articles and interviews archive

Interview by Jason Locy for Trap Door Sun, October 2009 (excerpts)

You have had a lot of success at a young age, as you continue to mature, how do you see your work changing, progressing?

i think i would be terrified to actually know that. i haven't got a clue. i don't often make the same sort of movie twice in a row. it's always been whatever is next in my head. from a commercial standpoint i guess i've made some pretty inscrutable decisions - like following up rejected with a sprawling abstract film about human evolution - but it's really just been whichever ideas won't go away at the time. there always a lot of new things i'd like to try and i'm happy to still feel like i'm learning a lot.

How does patience play into your work?

with tricky scenes i've had to spend a couple months on getting just a few seconds of finished movie... but on average a short will take me around a year and half to two years. sometimes the most satisfying thing is coming up with the most minor of rewrites - something that improves the story while saving you from having to had animate a few connecting scenes - and you sort of sit there and realize you just saved yourself a solid month at the art desk, a week of photography, and a couple weeks of sound mixing.

Why the stance not to use your work for advertising or other commercial means?

it just has nothing to do with it. it would be like taking time off from the films to drive a cab or paint houses. i'm not rich but i don't need to take on random jobs that mean nothing to me. the goal is not to try and make as much money as i possibly can, the goal is to try and make good movies.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that is the case, people seem to pay you a lot of compliments. Do you see it that way?

i guess, maybe... though i think i'd prefer to be complimented with a nice gift basket and a bottle of wine.

If you could form a death-metal band what would it be named and what would your first number one hit single be titled?

wow you're really in luck, i actually keep a long list of album titles for all of my imaginary bands. i'm pretty excellent with album titles. i used to be pretty good at band names but for some reason lately it's all been about album titles. if it were a death-metal band i think our number one single would be bitches asking for ham sandwiches, sort of a rap-death-metal genre blending thing there, off the best selling album goat yelling like a man.

Because of the artistic nature of your work, different people interpret your films in different ways. With this latest film series - Everything Will Be Ok, I Am So Proud of You - do you intend your audience to understand a specific message?

no, god i hope not. messages are dangerous territory. i think those films are more like sharing a specific feeling or a specific moment with people than plainly delivering sentences. they seem more like songs than essays. i think there's more content in a song. some of my favorite songs, i've listened to them maybe a thousand times and i still might not know what all the lyrics mean and maybe i've even misheard some of them, but i still get exactly what that artist was thinking and feeling in that moment in time and for a little while you're sharing that space - it's like a mood you can't really put into words. i think whatever was being expressed with i am so proud of you is in there and whatever you find or don't find is totally valid. as the writer you have to let it go. it's sort of like giving somebody a nice gift.... you sew them a nice coat and you enjoy watching them opening it and making them happy. but then you need to get the fuck out of there. it's theirs now, let them try it on and walk around and live in it. don't keep coming over and saying "how's it fit? did you notice i put pockets on the inside? those stitches were imported..."

Are there any upcoming projects we should be looking out for?

i've just finished a very silly five minute cartoon for something that i can't really talk about yet... it will be fun to see people driven from the theater. i needed do so something goofy between proud and chapter 3, i don't think i could have made three long bill films in a row. i've also been working on a graphic novel for the first time, which has actually been developing into something quite good - i keep changing it around and improving it and the only downside is every time i elevate one section, i have to back and make everything else that much better. but the big albatross, chapter 3, will be next... i'll be animating it before the end of the year. i think 1 and 2 are some of the best things i've done and now i'll be doing my very best not to screw this whole thing up.



Interview by Nobuaki Doi, October 2009

Where do you feel short animation has its strong points compared ot feature length films or live action? Estonian animator Priit Parn once said that animation can condense time - if a live action film needs two and a half hours, animation can do it in 40 minutes. The same can be said about your recent films, I think. Watching I'm So Proud of You is like watching 2001: A Space Odyssey. What a huge scale of time and space one short animation film can condense... Really surprising. What are your comments on the nature (or the possibility) of short form of filmmaking, and especially about short animation film?

short films can maintain a level of intensity that feature films can't, without exhausting or really irritating the audience. you can get away with stuffng in a lot more information per minute. when i see an action movie that's badly constructed, if it's just wall to wall set pieces and explosions, i can only last so long before my eyes sort of glaze over and i have to turn it off. you need to plant moments in there to let the audience take a breath and relax - that's true of comedies too. even with a short i'll find moments to give the audience breaks - it's like a piece of music, you always need to include a few rests. but by and large, shorts can sort of stay on the attack almost all the way through... i am so proud of you covers almost as much ground as feature films do in 22 minutes, and if it were much longer the audience would start to feel beaten over the head. it's a pretty relentless stream of information and images being thrown at you... everything will be ok is almost nonstop narration too. you can't really do that for 90 minutes, i think people would probably walk out. information in a feature has to be served in smaller doses. i read an article that studied the limits of the human attention span; it said even when a person is concentrating as hard as they can on a task or a story, their minds still wander off to daydream surprisingly frequently. we've all noticed new things in a movie the second time we've watched it because for whatever reason we happened to be unplugged for that moment the first time through. it's a bit strange to look back on now, but these chapters weren't really intended to be seen in a row. when we showed proud and ok together on tour i was careful to play a silly cartoon in between them to give the audience a chance to clear their heads. i'm not sure what will happen when someone eventually watches all three chapters back to back - almost feature film length - it will probably give them a giant headache.

Could you tell me your method of making human characters? It seems to me that the characters in your films (especially in Everything Will Be OK and I'm So Proud of You) are made-up not by caricaturing or simplifying elements of humanity (like animation in general). Every time I see your film, I come to feel the existence of a human itself...

thanks... visually bill is the most stripped-down character i've worked with, and that allows him to have much subtler moments. if a few grains of the pencil in his eyes goes a millimeter this way or that, his expression and demeanor changes dramatically to me. you always sort of know what he's thinking. and of course the rest of his character is in the writing and the delivery. he tries to be a good person, i think he's very easy to relate to and root for. and i really like the fact that he's made audiences cry yet he's never spoken a word in either short. i love silent films but i somehow hadn't realized until recently that bill's basically a silent film star.

What impressed and surprised me most in I'm So Proud of You is that although the film has many personalities and many episodes, all of them are really believable. What did you think about making up these personalities or episodes? Were they only from your imagination or from detailed research? What is important in making them believable?

i think the things you learn in non-fiction books and documentaries are always more strange and amazing than anything you could make up, and i'm trying to keep bill sort of in that area... if you go too far and get outlandish it would be harder to relate or to care about him. most of his moments are pulled from real life.... conversations i've had, dreams, science stories, moments i've pulled from my old journal.... many of the strange episodes in his family's history were inspired by obituaries and newspaper articles from the early 1900s. i think every writer does that to a degree, weaves things from their own lives into the bigger story.

Films by independent animators tends to reflect their personality or their way of thinking. To what extent are you identical with Bill?

he voices a lot of the things i wonder about or am afraid of. i've noticed that when i'm worrying about something if i put it in a movie or a story it bothers me a little less.

The narration is great in Everything Will be OK and I'm So Proud of You. The text itself is beautiful and has a strong power to evoke something in the viewers' imagination. Please tell me the importance of the written texts and the act of narration in these films. And why did you decide to narrate by yourself? What do you think about the relationship between narration and visuals in animation in general?

i really didn't want to do the narration for the first film but i was rewriting as i went along and mixing the sound entirely in my apartment. so i was the only person who was always around to record extra takes and try out new material in the middle of the night. i'm not a very good actor, i think a good actor is somebody who could have performed the narration perfectly in an afternoon rather than need a month of frustrated re-recording.
i don't know if it ever occured to me how integral the narration would become... getting the spoken words flowing just right was as important as getting the picture's editing right. it also drove the writing, there are some things that look brilliant on paper but sound stupid read out loud, and there were other things i could get away with performing that might look trite on the page. but i want the whole of it - picture, writing, sound, music - to sort of wash over you... i don't expect you to keep track of every detail being thrown at you in the narration and the picture... these stories should be overwhelming and maybe a bit confusing. it's a run-on stream of information and emotions that should sort of carry you along, tell you a little too much and maybe a little not enough, and let you to take from it what you like.

Everything Will Be OK and I'm So Proud of You use live action shots. How did you approach them? Were there any reasons that they should not have been hand drawn? (I always feel that the people are essentially alone when I see these films. I think one of the reasons is your use of live action shots. They have very distant feelings.

yeah, the live action windows really isolate the characters, they're obviously very detached from those environments. i guess you could say they're detached by an entire dimension. almost everything you see in every moment in both films is from bill's point of view - how he perceives himself, what he might hear offscreen and visualize, past events that he is picturing or imagining, dreams, all the little distracting images that pop in and out of our heads from moment to moment. and i think that relationship between the animation and live action elements will be pushed a little deeper in chapter 3.

Are you a fatalist? Do you think our existence is defined by some power beyond us? Some people think you changed your style after The Meaning of Life, but you've said all of your films speak the same language. If I could point out the common theme in your films, it would be the fact that all of them deal with the relationship between a tiny existence (human in most cases) and a huge power that doesn't belong to it. For example, in Everything will be OK and I'm So Proud of You the relationship between the realm of conscious things that Bill can control and the powers that Bill can never control (disease, genetics, unconsciousness, natural elements, death...) The same can be said about some of the other films. Like between a tiny human and the hugeness of time and space in The Meaning of Life, the characters and the assaults upon them from out-of-frame world in Rejected, children and violent balloons in Billy's Balloon...

yeah i think that's all correct. i'm not sure i'd call myself a fatalist, predetermination or defeatism doesn't make much sense to me. but i don't think most people are in control of much of our lives, either - for all the reasons you mention, like genetics, disease, and chance - and also because many people don't really choose to take control. very few of us really seem happy with what they have and actually appreciate their lives... i just read an article today that said americans are living longer than ever - cancer rates are way down - yet they are unhappier than ever, dissatisfied and vaguely frustrated all the time. and they've been fooled into being dissatisfied by the commerical culture around them - the last few generations, mine included, have been sort of sold this idea that they are all stars, that technology can make them happy, that it's ok to be selfish and "go get yours", that they all belong on tv talent shows... that becoming rich is somehow the goal of life. it's all a celebration of selfishness disguised as "individuality." i'm convinced that most middle class americans don't consider themselves middle class, but "not rich yet." and when those messages are being pounded at you all the time it creates a very unappreciative and unhappy way for people to live, always waiting for something else and never existing in the moment and looking around them. so when that plague suddenly comes or the asteroid strikes, it is sort of twice as tragic when they are suddenly shaken awake at the very last moment. it's kind of a tangent, but it is very similar to bill's story... he's suddenly facing something terrible and is forced to look at his life for the first time through these new lenses... suddenly the things that seemed so important are redundant and meaningless and everything looks new and surreal.

What do you think of the brain? Isn't it strange that a piece of meat inside our skull can imagine goddamn huge and even nonexistent worlds (like Bill in the latter part of I'm So Proud of You)?

i try to read a lot of neurology books (that is, i try to understand them), and the more i read the more baffling it all seems. the subconscious seems much more active (and much more brilliant and interesting) than anything going on in our heads that we're actually aware of. on the subject of not having much control of our lives, there are some spooky studies that strongly suggest that the subconscious is truly making every one of our decisions for us, and just giving us the illusion that we're steering the ship from moment to moment. every impulse, motivation, and idea that pops in our heads was thought up subconsciously a few seconds before, and we're merely carrying out the program as it's being fed to us. i can't wait until somebody uses this in their criminal defense trial.

Last question. I'm So Proud of You has a very interesting episode: "the passing of time is just an illusion." "All of history is fixed and laid out, like an infinite landscape of simultaneous events that we simply happen to travel through in one direction." This is exactly the same with the (narrative and visual) structure of Everything Will Be OK and I'm So Proud of You, isn't it? Every time I see these films I come to think that such a structure is really like the structure of our memory, our inner world. This is possibly a bad question...

no, you're absolutely right! the narrative of i am so proud of you jumps all over time and space for just those reasons. a film strip is a perfect example of this theory, too: we're advancing it in one direction but it does not mean the frames and moments behind us have ceased to exist, or that the frames ahead of us are not already there. it's a very beautiful physics theory and was perfectly suited for that film - in a sense, everything repeats, beginnings and endings again and again all at the same time. i don't believe that's necessarily predetermination either, i think free will still works even when the future is happening "right now." chapter 3 will probably be more similar to chapter 1, and settle back down to focus on one timeline again.



Interview by Todd Luoto, December 2008 for the 2009 Sundance Film Festival

If cinephiles think shorts don't generate the same sort of hype and fanbase as feature films, they obviously haven't heard of Don Hertzfeldt. Which would be both a shame and a mystery given that Hertzfeldt just came off 25 screenings in 16 U.S. cities, most of them sold out, and was met by fans Ė many tattooed and clothed in tribute of his previous work Ė as he presented the 2009 Festival entry I Am So Proud of You, the next installment in his series that started with the 2007 U.S. Sundance Jury Award-winning short Everything Will Be OK. If that still somehow fails to register, one only need to look back a few years at the young filmmaker's many successes: A Palme D'Or nomination in 1998 at the age of 21 for the film Billy's Balloon; an Academy Award nomination at the age of 23 for the highly praised, constantly recited, and often mimicked short Rejected (yes, the one with the banana!); and a spot on Filmmaker magazine's 2001 ďTop 25 Filmmakers to WatchĒ list. At only 32, Hertzfeldt has accomplished more than many filmmakers double his age. And heís still going strong ó the third installment of the life of his stick figure, Bill, is forthcoming. I Am So Proud of You is an existential re-exploration of Bill's life as he contemplates its lessons, family sagas, mental illness, broken bloodlines, ball-bearing seals, and a couple of deadly trains (among several other themes and plot points). Like most of Hertzfeldt's work, especially his more recent efforts, there's a beguiling depth to what seem like simple lines, somewhat skewered geometric shapes, and the frequent moments of hilarity he creates.

What was it like to win the Sundance Jury Prize in 07?

the movie was still pretty new and i remember that being a bit of an up and down week, it was passed up for the oscars but just a couple days later won the big jury prize. you try not to place a lot of stock in awards and things, but i have to admit i was really proud of that one. but you can't dwell on it or take winning or losing stuff personally, it really almost always comes down to luck. sometimes you make the best movie you've ever made and everybody ignores it.

Did you feel it was a win for animation (when you take into account that often itís segregated), or did this just validate that your sensibilities are much more in tune with live action, as Iíve often read youíve said?

yeah i guess animation's sometimes treated like the ugly little stepsister of live action, there's just so many weird misconceptions about it. to me, movies are just movies, i don't tend to think of live action and animation as very separate or distinct animals. i don't race out to see new animated things just because they're animated, and i think i find most animation festivals to be a bit annoying. i don't see much reason to make that distinction, at the end of the day all that matters is the storytelling, not the medium. audiences just want to see a good movie, whatever it is. and i guess maybe this has more to do with having gone to a live action film school, but i do sometimes feel more like a live action filmmaker who just happens to draw.

These last two films seem to be quite rooted in philosophy and existentialist thought. Whatís your background there, if any? Do you read up on a lot on this?

i guess i don't have much of a background there other than the things that generally wander through my head while sitting in traffic or staring at the ceiling at night. sometimes you're doing the dishes and the most profound piece of your movie comes leaping out of nowhere, and it can feel a little weird to take credit for it.

Curious to know of your work habits, especially with this film. I imagine you need to be pretty disciplined to be as prolific as you are. Night worker, day worker? Hours in a typical day, especially when animating?

mornings are beautiful when i'm awake for them but i usually can't get any solid work done until the middle of the night. i seem to be just wired that way, even on nights when i don't go to bed at all and try to flip my hours around, it will only last a couple days before i'm back staying up working until 6am again. i really hate having to go to bed and won't do it until i'm all the way exhausted.

How long did Chapter 2 take, and the breakdown of each: writing, animating, editing...?

i think i am so proud of you took a little over a year and a half to make. i work alone, and the only benefit there is how all the different production hats i need to wear all sort of wind up blurring together into one big job. so while i'm animating, shooting or working on sound, i'm often still writing big chunks and editing at the same time. so i can keep making big improvements and move things around organically without screwing up someone else's job or losing time. animating eats up the most months in all of that, with all my sound work coming in second.

Youíve been doing your tour for the last few months and itís been selling out like crazy. Between the tattoos, the funny hats, and the added shows, any lessons learned or inspiration found on the road?

after being in solitary confinement for so long with the movie, touring really went a long way towards recharging my batteries. way more fun than i ever expected. we'd show some of the older films with proud as the headliner, and did 45 minute audience chats at each screening, sometimes three in a night. i'd never traveled that much with a new movie before and was thinking they'd be wheeling me out there all angry with an iv bag towards the end of the tour, but i really wanted to keep on going. when your stuff winds up on dvd or tv you'll always get a much bigger audience, but you can't actually be there in living rooms to see it happen and watch everyone's faces, see what works and what doesn't, and talk to people every night.. it's the only reason i went on tour, that audience energy is probably why anybody makes movies in the first place. it's like giving someone a big present, you really want to be there to see them open it.

I gotta ask -- You cover so much in Chapter 2, do you have any idea right now what Chapter 3 is gonna be about?

i think i've got about a third of it mapped out now. i haven't really plunged headfirst into that yet but i was writing a bit in hotel rooms and airports, every now and then something would pop in there. before we left i also shot about a minute's worth of footage with some leftover film from i am so proud of you, but i haven't watched that yet.

TV show? Chapter 3 (2011?)? Downtime? Whatís next for you?

chapter 3 won't be next in line but i'm sure i'll get started on it in a few months. there's a little thing i'm going to animate first for someone that should be fun, and will have no redeeming artistic value whatsoever. there's also a couple of book things circling. and yeah there's that tv project i've been kind of developing for over a year now, which i am never quite sure about... i'm used to coming up with an idea and starting to draw it that weekend, so working with other people's money and timetables and budgets in the tv world is a big weird new thing.

A lot of shorts filmmakers I meet, many of them starting to get there stuff out there, often cite your work as a huge influence. How about your own influences either right now or starting out?

starting out i also really wanted to be stanley kubrick. ok i guess i still kind of want to be stanley kubrick. i still watch one or two movies a day but i think most influences are coming from other places.... music and books and everyday things. whenever i see a really great film i'm honestly not feeling very inspired, but rather a bit depressed and inadequate.

Can you talk about the reason you chose to construct the film the way you did (in panels)?

bill's character first turned up in a few comic strips i did for my website about ten years ago. they were pretty irrelevant and strange but i kind of liked how they never had any punchlines or real point to them. it was just sort of bill going about his day looking at things, and then that would be the end of the strip. later when i went to write everything will be ok, i couldn't help but keep visualizing bill in those enclosed comic strip panels. and once i figured out how to split the screen up in the camera (most of ok and proud were shot through little holes in black paper - each portion of the frame was composed separately with multiple exposures), that all sort of broke down the dam... the story suddenly made much more sense with all the moving pieces of the screen, and the rest of the writing came really easily.

Youíve become a seasoned Sundance veteran. What are your thoughts on the festival, and how Ė if at all Ė has it affected your career, from either helping you gain some extra exposure or encourage your pursuits, if at all?

now i'm feeling a bit old... this will be my fourth movie at sundance, and my fifth time in park city (first was billy's balloon at slamdance ten years ago), so thank you for not being tired of me yet. i think all of the films have had a great boost from being here. sundance is my favorite festival, you guys just do everything right. i've never once felt like i had to worry about audiences or promoting my films here or anything. i've never printed up a single postcard or flier or ran around with business cards. everything sells out anyway. fair enough, i'm also just lazy. but it's nice to come to a film festival and feel like you can relax a bit and just see great movies and meet people and oh yeah, sometimes you have a screening too.



INTERVIEW WITH BUZZINE, October 2008 by Louis Elfman (excerpts)

How is the tour going so far?

The first leg wrapped up last week, and Iím just home for the weekend before heading right back out the door (next up is Missouri, Chicago, Omaha). So far, itís been fantastic ó all nine screenings in the first six cities sold out beyond everyoneís expectations, and the adrenalineís really kicked in. I havenít been good at sleeping in hotel rooms, and right now Iím just doing my best to stay healthy through the end of November, but Iíve been having a great time. Itís really been unlike any other time Iíve traveled with a new movie.

Why did you walk away from the Animation Show?

There were lots of reasons, but basically MTV came on board as an investor in the third season and I think that sort of changed the chemistry of everything... Before we started working on the fourth season an executive there said the Animation Show was boring and suggested we do an all-comedy show... I think they thought they could promote it easier if it was all comedy or something. It felt really weird and wrong to me. I never thought the Animation Show should have preconceived notions about the films. We'd always just tried to reflect whatever the animators around the world happened to be doing at the time. You need a strong mix of very different stuff... and even if you thought an all-comedy program was a great idea, the simple fact is there just isnít enough great comedy being done in animated shorts every year to fill out a quality 90-minute show... They started scouting YouTube cartoons to find more comedy to fill this void. The show was just drifting further away from what it used to be and it just wasnít really interesting to me anymore. [Besides], allowing nothing but comedy knocked out most of what Iíd planned on programming anyway. I figured if I stuck around Iíd just be arguing with people every day so it was the best thing to let it go

Do you miss it?

No, not for a second. I think, towards the end, it was just a big ball of stress.

Have you started work on Part 3 of the trilogy?

I dove right into I Am So Proud of You soon after finishing Everything Will Be OK, but Iím not nearly as ready to leap right into Part 3. I did have some film left over from Proud, so I shot about a minuteís worth of stuff for 3, but I havenít watched any of it. Thatíll probably just live under the bed for a while. I think Iím going to let things marinate for now. Iíll be on the road with the tour through the end of November, and then Iíll come back and maybe see where my headís at.

Your work has always had a comical irreverence and absurd humor to it, but it seems to have grown increasingly philosophical and brutally introspective. Are you actively exploring these themes in your work, or is it your work that reveals this to you?

I guess, in a sense sometimes, it feels like some scenes ďwrite themselvesĒ and surprise me. For example, the ending for I Am So Proud of You had actually been written for Chapter 3, and after i transplanted it, it sort of took root in this movie with a different meaning. But I think, by and large, itís all just the sorts of ideas that Iím interested in right now, and I am actively writing and feeling my way through. I think some of the earlier films are also coming from that same voice, just moving in a different direction.

With the continued success of your work, including the numerous awards that Everything Will Be OK is garnering (close to 40 now), do you feel itís helping or hindering your work?

Ha, the day you hear me start complaining about success or awards, you have permission to club me over the head.



IFC INTERVIEW by Alison Willmore on October 6 2008

When you began work on "Everything Will Be Ok," had you already planned on it being the first part of a trilogy?

Not right away... in the earliest drafts of "Everything Will Be Ok," I think Bill died at the end -- which I guess might have made for an interesting trilogy anyway. I write and rewrite as I go, and some point early in there I realized there was much more to his story. it was also the most fun I'd had animating a movie in a while and I wanted to carry on, so I started work on "Proud" almost immediately after finishing "Ok." "Proud" just wrapped up a little while ago, but I'm not nearly as ready to plunge right into part three. I had some leftover film, so a few weeks ago I shot maybe the first minute, but that'll probably sit under the bed for a while.

Why does it seem somehow extra sad to see a stick figure contemplate his mortality?

I think it's easier to project yourself into a simpler looking character. Maybe it's because the drawings seem more candid or honest somehow -- as some artists like to say, you have to leave room in the frame for people to dream. It's probably why audiences will always invest more in a simple character like Charlie Brown than one of those overproduced digital fake humans.

How did you come up with the multiple window visual motif used throughout "Everything Will Be Ok" and "I Am So Proud of You?"

Bill first turned up in a few comic strips I did a long time ago, and as I was trying to figure out the movie I couldn't stop visualizing him in those same sorts of panels and frames, it just wouldn't go away. I was sketching around and suddenly had the idea of splitting up the screen into independent panels. I dropped everything and raced to the studio to play with the camera to see if I could figure out a way to composite the whole movie that way. (The camera is literally just shooting through little black holes that are framed and sometimes stop-motion animated an inch or so from the lens.) After that, all the rest of the writing fell into place -- suddenly everything just clicked.

Are there any particular films or filmmakers you'd cite as influences? I've seen everything from David Lynch to "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" thrown at you in reviews.

Wow, well I wouldn't argue with those influences, at least not in spirit... I'm not sure if I deserve them but that's great company to have thrown your way. David's legendary and "The Diving Bell" was easily my favorite film from last year.

"I am so proud of you" is your longest film yet at 22 minutes -- I suppose this depends on the ultimate length of the third chapter, but the three parts together would seem to approach feature length. Is that how you would ever want them shown or thought of?

Not really. I'm not sure if I even rewatched "Ok" once the whole time I was working on "Proud"... which I guess is kind of strange. They share a lot of common threads, but I've been approaching each of the chapters as their own standalone movies. I think they've got to be strong enough to sink or swim independent of each other, I don't want you to have to have seen part one to understand part two or three. We're playing both "Ok" and "Proud" on this tour, but I've no idea how well the two will complement each other. "Ok" is a pretty exhausting movie to watch, and "Proud" is even more so... there's so much going on, each of them are stuffed with ideas...having them come out in episodes, I think, is a little easier dosage for an audience to take. I'm afraid if somebody eventually watches all three of them back-to-back they might crawl under a sofa and weep

Your 2005 film "The Meaning of Life" was pretty epic in theme, in production scale and in new techniques, and also seemed from everything you've written about it to have almost killed you -- how has making that film influenced what you've done since then, and would you ever try anything on that scale again?

"The Meaning of Life" was sort of like when you're little and in swim school, and you start paddling out towards the swimming instructor, and she slowly moves backwards saying "You're doing great, swim to me, just a little further," and suddenly the distance you have to swim keeps expanding until you realize that she's now backed up the distance of an ocean. I had no idea the movie would eventually demand so much. I don't think I could (or should) try to tackle something like that again, at least not without a solid team behind me. I do like the finished movie, but life is just too short to lose almost four years of your 20s slaving over something called "The Meaning of Life" in sad irony.

"Everything Will Be Ok" won the short film Jury Prize at Sundance last year, which isn't something they tend to give animated films. How do you feel about the continued segregation of animation from "regular" film elsewhere (the Oscars being the glaring example)?

I've kind of had the opposite experience -- I've often felt more welcome and understood in the live action film circles and a bit segregated from the animation world. I think an interesting problem today is how "animation" is still used as a generic label for a medium that's suddenly grown so incredibly diverse that the label's really become meaningless. Asking "What's new in animation?" 60 years ago was easy. You had Disney and Warner and MGM and maybe a handful of other studios doing stuff. Asking "What's new in animation?" today is as broad and meaningless as asking "What's new in music?" Well, there are indie bands, there are opera singers, there are classical musicians, there are country singers, there areexperimental noise bands, there are rappers.... the list is endless. That's how exciting and diverse animators around the world are right now, doing wildly different things, difficult to categorize things. It's the sort of filmmaking I always tried to highlight when I was working with "The Animation Show." But I think most Americans -- and the media -- still think of modern animation as being represented by whatever studio features the Oscars usually nominate, which to me are about as cutting edge as the redundant pop stars you always see nominated for Grammys. There's so much more out there.

You founded "The Animation Show" with Mike Judge as a way to bring short-form animation to theaters and now you're embarking on your own tour -- what's so great about the theatrical experience?

You obviously can't beat the quality -- when you shoot on film, your movies are never going to be as rich or sharp outside of a theater. But for me personally it starts and ends with the audience. After fine-tuning something in solitary confinement for a couple years, the biggest reward is as simple as hiding in the back of the room and finally watching it all unfold over people. It's hard to describe, but I really need that, the chemistry, the feedback. I think it would be very hard for me to keep making these things without being able to connect with the audiences like that. Millions of more people will see your stuff when it goes to DVD and television, but you can't actually be there to see it work.

You've promised an "embarrassing live on-stage interview" with each stop on this tour -- do you have a range of interviewers lined up across the country?

That's one of the last pieces of the puzzle. There's gonna be a different interviewer for every city, so I imagine that will keep me on my toes. We've lined up interviewers for maybe half of the venues so far. I'm not sure yet what we're going to do for some of those -- possibly out of desperation invite up the popcorn kid or the theater's janitor to ask me whatever they like. Which might turn out to be a fantastic idea, actually.



October 2008 by Ian Chant (excerpts)

Are you already at work on the third film in the trilogy, or taking some time off?

probably going to take some time off. i dove straight into proud very soon after finishing ok, but i think iíll need a bit of a longer break this time. iím still not entirely sure yet if chapter 3 will even be my next project. i had some leftover film so i recently shot a little bit of footage for it, but i guess iíll wait and see how things feel when i get back from touring in december, and whatís going to be next.

Youíve long been on record as wanting nothing to do with making commercials Ė crass product placements aside, is there any cause or ideology you would consider doing animation for?

yeah if i ever had the time i wouldnít rule out doing something for charity, or an organization i felt strongly enough about

Your particular animation style is imitated with a disturbing frequency Ė is this a situation where imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or do these knock offs bother you?

when it comes to all the terrible knock offs you see in TV commercials, they bother me because it seems like most people assume iím reponsible for them.

Your award winning short Everything Will Be OK explores the everyday trials, travails and turmoil of living with mental illness. What compelled you to take on such a serious subject using a medium that doesnít often get itís due for being an art form capable of tackling mature content?

iíve sort of approached the two films as childrenís books for adults. bedtime stories are there to help kids be less afraid of certain things and to gently let them fall asleep in the dark easier, and in some ways billís story is there to help adults be less afraid of the things adults are afraid of. theyíre even fully narrated, like someoneís reading them to you. i think thereís a kind of innocence the animation brings to what is a sad and difficult story, and bill seems to have become a character thatís very easy to relate to. animation can help let ideas slip through the door that otherwise might hit too close to home, people tend to be a little more open-minded watching a cartoon, especially when you make them laugh. itís sort of like slipping the audience their medicine hidden in their sugar.

return to the articles page