“When you enter your film in a festival like this it is good to get the audience reaction,” continued Murakami. “The prizes are also important although some people may disagree. If you are a painter you might have a chance to sell because your painting is cheap enough but films are very time consuming to make. It is all very well for the festival to say that is a nice film, but it is better if they give prize money that can be used to make another film. I do not think commercialism is a bad thing as long as the artist is strong enough to do something of his own.”
American film maker Bill Plympton was very optimistic that there were huge amounts of people out there who want to see animation. “I can only speak about funny animation since that is what I do,” he said. “People are lined up around the block in America to see funny animation.”
Plympton started out drawing political and gag cartoons for a magazine. His films cost about one-thousand American dollars a minute in materials and he claims to have made a “tub of money”.
In America, companies organise packages of short animated films for theatrical distribution. They will pay up to $1500 dollars per minute for the films. Plympton also sells his films to schools, libraries and corporations. “My film Twenty-five Ways to Quit Smoking was a major seller to IBM, Kodak and other big corporations because they showed then to the employees to help them quit smoking,” explained Plympton. “They also show funny films at conferences just to wake people up. They have a conference where everybody is falling asleep, they put on a funny film and everybody is alive again.” MTV is also a major buyer of his films.
American Express are buying the rights to films for a limited period to show in theatres under the banner of American Express. They have shown productions such as Knick Knack and other John Lasseter films. “I am in negotiations with them to show one of my films,” revealed Plympton. “They pay about $20,000 for a film and for me that is a lot of money.”
He advised people to avoid festivals that do not offer prize money. It is wear and tear on the print so you lose money.
He also raises money from his original drawings. They sell for $200 each, which he believes is low compared to Roger Rabbit originals that are going for $40,000. There is a large market in original artwork and in America there are a number of dealers who specialise in animation art.
Bill Plympton’s films are not expensive to make and he generally earns between five and ten times the original cost through the various distribution points. He produces his own films because he does not like having other people control him or showing him how to make his films.
“I have now decided to make a feature film,” announced Plympton. “The shorts are successful and I want to try something bolder. It is a musical fantasy similar to The Yellow Submarine and I would make it as a series of shorts. The money from each short will be put into the next short and by the end it would be all one feature film. I thought it would be a real challenge to make a feature by myself. Then I got commissioned to make some commercials and now I have a lot of money so the film should be finished in about two months.”
It is possible for animators to get some production money from the Cartoon organisation. Cartoon was started through the Media Programme and that, in turn, was set up by the European Economic Community to recognise the needs of the member countries and bring them together.
Robert Basler, the President of Cartoon, explained the objectives: “We are talking about a very diversified cultural aspect of southern countries, northern countries, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, there are a lot of different cultures. The Media Programme attacked all aspects of the audio-visual world; distribution, production, financing and so forth. One of the industries they felt was really important was animation. They called on ASIFA to help find the professionals in Europe and they called a meeting to tell the Media programme what the animation world wanted. We have had an extremely successful three years with the pilot programme. We had a small amount of seed money. Any project that was selected would have up to half of the money put up and the rest of the money would have to be found from private or government sources.”
Members of Cartoon set up a number of committees and came up with several plans on how to create a European animation industry. Basler did not want the word “industry” to be taken in a negative way, there is a commercial aspect and there is an artistic aspect. One of the factors was to somehow unify these countries. “It is something I never thought was possible,” admitted Basler. “We devised a plan where studios from three different countries get together and form a group to work together on their mutual projects or individual projects. If somebody had told me an Italian company could work with an English company and a German company; or a Spanish company could work with a Dutch company – it seems so far fetched, but it has worked.” The enthusiasm of the interchange has been tremendously successful. They now have six studio groupings and more being formed. They group together twenty studios and probably two thousand animation people. That is an important first step in unifying the industrialisation and production capacity.
Cartoon does not give money away for individuals to make films, they have aid to encourage a system whereby the artists and the industry can help each other. There were plans set up for preproduction, which is the only way the Media Programme legal system allows money to be given to artists. Anybody in Europe who has an idea and wants money to make a pilot, or to develop a script and so on, can submit their proposal to the selection committee. The committee is made up of some of the top people in the animation world. They look at all of these ideas and pick the ten or fifteen best, most artistic, communicative and creative projects. They select work that could have an impact on the commercial world as well as an impact on an artistic world. These people receive fifty percent of the development budget. The fifty percent the film maker puts up is not necessarily money, they can put up the cost of their own labour, and they can put up the overheads of their studio. Somehow the budget reaches the point where it would be double the money put up by Cartoon. Many people have their pilots in production now. Once the pilot is made it needs to be sold so the film maker then needs a producer, and the result should be studios producing high quality, communicative, artistic films on an industrial basis.
“We asked ourselves how Cartoon could help the animators raise production money,” said Basler. The answer was to organise the television buyers of Europe and hold the first Cartoon Forum in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. These Forums bring together around seventy television buyers, video buyers, publishers and so forth, who look at various projects that have been turned into Cartoon. Film makers meet with people who are specifically interested in their project. In Lanzarote there were fifty-nine projects that received interest from the television world. Thirteen of those projects were able to generate one-hundred percent financing.