If you’re an independent animator in the PNW, you’re probably funding your work by applying for artists grants, crowdfunding, or self-funding via your freelance/teaching/side job. Your budgets are probably low, and you probably make your work primarily alone, or with the help of committed colleagues or volunteers. There are great advantages to this: complete creative control, control over speed of production and distribution.
But if you’re an animator with a project that will require hiring collaborators, or renting equipment or studio space, your budget might be higher, and the funding available in our region might not be enough. There are a few different options in this case.
- Residencies with budgets:
One of these is to investigate animation-specific residencies which come with a stipend. These might only be for the development stage (and not production) but are still an excellent way to start your project off on the right foot with a budget and the support of a respected institution behind you. You can see a list on our Residencies page, but ones to definitely investigate are Abbaye de Fontevraud, AniDox, and Ciclic. NOTE: These are very competitive residencies and the applications usually require a lot of work. Always contact the organizations in advance for tips, and try to find a previous winner for advice.
An example of an American animator who successfully navigated this system is Ru Kuwahata of the duo Tiny Inventions. In this illustrated blog post she explains the circuitous route by which she ended up applying for the Ciclic residency and because of this, getting a French producer (Ikki Films).
- European animation studios:
Another method of getting more funding or support is to make your film in association with a European studio. Europe is peppered with animation studios, of all shapes and sizes. They have access to their government’s film funding, and usually the pots of money are bigger the artist grants available in the US (at least than in the PNW region). They might be interested in working with you if they think they can get money for the project from their government (which usually involves promising to spend a certain percentage of the film’s budget in their country).
If you are an experimental animator you will want to find the studios which have produced something you would compare with your own work, rather than approach a studio which is working on the German version of Shrek. Look at recent short films out of Europe, and look in the credits for the producer or production studio. Some names which often come up are Sacrebleu, Autour du Minuit and Laidak Films, but you will find many more. Approach them with your project.
Easier said than done, right? Yes: it will be hard to attract the attention of a European production studio if you are an American independent animator who didn’t go to any of the famous European schools or animation residencies, or whose most recent short film wasn’t nominated for an Oscar (if you’re Don Hertzfeldt, I’m pretty sure you can approach any European studio you want). This is where all your hard work puffing up your CV pays off.
If you’ve been submitting your films to film festivals, hopefully they’ve gotten into some good ones by now, maybe even won a few prizes. If you have been marketing the online launch of your short films, hopefully one or two of them have been picked as Vimeo staff pick or have been all over the internet in other outlets. It also helps if you have something else to offer other than your own film work, like writing articles and getting them published, or organizing events which get your name out there. If you’ve been attending festivals where your work is being shown then you’ve been handing out your business card and meeting as many people as possible, including, if you’re good, potential producers or studio representatives.
It’s much easier to approach potential studios if you’ve met them at Annecy and had that drink at that bar with them. Then you can remind them of all your films and other work, and introduce your new project. If they like your project, and like you, they may want to work with you despite the fact that you’re American and are probably not bringing lots of money with you.
An example of someone who successfully achieved this is Alexander Stewart, American independent animator (and co-founder of the Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation in Chicago). His most recent short film, Here There, was produced by the Croatian Bonobo Studio.
Beware, of course, that if your film has a producer or production studio behind it, they may want to have creative input, and will probably control its distribution strategy. Always talk these details out before signing anything.
- International co-productions:
Another strategy, you might think, is to get an American producer and try to arrange a true ‘co-production’ between the USA and a European country. This does happen very occasionally in the independent animation world (see the feature film Extraordinary Tales from 2013, which was a USA-Spain-Belgium-Luxemburg co-production). But beware! Some countries have co-production treaties with each other, but these specifically exclude the United States, because they are trying to stimulate their own region’s markets specifically to compete with the big US studios. Yes, if you’re a small indie animator who happens to be American you are left out in the cold, but unfortunately the rules weren’t made with us in mind.
But, there are ways around this, by making sure that the American side of the equation is not an official ‘co-production’, but rather a co-venture or work-for-hire situation. If you have access to an American producer who is willing to raise money for the project on their end, and is up for attempting some kind of international collaboration because it will benefit the project, then you’re a step ahead. Some festivals or markets you or your producer should consider attending, to find international collaborators are the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, Cartoon Movie, the Ottawa International Animation Festival, or the Toronto International Film Festival.
Making films with international collaborators is a challenge, but the advantages can be worth it. Doing it from the USA is especially challenging, though, and if you’re seriously interested you may want to consider undertaking a course of study in the country you have in mind, or finding another way to move there, even if temporarily.