But I do know that my kids like to eat and I like not having to sit in a car for 90 minutes each day driving to and from a job that doesn’t exactly thrill me. And I like having the freedom to take myself anywhere in the world I can and live and do and be and have an opportunity to do something to help another person. So if I gotta do some boring, uncreative, unchallenging and cheesy commercial work now and then to have that freedom, why not? It’s a small price to pay for a very fun adventure.
Before I wrap up this discussion, go ahead and check out this essay on being creative over on the GapingVoid blog. It’s a couple years old, but on re-reading it I found it just as inspiring, sobering and liberating as the first time.Thanks once again to everybody for jumping in and participating. And thanks for your patience as I ramble and think out loud on the world wide stage of the internet. Hopefully I haven’t made a total fool of myself here. But if I have I’d be very glad to hear you all telling me how full of it I am.