I’ve been blah, blah, blah… part 1, part 2, part 3. Read, sing, laugh, make a burrito- Enjoy! Now for part 4! The burning question that brought us here is: How can an indy animator make a living from their animation?
Regardless of distribution paradigms, we’ve shown in previous installments of this conversation that the numbers game is pretty well stacked against the indy from the start. The end user value, while it exists, doesn’t give a lot of room for low volume content- which typifies the independent product. When the value is pennies per minute you need a LOT of minutes, or a LOT of buyers (preferably both) in order to survive. Either one is typically very expensive to produce and has a fine way of killing an independent whose typical cash reserves wouldn’t buy a decent used car. Some distribution models have very difficult ports of entry but substantial compensation (TV, feature film, etc.). Yet others have very easy ports of entry but with laughingly crappy compensation (YouTube, GoogleVideo, AtomFilms, etc.). And we have proposed a possible distribution model that has less difficult - yet still existant- port of entry with compensation patterns that, while not terribly substantial, are not total crap, either. So whether it’s the big compensation lottery or the death of a thousand cuts freebie system or something in between, either way there are challenges and difficulties. Yet we have hope that if we can find the right paradigm, the right business model, the right combination of luck, talent, skill and content- we can carve out a living here just animating our own thing and appealing to our audience with nothing else. Is this a reasonable hope?
Personally, no, I don’t believe it is. It’s an idealistic hope, a naive’ hope, a hope of youth- but I don’t think it’s terribly realistic. Sure you hear stories of the lucky few who stumble upon fame and fortune when the gatekeepers “discover” them. But if that’s your tack just buy a lottery ticket. They’re cheaper.
Remember that word I ended the last post with? Mosaic.
What is a mosaic? Well you artsy fartsy types know that a mosaic is a picture made up of many small pieces of stone or glass that are different colors. None of the pieces in themselves constitutes a major part of the whole, but when properly arranged a larger picture emerges, best viewed from a distance. And that’s really what I think it will take to succeed as an independent animator. Not even the guys who have somehow managed to have notable success as independents have had the luxury of doing nothing but their own content and nothing else. It’s just not feasible. Indy luminaries like Don Hertzfeld, Bill Plympton and Michael Sporn have all made a go by mixing in many different business pursuits. Their income patterns are a mosaic of different pieces. A film here, a teaching gig there, a book, a speaking engagement, a commercial, another commercial, some merchandise, a film festival, some DVD sales. Each piece is not enough to live off of on it’s own. But if you arrange them all together you have a nice picture of sustainable income for a clever, hardworking and pragmatic independent animator. There is really so little chance of being able to “just do my own content” and make a go of it just from the content. Yes, the content has value, yes we should try and maximize that value, but for all but the most extaraordinary of circumstances that value isn’t going to be enough to pay all our bills. In the right distribution model it can pay some, but not all. You need more. And this isn’t such a bad thing, really.
cont'd in part 4b...