Panel reported on by Dayna Gonzalez.
On May 5, 2009, The City of New York Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre, and Broadcasting, held a career panel on animation. On the panel were Independent Filmmaker, Bill Plympton, Founder of Augenblick Studios, Arron Augenblick, Animation Sales Rep, Catherine Branscome, and Animation Directors/Filmmakers, David Levy, Debra Solomon, and Norma Toroya (aka Crankbunny). Julianne Cho, Associate Commissioner for Communications and Business Development at the MOFTB, moderated the panel.
The night opened up with a discussion between keynote panelist Bill Plympton and Julianne Cho. Bill’s seasoned career has given him a lot of fun stories to tell and great advice to pass along. His most well known story of why he went independent is his Disney one. I’ll try to retell it here to the best of my ability. At age 15, Bill went to Disneyland with $20 in his pocket. He saw a Disney book on how to animate and couldn’t resist buying it with his $20. He sent a package of drawings in application to Disney, only to be rejected three weeks later with a form letter for being too young. Fast-forward 30 years later, after he’s become successful, Disney approaches him with a million dollar contract. Intrigued, he gets into the nitty gritty, only to learn that the contract requires him to turn over ownership of all his works created during his time there to Disney. The right answer for him was to turn them down, and he has remained independent ever since. He touts self-finance as not a bad thing due to animation’s longevity – it can always be sold, and the fact that you ultimately own the rights to your work. His advice to students looking to get started in a career in animation, is to start off at a company doing animation: learning new technologies, making contacts, building cash reserves, and storing ideas. Work 6-7 years, make a few films and do the festival circuit. If they are successful, take off and become independent. To close the discussion, the audience was treated to a screening of Bill’s new short “Santa: The Fascist Years”.
The night then introduced the rest of the panelists, who come from a wide array of animation backgrounds. A variety of questions were posed, and the panelists drew upon their vast experience to give poignant, meaningful advice and anecdotes. Catherine, the animation sales rep, spoke of the need to know what you’re going for and whom you’re talking to. If you’re looking to pitch or sell a certain idea, you need to know the background of the company you’re pitching it to. Many of her clients are found through referrals and festival networking. Many of the panelists related stories of how they got their start, in particular Aaron, who owns his own animation studio. Aaron got his start at MTV animation. During that time, he scraped enough money together, to rent a small space in Dumbo, Brooklyn with one crappy computer. He worked on a number of small jobs but each got more interesting, and in the meantime, he made short independent films on the side. These projects fed off each other and led Augenblick Studios to the successful business it is today.
Much was made of the highly independent nature of New York City, the proliferation of small boutique shops operating here, and the spontaneity and vibrant personality that comes out of that. New York City is unique in that way, and most of the panelists wouldn’t have it any other way. One last question was posed: What do you wish you knew that you didn’t know starting out? Norma: How to say no properly to clients. Debbie: to become an active member of the animation community through organizations like ASIFA-East. Dave: to be your own advocate and don’t wait for things to happen.
I really enjoyed the panel discussion and found it to be very informative and entertaining. I want to thank the Mayor’s Office for including an animation panel. Ironically, the tax incentives that MOFTB manages and that allow many a production to operate in NY, do not apply to animation productions because they are not shot on-stage. Many productions in NY outsource their animation work to countries like Korea, India, and Canada, for the cheap labor. There is currently no incentive for productions to keep their animation in-house. There is no shortage of talent here, and many would love to see more work return to NY. I’m hopeful that the animation community can work with the Mayor’s Office in lobbying Albany for inclusion of animation productions into the tax incentive program. Until then, the MOFTB’s benefits to the animation community here remain limited.