This article is based on a workshop talk given by Paul Driessen at the Stuttgart Animation Festival ‘88.
When animators are engaged on commercial work or series work, they often have to produce a set amount of footage each day to keep within the budget. It doesn’t matter so much what the quality is like as long as the footage is completed. That kind of animation is not the most interesting to work on because animation has so much more to offer. It can be creative and moving, as most experienced animators know.
People who are new to the technique often ask me why I animate when it takes so much time. I don’t think of time when I animate. In fact, the films I make now take a good deal longer than my earlier works. I complete two films a year but it is not important to me how long the animation takes – except for the lack of money – one has to live somehow! When the budget is stretched, that becomes a problem. A lot depends on the film, if the subject is worth it, I will do it. My work is exceptional in that I make mainly my own films – author films. I would write and direct and animate – almost complete the whole film by myself. It is always my idea. Nobody commissions me or tells me the subject. I don’t do commercial work.
In Holland it is very hard to live from your own work. I think most students have the idea that they would be able, after having studied animation, to make their own films, to create their own style. But you have to find budgets somehow. You can’t produce animation on social support although it might be possible if you can get a grant or sponsorship for materials. Many animators find they have to finance their own filmmaking by taking other work.
One might sell the completed film to TV stations although Holland is a very small country and the outlet on TV is very limited. The language is also against you if you look for a market outside; so very often Dutch animated films are without words. If they do have words they use English instead of Dutch, because the Dutch understand English very well and you get a large potential market around the world.
I travel a great deal to festivals and that’s where you meet your fellow animators, you discuss filmmaking, you ask about local conditions and you find there is a strong interest in animation all over the world.
If you make animated films by yourself it is very often a hermit-like life: you sit in a small room while you work, and each film takes so long you get depressed at times. You think maybe nobody wants it. You have to keep telling yourself it is the best thing you have ever done, that it’s great, and you have to believe that. You have to hold out for a long time before you can show it to people. There is also a problem with it taking so long: by the time the film is finished you have out grown it, you want to make another better film.
I am finishing a picture now but my mind is already on the next one because I want to go on with the filmmaking. I cannot make a film and then sit back and think, “Well, what do I do next?” The moment I stop, the money stops coming in and I get hungry. So you have to prepare yourself for your next project. Again, I am talking about author films, personal films you make for yourself. The way I have solved it is that I live in Montreal, Canada part of the time. In Canada there is commercial film work which is State supported. They attract freelance film-makers who can present an idea for their debut film and then maybe they would be paid a salary while they make it. You could make, maybe, a couple of films subsidised by the government, but not all the time, because they are not there just for you, they have so many artists to support. They want you to evolve your style, which is good in a way, but they do not want to put forward Paul Driessen films all the time – they want something different.
In a funny way the government don’t seem to mind what you do or how you do it. The money is made available because they think it is important to support the arts. The decisions are left to a local committee consisting mainly of filmmakers. Recently the subsidy system has changed; there is film fund is for short 16mm and 35mm films. Something they will do which they didn’t before, is sponsor by percentage. The first film will be 1000/a covered by the film fund; the next film 80%, then 600/a. The idea behind that is that after your first film you would be able to get some help. So you would have to look for outside sponsors. In animation, on certain films it is difficult to do that because they are usually not commercial.
Animated films cost much more but it is possible to get the money back because they have a long lifespan. Films I made 10 years ago still bring in a small amount of money each year, which is then divided between me and my producer, or whoever has part of the action. They do last, even now in Stuttgart I am able to show films which were made quite a while ago. Disney is able to re-release films every seven years because by then there is a new generation ready to watch them.
If you insist on making your own films, the way I do, you create your own market eventually. There are two American companies who put together a compilation of animated shorts. Any style of cartoon or animated short will be considered for inclusion. The programme is presented like a feature film, mainly to universities, art houses and so on. They present stand-up entertainment on stage before the show starts and they play to full houses wherever they go.