Guest post by Bill Plympton. I'm very excited to be given the opportunity to pontificate about the state of indie film on the wonderful “Hope for Film” site.
If some people don't know me, it's understandable. My name is Bill Plympton, I create animated shorts and animated feature films. And because they're animated, it's very difficult to get any press, respect, or even distribution for my films. I also have two other strikes against me – they're not family oriented films, and they're very low budget. So there you go! That's my dilemma. How do I get distribution for a film that no one wants to touch?
I think a lot of the prejudice is because there is sex and violence in my films, and the audience in America believes that animation is sacred territory. How dare I put raunchy material in a purified, Disney-created art form? That's blasphemy! I'm tainting the holy art form of cartoons.
Yet Quentin Tarantino puts tons of sex and violence in his films and they're very close to being cartoons. So, why can't I? Why can't the U.S. Public make that great creative leap from kid cartoons to adult animation?
Sure, when I was a kid I loved the Disney cartoons, but now I'm an adult, and I don't want to see animation about kids playing with toys and animals singing. I want to make my animation about love, passion, jealousy, revenge, sex, adultery – the really cool topics.
When “Idiots & Angels” opened at the Tribeca Film Festival, we got wonderful reviews and enthusiastic sold-out audiences. We were sure that a distribution deal and riches were coming our way. But we must have shown the film to fifty distributors, and none of them picked it up. It was very frustrating. The film went on to win numerous prizes all over the world, and sold to over ten territories, so it's done quite well internationally. In fact, it was a big theatrical success in France.
I believed in the film enough to try for an Oscar nomination, thus according to the Academy rules, I had to enter the film this year or forget it.
So, without a distribution deal in place, I decided to handle the release myself. Now this isn't the end of the world, in fact there are some positive aspects of self-release. But let me first list the negative points:
1. I had to lay out a lot of money for prints and trailers.
2. I had to hire press agents.
3. I produced posters and postcards myself.
4. I called all my press friends begging to get any kind of interview or articles.
5. I organized street teams of students to canvas the city.
6. I booked myself in every art school I could think of to give me a Master Class, to make the schools aware of the screening.
However on the positive side, here are the benefits of self-distribution.
1. The rights to the film remain in my hands, thus I can control when it's released how it's released, and where it shows. And if I want to rerelease it, it's my decision.
Often times, as you know, distribution companies will decide to put the film on the shelf and refuse the release the film, and you're stuck with a film that will never see the light of day, and there is no recourse.
2. All the money, if there is money, comes directly to me.
So many times I've had a distribution company handle my film and all the royalties get gobbled up in crazy expenses – transportation, prints, luxury hotels, miscellaneous expenditures – or I may not get a statement at all.
One exception, when Lionsgate Films released “I Married a Strange Person” and I actually got a royalty check from them! Whoopee! So miracles do happen.
3. I get to control the images and style of the release. I can talk directly to my audience.
It's interesting that when I released my first animated feature film in 1992, with October Films, “The Tune” was the first low-budget, self-animated film to hit the theater. Now it seems like everyone I know is working on an animate feature. I started a whole movement of cartoonists and who think they can make their own film. “Sita Sings the Blues”, “Queer Duck”, “My Dog Tulip”, “Waltz With Bashir”, “Persepolis”, and many others.
And I think it's very cool – I love the competition because I believe that these filmmakers will prove that there is a market for non-Pixar, non-Dreamworks homemade indie films.
If you want to see what I'm talking about, check out my newest animated feature, “Idiots and Angels” – made with a budget of $135,000. It plays at the IFC Center on October 6th - 12th and then at the Laemmle Sunset 5 on October 29th – November 5th and also at Chicago Music Box on December 3rd for a week.