Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Superjail event

This is a test for the first ever ASIFA East podcast of out Superjail event. THIS IS ONLY A TEST of the ASIFA East Broadcast Network. We will return you to the regular blog shortly.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

ASIFA East’s 40th Anniversary Film Fest

It was time again for another ASIFA postcard. The theme this time was for the upcoming ASIFA festival screening night. Believe it or not this is the 40th Anniversary of the festival.

One of the best advantages of being an ASIFA member is the ability to vote on who wins the festival. So many times when I speak to people about ASIFA, and ask if they are entering the festival this year they often answer, “Why bother, the same people win every year.” Nothing could make me angrier than that response. To them I answer, “Did you go to the screenings, did you encourage others to go and vote, and voice their opinions?” If not then you have nothing to complain about. NY is a city of independent animators; a number of whom are very prolific film makers and they win from year to year because of that tenacity, plus the fact that they are good film makers. The winners of each category are chosen by the people sitting in the audience on that night. It’s the truest form of democracy in action.

I had the pleasure of being invited to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (The Oscars) screening of the short films here in NYC by Candy Kugel this year. It was an exciting day to be in a room surrounded by legendary film makers. The short animation category is the only category that the Academy allows to be screened together outside of LA County. On a weekend when the Oscars are taking place, and knowing I was in the room when the winners were selected is exciting. Maybe, just maybe, the conversation I had after the screenings had some little, itsy-bitsy, slight influence on an academy member’s choice to win an Oscar. To be part of the academy’s club, you have to have been nominated in the past for an award. To be a voting member for the ASIFA Festival all you have to be is a member. THAT”S IT! Pay your dues and you can directly influence who wins the award that year. Whether you’re Howard Beckerman, or a student in school your vote means exactly the same thing. ASIFA East has survived for 40 years as a volunteer organization of dedicated professionals with the sole interest of promoting animated films on the East Coast.

This year has been a year of change for so many reasons, not the least was the election of Barack Obama as our president. As the message for this month’s postcard was “Get out and vote!” I decided to design our post card in the style of Shepard Fairey’s iconic Image of our president. I combined the images of four of our board members into one for the postcard. Just as Shepard Fairey didn’t name the photographer who took the reference for his iconic image, I will never tell whose images I combined together to make the postcard for ASIFA.

I am glad to say I am a member of ASIFA East and I will be there each of the nights casting my vote.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Geriatric Hip and Advertising Shorts

Geriatric Hip is a short I completed about 2 years ago that I worked on during my spare time while I was working at Cartoon Pizza on Pinky Dinky Doo. I wanted to create a short which wasn’t aimed at children, and you can’t get further away from children than a film about the joy of smoking.

Around the same time I purchased a DVD collection of 1950’s-1970’s Classic Commercials which had so much great work on it. Some of my favorites were the spots for cigarettes, in particular one featuring the Flintstones. In the 60’s TV was a relatively new medium, and an early way that marketers capitalized on the success of it was to sponsor an entire show. The show would often open with stars of the show personally using or endorsing the sponsor's products. As the decade went on, major sponsors were no longer needed as advertisers lined up to buy spots in the middle of shows. TV executives preferred not having one big sponsor as it meant less interference with the content of the show and the one sponsor system fell out of favor. While I am not a smoker, and have never been, I was intrigued and inspired by the way they were once advertised.

The idea of having one major sponsor hasn’t gone away completely though. No one has quite figured out how to make money out of content on the internet yet. Just as TV was an unproven media in the early 60’s, the internet is in a similar position today. When Dan Meth and Channel Frederator teamed up for their Nite Fite series, they got Starburst to sponsor them. They worked out a distribution deal, and included the product in the shorts themselves. Dan and Frederator had to give up some creative license and get things approved by the Starburst people, but in exchange for that they got the shorts paid for. If they had any ideas that Starburst didn’t like, they simply saved those ideas for another time, when another sponsor might not object to a particular idea.

The line between advertising and entertaining are being blurred all the time with marketing companies like The Viral Factory trying to capitalize on the power of the internet by creating viral videos such as the Trojan Games for Trojan. A second example of a successful viral campaign would be the one for Carl’s Jr. featuring Paris Hilton washing a car.

Over the past few years I have entered Geriatric Hip in a number of festivals and it has not been received well. Until you screen a film you never know how it will do. It is my version of an advertising era gone by, when smoking was fun. It’s now time for it to go out into the big scary world of the internet and see how it does on its own.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Comic Con 2009

It was my first time going to a Comic Con and I didn’t quite know what to expect. In order to prepare for my first time I went to their website to try and see just what it was I was getting into. To my horror one of the first things I saw was their weapons policy. THEY HAVE A WEAPONS POLICY !!! I had no idea that comic book aficionados were so dangerous. Here is their actual policy listed below.

The following items are forbidden at New York Comic Con:
• Functional firearms (including air soft guns, BB guns, cap guns, paintball guns, and pellet guns)
• Functional projectile weapons (including blow guns, crossbows, long bows, silly string, slingshots, water balloons, and water guns)
• Metal-bladed weapons (including axes, daggers, hatchets, knives, kunai, shuriken, swords, sword canes, and switch blades)
• Explosives (including firecrackers and fireworks)
• Chemical weapons (including mace and pepper spray)
• Blunt weapons (including brass knuckles, clubs, and nunchaku)
• Hard prop weapons (including props made of metal, fiberglass, and glass)

I decided to push through the fear and attend the convention despite the obvious danger I was placing myself in. After waiting in what can only be described as an underground holding cell for nearly an hour, I made my way onto the convention floor. I was greeted by the largest collection of geeks in one place I have ever seen. The Javits Center was packed shoulder to shoulder with them. But not only Geeks, there were Nerds, Dweebs, Dorks, Goobers, Goofballs, Techies and Trekkies. What's the difference you might ask? Well, here is how I see it. A Geek is an intelligent person with an obsessive interest; in this case with comic books. A Nerd is the same, but lacks social graces, and a Dweeb is simply a mega nerd.

Star Wars seemed to be very popular with the Geeks. Storm Troopers and Jedi Knights and were all over the place swinging their light sabers and shooting off their blasters. Apparently ones fascination with Star Wars can be passed on generation to generation. There were seminars led by actual NY Jedi instructors on Light Saber practice for kids- 12 and under. I started to understand the weapons policy at this point.

The Nerds leaned towards the gaming side of things. I think this could be attributed to all the time they spend in their parent’s basements alone in the dark playing whatever the latest shoot ‘em-up game is. I have to confess I am not very ‘Up’ on the video game world and didn’t know who they were supposed to be.

The Dweebs seem to be very unaware of their body types. Just because you wish you were Poison Ivy or Harley Quinn from Batman doesn’t mean you should dress like her. Comic book characters have an impossible body type which less that 1% of the population can achieve, and the ones I saw weren’t in that 1%. Until this weekend I also never realized Superman’s package was so large. I can’t count the number of times I turned around to see just a little more than I was comfortable with. There is a reason that spandex leotards never caught on as daywear for men.

There were actors from every decade there as well. From the late 70s there was Lou Ferrigno of The Incredible Hulk fame and Anthony Forrest from Star Wars. He was the Storm Trooper who stops Luke's Landspeeder to check on the droids and said the line “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for”. Melody Anderson from the 80s movie Flash Gordon was there as well as Marina Sirtis, better known as Counselor Deana Troi from Star Trek: The Next Generation from the 90s.

A handful of NYC animators/artists were on the scene as well. Jared Deal and Danny Kimsnyen (kaNO), had a booth together selling their vinyl and resin toys. Rick Lacy and Philip Gelatt were at the Oni Press booth promoting their comic Labor Days. Bill Plimpton had a booth of his own which every time I walked by was swamped with admiring fans lining up to get a free drawing from him. He premiered his latest Dog film, Horn Dog, as well as a number of other new shorts, all of which I believe he intends to enter in the upcoming ASIFA East film festival. The Venture Brothers’ Jackson Public and Doc Hammer were there to talk about their upcoming season four. The creators and executive producers of Superjail, Christy Karacas and Stephen Warbrick were there to promote their show on Adult Swim. The last of the New Yorkers I ran into was Dan Meth at the Nerdcore booth.

After an exhausting day of looking at comics, watching short films, movie trailers and scantily clad pale people I was glad to head home and look forward to doing it all over again, a year from now. After all, where else can you walk around as a 7ft tall Chewbacca, or drive your life size R2D2 remote control robot around.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

New Year's Resolution

It’s 2009 and the start of a new year. A time in which people make New Year resolutions, reflect on the past year and look forward to the upcoming one. This past year has been a lean one, not just for me but for a large number of people in the NY animation community. We saw the production abruptly halted at ‘Word World’, the doors closing at Animation Collective and the end of Nick Digital as we knew it.

The up and down of the animation scene here in NYC is nothing new; it has been going on for decades. From the early 90’s to 2000 the NY scene was flourishing. I remember visiting Pat Smith while he was working on ‘Beavis and Butthead’ at MTV. He gave me a tour of the building in which they had floor after floor of productions going on. I was working in Mass at the time and remember first thinking I should come down to NYC. But then things quickly took a turn in the other direction in early 2001. MTV shut their doors in, Jumbo Pictures ended, and the number of projects at Nick Digital shrank significantly. Since then the number of productions going on around the city have gone up and down. At times it seemed like NY was growing once again, like during the period I was at Animagic in early 2007. Curious Pictures had ‘Little Einsteins’, Nick Digital was staffing up for ‘Umizoomi’, MTV was back again having just completed ‘Friday: The Animated Series’ with an in-house staff of animators. Finding experienced people to work on all the projects going on was becoming increasingly difficult for studios. But just as I was starting to get comfortable working on ‘Nate the Great’, it all ended just as quickly as it began. 75 of us were out on the street looking for work once again, MTV never gave ‘Friday’ a fair shot, they aired it in the middle of the night a couple of times and a second season was never made. 2008 saw the end of ‘Little Einsteins’ after just 2 seasons, as well as ‘Kids Next Door’ wrapped after 6 seasons.

Getting back to an earlier point, when the industry slows down it can create opportunities for those willing to go after it. When MTV ended, and Pat Smith found himself out of work he began his independent career. Without the down turn in the industry, I don’t know if Pat would have left the world of studio animation to go out on his own as an independent. In boom years there are jobs for everyone, in leaner ones those less committed to the lifestyle of animation will fall by the wayside; a Darwinist approach to animation, for lack of a better term.

A recent example of this for me is Dave Levy. When he found himself in a slow period of work, he decided to make another short film; a follow up to his last one Good Morning. Dave isn’t showing the new one to anyone until the ASIFA festival for the first time. I for one can’t wait to see it. A second example of not waiting for someone to come to you with a project is the collaboration of Al Pardo and Mike Carlo. They pooled their talent together and made a fantastic short Odd Job Hitler. Who knows what could come out of it in the future, maybe the next ‘Assy McGee’ on Cartoon Network?

In times of little work it is more important than ever to get together with friends and colleagues for coffee and a cookie to see how they are doing. Or have a friend in the shape of a cookie if they can’t meet up. Networking is ongoing; going out to events and getting out of your apartment is crucial to survival. I am involved with ASIFA and find it more important than ever to keep up that connection to the NY animation community. I have also started a personal project of my own which I will talk about more in the future.

As for my New Year’s resolution; it’s to post on my blog every week.