Presented by: The Animation Workshop / VIA University College
Center for Animation, Visualization and Digital Storytelling
Research and Development Center for Creative Industries and Professions, Denmark.
Authors: Michelle Kranot, Uri Kranot, Ellie Land, Vassilis Kroustallis, Clémence Bragard. Supervisor: Jakob Borrits Skov Sabra
About: Adapting to new online platforms: a focus on independent animation project development, distribution, and professional training. Following the shift to digital and internet festivals caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we aim to document and lay the groundwork for further research and to be a resource for animation creators and producers.
The members of the research team authoring this paper are uniquely positioned at the intersection of the professional animation community and the animation education environment. This gives us the opportunity to expand and reach out to the most pertinent resources, as well as to produce materials which are created in a relevant context. We hope that we can use this as springboard for further collaborations with other researchers in comparable practices and institutions while deepening contacts with new partners. Our aim is that this approach of using our network as practicing professionals to gain insight and access will allow a transfer of knowledge back into the education and the community in which we operate. We hope this contribution will be integrated and useful, paving the way for further research and practice-based research at The Animation Workshop.
Recently, due to the restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, all public events including film festivals have been either cancelled, offered online, or reimagined as hybrid events. This is having a huge impact on the animation industry, particularly independent animation creators, artists, producers, and filmmakers.
Furthermore, all in-person education and training activities have migrated online. This may be our “normal” in the years to come.
As new online platforms and solutions emerge, what are the challenges we face? As an educational institution at the intersection of art and industry, and as providers of these activities – we must consider the impact on our students, graduates, and on existing models.
Under the auspices of The Animation Workshop’s Center for Animation and in collaboration with peers and colleagues, we have produced a research project, based on interviews and case studies in cooperation with our partners, to be used as a resource in these transitional times. We wish to map current offers and address the “new online life” with a focus on independent animation project development, distribution, and professional training. We will endeavour to publish and disseminate our research among our network partners, conferences, and relevant outlets. This research will be available both online and in print.
Artistic research and development is a major field for deepening knowledge and broadening outreach – a resource and, potentially, an interface. We aim to use this opportunity to challenge and contribute to the art of understanding the changing world around us, with all the cultural, technological and environmental challenges that present themselves, in not only global and increasingly polarized society, but within our independent animation community as well. The shifting cultural and social climate is an opportunity to re-examine many aspects of our work life that we may have otherwise taken for granted.
The starting point of this research paper was to examine how animation film festivals and markets are managing their unexpected shift to online formats? We touch upon documentary film festivals, because they were the first to adapt and offer online festival content. How are filmmakers and the independent animation industry reacting?
Film festivals have three stake holders with different agendas and expectations: the filmmakers, distributors/buyers, and the audience/public. This report will focus primarily on the experience of the filmmakers, and touches upon the other stakeholders through the prism of personal experiences.
For us filmmakers, animation creators, and media artists, festivals are not just about publicity, visibility, and awards. They are primarily about interaction between people and being a part of an international community. The upheaval of the global COVID pandemic, has transformed the traditional festival circuit as well as the way we watch films, consume content, and participate in events.
In theory, migrating a physical film festival to an online platform is a perfect solution, since we cannot travel, are limited in travel, or are confined. We cannot gather or go about our ‘usual’ business. Therefore, an online festival allows us access. Whether it’s an organized streaming platform such as YouTube’s hosting of ‘We Are One’ global film festival’ (a partnership between more than 20 film festivals worldwide); or a spontaneous, one-off webinar offer – having access to all this content is the key. In practice, however, this approach isn’t always so accommodating or well thought-out as it may seem.
Without festivals, filmmakers can’t share their work, audiences are deprived of the opportunity to discover new works, sales agents have difficulty finding buyers, distributors, critics, writers, researchers, recruiters, and students are all impacted. Technicians, hosts, programmers, facilitators, and festival staff are made redundant. At the beginning of this current COVID pandemic, most filmmakers were reluctant to let their work be shown online. Not necessarily because they are opposed to streaming – most films end up online anyway. It’s just that having spent years crafting these films, now everyone has to rethink how best to share that work with the world.
If sharing films were the only goal, then online festivals would be perfect. Directors stand to reach more people than they ever would, but doing so means disrupting the industry’s business model.
As opposed to the tumult in the feature fiction industry, in the documentary film festival world, filmmakers are more willing to take the plunge — as the high filmmaker participation in CPH:DOX ’20 and Cinéma du Réel ’20 has shown — perhaps because their projects are born out of a spirit of activism rather than profit. When taking a closer look at Animation Festivals in 2020, the results are mixed: there is either way too much content or not enough and, since festivals are all struggling at the moment, there is little room for compensation for the filmmakers. Those who have pledged to innovate hybrid options will need to think long and hard about how to improve this model.
2.2 Purpose of study
As more and more festivals and creators are gaining first-hand experience in this, the settings, the culture, and ideas are evolving. This project wishes to demonstrate the value of discussion with industry professionals and artists, in the context of our research department and knowledge centre.
This research must be an ongoing process, the questions we were asking in Spring 2020 when the first online festivals started popping up, are not the questions we are asking in Autumn 2020, when the pandemic has dramatically changed the playing field. The political cultural climate has clearly morphed. Budget cuts to cultural activities are echoing the growing nationalism and leading to compartmentalization and demotion of the arts in the broadest sense. At first, it felt uncomfortable, having to make the ‘shift’ to online, ‘out of our comfort zone’, but by now we should be wary, as it is becoming apparent that across sectors, under the guise of COVID restrictions, many cuts to undermine culture and progress are being made.
Especially now, and since the COVID-19 crisis, there has been an increased awareness of the need for long-term strategies and formats for the arts that extend beyond the event culture and the film festival format.
3.1 Approach and relevance
This research project is focused on interviews, conversations, and what could be considered case studies. Our approach has a dual target audience in mind: it is using an academic format, with the goal of being presented in a relevant academic context; it also should communicate as an accessible resource, or springboard for further discussion: a blend between documentation of our current situation and a contemporary navigational guide for professionals, students, artists, and trainers in our community and beyond.
Taking into account the challenge of duael readership, we engaged with our collaborator Ellie Land, who filled the role of qualifying and contextualizing this project in an academic setting. Ellie also has access to relevant academic networks and publication. Ellie reviewed, revised, and contributed as editor. Ellie has also co-authored Chapter IV: Findings and Conclusion together with Vassilis Kroustallis. Ellie is uniquely positioned within the University and Higher Education context; however, it is her sensibility and investment as an awarded filmmaker and director, which give her contribution its authority.
In order to ensure relevance and engagement within the broader, professional, independent animation industry, we initiated the idea of creating a resource package for practicing creators. This was a response to the initial understanding that to have impact and build knowledge, we should outline a digital media strategy for wide and relevant visibility. The context of this research project is an opportunity to offer a practical guide. For this, we are fortunate to collaborate with Clémence Bragard who authored Chapter 5: Framework / Tool Kit. Clémence is not only a long-time partner of The Animation Workshop and engaged in the Professional Training, Research and Development Department but in her professional capacity, she has unprecedented access to the international business and artist network.
Vassilis Kroustallis, writer and acclaimed film critic, comes with a journalistic background and, as editor of a prominent online Animation magazine, has outreach to a wide audience. He has been engaged to conduct the interviews with the filmmakers who have contributed to this body of work. With his vast experience as an interviewer and multiplier, Vassilis enables this project to paint a comprehensive picture, taking into account the limited scope of the research.
In selecting the filmmaker interviewees, we were guided by the need to address a variety of practices, gender equality, and interests. Having input from established professionals as well as young talents, from people working within the industry, and those on its fringes is crucial. With a mix of feature films, short films, series, and projects in development as well as distribution, we are focused on European productions and have a special interest in The Animation Workshop programme graduates, or makers associated with The Animation Workshop / VIA University College.
Similarly to the guidance criteria in selecting participating filmmakers, the selection of interviews with festival directors, distributors and decision makers, aims to portray a range of relevant points of view: Large, established festivals alongside smaller, independent platforms.
Questions directed at professional trainers, publicists and programmers, support the toolkit aspect of the research. Some of the interview questions were standardized, such as with filmmakers, where we used a set of questions as a general guideline, while other interview questions emerged from the context of the interview setting, often in conversation, or as part of an arranged panel.
In Chapter 4, the interviews are clustered in categories, as well as presented in the chronological order in which they were conducted. The idea behind this format was to ease readability and provide access to this bulk of texts, as well as to illustrate the fluctuations in our culture, over the short, but volatile timespan during which this research project was conducted (April – October 2020).
This research began with my participation in the online version of DokuFest International Documentary and Short film festival in August 2020, in a panel directly connected to my work as producer of ANIDOX: a professional training programme for the development of animated documentaries. This is why the first section of Chapter 4 bundles the response of the panel and focuses on the prominent documentary film festivals and their immediate response to the COVID pandemic.
Documentary festivals seemed to be the first to react. However, in Chapter 4.2, this work expanded to include more specific input from leaders of animation festivals, from persons in key positions in the animation community and their reflections. Animation festivals and their position regarding filmmakers became more central to the discussion. As we dove deeper into positioning this research as a practical instrument, and in order to enhance the advisory aspect, we included interviews with other professionals in distribution, communication, and training.
The final section of Chapter 4 is dedicated to the filmmaker interviews, conducted and edited by Vassilis Kroustallis, who focused on the creative process and outcomes.
4. Interviews and case studies
4.1 Documentary Film Festival
In August 2020 DokuFest, International Documentary and Short Film Festival in Kosova arranged a panel with festival participants discuss the challenges and the opportunities of the new global situation. Here follows a summary relevant to filmmakers and festivals, in the context of this research project and beyond.
4.1.1 Emilie Bujès, Artistic Director Visions du Réel
Emilie Bujès is the Artistic director of Visions du Réel, International Film Festival (Nyon, Switzerland) since 2017, and is a Program advisor for Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, as well as an expert for the Swiss fund visions sud est. She has been the deputy artistic director of La Roche-sur-Yon International Film Festival and a member of the ‘Image/movement’ commission of the CNAP (French National Centre for Visual Arts). Before this, she was a curator at the Geneva Contemporary Art Center and has contributed to the program of film festivals and art institutions such as the Forum Expanded–Berlinale, the Contemporary Art Centre Vilnius, the Lausanne Underground Film and Music Festival, the Transmediale (Berlin), or the artist/curator-run space Forde (Geneva). She has been teaching at the Geneva School of Art and Design and Bern University of the Arts, and received a Swiss Art Award for curators in 2014.
Question: Emilie, how did you and your team react to COVID-19 crisis and which major decisions did you have to take, considering your festival took place in Spring 2020?
EB: So basically, we were told, on the 13th of March that we would not be able to have a physical edition. We had about five weeks to the launch of the festival and we got in touch with everybody, filmmakers, distributors, production companies, everyone with a stake in the festival, and start talking with them to see how they react. It is a big move to go online because of course, when we started that discussion there weren’t that many examples of festivals that had gone online, so it was more like a big question mark.
In parallel to contacting all the people involved in the international competition, we started to talk with festival Scope for the platform because, the most urgent thing for us was to have a platform we can trust and that is secure. So most people agreed to go online with us, but many were very sad or worried.
Our audience has a very wide spectrum of ages and generations so we wanted to make sure that everybody would be able to actually watch those films. I personally was very anxious about whether people would be watching those films, you know, when a filmmaker has their world premiere online, you don’t want to have to tell them that only like 50 people have been watching the film. So we thought that it might be an interesting strategy to have several platforms that all would somehow already have people connected to them so that there will be several entry points in the program – and so that there will be more chances to have people watching the films. And so we kind of like ‘blew up’ in several direction and then at some point, we thought it’s going to be too complicated, and feared that we would in fact lose our audience because of too much content.
We decided to focus on our three main activities: film competition, the pitch index (professional film market),and lab (project development), and then again, you think okay, but actually we can add an add and add and the problem is that, of course, first we were lacking time at some point.
Secondly, we didn’t, of course, understand what it means concretely to have several activities happening at the same time online. We had three days where we had the industry events and professional masterclasses so it was a bit of an issue. We were not realistic and we all suffered a bit in the weeks following, it was a little bit too much. Harder on the team than a physical event.
What was important for us is that you had the feeling that a festival was happening. So besides the printed programme, which we sent to all relevant parties and households in the region, we found that a new strategy for a way of communication was necessary. For example, our older audience, the older generation were happy to check the printed program and then call the hotline. And then we drive them to the shift festival scope where some of the events were available physically.
The other thing we did was asked the directors of the films to prepare short videos, just like three minutes to kind of invite people. And to share and communicate something else, more images, stores about the production, things like this, so that people can feel again that they want to watch those films. And of course those clips were really beautiful and touching, because it was at this moment where we all were stuck. Stuck at home and wondering what will happen and there was this connection, something about humanity that somehow was very important to connect us all.
4.1.2 Shane Smith, Director of Programming, Hot Docs, CA
Hot Docs is North America’s largest Festival and Market for documentary film. Smith previously worked at the Toronto International Film Festival as director of Special Projects, and director of Public Programs. Prior to TIFF he was Executive Producer, In-Flight Entertainment at Spafax, Director of Programming at Channel Zero Inc, Director CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival, Short Film Programmer for Sundance Film Festival, Programmer for Inside Out LGBT Film Festival. Smith has participated on juries and panels at festivals and events around the world.
Question: Shane, how did you go about the shift to online, specifically referring to virtual live events, organizing pre-recorded Q&As and considering your festival runs over a long time and is, traditionally, the biggest gathering for documentary filmmakers in your part of the world.
SS: In early March, we still hadn’t announced our program, though we had it locked. We were still scheduling the films in the cinemas, when we had to make the decision to pause and immediately decided to postpone the festival with the assumption that we could be back in cinemas hopefully late summer. But as the days went on, we had to quickly regroup and determine that we needed to go ahead in some way. We heard from filmmakers who wanted us to announce the films for the festival, though we didn’t quite have a plan on how they’d be exhibited so we were in limbo as we determined the next best step based on the information that we had. So firstly, we made the decision to postpone, then we looked at the online platforms available. The industry team made the decision to move industry online and similarly to Emilie’s team condense the industry programming to focus on the essentials of what we deliver. And then, as they were planning that, the programming team started to reach out to filmmakers and say this is what we’re thinking at this moment, are you interested, gathering feedback before we made a decision on the way to move forward, and the feedback was good and solid. We knew that not everyone was going to be able to participate in an online festival. But we had enough of a critical mass so that all the program was represented.
It was a great range of films so we said let’s go ahead – and we worked with Cine Send, which is our platform partner for our online doc shop, which they reinvigorated a couple of years ago so we have relationship and know how they work. They were delivering a service for us and they’re also working with other huge festivals. So once we made the decision, we reached out to everybody to confirm they wanted to participate and to let them know that we were very flexible, you know everything is up in the air – up for discussion, up for grabs – we’re reinventing the wheel here. We invited people to come along with us on this exciting unexpected ride. We knew that we couldn’t bring the entire festival online but we were very happy with where we ended up which was 100 features and 50 shorts, a significant number of films for our audience. We had the audience in mind, the filmmakers in mind, and the industry in mind as we were making the decisions. Aware of our role to serve them in the way that we traditionally have, that included trying to bring a little bit of the live festival experience. One of the major attractions is the Q&As with filmmakers. So we recorded something like 80 Q&As with feature filmmakers and appended those to the ends of the films so that the audience could watch the film and then move straight into a Q&A, as if they’re in the cinema.
That interaction and connectivity with the filmmakers was very helpful for us, they’re on board, and they’re excited. They wanted this opportunity to connect with audiences and they knew that Hotdocs has a loyal audience who would be interested in the films. Indeed, we sold to a lot of classes and tickets in advance before we even announced the program so we knew that there was an appetite for the festival. The festival program was pushed back to the end of May to give us the time to record the Q&As, to get everything uploaded, and to build the platform. Then we made an offer to filmmakers that was a 10 day festival window or a 28 day extended festival, so that they could choose how long they wanted the film to participate and sometimes it was shorter than that 10 day window, based on what they needed or what they were looking for, or hoping to achieve. We tried to address everyone’s concerns to the best of our ability and be as flexible as we could, given the parameters. We didn’t want to do anything that would be harmful or perceived as harmful to filmmakers or rights holders. So we gave them options and were open to modifying. I think that that was our key learning curve: flexibility is the key. Sharing the risk, but also sharing the reward in terms of fees or revenue share or something, that is important to us as a community as well.
We didn’t have a lot of staff working on this because we had to let a lot of people go. All our contract staff operate the festival on the ground, so it was a core skeleton team that worked really hard to make it happen. We wanted to do right by the filmmakers and we want to do right by our audience. It was a ton of work and a very difficult process but we are happy being on the other side now and then glad that we got a good response, so it was a success.
4.1.3 Cíntia Gil, Festival Director, Sheffield Doc/Fest, UK
Cíntia Gil, born in Portugal, attended the Escola Superior de Teatro e Cinema (Lisbon Theatre and Film School) and holds a degree in Philosophy from the Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto (Faculty of Arts and Humanities at the University of Porto). Cíntia has been Festival Director at Sheffield Doc/Fest since November 2019. From 2012-2019, Gil served as the co-director of Doclisboa, Portugal’s most important and steadily expanding documentary film festival. Gil has curated a variety of contemporary and historical film series, retrospectives, and exhibitions. She has been a member of the executive board of Apordoc – Associação pelo Documentário, the Portuguese documentary film association, since 2015. Gil’s texts have appeared in numerous philosophy and art publications and is also a regular guest at panel discussions, conferences, and on international festival juries like Berlinale, Mar del Plata, FIDMarseille among others.
Question: From the filmmakers’ perspective, concerns about going online would include not being able to show a brand-new film in a cinema space, or is it more pushback from distributors?
What are the concerns regarding debuting online? Is it recoupment for investors? Nervous sales agents? There was a rumour that the big streaming platforms would withdraw. Cíntia, how did your festival adapt to these concerns?
CG: Well, having to adapt to this new situation, was quite a surprise of course but we were quite lucky, because we had to start thinking about it in the middle of March, but our festival was just in June, so we had the time to properly prioritize.
We had to reflect as a team and brainstorm about what was the central mission of the festival. And what we had to stick with, stand for, and what we could let go. We were definitely convinced that we cannot replicate the intensity and human bonds of a film festival. That is quite ephemeral, it’s quite short, and it’s a certain number of intense days with a lot of people together. We could never replicate that online and actually the effort to do so would probably function somehow against the experience of the films themselves. So basically we didn’t believe in that system very much.
Also because we knew that we will be later on in the year and so, although some festivals were going successfully online, we were quite sure that people would get a little bit tired of online festivals. And in fact, it is true. It’s not unfair to say that by now audiences are tired and professionals are tired and there is simply too much content out there.
Obviously, it was quite important to guarantee that we would have a program, and of course we had to do a part of it online and that it wouldn’t be about having super intensive programs – so we decided to stretch it out and have a full month. Without too many films, so that people could watch them with calm. The industry program stayed online even longer. So with everything slowed down, we aren’t running so much of a festival, but more a program that represents the festivals goals and vision and mission. For the film market, we did the meat market activities online, including all the meetings. We even had delegations in the market through the online platform.
And it was quite successful, but it was quite consensual that it’s not the same as a live event. And for us that’s the problem. The problem with going exclusively online, is that you lose the element of surprise, the element of access. Because the physical participation also allows you to open conversation with people that you would not normally address easily. But also our mission with the community, with local community, with schools, etc. would be affected.
We decided to do an online program now and postpone physical events with schools and communities to the autumn and hope that somehow we will be able to do it. And now I must say I’m really happy with that decision, because already now the conversation changed. The conversation now is not so much about can we open a cinema, in the UK, cinemas will be open with restrictions in September, but maybe more interestingly, how can we reshape the theatrical experience? And we hope to be able to have our physical programme run through October and November. And so, we will be able to actually engage in a conversation about new ways of providing proper theatrical experiences with the proper rules for health and safety, engaging, local audiences in a strong way that actually need the physical. Try and see ways of engaging the talents and the filmmakers with the community. So we need to take the time to engage in the conversation properly. And in the meantime, besides a film programme, we have a physical exhibition: for example, now we have artist spotlights on our websites with Kitty Clark and Paula Albuquerque. So we used the online presence as a way of building audiences for the exhibitions and eventual live events. The major change we made, was to let go of the competitions, we decided not to have any competition this year. We had never allowed the jury to watch the films online before, so we didn’t want to be inconsistent with our principles. But more importantly – we decided that this is no time to compete, you know, it’s the time to bond and show solidarity, to highlight equality and kindness. Because COVID brought to the surface a lot of issues about inequality in the industry and not just in the whole society we live in. So we decided to have a flat fee for everyone and to let go of competitions and of premiere requirements. So basically, we just tried to open opportunities for the film and filmmakers.
4.1.4 Orwa Nyrabia, Artistic Director, IDFA, NL
Orwa Nyrabia is the Artistic Director of IDFA, the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam. He was born in Syria where he worked as actor and as a journalist, before starting up the first independent documentary-specialized production company in the country in 2002, together with his partner Diana el Jeiroudi. Later on in 2008, Nyrabia and El Jeiroudi co-founded the independent documentary film festival DOX BOX, which quickly became the Arab region’s leading documentary festival. Nyrabia moved to Egypt in 2012, then to Germany in 2013, where he continued producing award-winning international co-productions such as Dolls, A Woman from Damascus (IDFA 2007), Return to Homs (IDFA 2013 and Sundance 2014) and Silvered Water (Cannes 2014). Nyrabia tutored many up and coming filmmakers from around the world and served as juror for some of the world’s most influential film funds and festivals. He is a member of AMPAS, IDA, EDN. His films earned a long list of awards including a Sundance Grand Jury award and a Grierson Award and his work earned him accolades such as the George Polk Award, the Nestor Almendros Award and the Katrin Cartlidge Award.
Question: Orwa, being the leader and creative director of the biggest and most important international documentary film festival, would you address some of the fundamental issues affecting the film industry that have been exposed by and during the 2020 pandemic? And how do you see the role of the film festival re-defined?
ON: Firstly, my concerns lie more with the filmmakers whose new documentaries are being met with a mute response within the virtual ether. Overall, the on-demand approach to an online festival offer was very difficult to experience for a filmmaker who has been working on a film for years and hoping to be there and feel, see, smell and hear the audience watching their film. During a pandemic, a festival cannot have the full answer to that. A festival can either take place, not take place, or find the statement it wants to make within the context – and the means and technology to make it.
But the industry was, and still is, shaken. We do not know what the future of cinema, television, and streaming will be like any more than we know the future of the virus itself. The ‘status quo’ is challenged like never before, and there are many who never felt the ‘status quo’ was in their favour.
My main point here is to underline that a festival’s job is not to reach the audience in any way or manner it can. Film exists when it is on a screen with an audience. That other thing we see alone on a smaller screen is something else. It is better than nothing for sure, but it is not a replacement.
Another challenge of 2020 for all cultural organizations, including film festivals, has been to survive the economic disaster. Here, we can see that the more commercialized the institution, the more vulnerable it appeared this year. Over-commercialization seems to mean higher vulnerability at such times, even though it always seems tempting on the short run. We have had as many film entries as last year, though by far more applications for funding. There are many speculations as to whether we will see an even harsher imbalance between offer and demand than in 2019 when it was already a problem. I do not want to jump to conclusions.
Let’s keep on trying to make sure that good films are not just falling in the big virtual black hole between 2020 and 2021. This is also the responsibility of the press, by the way. Not only of film festivals.
In 2020, IDFA will present its programme both in physical form and online. But some of the core industry events are exclusively online. For example, Forum, Docs for Sale and IDFA Academy will be mostly online, but so much will still be taking place in Amsterdam. Many talks, think tanks, discussions, and meetings will be organised physically. We are taking these components online to protect their global identity. If they go physical in 2020, they will have to become regional in general. We do not see that as meaningful, as our role as a cultural institution is to counter nationalism.
4.2 Animation Festivals
4.2.1 Arnaud Miquel, Programme Manager, CITIA Annecy Int. Animated Film Festival, FR
Arnaud Miquel is the Head of Professional Meetings and XR@Annecy Program Manager at CITIA, organiser of Annecy International Animated Film Festival: VR competition, XR conferences, masterclasses, work in progress presentations, demo sessions and more.
MK: In these ‘new’ times of COVID-19 and lockdown, when everything is moving to online, we are forced to adapt. I’d like to hear a bit about your thoughts, experiences and maybe get some advice. I’m trying to create a ‘map’ of information and resources for independent filmmakers with a project in development.
AM: I think it’s also interesting to know about this kind of person because they have different challenges than established companies or commercial producers. Especially in the development process, where they want to meet people and are looking for partners. My position as meeting coordinator and in charge of works in progress is perhaps not as useful as my colleagues in MIFA, because the projects I get to showcase are already ‘a product’, are already in production. But when discussing the works in progress I’ve encountered at Annecy 2020 Online edition, I can see three categories:
The top projects, or the ones who got the most visibility come from big, well-known names. For example: ‘over the moon’ by Glen Keane in connection with Netflix. They are on the top of the list because people are expecting them, everybody has heard of them. Visibility comes easily; they just need to dump the content somewhere. It is easy content to market because it’s big and it’s effective because people recommend and talk about it.
Then there are smaller projects, the ones which are not at the top of the viewing charts and have had little impact or outreach. The producers aren’t doing anything; the filmmakers aren’t doing any promotion and just expecting that things will happen. But even if you are lucky to be selected at a top festival like Annecy, and especially now, when all the content is online, it is really hard to get noticed. It is almost like they don’t exist at all.
Finally, there are projects, not completely unknown, but small, independent, with a big following. They had many views and are relatively successful because they created a lot of social media content around the project. Facebook, Twitter, and then a lot of conventional press. But the marketing is mostly community based: constantly and consistently engaging with social media, reminding the community that it is available to watch and targeting content consumers and press.
So, in summary, my main advice when you are developing a project and trying to get some exposure, is to really consider marketing. In Annecy Online, we had more than 500 videos available at the same time for 15 days. So in terms of content, it was huge volume, and like any other platform like Netflix for example, you would go to the first thing people are talking about, probably a big name. After that, you would dig around and look for something you’ve heard about.
MK: Can you share an example for a work-in-progress which was a success and falls into this third category you describe?
AM: My love affair with marriage by Signe Bauman is a small, low budget independent production with an enthusiastic community around it. It is a feature film. Like you know, when starting a project there is a lot of artworks and content you can share, artworks which create an interest. Signe started very early by launching a Kickstarter campaign 4 years ago and so raised some money for the film as well as constantly creating materials for social media. For many months she engaged by telling people that “now we recorded voices”, “meet our interns”, “now we are painting”, now this, now that and always posting images. So by the time she comes to present the finished project, a lot of people already heard about it and know about it.
MK: Don’t you think that projects can get old, though? Like sharing a work in progress very early on, and then having to share it again and again? Similar concerns arise with regards to the different pitching forums. If you pitch a project too soon, there’s a danger of it becoming “old news”.
AM: Yes, I agree. Which is why you need a strategy and a plan for distribution from the start. Possibly, it is about finding the right partners. This is why work-in-progress and pitching meetings are so important – to meet the right people who know how to make the most of your publicity.
MK: Traditionally, Annecy offers carefully curated programmes, how did it work with the online platform?
AM: We only have a general statistics and have yet had our debriefing and data come in, but it seems that people were drawn to the first film in the compilation and then jumped around rather than viewing them in sequence as one would in a physical event, in a theatrical programme. This puts more emphasis on marketing and product awareness.
MK: I feel that this puts independent filmmakers in a new position. Even with a project in early development; your insights pinpoint the need for a strategy, a marketing strategy from the very start. And that filmmakers should consider this aspect as a part of their work, because in order to get the kind of exposure which allows for opportunities, obviously you need to build a buzz around a project. And I don’t think a lot of us have those skills. But the production companies we’re associated with should definitely focus on this aspect more.
AM: I think that when you come to a festival and you are there in person, perhaps our presence makes a big difference for networking and exposure, for discovering new opportunities. But when we are all working remote or online, then it all becomes very intangible.
MK: So besides advising us to have a marketing strategy and build a community around our project, what can festivals do to support filmmakers?
AM: I think festivals can put more focus on the curation and making the content accessible and easy to find. We need to share information with filmmakers. Give them resources so they can make the most of the publicity opportunity. We need to understand that an online event is very different than a physical one and communicate what works and what does not.
MK: Knowing that online meetings don’t substitute for real physical meetings, how can an online platform like Annecy have an advantage? What kind of advice would you give to filmmakers who want to make the most of the opportunity for online meetings?
AM: The advantage is that the online accreditation was cheap and easy and many different people, also people from outside could be exposed. The thing is, I’m really not a fan of online meetings and I’m not confident for young artists. The competition for online visibility is terrible. When you aren’t physically at a festival, you are not really as open to opportunities or less likely to come across a person, or content which you were not previously aware of. You need to be really very good at social media campaigning, very active to get noticed online.
MK: What do you think worked about this first edition of your Annecy online and what do you think maybe you would consider doing differently? Hopefully you’ll have a physical edition next year but I guess that in the future there’ll be more online content than in previous years and that film festivals and markets are changing.
AM: Yes, people are watching more content online and they are accepting the change in the festival life. I will say that we do not have the official numbers yet, but we had more than 60,000 accreditations this year; much more than we can take in a normal year. Also the demographics are broader – more representation from around the globe. These are all very positive shifts. There is a bigger distance, but also removal of borders.
MK: Thank you for taking the time, so soon after the festival is over.
4.2.2 Prof. Ulrich Wegenast, Managing Director, Film-und Medienfestival gGmbH, DE
Ulrich Wegenast, has been the artistic director of the Stuttgart Festival of Animated Film (ITFS) since 2005. Founder of Stuttgart Filmwinter – a festival for experimental film and media art, he is a scholar, curator, and key cultural figure in the media arts.
MK: So your ITFS festival was one of the first to have to adapt to the COVID pandemic restrictions and delivered a fully online festival. It certainly was the first of the big animation festivals. How do you think it went and what is the situation now for your festival and for your line of work?
UW: There are many big changes at ITFS. In a way to the good, where some things have gotten better, but also to the bad. In terms of finances it is complex; financing of cultural events is becoming, indeed, worse. Of course the whole situation with festivals everywhere and financing cultural events is more insecure than before.
MK: What would you say became better?
UW: I think the way we use the digital media with the festival, the way we communicate. It is better that we are not traveling all the time around the globe. On the one hand, it’s nice to meet all the people in person. But on the other hand, we are more efficient in the business and have fewer unnecessary meetings. A lot more is done by phone. Shorter, more frequent online meetings are effective and save time, allowing you to concentrate on the real personal meetings. So that’s the good thing I would say.
Our recent festival was online. It was a lot of work, and we learned a lot in the process, being the first, we made a lot of mistakes, but finally it was fun. There was a really great energy to create new formats to mediate animation culture.
MK: And in the future?
UW: From now, in these new times, we might be forced to run the festival at the same time as an online event. We hope that we will have a kind of a hybrid, to keep people interested, though the energy of personal meetings is lacking. People are getting fed-up with the digital festivals. It’s hard to concentrate. We need to find ways around that.
Hybrid is challenging because you still need a team on the ground. Hosting etc. Equipment. And the digital requires a different kind of team, to build a platform. It is difficult to run it in parallel without the means.
MK: What do you think about the shift to online festivals from the perspective of a filmmaker?
UW: Festivals are the place to meet the people you know, but it’s mainly about meeting people you don’t know. Digital communication is always more difficult, especially when you meet for the first time. But we do what we can to support this because this is kind of our new normal, even if we run hybrid events.
MK: So, how do we support filmmakers and creators in this new environment?
UW: Most of the important talks take place before and after the official presentation, so we should create a space for gathering. Indeed, let’s meet together online, but I really think that a space in necessary. So therefore, where we run this conference about spatial communication [Raumwelten: Platform for Scenography, Architecture, and Media in Ludwigsburg] we hope to be able to implement some results.
We are building new platforms for hybrid and virtual meeting spaces.
MK: How do we help create a new culture around this requirement for content?
UW: I think that’s the job of the festival to create a companion campaign to create awareness, and visibility. Sure, you need the visuals, but the only thing we really asked for was for was master classes online and introduction videos to show before the screening.
It’s normal to have trailers and excerpts from the film for promotion. But we have to maintain the corporate identity and corporate design. It has always been the task of the festival to create the visual framework to present the artistic work. It used to be that a filmmaker just sent a press-kit, with some photos, articles, excerpts. I think what was new at our festival this year was this little introduction for each film which was like a substitute for the people being present at the screening. That was really nice.
Somehow, these small films were more intense, more personal and more interesting because of the variety. The material they produced was really fascinating in terms of research. You saw the studio or had access to the process and documentation. I think it was particularly interesting for students as well as the normal audience, the general public. We didn’t oblige people to do it. We had about 250 films on the online platform, etc. And I think 40% of the people provided some videos. Especially for the competitions, approximately 70% of the people submitted something. And that was really nice. I still watch them, and it’s special because you don’t have the chance to meet every artist in their studios, in Norway or Indonesia, to see the context and that was really inspiring. So maybe this is one of the advantages now of our online.
MK: Obviously there is added value, but we still miss the personal meetings. What are your conclusions, and expectations, in leading up to the coming years?
UW: I’m enthusiastic and critical at the same time. There are the advantages of the new: artists, animators, musicians, have always developed in times of crisis. But culture is being threatened. By nationalism, by borders. By putting us into boxes. Animation has always been about the exchange between the different spheres, different cultures, disciplines, and also social spheres. I think our team has been energised, we had some criticism over the last edition, but I think it’s a part of being at the forefront. The important thing is that we are adapting to a change and taking responsibility.
4.2.3 Annette Schindler, Festival Director, Fantoche, CH
In 2012, Annette Schindler was appointed as the artistic director of Fantoche. In 2013 she became the festival director. Annette Schindler has established her reputation as director, initiator, and co-founder of several prominent institutions and festivals. In 2010, the Federal Office of Culture honoured Annette Schindler with the Swiss Art Award Prix Meret Oppenheim.
MK: Fantoche 2020 was a milestone festival, right? You actually had physical event and audiences in cinemas. I wanted to hear your impressions of your festival, specifically looking into how independent animation filmmakers and festivals are adapting to a new online or hybrid festival – though I expect that by now the conversation is changing a little bit.
AS: Yes, amazingly, even filmmakers and guests from other countries could come here; though some of them had to go into quarantine on their way back. They said that for them it was worth it because it was an opportunity to see their film on a big screen with audience, which is almost not possible anymore. It’s crazy. Sometimes I can’t believe that Fantoche actually could take place physically, it was kind of like a glitch in the system, or a nostalgic moment. It doesn’t look like we will be able to go back to that at any point soon.
MK: I feel that now, in October 2020, as opposed to the beginning of the COVID pandemic, adapting to online, or hybrid festivals, is not so much about identifying the challenges, because the challenges have become very obvious, but more about what solutions we offer. How do we change the culture around our present situation? For example, how do we present ourselves? How we monetize our work, or understand the impact?
AS: We did have a hybrid festival, some of the programmes were offered online, but they were geo-blocked. That’s because the filmmakers didn’t want to have them open. Some filmmakers from international competition did not want their film to go into this online offer, so we had to take a few of the films out. Obviously, some filmmakers make work for the big screen and not for online consumption.
MK: But maybe that needs to change?
AS: I wonder – does it need to change in the sense that the filmmakers should become more open to provide you online access to their film, assuming the ‘rules and regulations’, like eligibility criteria, premiere status, are accommodating. Or do we have to have more clear concepts of how ‘rules and regulations’ function for which kind of film career. Already before Corona there was a whole world of online animation films that never even bothered to apply for the festivals. For them it was like “our world is online, and we access our audience online – we don’t need these festivals anymore”. And maybe the fact that the system is changing, is a good time to re-evaluate.
MK: I’ve been talking to a lot of filmmakers, but I’m interested in your opinions as a film festival director – how do we understand or measure the impact of our films? When we show work at a physical festival we have reactions from the audience, or people come and talk to us. But online it’s really difficult to gauge.
AS: This question is also relevant in a broader sense: What is the festival’s role in general and what they can do to facilitate, not only impact but also knowledge?
It’s a question I put to my communications department. For example, I want to see if there is any correlation: if we have posters in Bern, do we then sell more tickets in Bern? Can we see any correlation? If we can see a correlation, what does it mean?
You could ask a similar question for filmmaker: So when you show your film on a big screen, at a physical festival, let’s be honest – the audience is not so big. They get to see the full quality and everything, but the number of people is small and now it’s reduced even more. So these happy few, they get to have the benefit of the quality, and perhaps engage in a discussion with the filmmaker. But what is the correlation to the film’s success and outreach? I think it comes down to a few private individuals, for example, the jury. When we show them films we hope that they act as multipliers. And that the film will be selected in other festivals and thanks to these individuals, be curated in other programmes, shown in other places, expand their trip – raising the chances of receiving awards, getting something back, also financially, hopefully. So, even though I don’t think you can really measure it, this is one of the benefits a festival offers.
MK: That’s kind of the classic way, how does it work online?
AS: The percentage of professional audience that can be a multiplier is bigger at a physical festival than online. Online, you’ll have a relatively larger amount of general–public audience. Maybe you get lucky that someone in a multiplier position gets to see your film, but it’s less likely if it is online with no festival connection. Like on Vimeo or YouTube. At a festival, we make sure that an important relevant group of professionals gets to see your work. Would it be possible to transfer that online?
MK: Maybe that changes the position of the festival from outlet or event to a kind of distribution platform? It’s kind of the work of the distributor, no?
AS: I just wonder if the traditional work of the festival is changing, now that travel is getting more and more difficult, maybe the question now is how do we change our work? Can we replace the social aspect of the festival with online activities?
We tried to do it with artist presentations; we try to do it with our artist’s brunch and other events online, like Q&A. But it can also be a little frustrating, because the films themselves were geo-blocked.
MK: Where do we go next? How do we start conversations about being proactive?
AS: For one thing, we need to look at our festival budgets differently. If we’re planning for hybrid, it needs to be the best of both worlds. There needs to be a different kind of hospitality, which could be a fee if travel is not possible. We do pay fees for all the curated programs. But we don’t pay fees for competition, and I wonder if that’s not bit old fashioned now.
MK: A fee doesn’t replace recognition and more opportunities to show the film at other festivals, but honestly, filmmakers are doing a lot online and I’m not sure that they should agree to participate without having some actual, financial benefits from that. Personally, I have always enjoyed success at animation festivals. I love and value animation festivals and I know everyone is struggling to survive or find their way right now, but lots of filmmakers are feeling the sting of losing jobs. Many, as in other sectors, are lonely, unrewarded and disconnected from their community. We should do something to fortify each other’s confidence, there’s a new reality here and we want to play a bigger part in shaping the future.
AS: Can you say what is important for filmmakers, what would they would they like to have? There should be a proper fee for a masterclass, but are there more ways to be acknowledged for your work?
Like having discussions with other people about your work, these things are very meaningful and we need to take into account how we do that. Maybe we curate smaller programs and connect between the filmmakers in the same program, bring people together to discuss each other’s films?
One thing I’ve been carrying around in my mind for a while, in connection with this, is an arts magazine here in Switzerland. Do you think it could be helpful for a filmmaker, to have a substantial text about your film?
MK: But that is also a financial consideration, right?
I think we need to look around and see what works in other models. For example, we could also look to see what solutions educators are exploring to encourage closeness for example, mitigating a set curriculum to work with smaller groups.
AS: Yes, the smaller format has proved to be useful in these times. Fantoche is relatively small, so it was possible to hold a festival, unlike like the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland. It was too big. They couldn’t hold the festival, they reduced the size of it to the size of Fantoche. They did go hybrid and stuff like that, but it felt to me like it’s really a question of size. If you can manoeuvre to have a controllable size, then it might be possible to have some of the same interaction. So that really confirms what you’re saying to that we have to gear towards smaller groups – someone was saying, physical distancing social closeness.
Yes, it will take time to build a new culture around the festivals. I think that maybe creating events that are accessible, smaller events that are more accessible to the general public, while weaving in the professionals, that’s maybe the way to go.
4.3 Distribution and Professional Training
4.3.1 Gabriele Brunnenmeyer, Pitching Coach, Baltic pitching Forum, DE
Gabriele Brunnenmeyer is a script mentor, project consultant, and pitching coach. She has been an artistic advisor for the Maia Workshops, developing events including Connecting Cottbus, IDM Film Conference Incontri, and currently MDM’s Meet Your Neighbour in Leipzig. Alongside consulting on script development, packaging, and pitching for individual projects, she consults for the First Films First script development programme, Kuratorium junger deutscher Film, MIDPOINT Feature Launch, interfilm Script Pitch, Berlinale and Sarajevo Talents, Baltic Pitching Forum, FilmProSeriesEA, among many others.
As part of her talk at the Baltic pitching Forum, Gabriele shared advice and tips for pitching. At the end of her lecture, we had the opportunity to ask some questions:
MK: What are the big challenges or differences between online and offline pitching? What tips can you share specifically for online pitches?
GB: One of the big challenges or difference between online and in-person pitching is that in the online situation, people don’t see so much of you, they just take in your face, and they just have your backgrounds. So the first tip concerns these backgrounds: give a glimpse of the room you are in. Make sure it gives added value to your presentation, that it is interesting and relevant to your pitch. But not artificial. It should feel natural, as people are now used getting a sneak peek into intimate spaces. When you do your presentation whatever is behind you want to make sure that the atmosphere underlines who you are and the atmosphere of your film.
If you are two people or more, on a stage you would have eye contact, exchange body language, in an online pitch, you should be very clear about your roles and defining them. A project will be judged according to the team dynamic, so keep that in mind. Your relationship and how it is represented is important.
What is also important is that normally you should show a lot of visuals: and when you’re in the live situation you have visuals behind you. But when you share screen, your face is very small and minimised. Be careful to go back and forth between these modes. It gets boring with just a screen share image and hard to get a good connection with the project. Just find the right moment that people maybe first get used to you, and then go in the visual world, guided by your voice. And in the end, they have to be with you again – and you should express how it’s best to be in touch with you, how to proceed and follow up.
Ultimately you aim to have follow-up meetings and this is as important as the pitch itself. You really must have a clear strategy towards the people who will talk to you. A part of the pitch development process is to do your homework: take your time to find out who are the interesting to, relevant people to talk to about your project. It helps to be prepared.
After the pitching, take your time to follow up on that. Inquire about deadlines, when you should write an email to follow up. Is it in six months, or two weeks? It’s good to have a time frame to avoid frustration or misunderstanding. Establish what is the best way to maintain contact with this person: maybe it is a direct email or through an agent.
MK: Thank you very much for these tips. Any advice as to how do we gauge the impact of our pitch online? How is this information tracked? And how can we use it?
GB: Obviously, offline, you feel it in the room. Either people are waiting to talk to you, or they are escaping. Getting an audience or panel to ask questions is a good way of demonstrating impact.
This is difficult online. You really want to get a one-on-one meeting, so make sure you talk to the right people. Online, it’s very hard to tell whether people react in a positive way to your pitch. This is a very big difference between pitching in–person or online. But remember that at the end of the day, you only need that one or two people who can help you push your project forward.
Festivals and platforms are very careful about sharing data. Sometimes you don’t even know who, or which organizations are listening to your presentation. You just see the numbers, maybe, if you ask. I guess it is about asking for the information. Usually, you wait to be approached. You put your information on the catalogue or programme, and if someone wants to contact you, they will. But now, with online registrations etc., every festival is doing it differently. We still don’t know.
MK: What about pitching videos – like pre-recorded mini film presentations? What do you think about that as a pitching tool?
GB: This is an interesting format for a crowdfunding campaign. But you really need to know your audience. It doesn’t really work in a frontal pitch in a conventional pitching forum, even online. But there are many new, interesting models coming up on the fine line between art and self-promotion. The thing is, even if you make the most beautiful short excerpt pitch, but if you don’t know who will see it, it will not help you.
MK: Thank you very much.
4.3.2 Sophie St Pierre, Communications Officer, Mingotwo publicity, CA
Sophie St Pierre works as a Communications Officer and works with a variety of clients in the arts and culture sector. Mingotwo communications and publicity accompanies and promotes projects in various stages of development. Working chiefly in the film and cultural sectors, Mingotwo Communications also puts its expertise to good use with clients in the TV, digital, and new media industries.
MK: How has COVID changed or affected your work as a publicist, considering that you represent films, film festivals, and VR projects?
SSP: It changed a lot, because there are less journalists, less space for culture in the newspapers. There is the same number of projects for fewer journalists who, in turn, can provide less coverage. Many media outlets have been closed, which means we need to work harder for visibility.
We usually would be on-site. At a big festival – arranging one-on-one interviews would have been easier. Online, we have no ‘interview days’ where we would have a line-up of journalists and a line- up of projects. So scheduling is hard. Coordination and time zones and navigating availability is harder.
MK: I gather that a big aspect of your work is ‘matchmaking’, as in matching content to outlet. Can you say something about that and how your work has adapted?
SSP: Matchmaking is definitely important. To know who likes what kind of content, which outlet has an audience for the project we represent. The adaptation to online is only that we lack the personal touch. When you go to a festival, the contact is more natural.
MK: How would you prepare filmmakers to respond to the changing needs of publicity in times of COVID?
SSP: Festivals and journalists are asking for a lot more content from creators. A lot more pre-prepared videos to show as part of the programme. But this is the new normal. Visuals. Lots of visuals for social media. I’d suggest that a press-kit includes a lot of photos. And besides a trailer, that the filmmaker make a longer format, like a walkthrough of the project. So journalists can cut and edit different content. Zoom interviews are getting boring, journalists need more visuals to work with, so filmmakers should be more prepared. This additional work should be part of the process and taken into account from the beginning of a project.
4.3.3 Luce Grosjean, Head of MIYU Distribution, FR
Film producer and distributor Luce Grosjean holds an HND in audiovisual techniques and a degree in production management. In 2014, she founded Séve Films, a distribution company focused on promotion of student films in animation festivals and on young talents. In 2017, she associated with Miyu Productions and together they established Miyu Distribution, specialized in distribution at festivals and international sales. Her distribution catalogue includes, among others, short films Average Happiness (2019) and Daughter (2019).
MK: Independent animation filmmakers have always had to navigate a shifting festival culture; can you tell us why animation festivals are so important in the first place?
LG: From my perspective as a distributor – I can say why I think it is important for directors to personally attend festivals in the first place. Of course, it depends on what kind project you are releasing, and what you are expecting in the next steps of your professional life: Whether it is a graduation film, or a showcase of your skills, or interesting financial partners in your next project.
A festival is a place to connect and get the attention of all the right people, all the contacts you need for your professional career, in one place: an intense week or so, where you will see a lot of things and meet a lot of people who can help you.
Festivals are all different and depending on what you hope to achieve, you need to make a target, or a strategy. “A list” festivals (Cannes, Berlin, Venice) are very big, very prestigious, they are interesting for many people, because they are so picky, demanding a world premiere and get a lot of press. You can find a certain kind of attention for your work, especially if you get an award.
Then you have ‘National’ film festivals, where you will meet decision makers and this will help you reach the programmers, who will programme your film in other festivals. These are also the festivals who usually have markets. Where people will be most likely offered a job, or get recruited.
Then there are the small, specialised festivals. Where the festival makes sure you will meet the friendliest people who can help you. It is where real personal connections are made, where the community gathers. Because they have good programming, because they give you opportunities to do workshops, talks, to dine with people.
You have to make decisions and priorities based on the kind of attention you need for making your next project and ensuring the best distribution for your work.
MK: Yes, this is the kind of festival magic we sadly miss now when everything is closed because of COVID and offered online instead. What next?
LG: Ahh, it will come back. But things have changed. I think it is important not to try and reproduce the festival in an online format, but to understand that this is something new.
It is a difficult time for directors and distributors and for festival directors as well – but it is now their job, and the job of the press, to make sure that there is a spotlight on the work and on a focus on the director. They should ensure that great, professional people, who can really help you to make your next project, will be watching and participating online.
MK: What can what can you do as a distributor, to make sure that the films that you represent get the attention they need?
LG: I think it could be really interesting to see the number of viewers. The number of views is a good indication. Another thing is having good, interesting press coverage; nice articles, texts which follow the journey of the work.
MK: You are often invited to be on the jury of film festivals, how is your viewing affected by the online festival format?
LG: I was recently on the feature film jury of Anifilm (CZ), I was there in person, watching films in the cinema theatre, but the other jury members were online, from the US and Canada.
Interestingly, the films which were outstanding, worked well no matter whether they were viewed online or on a big screen. Maybe for the boring films, or very slow ones, online is a disadvantage. But for the really good ones, it doesn’t matter. A wonderful film will stand out and stay with you. This is also my experience from being on the jury for shorts and documentaries in Nice. Watching on the computer screen isn’t the same pleasure, but it was a reassuring discovery that all the jury agreed.
MK: What advice would you have for an independent filmmaker, perhaps one without a proper distribution company behind them, who are making their distribution strategy for a newly released film?
LG: I’d go back to the fundamental question and have them ask what kind of distribution they want for this project and why?
Will you be happy to put it online; are you ready to share it this way? What is the motivation? Perhaps it is to get exposure, to attract freelance work?
You need to be prepared to represent your film. Be super careful to have the right images in advance, be precise in your texts, and make a keen presentation. Be prepared to have to work on social media. Yes, it can be a lot of work, but imagine it is time you would be spending traveling.
Many directors don’t like to do the marketing and distribution themselves. They think it is ‘dirty’ or they loathe the self-promotion. But this is the way to get noticed.
And it can be super creative. A lot of directors are doing the distribution and marketing themselves. Instagram is a very good platform for getting jobs in animation; ad agencies love a clean, appealing Instagram. Maybe young directors have a better grasp of how the creative life of a project is a part of its life online anyway.
So my advice is, don’t just make careless videos on your phone, build the film’s identity, and take good care of the content that wraps your film and makes it appealing online. You can be professional at this too if you consider that it is a part of the creative process.
MK: Thank you very much for your time and consideration.
Interviews by Vassilis Kroustallis, edited by Michelle Kranot
4.4.1 Simon Rouby Interview
Born in 1980, Simon Rouby learned to paint the hard way, that is to say: with a spray can. He then went on to study Animation at the famed Gobelins school in Paris as well as Calarts in Los Angeles. Adama, his first feature film was nominated for the Cesar and European Film Awards in 2015 and then went on to be projected in over 100 countries around the world, winning over 10 prizes. In 2017, he was awarded a one year fellowship at the French Academy of Villa Medici in Rome where he developed a new body of work using video installation. He will be a resident at Villa Kujoyama in Kyoto in 2021. Link: simonrouby.com
VK: If you were to turn the clock back to the first day of lockdown in March 2020, where would you find yourself?
SR: I would be exactly where I am now, in Southern France. I had a show and a video installation that was supposed to open the exact day of the confinement (16 March). So, all days prior to the confinement, I was preparing the show in Amiens. It was cancelled 40h before the event. I fled back to the country; I spent what I thought would be only a week, but it ended being 12 weeks altogether.
The show was postponed, and it opened eventually on 1st June – but there was no opening, no event. I only went there last week – six months later.
VK: Was it attended under the circumstances?
SR: I think it was attended, since they made it last twice as long than it was originally intended to last (2 months). If they hadn’t done that, nobody would have seen it. And most of the time, the exhibition space was closed. All institutional and educational visits, masterclasses, screenings, a collateral 3D events etc. were cancelled.
VK: So, do you consider yourself a victim of this situation?
SR: I think I was lucky altogether. In the beginning, there were a few disappointments. I was supposed to go to Kyoto, Japan on 1st April for a 3-month residency at Villa Kujoyama; this is a French residency place in Japan. After those being cancelled, I felt that nothing was really going to work out. But I was lucky to have other projects (also postponed, but still maintained). I also participated in a Paris project that was really built through confinement. That was an unexpected project that the Pompidou Centre, the Museum of Modern Arts put together. They invited us during July; this would have never happened without the confinement.
VK: What was the nature of this project, and your own participation?
SR: Since all those buildings and museums were empty during confinement, and all their programmes were cancelled, the head of those institutions talked to each other; they tried to organize a guerrilla, plan B project that would fit the situation. So, instead of having their summer programmes, they put artists in residency instead. They created this residency from scratch; we heard about it in May, and it was implemented in June and July. It was really last-minute: in French it is called ‘moyen du bord’, which means it ‘do it with the means you have on board’. It had some funding, and it was quite prestigious; but I would never have been a part of it if there was no COVID-19.
The proposal was a bit blurry: there’s a space in Paris called la Grande Halle de la Villette, a huge warehouse. Eight artists including myself shared this space; and they put their technical teams with us. So, they said it was a studio space for us, but at the same time, they wanted to have public in there. So, every Thursday, Friday and Saturday and Sunday evenings it was open to the public (obviously with restrictions in place). So, people would walk to your studio space, and they see you at work. But every artist knows that when the public comes in, you can’t be just sitting there on your computer, you have to prepare. They didn’t force us, but obviously the situation was we that we ourselves curated the programming. For five weeks in a row, we ended up creating events during the weekends. We shot a video installation live with the public, and afterwards you could see the opening of the video that was shot the week before. We created a masterclass, and invited a number of people to talk about the project. It was never really a studio space for us; it was more like a platform to show work.
Everybody was tagged “a contemporary artist”; I’ve made a few animation films, but I’m also working on the field of contemporary art – even though my practice is similar, but the output is different. I still appeared on their radar only five years ago with Adama. They didn’t invite me because of the Adama film, though. It was more about video installations and performances I did as well.
VK: How did you feel about this new audience coming? Were they timid to approach you?
SR: They were fewer people, there was less of an ability to communicate because of the mask. The fact is that it was a very contemporary art space in the premises of a very mundane space and a park; you had families walking to a park and then walking suddenly to view very contemporary art. Some people were confused; but it was a good thing. It shook them a little, but at the same time it created the impression of there’s something there and I want to visit – whatever it is, because there are few proposals. They were not necessarily the type of crowd that would actually visit this event. So I think that events became scarce, created a new type of crowd.
VK: Suppose you had the means to create a video installation online, would you entertain this possibility?
SR: I’m working remotely with a US artist, Onye Ozuzu, the Dean of the University of Florida. She’s an American/Nigerian, and she comes from the dance field. I already worked with her last year; I would fly back and forth to Chicago, something that’s not very environmentally friendly. I had already told her that for this new project I’m not going to fly that often, let’s try to do it remotely. And then obviously everything happened, so there was no other choice.
So, the project involves visiting three places: one in France, one in Nigeria and the third one in Florida. The purpose was to document these places and create a situation where all these places would be one – thanks to digital tools, such as 3D scanning or video. So, we were trying to do that, and it’s not easy. Last week she was in Savannah on-site. Normally I would have flown to Savannah to meet her. She’s now there, videocalling me on WhatsApp, and sending me a lot of photos. And I’m trying to get an idea myself, through this data transfer. We obviously talk on Zoom; it’s a struggle also because of 6-7 hour time difference. I’m trying to do something online, but for the most part she’s now doing it herself, and I need to follow. The kind of collaboration we used to have is not there yet.
VK: In your Adama film, I recall that you had to set a whole studio at the Reunion Island. So, the notion of a common space is very important to you.
SR: I was really trying to avoid the French/ European type of co-production: three different regions within France, and then three different countries involved, so that everyone does a percentage of the film. I was really trying to avoid that. I wanted to create a situation where everyone is within four walls, and information flows naturally, and nothing happens out of them. I’m attached at having people in front of me.
VK: What about your Pangea feature animation project in development?
SR: It’s in development. For this project, the confinement helped, for I managed to write the script during the lockdown. I just sat and wrote, which was convenient. I was lucky: I just switched into something that I was supposed to be doing, and had previously a hard time focusing on.
VK: Many people mentioned that they actually had to work harder during the lockdown. Did it actually occur to you that you would be working harder than usual?
SR: During the lockdown, I felt more relaxed, and peaceful; I felt I was able to focus more on one thing at a time. I was very efficient, and there was not a constant bombardment of new information. But what you describe I’m experiencing it right now; in September and October, everyone was hoping that the situation would go back to normal (but it’s not). So, a lot of things had been postponed and organized during the last few weeks up to upcoming November. But now the constraints came back on top of something that was already planned. Now I feel I’m really swimming upstream in a river; everything is so much more difficult. You have an event and you prepare everything, and 40 hours before, the event is cancelled or changes time. The usual day-to-day problems before COVID, they are still here; they add up, and people are stressed and become aggressive. Now, I feel I have to work twice as much for the same result.
VK: Do you actually feel you have to attend online as many things as you could?
SR: I was trying to attend Annecy and there was a bunch of things I signed up for, but I didn’t attend in the end. I have a hard time focusing my attention to something that’s happening remotely. I travel a lot and so much and on so many different projects; so I’m parachuting myself to different places and, once I’m there, my brain switches to this or that project. So, that doesn’t apply really well. I haven’t seen any new films since March; now I have to adjust, since this is not going to be away any time soon.
VK: But suppose that the Adama film had to be released in 2020, and you had to face this situation yourself? Or perhaps your Pangea film has this fate? What would be your conditions?
SR: I think I would want it to be streamed online as much as possible. I think I would hope for it to be on a big platform; that would be the only solution, otherwise I would be disappointed. I remember when I finished Adama, I needed to go on the road with the film; I needed to see the reaction of the people. You work for 6 or 7 years for something; and when it’s over, you need to read into people’s eyes, and see their reactions about the film. But Adama is still screened now, in association with the French Institute. Festivals still try to have directors ‘attend’ online and participate in Q&A screenings.
I’m attached to space, and really attached to the confrontation of the audience with the project image. Pangea is already a video installation (this was supposed to open in March). I like retro-projections, where people can show themselves on the screen without casting shadows. It’s a version of cinema. For me it’s still cinema, but it’s not the version with the rectangular/perpendicular screen; it’s kind of an immersive cinema or VR cinema without goggles. Lots of the video installations I’ve been doing are in-situ. I would film something, and I would then project it exactly where I have filmed it. If a film somebody’s hugging a tree, then I re-project that on 1:1 scale on a tree, and you feel like a ghost is here.
The feature film format was built around the theatre format, the idea of going somewhere and instead of watching the stage, you’d watch the screen. Also the duration meets the experience you have in these kinds of rooms. I was never really excited to see my film on Amazon, even though I watch films online. I am more attached to space.
Putting it online, it may add to the number of people watching it. But there’s a distinction between the amount of the people and the quality of the experience. Especially with young audience, when you say a screening that has a workshop or at least a talk afterwards (apart from the film itself), the impact on the children is stronger; they will keep something out of it as opposed to projecting to this magma of stream that comes all the time on their phone; it’s another image amongst TikTok and Instagram. Your film becomes another instilled image that comes into this big river and stream. Nowadays, with the multiplication of online proposals, the big thing at stake (even for big platforms) is our attention. Everyone is vying for our attention; they’re trying to put things in front of our eyes through our smartphones.
So, I think it’s about creating a situation where the attention of someone will focus on one thing at a time.
SR: For the festivals, it made it difficult to curate. I worked on the film called Flee; we heard it was in Cannes. I guess the Cannes label creates attention. When I travelled with Adama to some festivals, you would see that the film screening with the Cannes label would be packed – just because of the label. Vimeo has its own Staff Pick; it’s just a label, but makes you want to watch it. Within these millions of videos uploaded every day, you are guaranteed it is content and not just noise. There’s so much noise in these data. It’s not just somebody filming the floor and talking all over it.
Cannes (and also Annecy) have all this glamorous role of networking and meeting the people you know but you never see them anywhere else. Now that the festivals lose this role of being able to gather people at one place, I think they probably lose a lot of their power. So the big winners here are the platforms, as usual. They could just create their own labels, and that’s what they’re doing, actually.
VK: Would you like the festivals to survive out of this?
SR: The vast majority of festivals are family-scaled. That’s what you find out when you have your film screened in, say, 200 festivals, and you have to attend. There are always 3 or 4 A-class festivals; but in all other cases, you just show up and there are 5 very passionate people that you meet at the restaurant, and then they exhaust themselves for a week, and they rest for three days or weeks afterwards. That’s the vast majority of festivals. And I think that these are really the groundwork; they would work with the local schools, and they would bring the students (like the Meknes Int’nl Animated Film Festival in Morocco). I think they should adapt; I really hope things would go back to a sort of normal – so they could operate the way they were. But if this state of things continues, I don’t know how these particular ones would function.
VK: Did you have any bad festival experience?
SR: The screenings that happened are related to the French Institute; within France, the screenings are related to the school system.
VK: What happened in those educational screenings?
SR: I went physically; I had two of them last week. The one was organized by AFCA. They are not very well attended. They make them happen with all necessary masks, antiseptic, but people are not showing up. There were students being taken with their class, depending on the motivation of their teachers.
VK: Did your script idea for Pangea change because of the lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic?
SR: Two things. The story itself was influenced by what happens in the world. It’s a coming-of-age tale, as Adama is, but it has a lot of ecology in it – even between the lines. That was already my theme: Pangea is this super-continent, mirroring the result of globalization; the fact that the virus shows up in December in China, and spreads everywhere in the world also showed me that my subject matter is relevant. But it also helped in writing by being confined in a good way.
My problem is not to be disturbed; I did a lot of residencies during the last five years, and this is what I was looking for. So that everybody in my surroundings understands that I’m not available. I went up to getting a residency in Antarctica in 2018. I was there and there was no phone or Internet for five months. So, I was not afraid of being isolated, because I had already isolated myself for five months. It’s like going to the moon. That helps me a lot, to switch times. As soon as lockdown started, time started flowing differently. The cycle of night and day, the duration of the day, the duration of an hour. That’s the kind of time I’m trying to access when I write. Not knowing what the day of the week is, helps ideas really blossom. That helped me, and I don’t think I’m the only one.
I’m working with MIYU productions, and Emmanuel-Alain Raynal told me that all the artists who have projects in development are blasting ideas right now. It’s going to the next level. The acceleration and the flow of information during those last few years has been so dramatic that it would actually beneficial to having this aspect of life. Not able to have your phone ringing all day, that helped people a lot. But then you’d have to be lucky to sustain yourself during this period.
VK: We’re several months into this situation. Let’s the move the time clock into 2050. You have a young filmmaker who hasn’t experienced this kind of situation, and yet this COVID thing happens again. What would be the lesson learned and your own advice to him?
SR: The young generation people are more and more swallowed into this digital world. Any time, night or day, the smartphones are active; they are totally addicted to it. To a parent, that’s quite scary. And I think that all the so-called algorithms are made to create an addiction, so that you can spend more and more time on this. So, I think my advice would be to enjoy life as we knew it when we were young. We knew the world before that, and they didn’t. Right now, it’s the Middle Age of these algorithms; they are very aggressive and not very healthy.
In the 70s, when you were watching sci-fi, the future was always very technological, holograms etc. But now if you really look into what the future is like, it might not be that technological. Maybe we should learn about animal traction or something that’s very unplugged. I come from the village where all the elders knew how to do these farmer’s chores (gardening), but I didn’t. Pre-technological and pre-Internet. I learned the alphabet in the keyboard order, because my father worked in the computer department. So, it comes naturally to me to use technology, that’s why the lockdown gave me a little bit of detox. I hope that by then the online algorithms will be less aggressive on the kids.
4.4.2 Anca Damian Interview
Anca Damian studied at the Academy of Theatre and Film Arts where she obtained a diploma in Cinematography and a Doctor’s degree in Arts, Cinema and Media. She is known for her animation feature films: Director, screenwriter and producer, “Crulic – The Path to Beyond” (2012), “The Magic Mountain” (2015). Her newest animation feature, “Marona’s Fantastic Tale” was nominated at the European Film Awards. Link: apartefilm.net
VK: In March 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, your feature animation project The Island was presented as ‘project in production’ at CARTOON Movie, the last of the major animation events to take place physically in 2020. What were the challenges you faced during the lockdown?
AD: I became like my main character Robinson Crusoe. We had to deal with a lot during the lockdown. We tried to continue to work remotely, even though we were in production already. As I am also a producer for my films, I take many risks. I entered the production without having 100% financing in place, which usually is not done by other producers, especially in France. And obviously it became a slower process to put it into place during the pandemic.
This crazy, unimaginable kind of film and musical was so difficult to finance, even at the script level. So our only chance was to just start doing it. I had a very good response in Cartoon Movie from sales agents and distributors; and they were quite courageous despite the lockdown situation.
VK: Some people are saying that lockdown and the pandemic actually helped the creative process, how do you feel?
AD: No, it didn’t. In a way, it was part of the faith I had in the project. But I did notice how people were behaving. This lockdown pandemic divided the people into two groups; one group developed a kind of thinking focused on what is important, what is the meaning of what we are doing, and what we should change.
The other group of people freaked out; they were stuck, blocked, unable to function artistically. They thought that if we do one thing or the other, the pandemic will end, and we will then go back to normal. And all this without seeing the big picture – everything that you change, it’s changing everything; and you should be active in putting energy to organize the future. You also need to be aware; there’s a lot of censorship around. As I lived in a former Communist country, I started to be aware of a lot of dictatorship habits that entered our society. And I don’t want to go back there to this Orwellian society; I already lived once during the Romanian Socialist times. Who can tell what is fake news and what is truth? And who can censor this?
VK: Do you feel that the abundance and availability of online content actually contributes more to the ‘art as entertainment’ business? Is there any way for the artist, if not to benefit, at least, mitigate in these circumstances?
AD: It is a huge danger that art stays only as entertainment. I remember seeing this Facebook profile frame “support art workers” that a lot of artists put in their profile. Art is more than work, art is creation. It is a vision; it is thinking why we are alive. Regarding the big social media platforms – I feel that the passive reaction in these times is a losing position. We should not be passive; we should share, but we should also organize new ways of communication. The big platforms are going to organize the society themselves, and we will not have any more space left to do it later. So this is the time that we should think forward, and organize and communicate things in a proper way. The cultural level is important: when you see the bloggers and the level of the social media influencers, you say, ‘Oh my god, where are we? Where is the meaning of life?’ These are the tools of marketing now, and we should organize also a place in the visual world. We should really try to find our channels to do it. But the sooner, the better.
VK: What are the natural allies of the filmmakers? The festivals?
AD: Yes. I was in Venice this year. And even if it was a strange event with everyone putting their masks on (you didn’t recognize people on the stage), I was so happy that it is something real. I said no matter how it is, I will handle this.
VK: Still, it looked very humble to me. From the selection program itself, back to the jurors to the actual taking place of the festival, it celebrated the artistic identity instead of premieres and the red carpets.
AD: Yes, it’s true. I was looking at the Cannes Label, a gift given to 4 animated feature films; they were very generous this year. I feel that the festivals now are thinking “Oh my God, we should really be more art-focused, and not have actors’ events, and big premieres and big studios’. In recent years, the space for artistic films at the festivals were becoming smaller and smaller. Now they suddenly let more of these kind of films in their programme.
VK: Do you actually think that we should expect more artistic independent feature films in the festivals? And what would be their distribution place, the VOD platforms?
AD: Festival labels (Venice, Cannes, Berlin, San Sebastian, Locarno) still put the attention on the film. All the commercial films will find their place in the market. The big problem is the money that you get from the cinema halls. Cinema hall admissions for big budget films so far ensured revenue which also benefited European cinema. Still, with the American films now absent, a lot of French and European films got a bigger exposure on the market.
VK: What happened with Marona’s Fantastic Tale admission numbers?
AD: Marona was released in France in the beginning of 2020, and in Belgium in February. It should have been released in Spain, just before the March lockdown – but it was finally released in June, after the first lockdown. It was also released virtually in the US by GKIDS -and it will be released as a DVD. The English dubbed version is also to be released when cinemas are open again. It showed in Japan, Korea and Poland – now also in The Netherlands.
VK: So did you actually get the audience response you wanted with Marona’s Fantastic Tale? Or perhaps the lockdown and the pandemic went against this?
AD: It’s interesting, because I got huge coverage from the US press. Previously, when critics would run from one event to the other, the response would not be so obvious. I also got brilliant reviews in France, in Japan, and in Korea as well. But I think that in these countries the turnout would be the same even without the COVID-19 situation.
VK: How is the current landscape in terms of film funding?
AD: We navigate in a more dangerous landscape. In Romania, there is a big problem now. Luckily, my next feature Starseed (still weird but more mainstream than The Island, and addressed to a bigger audience) is already financed by the Romanian CNC. But there’s a huge problem this year; no 2020 calls for films were issued, and also the tax shelter scheme stopped. I like the French system with its opportunities, even if the competition is strong, you do have a lot of options. In Romania, if the CNC is closed, you have no other option.
VK: Where do you imagine your films would screen in the future? VOD or cinemas? And how would you like your own films to be viewed?
AD: I think that cinema halls will stay and will become even more precious for art-house cinema goers. But obviously, it won’t be the main way to see films.
My films will definitely need the festivals; I feel now that festival directors realize the importance of their own festivals and organize as a group, not being in competition with each other, they should work together to protect avant-garde artists.
Films have changed throughout the times. But for me, it is important to spread it in the right way. A film is an amplifier: what is in your head gets projected on the screen, and enters the head of the audience.
4.4.3 Julie Baltzer interview
Julie Baltzer is an animation director with a focus on historic tales. Julie graduated from The Animation Workshop, Denmark (2017) and has production management experience as well. In the summer of 2020, Julie started a Master of the Arts as a script writer and developer at Syddansk University, Odense, Denmark. Link: http://juliebaltzer.mystrikingly.com/
VK: Your graduation film, Nachthexen, is about women in war. What about your current projects and how are they affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
JB: I’m now working on a TV series titled “Women in War” which concerns women’s resistance during WWII in Denmark, France, Poland, and Germany. The current situation puts women heroes in a new light.
VK: What was your own feeling at the first day of the lockdown? And what is your most significant reaction?
JB: The first month I just listened to news to let stuff sink in (this new reality), and then I turned to fantasy audio books to escape. I embroidered a cushion. My biggest action was to shelve a project that I was working on for three years in May. I realized I was not the right person to direct. It’s a story about rebellion in the Old Danish Caribbean colonies; I developed the project at ANIDOX:LAB, but now realized that this narrative is not mine to tell, though I hope to facilitate it as a producer one day.
VK: What was your next step after that?
JB: I realized I am going to work a lot on my own, and it will be a while before we start gathering in teams, and especially international teams. I started getting really serious about my own writing and I’m taking classes. I think I’d better myself skill-wise than being so goal-oriented.
VK: How did you work with your short film Nachthexen? Did it go to the festivals or online first? And what about your new work?
JB: The Animation Workshop had the strategy of putting the graduation films online first, to help people get jobs etc. It’s really awesome to have that boost when you graduate. For the series “Women in War”, we considered our online presence before the lockdown; perhaps starting a development / production blog simultaneously with the film’s development / production.
VK: What are you yourself looking for when you’re browsing online content? Films, discussions, panel? What part of the animation /film culture actually attracts you online? And have you had any notable festival experiences lately?
JB: I watch whatever falls on my lap, and mostly hear about it from friends sharing their content. And if I came across a boring talk or a panel, I’d just go away. That’s the beauty of online, whereas in the physical setting that’s a different thing. I actually have more time to watch films. But I went to one festival that managed to have a physical edition, OFF Odense International Film Festival. They did a really good job, and it was nice to be there. It had a different vibe this year, but they also had the films available online for a month.
VK: We have been in this pandemic situation since March 2020. What happened with your professional commitments apart from your personal projects? Did you have more or less offers?
JB: I had more freelance offers from abroad than I used to have. Everyone got used to working online. I had clients outside Denmark, which wouldn’t normally have reached out to me. That’s opening up of the borders for the creative and freelancers. I also really embraced isolation, as a writer.
VK: Do you think festivals are doing the best they can for the filmmakers during the pandemic?
JB: At least they’re trying. But I also know that it’s underwhelming, especially for the film festivals that took place during the lockdown. Friends of mine made a feature film that was supposed to screen at Cannes; and Cannes online is not that moment they were building up for so many years. But they’re adapting. We were supposed to pitch at CARTOON Forum, and we made a video pitch because we couldn’t show up. Normally, at CARTOON Forum there would be 200 broadcasters who look at your pitch and you could get it out there. We would now monitor how many people watched our pitch, and obviously it doesn’t have the same effect as standing on the stage.
VK: Do you have any advice for other filmmakers in a similar situation?
JB: Be kind to yourself. It’s OK if it’s not your prime time; it’s OK if you’re worried and scared. It’s OK to take a breather and not be goal-oriented, to stop and think.
4.4.4 Flora Anna Buda Interview
Flóra Anna Buda is a Hungarian animation filmmaker, graduated from MOME, Budapest. One of her main goals is to keep searching for new ways of creating universes and telling stories. Link: https://www.instagram.com/floraannabuda/
VK: Where did you find yourself in the lockdown period of March 2020?
FAB: Then, as now, I was in my room – as part of the ANIDOX Residency of The Animation Workshop in Viborg, Denmark. I was very lucky: My graduation film Entropia has been successfully screened around the festival circuit for one year and a half. So I had the chance to visit the festivals before the COVID-19 pandemic erupted. I couldn’t of course visit the festivals that took place after the lockdown, but there were many online editions. And festivals started asking me make videos to present the film. I think this is a really complicated thing for a director – and I heard it from many other directors as well. It consumes a lot of time and energy, but of course I did as many as I could.
VK: What was your motivation behind making those videos?
FAB: I feel respect for the festivals. Going online must be an enormous amount of work, and I felt respect for the festivals who decided to go online – because, at the same time, there were many festivals that had to cancel and some are closing. It is such a tragedy for all those small festivals. So I felt we all have to put something in the common pot; my part was making these videos.
VK: How do you experience online content? You may not be able to travel to festivals, but there is an abundance of content (panels, talks etc.). Do you feel that there may be an opportunity here, or perhaps it is overwhelming?
FAB: It is overwhelming, very different than deciding to go to the cinema. It takes some time to adjust to this shift; because I am used to consuming a certain kind of online content and now a whole world has opened up; I don’t think it’s necessarily bad. Many directors had this feeling that we make a film, and the audience gets it only after two years, only after the festival run. But now this is changing, and maybe it’s for the good.
VK: You are currently working on a new animated short ‘27– My Last Day at Home’, when did you start?
FAB: The idea came up last December, when I was still in Budapest, and I already knew I’m going to be in Viborg from January 2020. So, I came to Viborg with some concept art, and I wrote the script in Viborg. When the pandemic started, I was in the storyboarding phase. It is a French-Hungarian co-production between MIYU and Boddah in Hungary. We won the Annecy Ciclic Prize and the related fund. We have ARTE on board; we are waiting for CNC and the Hungarian funds (for film production). We already applied, but we were rejected the first time around.
VK: Because of the nature of the project or because of the fund scarcity?
FAB: They didn’t give funds for almost two years, because they were re-organizing. But in general women directors and LGBT content or sexuality is really difficult to fund these days.
VK: What lessons have you learned from this particular moment in time?
FAB: Video pitching. I’m getting better at it. In the end, I really miss the real audience, if I had the opportunity to make a live pitch, I’d prefer it. As a filmmaker, I have to be really adaptable, because everything is changing around you. Adapt to the film funds, to the deadlines and the phases of the work. So, I don’t find it uncomfortable to adapt to this online situation; it’s a different way of consuming short films. I believe in a silver lining in everything.
VK: What is your advice regarding online content for the global animation community? How would you like your film to be viewed under the current circumstances?
FAB: I think it would be nice to have a global collection of short films, like a Netflix for short films. I’d prefer a well curated selection. But if it’s only online and we don’t have a chance to talk to the audience about our film, it’s a complicated thing. Online Q&As are nice, but it’s weird and I have to be brave. I definitely like the audience, and like to give them the chance to ask questions and comment, but I feel the online world is already like that; there are comments on everything online. Right now, it’s the next step that we should look to: People reach out and write to filmmakers, letters or short messages on Instagram, outside of the festivals. There could be many possibilities to watch the films online and talk to directors, and we need to figure the best way. And this what is happening right now. I think it’s a testing period.
4.4.5 Ana Nedeljković & Nikola Majdak jr. interview
Ana Nedeljković was born in Belgrade in 1978. She graduated in painting from the Faculty of Fine Arts in Belgrade. She was awarded a PhD in art practice at the same faculty. She is a visual artist working in the media of drawing, installation and animated film, and is also active in art education. Nikola Majdak Jr. was born in Slovenia in 1972. He has an MFA from the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade, camera department. For the past 20 years he has been a freelance cameraman, animator, director and lecturer. Their films “Rabbitland” (2013) and “Untravel” (2018) were screened at numerous international festivals and have received many prestigious awards. Link: www.untravel.info
VK: What has been your recent experience with attending animation and film festivals online? Obviously, we have adapted. But in which way and can we move beyond adapting and towards something better?
NM: In the beginning, we thought it would be great, and we’d get to see a lot of films online. But we somehow didn’t find time. Part of the magic of the filmmaking is to watch films at the cinema, so it has been a confusing time.
AN: I found it difficult. Watching webinars is positive. But as for attend pitching sessions and presenting our own projects online – we’d both prefer to make new friendships in person.
So, in order to find a way to organize our digital world, we need to find a way to organize how digital friendships work.
My biggest fear is that we’ll easily come to the conclusion: “Oh, it works perfectly in the digital world, and let’s stay there”. So, we realize that’s not necessary to travel to pitching and film festivals, we can make everything online (which is technically possible), and that a real physical space is not necessary. I think we have to stop that idea.
NM: I thought the digital festival opportunity was very interesting; When my father Nikola Majdak was organizing Balkanima Festival and there was a lack of funding, I remember telling him: “You have to go digital, that’s the future. Everyone watching from home and they can participate, and you’ll have a wider audience”. Fortunately, he didn’t listen to me. Now I see I would be very wrong to tell him go on a digital platform.
AN: What we are shocked about is that our films become reality; ‘Untravel’ and now ‘Money and Happiness’, a film about a dystopian world of a perfect economy – the world obviously now faces a new economic crisis. I think that the number of casualties related to the economic crisis will be greater than the number of casualties caused by the virus.
VK: Do you think that the proliferation of the online content culture, which is easily accessible to many viewers, creates a preference for a specific kind of films? Perhaps films which avoid thorny issues (politics, LGBT, etc.) and are just kid-friendly instead.
AN: When we’re working on our films, we were always thinking of a larger audience, and communication with different kinds of people. It was not made for just some animation professionals. But the most frustrating issue that I found about online screenings and online premiering is that we feel that we live in the very beginning of the digital culture. Nowadays, Internet is the biggest garbage bin that ever existed. And it is so chaotic and unorganized that it becomes frightening. That’s my biggest problem with the online content. You may post something today and then go to sleep, and the next morning you have billions of comments and threads – mostly without any reason.
What also frightens me is that this Internet content is privately owned by unaccountable corporations. All content regulators are private companies. So, our old idea of politics and censorship (like the one you had in Ceaușescu’s Romania) to delete your face – now manifest in a different way.
VK: What about your current project? How is it affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
NM: We are in the writing phase. We started out with cities and their structure, but now with the digital lockdown and the corona situation, we are spreading our ideas more and more. We have everything we need for our inspiration from the current reality, and all those creepy far-right politicians from all over Europe (Serbia, Slovenia, Hungary, Poland for instance). This dangerous virus is spreading more than corona. You can either get corona or not. But with fascism, you are definitely getting it – and that’s it. It sucks your body, your blood and your brains
AN: The bigger problem is that the entire lockdown empowers the right-wing energy to become stronger and stronger; and when we face the ‘new reality’ (digital or real), the most difficult part would be to go back to the culture we used to have.
NM: This looks like Orwell’s 1984. It’s not a book, it’s a manual.
4.4.6 Philip Piaget / Rikke Planeta interview
Ouros is an animation production company founded by award winning filmmakers Philip Piaget and Rikke Planeta in 2018, located at Arsenalet Creative Hub in Viborg, Denmark. Both graduates of The Animation Workshop. With different cultural backgrounds (Rikke from Denmark and Philip from Mexico) they are developing original IP’s with a diverse perspective. Link: www.ouros.net IG: instagram.com/ourosanimation
VK: Tell us about your TV series and feature film in development. When did the project get started, and did the lockdown and the pandemic affect your work?
RK: It’s called hygge, which means cosiness. It’s about dealing with everyday emotions and everyday problems, and channelling negativity into positivity. Even though the feature film’s more epic, it is still down-to-earth. The feature is made for an older children’s audience, whereas the TV series is for a younger audience.
PP: The lockdown and COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult.
RP: It’s basically a just a waiting game during the lockdown. But we were lucky to get some freelance work for the company; so we can keep the company running for the time being.
PP: As a small company, it’s hard to shift to remote. Usually the budgets we have to deal with don’t give us enough leeway to say we wasted a couple of days of work. We have to work very efficiently. For us, it’s complicated doing remote work with other people we haven’t worked with before.
PP: The other thing that affected us was that we couldn’t visit Annecy. We had plans to visit MIFA and look for a French co-producer. The human element of negotiation and finding a partner is gone when doing it online. Our co-producer had to go through all the markets (such as FMX), and we were cut out from that world. It wasn’t the same. I was really put off by how expensive an online accreditation to Annecy was. I know it’s a monumental effort to even put a festival online; but there’s something weird having to pay the same amount for the online format.
VK: Has your own creative path changed during the lockdown? What would you advise other creative people in these times?
PP: I think it inspired us to try new things and push the project forward. It forced a lot of reflection on us about how to up our game.
RP: We haven’t changed our view of our IP because of the lockdown, but we could certainly focus more on it. Because our producers were also in the same situation, they also had to reflect on the project in the same way.
PP: There is something to be learned about online distribution from ‘digital content creators’. They are more suited to the times that we’re living, whereas we have relied on traditional structures of funding and distribution. Digital content creators on the other hand, have relied on building an audience and a support network that is independent of the traditional funding and distribution schemes. As creatives, we need to adapt to the situation.
Since we have to compete with the mainstream to have access to funding, I guess it makes sense to adapt our self-expression to what’s happening.
RP: Since we felt cut off from the world during the lockdown, we created an Instagram account for our company. We would usually show work to people and have a conversation; we now put up work on Instagram and have a similar kind of conversation – from a distance.
PP: We have to be out there. And we put a lot of behind the scenes. It goes back to this debate as an artist: do you cater to yourself or do you cater to an audience? And if you want to cater to an audience in order to get funded, it’s something we need to shape our methods to. Embrace the Patreon, embrace the daily experience. There’s a whole new lifestyle. Perhaps, there is something there.
4.4.7 Joseph Wallace interview
Joseph Wallace is a BAFTA nominated animator and film director based in Bristol, UK. He uses stop-motion puppet and cut-out animation techniques to produce short films and music videos. He has written and directed more than a dozen short films, which have received international acclaim and screened at festivals around the world. In 2009 Wallace participated in the European training programme Animation Sans Frontières, a part of The Animation Workshop, Denmark.
VK: You are in the middle of a production of a film ‘Salvation Has No Name’. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work? How do you feel?
JW: The short answer is, devastated. This project has been a passion for me for so many years, and it’s taken such a long time to get off the ground in the first place. The funding situation in the UK, and the lack of support – which is now gladly changing – has taken a lot of time to find a producer; to develop ideas; finding the right story that can deal with these big topics in a sensitive way.
And finally we got to the point where the puppets were done, and the sets were done, and we were actually shooting it. We had a pace; that’s when the first lockdown hit.
The UK government dealt very ineptly and badly with the situation, and we now see massive parts of the UK going back to lockdown. All measures were lifted too quickly, things went back to normal too quickly, and the virus is rising again. So, what I thought it was going to be a short pause in the production has now in reality almost delayed the project for about a year. It won’t be probably finished till next summer. Trying to re-organize everything with the same team on board; and inevitably along the way, we’ve lost people, who had either to go to other jobs, or rethink what they were doing with their careers.
VK: I really admired your crowdfunding initiative during the lockdown. Can you tell us about it?
JW: It really came from my producer, Lauren Dunn. When I was doing theatre work, I had a lot of friends who would be doing crowdfunding campaigns, and shows on tour and stuff. It always felt like poor artists begging to other poor artists to get work. In a selfish way, if any of us had money, we’d be investing in our own project. So, I was in a funny relationship with crowdfunding, and I was quite hesitant about it. We had talked about it before, as a development option -since our options were so limited in financial support.
It was a big leap – and it’s timing as well, when lots of people were struggling and their work was cancelled. I’m incredibly glad we did it. It’s a lot of work; whatever people say about crowdfunding, it’s true. It’s still going to be a lot of work by the time we finish the film – put into motion all these perks and awards. But, in reflection, I think the most amazing thing that came out of that whole experience. I was isolated in my room, but through Kickstarter I was amazed to have these amazing conversations with people all over the world (America, Europe, Mexico). These people were writing to me and told me about my past films (which I had no idea that they had seen); that was really motivating and uplifting, especially at this time.
VK: So, were you able to continue work on the film?
JW: It was a really difficult decision for me directing part of the film remotely; in the end, it was both COVID-19 and Brexit conspiring against us. I could have gone out there myself, but I would have probably had to quarantine in Prague for two weeks, done the shoot, and then back in quarantine for another two weeks.
What happened with Brexit is that there was so little decided, even four years down the line. So, all separate EU governments are making their own rules and legislations, which come out as penalizations. For someone who has worked in Europe a lot – and that’s an important part of my work and my career – it’s incredibly sad and frustrating.
So, the last three months we’re directing Salvation Has No Name remotely; that’s been a crazy experience, but I’m trying to make the best of the situation.
VK: Is this the future for making and also watching films and animation films in particular?
JW: That’s definitely something I’ve been thinking a lot during the last few months. And I do feel sorry for people who had films in the festival circuit when all this situation hit us. For me, making films is getting them in front of an audience; if nobody sees it, it’s redundant for me. It’s so much about audience experience and audience interaction. I love going to festivals and talking to people, I love being in cinemas. The notion that all this may disappear quickly – and there are many art-house cinemas and cinema chains which have been shut down.
For me, cinema has a lot to do with physicality, and having an audience watch your film and hearing their reaction.
VK: But suppose you have all these virtual Zoom cinema panels where you can watch and hear the online audience as well – with all of the clapping in the end.
JW: I’m sure there are ways of emulating this experience. I’m not a good authority on this; I know that festivals have gone online, and I have great respect and admiration for people’s ingenuity at this time. And I’ve seen successful versions of online festivals. I’ve done a few Zoom panels for Universities and the British Film Council. But do feel sorry for students who were caught in their final year at University, shooting their final film – which is their calling card for the industry. They had to leave the studios, not being able to finish their films.
Many people are now changing their careers as a consequence of this situation.
VK: Do you think that the COVID-19 pandemic situation made creative people reflect on what they were doing already? Has this happened in your case as well?
JW: I love working super hard. I like trying to get done as much as I can, but during this production I felt less productive than normal – and this associated with the fact that I wasn’t able to go work to a studio with a team. Each day we were achieving a lot; and suddenly I was on my own, in my spare room on Zoom. I felt very unproductive in this period. We tried to do as much as we can to keep moving.
I know it’s an international tragedy, but it’s also been a sudden change of pace – which I don’t often get. And, fingers crossed, ‘Salvation Has No Name’ will turn out to be a better film in the end; apart from the crowdfunding campaign, I had the time to think things in more detail.
VK: I was wondering about curating online content. How can you avoid all online festival content looking like a Netflix emulation?
JW: I was working as a curator and a programmer as well, so I know the choreography of films. You see it at festivals, when brilliant programmes shine, and they make each individual film lift beyond its status.
VK: Suppose that your own film premieres online. How would you like your own film to appear?
JW: I’d imagine a replication of the physical brochure: info and stills about the film, the headshot of the filmmaker. Q&As with a single or a group of filmmakers is a really nice idea. One thing that has been great is accessibility: you can’t go to every festival and event. I used to live in London, where there were a lot of events (I’m in Bristol at the moment).
There were a lot of Q&As and events during the lockdown, London-based Malcolm Hadley, lighting cameraman in The Isle of Dogs, set up a very informal Zoom chat thing, where he was having conversations with people from the stop-motion animation industry. He had Nina Gentz, Andy Gent, and Jamie Caliri, who invented Dragonframe. It went on for two months, and every week he would do these sessions. It wasn’t done in the presentation mode; everybody logged on, and what ended up being in the end was this ‘who’s who’ of animation – but, since it was online, it became international. So, you had people from LAIKA tuning in, from Aardman, McKinnon & Saunders. It became like a networking thing, and that was really nice way of feeling connected to people during lockdown and isolation. So, I think there’s ways of doing it where you can have a sort of genuine conversation.
On the other side, BFI has been doing quite a lot of talks and panels; sessions with Netflix commissioners, artists, sessions about the young audiences fund for kids series. That’s more of a formal system and less networking – even though you can still ask questions etc.
Regarding online festivals, perhaps this travel/accommodation invitation could actually be substituted by an online representation, of course Q&As, the extra content. It’s an expensive hobby visiting the festival with your film, if you don’t have a grant from your cultural fund.
VK: What about screening fees for the online content?
JW: When I did work as a curator at a festival, I learned about the screening fees and distributors etc. It’s not something that is commonplace for short films. The standard approach for animation filmmakers is that we pay to submit to the festival, and perhaps there’s cash prize. From my own experience, if a festival asks for your film which is not in competition, then there’s the valid time to ask for a screening fee.
One of the things we did during the lockdown was a British Council panel, where we talked about UK animation, and how things were affected from a festival / distribution point of view. Representatives from Manchester Animation Festival, Cardiff Animation Festival, Maryam Mohajer (My Granddad was a Romantic) were there. Her film was in the middle of her festival run, and she talking about the intricacies of that in terms of screening fees, geo-blocking etc. There are clashing ideas about films online, and we’re still discovering them at the moment.
For me, a finished film goes to a festival, does its festival run, and then I put it online. On the opposite end, commercial work will go straight online, and then I will do a sort of festival run. By the time ‘Salvation’ is finished next year, there’s going to be another route of distribution; we’re negotiating at the moment with a distributor. Especially with stop-motion, you’re locked in a dark room moving the puppets for such a long time. And then the idea of going to festivals, and being able to have a drink with other filmmakers, and talk about the work – it’s a release from the hibernation of stop-motion animation. That’s the light at the end of the tunnel for me.
I really hope we’ll be able to visit the festivals and have this physical experience and these conversations. I’m also thinking about the future; there are short film ideas, but also feature film ideas; so, festivals are a chance for us to go there and have this sort of conversation. I’m always better in person than with emails or phones etc. I can pitch stuff a lot better, I can connect with people a lot better.
VK: What advice would you like to share with others, based on your recent experience?
JW: You need to be flexible, be adaptable and don’t lose hope. But, if you’re in doubt, reach out to people who know your work and follow what you’re doing. In times like this, it’s very easy for you to have huge amounts of self-doubt; and you need that network of supporters.
4.4.8 Nikita Diakur interview
Nikita Diakur, born in Moscow, graduated with his MA Animation from the Royal College of Art in London, and is now working as an independent director and producer in Germany. His films UGLY and FEST received critical acclaim at film festivals around the world. Since 2017, Nikita Diakur is a member of the European Film Academy.mIG/Twitter handle: @nikitadiakur
VK: What did you lose and gain during the lockdown?
ND: I lost human relationships. People I’m not able to be there with; I gained more time to work, which is a good and a bad thing.
VK: Why it’s a bad thing to work more?
ND: Because I cannot find better ways to use my free time. I’m not really annoyed by the lockdown itself, but by its consequences. I don’t work because of the lockdown – I would do it independently of the lockdown.
VK: Did you have more personal projects or more commissioned work during the lockdown?
ND: I have more personal projects advanced; I also have clients’ work, which are actually quite nice. Mainly because the latter let me do whatever I want, which also turns to be a kind of a personal project as well. The consequence of this lockdown was uncertainty: deadlines being pushed further, clients won’t know if they’re going to do the things promised (such as planning ahead their events). You have to stay flexible. I’m somehow expecting every job to be cancelled.
VK: Did you have to shelve a personal project because of the lockdown?
ND: Luckily, no. For some reasons, I had more personal and clients projects during the lockdown than before the lockdown. I started production on a short film last month; it will be on till mid-2021. I’m doing it together with MIYU Productions, and it’s called Backflip. It’s about me in a virtual world learning backflip. I’m doing it together with a programmer, Max Schneider, developing all the technical bits. What you see on my website is actually a learning thing: me learning to stand up and balance.
VK: So, it was business as usual. Has this been fully financed?
ND: It is about to be fully financed, but presently living on the edge, just enough money for me to get by. We’re expecting results by next month. I’m trying to finance it with my own money for the time being, and then hopefully everything will be recovered in the end.
It’s a nice situation to have enough money for a short film, and not be compromised too much. But I do live on the edge. I made some stupid purchases, like a super-expensive camera, which costs more than I should have spent. Silly budgeting on my side.
VK: Would you care to save your time (instead of your money) in order to watch things?
ND: I’m really bad at watching things online. I haven’t really tried it. If I’m at home, or in my workplace in front of my work computer, then I’m officially at work, and I watch things that don’t stress my brain too much. So, I go to YouTube and watch stupid stuff. I don’t watch online film festivals; I would have to be totally focused on that, and I cannot do that in front of my workplace. So, I feel kind of guilty. The online festivals don’t really happen for me, it won’t work – even though it might work for other people.
I was going non-stop to festivals for two or three years, and it was an amazing experience, me at the cinema watching the films. I’ve watched enough films to lay back now and do my own films. However, if time passes and we have a lockdown for another two or three years, I’d definitely go and watch films online.
VK: But apart from online screenings themselves, there are panels and masterclassses etc., all this educational content.
ND: Yes, it’s true, you can do many things online. But you could do it even before the pandemic. There were a lot of masterclasses and related stuff. I guess during the pandemic those became free to watch or more people demanded those. You can certainly learn a lot of things on the Internet, but it really doesn’t depend on the pandemic.
VK: What’s the essence of the celebrated festival experience?
ND: You get to watch films in a certain way. You don’t get distracted, you’re in a room with other people; the film has a bigger influence on you. At a festival, you obviously meet all your friends, meet many people, and make new friends. This is something that you would never get with an online festival.
VK: Do you have the feeling of an animation community being strengthened during the lockdown or it’s just business as usual?
ND: I think people really try to make the best of it. But if I compare it to the feeling you have when you actually meet people at a festival, it’s not comparable. It’s obviously nice to catch up with people over the phone or Skype etc. but a shot of vodka at a festival is better.
VK: What happens if your next film has to premiere online?
ND: Many of my friends who had already finished their films did not premiere them online; they were waiting for the real audience. I already put online my second film, Fest, before any festival. With Ugly, it was the opposite: it went to festivals first, and I tried not to put it online too soon. If I had a film like Ugly ready in April 2021, I would now put it online as well; I wouldn’t wait for the pandemic to pass.
VK: Do you actually feel the need to adapt and invent new ways to work during the crisis? And has this influenced you in the way you construct your creative ideas? Or, perhaps this is something ordinary, since most of your work is behind the computer screen anyway?
ND: It’s mainly practical things. You need to be ready and be flexible with your work. If you happen to have an obstacle you didn’t foresee, you’d have to be able to switch to something else. You cannot take things for granted, during the pandemic and after the pandemic. Therefore, you need to have a plan B, always ready.
VK: You said earlier that in this online world your films would co-exist with stupid things to watch. For you, it might be obvious to distinguish the two when navigating the online content, but do you think it would be the case for others as well? How to filter this online content?
ND: In the online world, you have a platform for everything basically, which is YouTube. You can still put your stuff on YouTube and coexist with other stuff, and you can find your niche audience there. If you have quality content, you’d have your audience in the end, even if it’s not the same amount of people who watch stupid stuff. And you could still make some profit from it. The only thing is the mechanism of earning money, which for short films it’s not really happening. I’m not sure how this can be solved, it’s a different question.
You can use other distribution methods of putting things online. I’ve seen other people trying to do it, but I haven’t seen any success with it yet. I think that even Vimeo is getting worse over the last years in terms of that. It’s becoming a corporate environment and it doesn’t speak to artists anymore. You don’t really get the same amount of feedback as before. It’s a bit of a messy place, but for me YouTube now is the only place; or you make your own website and you show your films there.
5. A practical guide: Introduction to an online strategy
Authored by Clémence Bragard. Edited by Michelle Kranot
5.1 Being Informed in the Digital Era
This introduction to online strategy is targeting filmmakers (and producers) of short, independent animation films: back in the “good old days”, filmmakers used to make a film, hopefully sold it to a distributor or a broadcaster, and then waited in the hope that their outreach would be consistent enough to give them the will (and funds) to make another film.
However, due to numerous reasons – ecological, economic, political, and more recently sanitary – we are living though challenging times. We must consider that people are mostly stuck at home and working remotely, meaning that Internet, including streaming and entertainment viewing, has massively increased. Furthermore, numerous festivals have gone online as most of the cultural centres have had to reduce their activities or even to close. As for most countries, governments have set up new restrictions for public gathering. Undoubtedly, the theatrical cinema experience has changed, from a collective experience in a common venue, to an individual one, in a private place. Considering this, it has become more difficult to be visible and to easily drown in an endless offer of online content, generally reaching only small niches.
According to Arnaud Miquel (4.2.1), independent filmmakers can be divided into three categories: first, the “famous” ones with big films followed by strong fan-bases. Then come the “wired” ones: this new wave of filmmakers, creating YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook videos, have found alternative creative processes and have gathered a wide core audience. Lastly, “classic” independent filmmakers who create humble creative films and rely on festivals to reach out to their peers and, hopefully, a wider audience.
In addition to the interviews and the article previously stated, this chapter will target the third kind of filmmakers mentioned above who are not that familiar with online marketing and digital tools. These tools aim to define which content and platforms are relevant to promote their films.
We dare to assume that this unprecedented time is a perfect opportunity to adopt a smart and innovative strategy to create promotional content, distribute it, reach an audience, and make the films live in new ways.
5.2.1 Define your film
According to the UK-based programme “Accelerate animation”, the expression “animated film” is misused on account that it covers too many diverse works. For most people, animation/cartoon is a cinematographic or audiovisual genre, featuring stories for a young audience, through fictional hand-drawn or computer generated characters.
In the last decades, only a few animated films have been considered differently by the general audience and by critics, acclaimed as cinematographic masterpieces. The fact that they were created frame by frame, and not in what animators call “live-action” was not the main point.
For example Ari Folman’s “Waltz with Bashir” a documentary released in 2008: the film offers a strong story, capturing a contemporary political and historical milestone, using very detailed cut out based on live action performance to provide a necessary visual distance from a harsh reality. Other examples include works such as “Anomalisa” by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson and “I lost my body” by Jeremy Clapin, released in 2015 and 2019 respectively. They depict love drama for an adult audience, featuring animated characters accurately embodying their authors’ visions.
As for TV formats, Bastien Dubois’s “Madagascar, Carnet de voyage” (2010) , or more recently Masaaki Yuasa’s “Japan sinks” (Netflix, 2020) have offered the public, for one an intimate documentary world tour, and for the latter, a dramatic series of anticipation. No matter if they were motion-captured or computer-generated.
Considering these cases, the animation technique is not what the public retained in the first place, but rather it is the direction which is the primary mind-blowing factor for most audiences.
Undoubtedly, from a “live-action” production point of view, few people would dare to compare a handheld camera shot documentary with a Hollywood blockbuster, even if both works discuss the same topic.
Still, when it comes to “animated films”, there are numerous individuals and institutions that compare a stop-motion short film – animated in a small independent studio – with a 3D feature film, which is the result of the collective work of several hundred professionals.
This underlines a particular aspect of the animation sector, both beneficial and fragile. Animation professionals have created a profound spirit of solidarity and a synergy across borders, making them feel like they belong to the same “community”, under the collective umbrella of “animation”.
These nuances considered, our goal is to overcome the question of animation vs. live-action, by discussing how the readers can define their author’s vision, broaden their network, and above all, reach out to new audiences.
To do so, several steps are recommended:
- First of all, define the genre of your film or even of your work more generally. If it is not so clear, a good start could be to identify existing works: Short or feature films, even TV – which are similar to yours in terms of theme, tone, angle, characters.
- Then analyse which audience seems to be keen on this kind of film and on what platforms they are most likely to watch your film. We believe that too many filmmakers assume their films are multi-audience targeted. This might result in undermining your content, or it simply gets lost for trying to spread it too widely.
- Finally, map the types of promotional content shared by the author, the regularity, and the outreach; both on the audience-level and the critics-one.
5.2.2 Show who you are and reveal your true emotions
There is no doubt that “marketing” – whether classic or digital – can be an intimidating endeavour, and not often a director’s favourite task. It is even often considered a burden for those who would like to use 100% of their working time creating work.
Taking into account that the cornerstone of your digital marketing strategy is showing who you are, your core values and the reason why you work – you should expect to engage with these ideas when you create a film.
According to acclaimed filmmaker Paul Bush (UK) “people starting out [with digital strategy] should stick with working on what is true to them, and not bend overly to fashion, market forces or what others say. Fashions change, and there is enough commonality of human experience for all work to connect with an audience.”
We are all empathetic beings and, indeed, what engages us is what touches us. A narrative can move its audience, but it is also the creator and his personal journey which arouse public attention and empathy. It is even more obvious when it comes to independent animation productions where most directors access their most intimate spheres to write and direct.
Since it is difficult to know which part of your film will most affect its audience, the most relevant starting point is to promote yourself as an artist with a project that is close to their heart. As an author, you are carrying this vision and sometimes you are supported by a team.
This vision is, in that sense, a crucial part to rely on. It will be the keystone of your digital marketing and will define how you will promote your film naturally and organically.
What is your starting point?
- The desire to tell a story that touches you
- The need to create a hand-crafted graphic work into a cinematic art form
- The ambition to reach an audience and change mentalities whether by dealing with a trendy topic or an edgy one.
- The need to explore new territories and research artistic expression.
It is advisable, in any case, to write a text of around 50 words to clarify your vision. Ask yourself – and people around you – if it is clear, compelling, original, and intelligible.
We are positive that starting from this core will help create a bridge between you and your movie, which your audience can take hold of. Consider it as a red thread which you weave for your community to pull and guide them to you.
5.2.3 Identify and engage with your audience
Following this first step, it is clear that a film marketing strategy must imperatively start as soon as possible, and continue throughout the creative process, to reach as many people as possible, on a long-term basis. If your promotional campaign starts after the film’s premiere, it will probably taste like leftovers. Unless it brings exceptional added value to the production, it often has little impact.
A simple explanation for this is that once the film is released, the promotional content which is generated is broad and general. Its function is to embrace the maximum number of people, in the limited period of time before the film appears to be outdated; Often within the first year following any major festival screenings. Unfortunately, unless you can rely on your existing network for increased visibility, the chances of reaching new audiences are slim – considering the competition of films released at the same moment. Consider also that any short film has a “lifespan” of approximately two years, so there are plenty of films to compete with.
Need we also point out that relying on festivals and press to promote your film once it is released is not enough if you want a film to go beyond animation lovers’ audience?
We rather recommend that you consider your core audience early on in the creative process. A way to do so could be to start with the following three categories and to define how they can actively promote your film while it is in development:
– Family and friends: These are the most trustworthy ambassadors, as they use accurate words to engage their own networks, predominantly outside the animation or film industry. Neglecting this aspect would be a mistake, since a film may be shown, not only at major international festivals, but also and above all in your place of residence and/or where your production is based. Thanks to emotional proximity, local audiences can connect easily and be eager supporters.
Example: Marine Laclotte’s “Mild Madness, Lasting Lunacy” world premiere in her home town: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=104987454469433&id=104983687803143
World-renowned director Marie Paccou keeps sharing about her daily life, including local artists and friends, and posting her works regularly, for a local and international outreach: https://www.facebook.com/marie.paccou.9
– Team members and collaborators: Persons and professionals who surround the filmmaker, at some stage or throughout the whole production and consequently share the author’s vision. During the film’s production, they know how to contribute to its visibility (see chapter below) by highlighting their contribution to your film and thus make its echo last longer.
Example: Storyboard artist Maïlys Vallade promoting her work on Rémi Chayé’s “Calamity – A Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary” and Elea Gobbé-Mévellec’s and Zabou Breitman’s “Swallow of Kabul” : https://www.instagram.com/mailysvallade/
– Your peers: filmmakers and other creative professionals in the field who are experiencing similar phases of a production. At the development stage and a long time prior to the expected release – this is the most influential group. They will be the ones who are able to raise the awareness of their community to your project in development, often with an international scope.
Example: Young French director Vaiana Gauthier sharing her fellow directors’ news, and her own: https://www.facebook.com/vaiana.gauthier
Example: Scotland-based director Will Anderson shares his experiments on his upcoming film, and informs about his Festivals selections, participations and awards, related to his latest film: https://twitter.com/willanderson_
These eclectic profiles are your potential audience, the ones who will connect with different types of information and content that you will share. So it is crucial to determine a wide variety of content accordingly; while using several types of appropriate platforms. Optimise the time spent on this marketing strategy by making it sharp and to the point. Again, remember that the contemporary world is content-saturated, so avoid soaking your network with an ocean of promotional footage. Instead carefully select ahead what makes sense to you and therefore to the targeted audience.
5.2.4 Prepare and gather consistent footage
As suggested above, for a compelling vision and a committed community, another aspect of a thorough marketing strategy is content-wise. Creators often use side products like postcards, tote bags, posters and other physical items, and “goodies” to create a tangible and emotional link. This form of “guerrilla marketing” is common and expected to promote a film onsite but it is becoming harder and harder to do so.
In the digital world, there is a large span of potential content, from GIFs to memes, including work-in-progress footage and extracts, samples of model sheets, of concept art, mood boards, excerpts of the scenario, workspace photos, interviews… but listing these possibilities doesn’t make the task easier when it comes to including their creation in the daily routine of a film production, though it is relevant to find how to translate your work into online content.
“You will need to negotiate the right balance between setting the tone that creates buzz and the one that helps engage target audiences, or at least not alienate them.”
The ambition here is to specify the types of digital materials which can easily be generated and to include them as a necessary part of a film’s development phase.
First of all, again, start with your own experience:
- Think about what interests you
- Question whether this type of content could be appealing to your nephew, your composer, your fellow director or a journalist. If it doesn’t match any of the profiles, there is no need to invest your time in this.
- Finally, rely on your creativity for additional promotional gadgets/gimmicks
Example: USA-based Latvian director Signe Baumane created a consistent digital presence through several platforms, listed in her official website: http://www.signebaumane.com/
Example: In Spring 2020, when the UK was in ‘lockdown’ because of the COVID-19 pandemic, British director Joseph Wallace was forced to shoot his stop-motion film with a remote team based in Hungary.
To make the best of that situation, he could:
1. Record an excerpt from one of the weekly team meeting.
2. Document and show the “behind the scenes”.
3. Live stream a conversation with his animation supervisor and talk about the project
This type of content can engage collaborators, friends and fellow international professionals.
5.2.5 Define relevant platforms
188.8.131.52 Your website: a must-have
As previously explained, our goal is to present ways and tools to develop a marketing strategy, starting by making relevant choices content-wise but also media-wise.
Traditional film distribution, driven by classic promotional techniques such as printed posters or theatrical trailers, has been supplanted by social networks and other digital platforms. The number of options may discourage some of the readers. But if you were to choose just one option, the must-have would be the director’s or the film’s official website (or blog).
A website has indeed several qualities, and has proven its usefulness in the long term: it is sustainable, unlike social networks, and belongs to its owner, not to any GAFA – Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon. Technically speaking, there is no need to be an experienced web developer to create a clear and efficient website.
Wix, Squarespace, Cargo or WordPress, to name only a few, are relatively easy tools that can be used by anyone who can watch and learn from tutorials. Besides that, most of them are free or very cheap.
A website should be conceived as the central hub of information to brand a film and its creator(s). The various social networks should point to this site, rather than host the content themselves.
The key elements that we suggest are at the minimum: a synopsis, a list of key cast and crew, a representative image like a poster, and information on how to watch the film.
Additional content that an audience would appreciate are: a trailer, a press kit to share with the press, links to any press coverage, “behind the scenes” photos, production stills, festival selections, awards, and release dates.
A storage system such as Dropbox or an FTP is accordingly required for heavy files like a press kit.
184.108.40.206 Video platforms
Several kinds of video platforms can enhance a film’s visibility at various stages of its life and for different target audiences.
Regarding promotional content, such as trailers, teasers, excerpts, works in progress, recorded interviews – and later, the film itself – “free” streaming video platforms, such as YouTube or Vimeo, are essential solutions. They act as a digital storage on the long term (though don’t count on it), and as streaming hubs, where both website and social networks must point at. Vimeo is very “independent filmmaker” friendly. The community is smaller than YouTube’s but it is more likely to be interested in your independent film.
In addition, VOD – “on-demand” video – platforms shall be considered as substantial and financially viable broadcasting solutions – once the film has completed its festival tour.
Most of these platforms have a national reach, and therefore are geo-blocked i.e. users’ access is limited based on their physical location so we advise to identify the most relevant one(s) in your country and to make an agreement/deal. Again, if there is no distributor handling that aspect on a filmmaker’s behalf, it is necessary to plan for that.
A VOD deal could be agreed upon for the duration between one to several months, usually with a flat fee in exchange for the film’s inclusion in the catalogue. This is a way to extend the film’s exposure, to confirm its quality (by having it selected in a catalogue), and finally to reach a new potential audience.
Note that Vimeo OTT also provides a way to rent or sell a film directly to an audience from your own account. It could be a complementary solution to a national VOD deal.
Don Herzfeldt’s “World of tomorrow” short film, on demand: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/worldoftomorrow
To conclude on video platforms, make sure you do not allow any viewers to download your film. Unfortunately, it could sometimes be a way to misuse and to avoid paying screening fees for a public event. Even a streaming video can be easily recorded and saved as a file, though the quality is not high and won’t be acceptable for an audience. Since it is quite difficult to avoid that, the solution we advise would be to point clearly to a contact person and email for these purposes.
“For public screenings, reach us out at: email@example.com”
220.127.116.11 Social marketing
The concept of social promotion has grown with the increasing popularity of social networks and social media. Thanks to these, the influence of each director and the visibility of a film can be significantly enhanced.
What can be off-putting about social media is the time spent to feed them. Undoubtedly, information saturation is notable on these platforms.
A quick view of the major ones’ advantages should help select the most adequate tool(s).
· Facebook: The most popular
Facebook is one of the oldest, and therefore the most popular, social network. Usually, anyone looking for information about a filmmaker or a film will search there. As a result, you can count on significant visibility through this network.
Decide whether you want to use this platform as a place to share new images, or organise live streams, thus gathering your community to online meetings. If you are keen on this platform, make the most of it: let your followers know (ideally in advance) about your trips to festivals, or participation in live stream events. Also share any of your film’s festival selections awards and press.
But even if you are not a fan of Facebook, at least create a page for your film pointing to your website.
In all cases, favour a strong visual banner and profile image, or even a short video, to draw attention. Anyway, avoid aggressive networking through this platform. Do not send an invitation to all of your contacts but use the soft method: subscribe to your contact’s own pages, follow and comment on a few relevant publications in specialised media pages, and most of all tag people or organisations related to your film. This will boost references and links to your page.
Facebook is definitely your target platform to reach out to your friends and family, and mostly to your collaborators.
· Twitter: grow your network
Twitter is the most “social” of the social networks, in the sense that it is a conversational platform. Instead of focusing mostly on sharing updates concerning the film, as advised in other platforms – spend more time to react to conversations, to re-tweet relevant posts (for example, those referring to your film – such as a festival official account).
Participate. In the long term, people may notice your activities, and engage with your project if they feel connected.
· Instagram: show your work
We believe Instagram is the perfect platform to follow your project from “behind the scenes”. Its structure favours visuals – still or video – and is ideal for sharing the production steps. In that sense, it could be moderated not only by a filmmaker but also by the crew.
In this second case, the Instagram account obviously would be the movie’s, not the filmmaker’s. So think about whether in the long term, you want this account to be a presentation of the film, or to represent you as an artist and to outline the evolution of your work more generally.
This is a platform which generally requires a consistent amount of published contents. Therefore it is useful to launch it from the start of a project, to share pre-production, production, post-production elements; later on, to share the final poster of the film, thereafter selection in festivals, reception of awards… If these options don’t resonate with you, spend some of your time scrolling through Instagram and checking accounts of your peers to identify what type of content you enjoy.
This may seem like a duty or daunting task, but could be facilitated by a structured organization and some forward planning.
18.104.22.168 Press: rely on it
Even though today, everyone can – via a social network, a blog or even on a video platform – share their opinion about a film, professional journalists and critics remain strong influencers for audiences.
It is important not to overlook them and to have as much press coverage as possible around a film. Make the journalists’ work easier by uploading and giving easy access to your press kit, including poster, visuals/stills, trailer, extract, synopsis, and biography.
As soon as a film has gone beyond the concept and development phase, it is time to contact relevant media to draw attention to the project – do not neglect the local press, or media specialised in the genre of your film and not only animation.
Here is a list of online magazines and rating websites to consider:
- Cinema Blend
- Rotten Tomatoes
- Indie Wire
- Animation magazine
- Zippy frames
- Cartoon brew
To sum up, always ask for the reviews or articles links once they appear online. These are fuel for a website, jewels to be shared on networks. Above all, thank the journalist involved (to promote that person first, and consequently the film).
5.2.6 Build a timeline, get organised
As the previous sections raised numerous questions, listed several choices to make, addressed various opportunities, there is no doubt that it takes time to deal with a digital marketing strategy.
Therefore getting organised is essential. As stated by distributor Luce Grosjean “Yes, it can be a lot of work, but imagine it is time you would be spending traveling.“ So we assume that this “new” time – at home – shall be the one spent on planning marketing activities, and on including them within a film production schedule. We find that betting its outreach on the quality of a film is not an active marketing strategy, and can often be disappointing. It is building a promotion timeline that will enhance your chances.
“If you wait until your movie is done to “do some marketing,” you’re way too late […] Since you’re not a movie studio, you don’t have a gazillion dollars to spend on a global advertising campaign.”
By drawing digital marketing milestones, a filmmaker who is neither an extreme Instagrammer, nor a professional community manager – will hopefully avoid wasting time. From a practical standpoint, you can dedicate half a day of a working week to planning and publishing content, for example on Facebook, Instagram (via Facebook) and Twitter. Furthermore, there are dedicated tools such as Hootsuite or Buffer, which allow you to publish scheduled posts on multiple platforms within the same interface.
We must take into account that social networks are a means of sharing. So it is essential to appropriately engage with (some of) them, not simply as showcase platforms, where a few photos can be posted. No need to impose any regularity however, but each interaction should be thorough. Commit and keep your promise to the engaged community, so they know what to expect.
Make time for:
- Synchronising a posting calendar to the film festival run, so the new online content act as an echo to the film highlights
- Sharing live streams, festivals Q&A, events and (digital) attendance
- Posting a countdown sticker to your film screening in Instagram and Facebook Stories and encourage people to turn on reminders.
5.2.7 Add value
We would like to conclude by listing ways to enhance the digital activities listed above.
The recent health crisis has significantly increased the number of online festivals, among other events, therefore questioning traditional filmmakers’ economic and marketing models. While once they could rely mostly on the festival tour to meet new people, connect with their network and preserve their visibility, this is now rare, if not unrealistic.
Instead, conferences, round tables, online interviews have expanded – to promote authors and films – but often without any financial compensation.
Even more than the creation of marketing content, the preparation of these events is time consuming and complex to produce, without any benefit. In the “good old days”, you would be invited to a foreign country, and get to meet an attentive audience in a real venue. That seemed pretty fair considering the work done. But nowadays, what does a filmmaker get?
We are aware that this collegial reflection raises a wider issue than the focus of this article.
Nevertheless, it seems accurate to include the following optional content under the umbrella of a digital marketing strategy. Prepare a turnkey or ready-made “making-of” or lecture by using your online footage.
But for any exclusive request of brand-new or bespoke content, we guess that asking for a flat fee – equivalent to the traditional advantages you would get by attending an event – is not too pushy.
In addition, carefully select the online events that can ensure strong media coverage, or reward your contribution. Filmmaking is a passion but should not be undermined or degraded.
5.3 Summary and Resources
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and since handshakes, “meet and drink,” and other kinds of social gatherings are now – if not forbidden – at least restricted, digital networking is mandatory. This considered, we advise filmmakers who have not yet embraced the tools and assets that digital marketing can offer, to make most of them at this time.
We propose that this “new digital era” offers also many advantages: using one’s time differently, meeting people outside our professional community, participating in various online events, and being inspired by sources which we would not be able to access previously. Each field of the creative industries – including fine arts, performance, stage and screen arts, uses specific codes and are currently adapting to online audiences – establishing new models that filmmakers could find useful.
Attending online festivals, webinars, and conferences from other sectors is an opportunity to discover new promotional tools, but also to take an active stand in positioning animation practice and expanding audience awareness through participation.
Authored by Ellie Land. Ed. Michelle Kranot
In this section, we will outline the main findings from the survey of our festival, funding, and training partners, which will be known collectively as cultural partners in this document. We will summarise the impacts for film makers, audiences and other stakeholders. We will analyse what we have found and make suggestions for future research in this area.
The story of research findings evolved, showing a clear divide in successful outcomes for those organisations who responded earlier on in the pandemic (March to May 2020) and those who were able to wait longer (May to October 2020), judge the situation, learn from those who went early, and make more informed decisions about their festival.
With the prospect of moving their festivals online or to a hybrid version (both offered online and as a physical event), festival partners explained to us the fundamental changes they had to make in terms of curatorial practice. Bujes, Gil, and Smith talked about online programme design, suggesting that the duration and timings of screenings needed to happen over a longer period. Bujes whose festival Visions du Réel was one of the first to go online earlier in the pandemic, stated that “showing work simultaneously proved to be too much for staff teams and audiences.” In essence, the activity of the festival needed to slow down.
Further points were made about changing the experience of the festival both online and in physical state. All cultural partners emphasised that though replicating the physical festival experience online would be advantageous, the physical elements of a festival do not translate well onto online space. Suggestions of ways to re-invent physical experiences are also starting to emerge. Gil suggested we shape the theatrical experience and broaden how we engage our audiences, for example her festival now offers artist spotlights on the website. It was suggested that online is a useful tool for building audiences for physical events and that creating smaller events seems to have a bigger impact on audiences “If you go smaller, it might be possible to host more of that meaningful interaction” Schindler says.
Reflections on the accessibility of the online format of a festival concluded that audiences including filmmakers, distributors, multipliers, and the general public are finding the online format a little inaccessible and that film festivals need to invest more attention in helping audiences navigate for the most valuable experience. In particular, it was highlighted that visibility of filmmakers was pertinent. Grosjean says “They should ensure that great, professional people, who can really help you to make your next project, will be watching and participating online.” A consensus that marketing, product awareness, data driven strategy, and PR skills are what is needed to develop this area, thus suggesting a significant shift in curatorial practice.
The shift in curatorial practice is a piece of a larger conversation about visibility. It is suggested that accessing content via a screen flattens and homogenizes the audience’s experience. In contrast, audiences’ physical appearance at a physical festival navigates the space in a very different way. Therefore a need to give the filmmakers the right visibility and expose their work to the right people is more difficult but likewise more important within the online space. ‘When you aren’t physically at a festival, you are not really as open to opportunities or less likely to come across a person, or content which you were not previously aware of. You need to be really very good at social media campaign, very active to get noticed online.’ (Miquel)
The cultural partners suggest that filmmakers must build a robust and visible online strategy. “Journalists need more visuals to work with, so filmmakers should be more prepared. This additional work should be part of the process and taken into account from the beginning of a project.” St Pierre. Initial feedback on these attempts to wrap films is proving promising to the filmmaker, for example pre-recorded filmmaker Q&As attached to the end of the films was beautiful and touching (Bujes)
The cultural partners all commented that connection is the core missing element from an online version of a festival: interactions, being global, knowledge exchange, partnership building, dialogue, and community building. Wegenast comments that new platforms for meeting spaces are being developed, but there is an underlying anxiety that we cannot replicate those important face-to-face meeting opportunities, be that in the industry sessions, or in the queue to watch a film. We cannot re-create these meaningful interactions online.
A significant role of the festival is to offer filmmakers the opportunities to pitch projects, to connect with the right industry people that will help them advance their projects, and to connect films with multipliers (Schindler) These are the people who program your film and recommend your film to other festivals. Schindler suggests that less multipliers are attending online screenings, therefore decreasing the filmmakers’ exposure and onward possibilities. Online pitching has the potential to decrease the success of a filmmaker’s pitch due to the ‘floating head’ scenario. Brunnenmeyer suggests because there is less body language to read, eye contact is also harder to gauge. These nuanced, simple, human communication skills are missing, thus making it harder for the filmmaker and panel to connect. These are all important, indeed lifeline opportunities, for the independent filmmaker who is not visible to the larger media corporations.
Dialogues around the role of the film festival have been on the agenda for some years, particularly since the 2008 global financial crisis. Many countries have introduced austerity measures and funding cuts to cultural programs. The onset of a global pandemic has speeded up and reinforced such conversations. Core to many festivals and filmmakers is the premiere status of a film. Discussions around the viability of premieres and exclusiveness in an online environment and the rules and regulations that festivals have now have taken on a new prominence. In fact, the very existence of festivals and the roles they play is coming into question.
Our research identifies clear risks to the sector and this comes in the form of larger, more established online platforms (such as Netflix). Their growing influence on audiences’ taste and the growing establishment into funding opportunities ensures their influence is rising and could threaten the independence of film festivals. Such risks suggest that film festivals need to adapt and respond. The pandemic has meant that film festivals have had cuts to their funding. This, coupled with years of austerity, exposes weaknesses which can be exploited by the larger organizations.
The research shows that the cultural organizations are building deeper partnerships with technical online companies. Bujes talks of trust, developing dialogues with tech companies, whom they can trust to host their festival and all of its associated data online. This dialogue is also exchanged with the filmmaker, trust that their film will be ok online.
The research shows that there has been a shift in the types of audiences attending films. The move online has democratised the film festival-going experience. This is beneficial for filmmakers in that their work is potentially reaching a wider audience. There is potential here to explore the monetarisation of these events for film festivals. As Miquel comments: “We had more than 60,000 accreditations this year; much more than we can take in a normal year. Also the demographics are broader – more representation from around the globe. These are all very positive shifts. There is a bigger distance, but also removal of borders.”
Now is the time to rethink curation, rethink audience participation. Filmmakers need to prepare to have dialogues with festivals about where, when, how, and for how long their films may screen and make decisions on whether this fits with their own strategy. Perhaps bigger conversations around creating for online spaces rather than the cinema will materialise. It is difficult to know how long ‘the new normal’ will last, but what is evident from the research is that the current activities will have a legacy, that we likely will not return to cultural events as we knew them and this will be influenced by how film festivals and filmmakers adapt and what the funding landscape looks like in the future.
A key finding of the research indicates that filmmakers should spend more time developing their ‘visibility’. They should create robust strategies for marketing and distribution, create content that wraps their film, and find new ways to pitch their films. Filmmakers are also spending more time discussing screening options with each festival. There is a pertinent question here about how to resource the filmmaker in order to conduct these activities. Filmmakers need training, funding, and resources to make this happen. Where does the funding for this come from? We suggest that film festivals consider looking at fees for films to screen and that funders design budgets to include well-resourced marketing.
Naturally the role of the producer and production companies should be included in this discussion. How do producers ensure that their projects are adequately resourced for marketing? We suggest that further work around the lobbying of funding bodies to provide adequate funding to fund projects to their full potential. Funding bodies should understand and respond to this new situation. That said, the role of the producer has been largely overlooked by this research; we suggest that this aspect needs strengthening and to be examined further.
Furthermore, we suggest that further work needs to be conducted on the collection of data from audiences, with regards to the impact of the content being featured online. Does the filmmaker providing more content ensure visibility or is content getting lost in information overload.
We are some months into the COVID-19 pandemic and it has become clear that festival audiences are experiencing social fatigue (Maier et al. 2015a) which suggests consumption of too much content or information overload. “It’s not unfair to say that by now audiences are tired and professionals are tired and there is simply too much content out there.” Gil says. Feelings of boredom, tiredness, burnout, and disinterest are becoming common. We recommend, with some urgency, an investigation into the information overload phenomenon in order for online versions of festivals to develop, adapt, and continue to conduct the good, essential work that they do.
This research has demonstrated some important findings and suggests areas for further investigation. This is a key document for film festivals, funders, distributors, and filmmakers to engage with.
6.2 Analysis: Filmmakers’ Interviews
Authored by Vassilis Krousalis. Edited by Michelle Kranot
Ten independent animation directors (Simon Rouby, Anca Damian, Julie Baltzer, Flora Anna Buda, Philip Piaget, Rikke Planeta , Nikola Majdak jr., Ana Nedeljković, Joseph Wallace, Nikita Diakur) were interviewed in eight, one-hour long, online interviews. They were presented with questions regarding the challenges faced by independent animation filmmakers during the COVID-19 pandemic (since March 2020), the impact on their professional work, and necessary steps to be taken in this ever-changing online world. Allowing room for individual variations, there were strong points of convergence on the topics of online festivals and new practices; on how a post-pandemic ‘new normal’ is conceived and addressed.
We propose three main analysis outcomes, discussed below:
A. Creators focus on identity rather than content / projects.
With most of their projects in production hindered / delayed / canceled, animation directors re-discover the ‘solitary’ aspect of their work (scriptwriting, concept art making etc.), and, at the same time, the creative aspect of their human being as a whole. Having to experience conflicting emotions and situations (lucky to survive financially but struggling to get their work made and showcased), they remove themselves from a day-to-day evaluation of the specific project; instead, they dive into their creative being. Self-reflection is not inaction; but rather a mental re-organization of priorities, both on a personal and a professional level.
The interviewees are more and more reluctant now to separate between the two; manifestations of success in the former (personal) necessarily lead to success on the latter (professional), and not vice versa. Even if most of them have been creative and energetic enough to work out alternative ways of content dissemination, what appears to be the most pressing issue is to reconstruct their identity as artistic beings within a community of like-minded people. In turn, this implies a reevaluation of priorities regarding showcasing and the distribution of their professional work.
B. The filmmakers’ sense of artistic identity has been primarily embedded in a theatrical / exhibition setting; their online presence, can be a welcome opportunity, but requires reassessment in order to become a strategic goal.
Animation and film festivals have not lost their allure. Minor complaints aside (content availability, website design etc.), the physical film festival format and its community is of primary importance to our interviewees – and not because of the nostalgia factor. The physical spaces of animation and film festivals create an environment which our participant’s state cannot be replicated in the online format; they are also concerned that festivals are in danger of becoming a smaller version of the big online platforms (YouTube, Facebook, Netflix etc.)
On the other hand, participants do not neglect or negate online content presence and distribution. They are, in general, skeptical concerning its ability to differentiate, classify, and showcase their work the way festivals do. With great effort, they all take advantage of the existing online platforms to make their work more visible, and capture the spirit of immediacy; all consider the offer of online content as an opportunity for their work to be highlighted. However, many remain unconvinced that their online presence is an identity-forming factor, itself embedded in a cultural context.
It is of note that novel ways of content distribution and work exhibition mentioned in the interviews refer almost exclusively to the physical world and the theatrical space, and not its online counterpart. Online content distribution still functions mostly as a utilitarian outlet for the interviewees, strongly distinguished from their attitude and concern for existence of theatrical exhibition. The only exception to this comes when the interviewees consider the possibility of an online, community-based, platform of content distribution – which, at this moment in time, is still a fledgling idea.
C. Building communities of like-minded creative people, and forming alliances in an ever-changing world is a pressing priority.
Thinking of themselves as artistic beings in a cultural landscape, rather than being labeled as content creators, the interviewees reflect critically on the existing institutions (such as film funding centers all over Europe) and their mode of supporting filmmakers. They reflect upon inequalities and unfair practices which the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light; they are also worried that the national isolation that COVID-19 brings, may be used to support and endorse a global proliferation of conservatism (or the best scenario: indifference) towards culture.
Without necessarily having a meticulously articulated plan in mind, the interviewees denote the need for an artistic-minded community as a weapon of survival, pressing against the cultural appropriation of art and animation. The unhealthy co-habitation of government neglect or cultural conservatism and the measuring stick of popular entertainment, when applied to online content, threaten to suffocate individual creative expression. A like-minded artistic community (however defined) seems to be the immediate body to confront these challenges.
Concluding, the animation directors interviewed for this research all embrace the notion of their humanity and connectedness over the immediate concerns of their projects. Whether in a theatrical or online setting, whether in physical and digital relationships – artistic integrity is to be preserved and cherished.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ‘cultural chain’ has been disrupted. The link between creator and their audience needs to be acknowledged and re-defined. Many filmmakers have now had to re-define their practice as an artistic calling, rather than steps in a series of projects. Perhaps it is time for the world to follow suit?
Maybe disrupting the business model isn’t so bad? Who are the ones who have always benefitted? Perhaps it’s time to turn our gaze and resources elsewhere? But it does take a lot of resources and energy to reorganize our community and industry in a way that is productive and sustainable. Which interest group will lead the way?
This research project is only to point out and indicate a milestone moment: a turning point. The more people we spoke with, the more questions came up. Some of the initial questions early in the current COVID -19 pandemic, about ‘adapting’, about visibility and outreach, have changed over the past months. The reality of online festivals made some of those issues less relevant. Some other topics, which were not a consideration at first, for example, the compounding stress of ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) and over-saturation, content monetization, and the political economy of digital data extracted by platforms, have become the new ‘hot’ topics. We are now concerned with impact, access to knowledge, and connectedness.
To conclude, it is suggested that we, as a community, consider defining a new economic model for the distribution and promotion of independent animation cinema.
Directors, festivals, critics, and distributors must work hand-in-hand to rethink the validation, including monetization, of online screenings, presentations and creative meetings.
Film funds and the national cultural institutions supporting the work of filmmakers, should address changing business models, perhaps reconsidering success criteria and guidelines.
These are unprecedented times when all professionals from the arts sector and creative industries must share good practices to help the whole community overcome the challenging situation and thrive.
7.1 Author and Editor
7.1.1 Michelle Kranot
Michelle Kranot is an artist, filmmaker, and producer based in Denmark. A member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, she has recently won the Grand Jury Prize for Best VR Immersive Work at Venice International Film Festival, Venice, Italy.
Awards for previous works include the FIPRESCI Prize at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, a place on the Academy Awards® Shortlist, and the Danish Arts Foundation award.
Together with her partner and co-director Uri, the Kranots are the founders of TinDrum, a research and development studio. They are the producers and creative directors of ANIDOX, a program of The Animation Workshop in Viborg, Denmark, that focuses on developing and producing animated documentaries. www.tindrum.dk / www.anidox.com
7.2.1 Ellie Land
Ellie Land is a senior lecturer in animation at Northumbria University and international award winning animation director. She practices and undertakes research in the fields of animation and documentary and frequently collaborates with researchers in health and medicine.
Ellie has published works on a broad range of topics and is a sought after teacher and mentor. Her body of work has been showcased at international animation festivals such as Ottowa, Hiroshima, and Fantoche and have been curated at exhibitions at the V&A and ICA. She is represented by the British Council.
7.2.2 Clémence Bragard
Clémence Bragard (Annecy, 1988) studied digital and audiovisual content management (Ina SUP) and audiovisual production (Gobelins, Ecole de l’image). After working a few years for news TV channels, she became a freelance curator and manager, to develop and produce cultural projects related to Animation and Media. Working for famous events, institutions and companies, such as Annecy International Animation Festival (France), OIAF (Ottawa, Canada), AFCA (French-ASIFA), RECA, Epic Games (USA) and recently, The Animation Workshop (Viborg, Denmark), she uses her skills to fit to various needs, target audiences, and companies’ strategies. Currently she is the Artistic director of the French festival of animation film, AFCA – French association for animated cinema and a freelance consultant.
7.2.3 Vassilis Kroustallis
Vassilis Kroustallis is a Greek film and animation professional and scholar. He is the Head Editor of Zippy Frames, a leading online international journal on independent animation. He is also a PhD candidate researching European feature animation at the Dept. of Audio & Visual Arts (Ionian University, Greece). Since 2019, he also works as PÖFF Shorts Animation Programme Director (Estonia). Vassilis has served as jury member in many animation festivals. He received the Society for Animation Studies Award for Best Scholarly Article in Animation (2016). His short film scripts The Hotel and Mar(t)y have been awarded at various international competitions. He is a voting member of the Annie Awards and a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic.
The author wishes to express sincere appreciation to the collaborators and co-authors for their invaluable input to this project:
Ellie Land, Filmmaker and Senior Lecturer in Animation at Northumbria University, Vassilis Kroustallis, writer and editor Zippy Frames Animation online magazine. PhD Cand. Ionian University, Corfu, and Clémence Bragard, Artistic Director of the French Festival of Animation Film, AFCA – French Association for Animated Cinema.
In addition, special thanks to Uri Kranot whose understanding of the needs and ideas of the targets was helpful during every phase of this undertaking. Thanks also to administrative staff and Lone Thaarup Nielsen, as well as to the members of the school council for their valuable input.
Special thanks to Tim Leborgne, Department Director, Open Workshop & Professional Training at The Animation Workshop / VIA, for initiating the idea of this endeavor and for his kind support.