John's Studio News, Part 1

Hello to all the fans of Signe Baumane and her animation!  I'm John H., her office manager and she's asked me to help her update her blog once (or maybe twice) a week while she's in production on "My Love Affair With Marriage".  I'm sure she'll still post on this blog when she can, but her main focus right now is to keep animating her new feature so that it can be completed in a relatively timely manner.  

That's partly how I came to work for Signe, though we've known each other for over 20 years. We worked together for Bill Plympton for several years, with Signe on the production tasks like painting cels and helping to shoot the animation, and me taking care of the office work, like dealing with film festivals, accounting, e-mail and other day-to-day tasks.  A little over two years ago Signe called me up and asked me to come in for a day and do some consulting.  I was only working part-time then, three days a week since one of my two part-time gigs had folded up shop.  

So I went to visit Signe in her studio in Sunset Park, Brooklyn - she told me that she was planning to start production on her second feature, but she was concerned because her day tended to fill up doing a lot of other tasks, leaving little time for animation.  So I asked her what these tasks were - answering e-mail, dealing with festivals, accounting - and it started to sound really familiar.  I've done all of those things as an office manager, so I suggested that she get herself an office manager. "Great idea!" she said, "But I can't afford an office manager."  So, why not get a part-time office manager - and that's when I realized that I was an office manager, and I was available part-time, so it just sort of made sense. 

It could be just like the 1990's all over again, I figured, with Signe on production and me taking care of the paperwork - though now we're in the digital age of filmmaking and I'd have to learn some new things, like how to send files with new-fangled things like FTP and WeTransfer and Dropbox.  But things like payroll and accounting are still the same, no matter where you go, so I volunteered to get involved on her new, independent animated production, "My Love Affair With Marriage".  

My first task on the production end of things was to copyright the script in October 2015, which at the time was just called "The Marriage Project" and it was not much more than a rough treatment then, without dialogue.  In January 2016 I started re-typing it all with the help of screenwriting software into the proper format, while Signe was writing dialogue for the characters, so that each time we made a new draft, there was more dialogue to add, replacing the story beats in the treatment. By June of 2016 we were on the 20th draft and the script was essentially completed and ready to be copyrighted again. 

By then it was also time to apply for some grants, like the NEA Grant, the Sloan/Tribeca Fund and the U.S. Artists Fellowship.  And while we were unsuccessful in getting funding from those sources, the project had received funding from Women Make Movies and NYSCA, so there was paperwork to be done in order to give those organizations reports on how their funding was being spent.

By the time January 2017 rolled around, Signe and Sturgis had begun the Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the production of "My Love Affair With Marriage", and I helped however I could, whether it was spreading the word on social media or just watching the pledges coming in, and trying to reassure them that the campaign was going to succeed.  Once it did, I began packaging and addressing the rewards that we could fulfill right away, while making notes about the ones that we'd have to send out later on.  

Next time I'll bring you up to speed on all that's happened since the Kickstarter campaign, which is recording all of the actors, completing the soundtrack, building the sets and starting the animation.  Catch you then!

Caption Contest #5

CAPTION CONTEST! What does the woman say to the man? Post your caption in the comments below and get a chance to WIN the caption contest! We'll post a poll of the finalists on the Facebook page for "My Love Affair With Marriage" in a few days. Thank you!


Happy Summer Solstice!

Summer Solstice is my favorite time of the year. You could dismissively say it is because on June 21st the Solar System reflects my bipolar state of mind, but I am OK with that. On June 21st the Solar System and me become one.

To celebrate this occasion, I made 5 Summer Solstice cards for you. Use them wisely and widely.

If you like what you see and want to see more, you can support my new animated feature film "My Love Affair With Marriage" here:


Life Drawing: Seeing Things

When you go to a really good life drawing studio you get to see models in all kinds of shapes and ages. Sometimes models even put a nice scarf on to make it more exciting.

But sometimes you start seeing thing that are not there. The other day I drew a model and suddenly I saw a frowning face on his back. 

- Why, - I thought to myself. - Is that a dog?

And yes indeed it was a dog.

Meanwhile, back to my studio I am trying to work on my new film while applying for grants. Before I can blink the work day is over and I got to go to life drawing again.

Sound Editing in Drawings

After recording 20 actors we had to sit down with our sound designer Arjun Sheth to select good takes and put together the audio track - line by line, character by character, scene by scene. It is a very tedious job that requires high levels of concentration. To document the process of making "My Love Affair With Marriage" we allowed one small distraction - my intern Angie Jimenez from Rudolf Steiner School came with his drawing tools and furiously sketched our intense sound edit session. Angie is a very talented artist and I wanted to share his talents with you.

Here's Arjun by his work table, making sure we get to select the best takes. 

Here's Arjun by his work table, making sure we get to select the best takes. 

Right behind Arjun is Sturgis Warner, the film's co-producer and casting director, who is carefully listening to different takes.  Internal intensity only looks sleepy from the outside. 

Right behind Arjun is Sturgis Warner, the film's co-producer and casting director, who is carefully listening to different takes.  Internal intensity only looks sleepy from the outside. 

And this is me. Although it looks like I am half asleep, I am listening carefully to the several takes of the line that is in the speech bubble so that I could form an opinion before we discuss which take is the best.

And this is me. Although it looks like I am half asleep, I am listening carefully to the several takes of the line that is in the speech bubble so that I could form an opinion before we discuss which take is the best.

The close-up of Arjun who is also listening. He has an excellent ear!

The close-up of Arjun who is also listening. He has an excellent ear!

Sturgis here looks very intent. Good work is getting done!

Sturgis here looks very intent. Good work is getting done!

Next we travel to LA to record more actors. Stay tuned!

My Song to Graduating Students

Don't you sometimes wonder why we, the people from Eastern Europe, young and old, are scattered around Europe and the rest of the world? Perhaps just like the steam escaping pressure cooking pot we want to mingle with the gentle and permissive molecules of air outside the pot?

Time to time a European or American person aspiring to be an animator sends me a message asking where is the best place to study animation. I don't even have to think about it.

- Estonia or Czech Republic, - is my instant replay. 

But then one day, to my surprise, I received the following message: "I am an Estonian animation student based in London and it is part of our third year project to ask advice from artists who inspire us. I have a couple of questions for you."

Why would an Estonian go to study animation in London and why would she want an advise from someone who has never studied animation?

Life is mysterious and world is populated with people who who have their secret reasons to move from one place to another (I will reveal you mine if you ask).  After exchanging few messages with the Estonian animation student based in London - Sofja Umarik - we agreed that I will reply to her questions on my blog.

Question number one: "How do you manage to keep creating meaningful and beautiful films despite the industry pressure (and finance)? It has always been my dream to create films with deep impact, but I feel like nowadays it's very difficult unless you are making an independent film in the evening after work."

My answer: There are many beautiful and meaningful animated films. In fact, there are so many beautiful and meaningful animated shorts that it is nearly impossible to get your short film into a film festival unless its something truly spectacular or mind-blowing (my latest short "The ABC of Travel" is only cute and got so many rejections that I stopped submitting). Maybe it is different for animated feature films because feature films require putting together financial puzzle and that repels quite a few artists but attracts producer types. In any case, there is nothing wrong (or unusual) to make an independent film after work, that's how most animators start out.

One answer to your question is - I was able to make "Rocks In My Pockets" because I was willing to produce it myself. I am bad with numbers so budgeting and accounting was truly painful, but that's what I had to do as a producer. At the start of the project I made a budget (which was sort of delusional - reality adjusted it fast) and raised the money I thought I needed through fundraising events and non-profit donations, and when the project run out of money I started a Kickstarter campaign. The Kickstarter campaign connected me with new partners who were willing to share the producing burden with me and we were able to finish the film without me starving to death. I know a few animator friends who make money making commercials and then put that money into their independent films. It's just the question of how you want to spend your time: making commercials or fundraising and accounting. I personally like thinking about my projects (and not commercials) all the time and I like building partnerships around them. Also - writing project proposals and making budgets can educate you about the project you want to make. 

The other answer to your question is: I am able to continue to make my films because I sacrifice the parts of my life that other people are not willing to sacrifice - family, children, friends, pets, regular income, financial security, new clothes, car or house. Any one of those things would hinder my ability to make films. I am an animation nun. 

Question two: What advice would you give to a graduate trying to enter the industry?

My answer: I think it is very important to figure out early what you want to do and why. If you want to use your art skills to make some money, it's fair. Just don't cry that you don't get to make Art. If you decide that you'd like to make your own films to express your Deeper Self, then you really have to know why is it important for the rest of the world that you express your Deeper Self. The practical implications of making independent films will make your family and all your friends freak out and grill you about your sanity and financial savvy. "You spent how much money to make a DCP?" - they will ask and shudder when you reply. "You paid your rent with your last money and have no income to make the next rent!?!" - they'll scream. 

"WHY do you do this?" - they will ask. "It makes no sense!"

So I prepared an answer that actually makes sense, at least to me: I spend all my money on my films and endure financial risks and live in constant stress because making films is my purpose. Like fish swim in creeks, birds fly in the sky, I make films because I cannot not make them.

I make films because I do believe in an individual voice telling a unique story that the Hollywood money-making machine cannot tell.  I believe in Art as Self Expression and I want to defy the notion that one's worth can be measured by how much money she makes.

My advise on a practical level is something you have probably heard already many times, but we all know who is the Mother of Learning (Repetition), so here it goes:

To enter the industry, start with an internship/apprenticeship and make yourself irreplaceable there.

Contact accomplished animators, ask them for an advise - make a connection. Be nice. Keep in touch. Make friends with them.

If you started a project, finish it. Nothing is more demoralizing than a personal landscape littered with unfinished homework.

Treat your work as work (the most stupid quote of all times is "If you do what you love you will never have to work a day in your life", which is absolutely not true - work is work, no matter if you love or hate it). Treat your work with discipline and respect, please. Even if you work at home - get up at the same time, put your best clothes and shoes on,  get to work at the same time, eat lunch at the same time and stop working at the same time, if you can. Take one day a week off  to live a little. 

Start with what you know an build from there. Dream big, but build from the ground up. Form or find a community around yourself of like-minded people who will support and challenge you. Make films consistently - it helps to build a following. Use social media wisely (so that it doesn't consume you and all your time). Make space for boredom so you can open gates to new ideas. Read many books, watch many films (not just animation). Learn what is it what you make an impact about.

Watch people. Think about people. Understand motivations of people. Study acting to enrich the vocabulary of your animated characters. Dance. 

Find a purpose in what you do. Submit your life to something good and bigger than you and you'll be all right.








A Scintillating Rapture

We all know that the mundane drifts towards sacred knowledge and from time to time it gives us a flash of awareness of what's behind the boring curtain of the reality we live in. Almost like a presque vu but with a headache.

The other day at 9 AM sharp I arrived at my local post office to ship 30 Kickstarter packages internationally.  Rosa, the post office clerk, had to scale each package, type my and the destination's address into the computer, put the the customs form into a plastic cover, attach it onto the envelope and set it aside for pick-up. Each package took about 5 minutes for her to process. After Rosa worked on 3 packages I did my calculations: 5 minutes x 30 packages = 150 minutes = 2, 5 hours + after every 10 packages Rosa has to take a couple of other customers for 10 minutes so that line doesn't get too long = 3 hours in the post office at minimum.

It was pretty certain that Rosa will not process my packages unless  I was there by her window. So I resigned myself to the 3 hour wait (you can fly from JFK to Miami in 3 hours!).

To make my wait to seem shorter I pulled out my sketchbook and started to draw. My favorite drawing exercise is to follow where ever the first 3 random lines lead me.

I drew this:

And then I drew that:

But when I started another drawing I noticed that I was not able to to see it as a whole, parts of it were blocked out by some blurry spots of non-vision, like this:

- Oh no! - I thought in a flash of panic. - My eyesight it getting really bad. What if I am not able to draw all the 30,000 drawings for my new animated feature film? My Kickstarter backers will be upset! My whole career will be destroyed! And what about my reputation!

I looked around. The rest of the world also had spots of this non-vision. Another, more alarming thought entered my mind.

- What if this is not trouble with my vision but with my brain? What if I am experiencing brain hemorrhage?

My heart started to pound. I wanted to shout out to the other 9 customers standing in line:

- Call 911! I am about to pass out!

But I remembered that for the last 20 minutes those 9 customers had been casting ill wishing stares at me and my suitcase full of international packages that had yet to be processed. 

I turned and looked at Rosa. Suddenly, the spots of non-vision turned into a bright shimmering sharp joint zigzag lines that looked like Great China Wall that decided to be more aggressive on both sides.

- Ah! - I sighed with relief.  - I know what this is!

It was the Scintillating Scotoma that I experienced for the first and only time on February 14, 2013, 7 hours after our Kicstarter campaign for "Rocks In My Pockets" had concluded. This Scintillating Scotoma was followed by a paralyzing headache. And I think it ripped the fabric of my brain in some places because afterwards I was dizzy for 3 weeks as if I was walking on a ship crossing stormy seas. Holding onto walls while walking was my solution.

I knew now what would happen. As Rosa processed the package to Australia a mild headache hit and followed me when I returned home for lunch at 1 PM.

To show respect and become more friendly with the pain and scotoma, I looked up its description on Wikipedia: 

"Some describe seeing one or more shimmering arcs of white or colored flashing lights. An arc may take the form of a definite zigzag pattern, sometimes called a fortification spectrum, because of its resemblance to the fortifications of a castle or fort seen from above."

YES. How did they know? 

Suddenly, this very special and very personal event of experiencing migraine aura in the post office became a super social event that connected me with millions of people before me, after me and people alive now. If I was able to describe my personal scintillating scotoma as zigzagy fortifications of a castle or fort seen from above and millions and millions of other people described it as the same, how could we not say that our brains are made of the same material producing the same effect when presented with circumstances of stress, too much caffeine and a long wait in post office?

It felt assuring that my brain produced the same magical electric hiccup as did the brains of other people. It was a proof that I was human. And for reasons unknown I was chosen to be given the sacred knowledge of Scintillating Scatoma even if it ripped the fabric of my frail brain one more time.