This Canadian Animation Blog interview is with Ron Diamond, who curated the 17th Animation Show of Shows and who also is the Founder and Executive Producer of Acme Filmworks.
Alexandra Papouchina: The questions I’m going to ask you are for emerging animators or animation students who are interested in pursuing a professional career in animation.
Ron Diamond: You mean the field of working as a professional animator? Not necessarily the field of making short films?
AP: Either could work.
AP: Are there steps animators, who are in college or university programs, can take to help get their films distributed or monetized once they complete their schooling?
RD: I know when I was a student, the last thing my peers and I were concerned with was trying to monetize our films because the purpose of the films was for them to be a showcase piece for us as filmmakers. Our films were also an opportunity for us to explore different ideas that don’t always equate to commercial successes. So, I would encourage a lot of students not to feel bad if they don’t find sales for their films, because that was not the purpose for making those (student) films.
I mean, there are lots of ways to monetize student films: depending on the nature of the film there is a possibility to achieve “viral success”, and of course they could be advertised through Youtube. Often though, short films are kind of a delivery device for a creative idea, and students often have a great deal of creativity and energy that they put into films, and this stands out to people. One way in which we monetize films at my studio, Acme Filmworks, is we work with people who make exemplary short films, and we use those as devices to encourage executions along that line for commercial work and such. That way, when the filmmakers are tapped to make a piece, they are not being asked to go and do something that is wholly unfamiliar for themselves, but rather something original to them. There’s Vimeo and a number of different sources, my program is for very few people in terms of having their films exploited. The hope is that we would be able to offer a lot more films… we (Acme Filmworks) take quite an exclusive approach to our distribution that is kind of frowned upon by a lot of people - the idea of being restrictive in terms of the distribution of the film.
If one keeps at it, there are lots and lots of different ways: cable tv outlets - occasionally there is programming; but ultimately people just have too much to do and they forget about their student films.
AP: If young animators are cash strapped, is it worth it to spend $500-$1000 so they can network at an animation festival like TAAFI or OIAF?
RD: I have never been to TAAFI, but you know…most people in animation are “cash-strapped”, so that’s something that you get used to. One has to realize that getting work, doing work is a process and meeting people is very important to that. I don’t know if a person spends $500 dollars to go to a festival, especially if they’re a student and there are discounted prices for attending, you know cab-surfing and stuff like that goes a long way, and there’s often other like-minded people in similar situations. When I was in Annecy, I met groups of people who stayed in one apartment, in a one-bedroom apartment. And they were able to make it work just fine, they got cots and they were able to sleep. They weren’t expecting much from the apartment except for a place to sleep for the most part, though they did cook there and hold parties inside. So it’s always good to reach out to the festival and see if they can help with finding other people who might need accommodations and see if there are people in the local community who can help put people up.
I definitely think festivals are important, I have given my name out to literally thousands of people, my name and phone number, my cellphone number. I have stood in front of rooms full of seven to eight hundred people and said: “I’m going to help you go to an animation festival” and they go “great - you’re going to pay for it” and I say “no, no, no I am not going to pay for it, I’m going to give you my cellphone number so you can call me after you’ve made your argument to your parents or whoever is helping you financially in your life” and I tell them that “to not go to a festival, is kind of ignoring an important aspect of one’s career, and if you’re really committed to animation one learns a lot and if you go and you’re inspired - that’s great! if you go and you’re not inspired - find something else to do! Animation is not for everybody, so one has to listen for the hardship stories as much as the fandom so they can be realistic about what they hear and go ‘I don’t care, I don’t care, I have to be making animation shorts, or have to be working on an animated tv show or work on an animated movie’.” They should be very passionate about whatever it is that’s driving them, because the last thing you want is to do your course of study that has very limited applications in other areas and work as a burgeoning animator for 5 to 10 years and then go “I can’t stand it!” - that should be figured out as early as possible, and be confident about what you’re doing.
So I think that animation festivals are very important, I recommend that students go to foreign animation festivals just to get their vibe, such as Annecy, and that is going to cost about $2000 dollars. They have campgrounds there and thousands of students are up there camping. I’ve never been on the campgrounds, it’s like a mile away from the festival, yet something tells me that there’s a really cool scene going up there on the camp ground - in the morning everyone comes with smiles on their faces, so I don’t know what happened up there but they had a good time. And you meet people from all over the globe: Indian students, German students, British students, French students, you’ll meet Spanish, Italian… from all countries and even a few professionals who stay there. It’s so important to go to a festival to make sense of it all, so I tell my students “talk to your parents about it for 2-3 birthdays or 2-3 Christmases in a row, keep track of it and convince them that it’s necessary to go”.
And every year that I go I speak to about 14 000 people every year when I present my program - that’s not the ‘paid’ people, this is the schools and the studio people and the fans - and every year two to three to five students come up to me and yell “I’m here!” and I go “good! who are you?!” and they are like “ do you remember me?” and I go “Oh, I’m sorry, you look like a nice person but I have no idea who you are” and they tell me “No, it’s ok I went to Chapman” or “I went to UCLA” and I say “oh great, you’ve made it here to the festival! “ and they say “yeah, and I am having a great time!” and I say “well, if you need help with anything, come grab me and I will help you figure out something” I think it’s important for people to be as gracious as they can and help students, young people - whether they’re students or not. And the students have a chance to walk up to some of the legends of animation… I’ve been to Annecy with Tim Burton there, I’ve been there with John Lasseter, I’ve been there with Nick Park, I’ve been there with lots of people you’ve never heard of who are magicians when it comes to animation and they make beautiful work… and it’s a great opportunity because you can just walk up to them and say “do you have a minute to talk with me?” and they go “yeah!” and people are very happy to engage and that’s very nice, superstar or not… so I think that it’s very good to go.