Last week, ASIFA-Easters were invited to attend a forum entitled Women in …Animation: The Business of Creativity, sponsored by New York Women in Film and Television. Formed in 1977, NYWFT is an entertainment industry organization for women, that serves to highlight their achievements, provide training and professional development, and advocate on various issues.
Now this forum was one of the most diverse I’ve seen in a while. These leading ladies of animation came from such different backgrounds and experiences in the industry. We had Candy Kugel, who when she began her animation career, was one of the only women in the industry at the time. She is truly a trailblazer, from her formative years at Perpetual Motion Pictures working on commercials and political spots for NBC and Berenstain Bears specials, to forming her own animation studio, Buzzco Associates, with two of her colleagues, the late Vincent Cafarelli and Marilyn Kraemer. We had Bernadine Santistevan, writer, producer, and director of Wolf Dog Tales, “An Animated Film with Ancient Wisdoms”. Hailing from New Mexico, Bernadine is working on a number of projects highlighting folk tales and stories of the Native Navajo Indians. Prior to her position as Vice President of Children’s Media at Curious Pictures, Ginger Brown was an Executive Producer at Sesame Workshop. Ginger also owns her own development company, Mermaid Media, and co-founded The Ginger Group, and has numerous Emmy Awards under her belt. Finally, the panel was rounded out with Deena Beck, a graduate of SVA and Assistant Animator at Titmouse, Inc. Deena has also worked with John Dilworth and The Rauch Brothers. All four women were moderated by NYWFT’s Rosalind Murphy, a marketing communication consultant with vast experience in her field working with Microsoft and Film Life Inc.
I can’t recite word for word all the wisdom these women shared during the two-hour panel discussion but I can share with you some of the more worthy nuggets.
Animation series development has a lot in common with live action: It’s all about people, time, and money.
The best way to build a relationship and meet people is to partner with someone and make something.
Strike a balance between technology and story. Don’t pour all your time into making something look neat and forget about story along the way.
On focusing on women and girl characters in animation: It’s gotten better over the years but there’s still a long way to go. There’s a misconception that shows with strong female characters won’t do well. The US is very risk averse to diving into this market, even as other countries such as Japan showcase female characters to large success. It’s an untapped market.
Being an Animator and running an animation company is really tough in New York City. It’s hard to compete with countries that subsidize their animation industry with tax credits and grants. Although New York City does have a long history of supporting live action films through subsidies and other programs, many of these do not extend to animation production. It’s a constant struggle. To survive, one must be really creative in combating these obstacles.
On releasing your films online: While it can often be the kiss of death for independents looking for festival and Oscar recognition, it can also open doors to success. The advantage can be gaining a following and getting noticed by networks, which have now seen proof that you have a market – that you have a product they can sell. It’s also great for quick political films of a timely nature.
On achieving work-life balance? Most of the panelists found this a hard one. It’s seems almost impossible to master. It’s important to know your limitations and be able to draw boundaries. But there’s no easy answer here for the working mother. Which honestly isn’t limited to just our industry.
Key advice for aspiring animators: Get your work out there. Producers are always looking. (Ginger) Be fearless. (Bernadine) Internships are invaluable – learn as much as possible. (Deena) Internships are also great to learn if you even want to go into animation. (Candy)
And lastly: If you don’t love animation, don’t do it.
A special shout out and thank you to the hosts of the evening, Raw Space/ImageNation, a Harlem-based media arts organization dedicated to progressive media by and about people of color. They are currently working to establish a chain of art-house cinemas. Read more about them through their website.
ASIFA-East warmly thanks NYWFT for reaching out to our members to attend this informative panel.