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The Funding of Independents

Heather Kenyon finds out how some of the past years' leading independent films were funded. From Flying Nansen, to On the Possibility of Love, to Rejected, to Clandestino and more, we find out how these clever filmmakers positioned themselves in the money.

Finding funding for a short, artistic animated film is hard. In fact, it is a wonder that they ever get made at all. Luckily, they do. Animation World decided to survey a number of leading independent filmmakers and ask them how they have obtained their funding, and how the nature of this funding impacted their production schedule.

Igor Kovalyov, Director

My last short film, Flying Nansen, was funded by Klasky Csupo, Inc. I work for the studio as a director on the big ticket box projects that make money for the studio. Klasky Csupo's owners, Gabor Csupo and Arlene Klasky, and CEO Terry Thoren give me the opportunity, time and money to produce my shorts when I'm in between projects. I am not sure that this makes them happy, but I'm incredibly lucky to have their support. I don't think that I could live without them. The production schedule of ticket box shows influences the funding, so usually I have to hurry up and finish my short by the time I have to start one of studio's big projects.

Vision Point. © Stephen X. Arthur.

Vision Point. © Stephen X. Arthur.

Stephen X. Arthur, Filmmaker

Vision Point was funded by a Creative Development Grant to an Individual Artist in Media Arts (Film) from the Canada Council for the Arts -- a new type of development grant that most recipients use for writing screenplays. I invested a month writing a ten-page proposal for a cluster of five quite different "test films," which went to a committee of peers. That proposal, with the results, is posted on my Website. I was awarded the full amount of $20,000, which covered $2,000/month "subsistence" for my estimated time, plus collaborators' fees and expenses. Vision Point resulted from Part One, which was intended to take two months. Since time was not as predictable as an industry production, those two months became five months, because I chose to remake it and push it further, becoming in the end more of an art film than a prototype for a sponsored production. The money was in one lump with no deadlines, just a motivation to not end up deep in debt at the end, and in time to get back to my other development contract with the National Film Board of Canada, which had materialized at exactly the same time (feast or famine!).

On the Possibility of Love. © EESTI JoonisFilm.

On the Possibility of Love. © EESTI JoonisFilm.

Janno Põldma, Director, On the Possibility of Love, Eesti Joonisfilm

The foundation of animation films in Estonia is arranged like this: The one, who wants to make a noncommercial animation film, will have to turn to the Estonian Film Foundation, in order to get financial support. In case of a positive decision, it is possible to get up to 60-70% of the budget. The rest of the budget (30-40%) has to be found on one's own. The studio, where I work and where my film was also made, EESTI JoonisFilm, earns the rest mostly by making commercials and selling children's animation serials. It is possible to get 5-10% of the budget from the Estonian Culture Kapital Foundation as well.

Abi Feijó.

Abi Feijó.

Clandestino (Stowaway). © November 2000. A co-production of Filmógrafo, the National Film Board of Canada and Radiotelevisão Portuguesa.

Clandestino (Stowaway). © November 2000. A co-production of Filmógrafo, the National Film Board of Canada and Radiotelevisão Portuguesa.

Abi Feijó, Director and Producer, Filmógrafo - Oporto Animation Studio

My film Clandestino (Stowaway) was first funded by the Portuguese Institute of Cinema, Audiovisuals and Multimedia (ICAM). I had to submit a "dossier" and enter it in an annual contest for animation funding. When the film was accepted I then had the possibility of entering into a co-production with the Portuguese State Television, Radiotelevisão Portuguesa, which had an agreement with the Portuguese Ministry of Culture to support all the films funded by the ICAM. Thirdly, as my studio is based in Oporto and we are the most active studio here, the Oporto Town Hall also helped us with some money. Finally I was able to establish another co-production with the French Animation Studio of the National Film Board of Canada. I must say that I was lucky to have trained there 16 years ago, when I made my first film (Oh Que Calma) and worked with Pierre Hébert. When I was starting the production of this film Pierre Hébert became the head of the studio and as he wanted to open their policy of co-productions he proposed it to me. It was a great honor for me to come back to the NFB 15 years later with a film of my own. This film was produced inside my own studio -- Filmógrafo -- and this gave me the advantage of dealing with the overall budget of the studio, which allowed me to not depend too much on a tough schedule for the production of the film. Unfortunately it went on much longer than it should have mostly because of the disadvantages of being in charge of the studio; always having to interrupt my work to solve all kinds of problems. I was happy when I had two hours a day to work on my animation. This made me overrun my deadline; and this always has an effect on your tranquility and the decisions you have to make. The stress of knowing you are out of the limits imposes a different attitude toward the work you are doing and you must hurry and simplify your choices. The film should have been done in two years, but it took me one more year to complete.

Adam Elliot.

Adam Elliot.

Adam Elliot, Director/Producer, Adam Elliot Pictures

The trilogy was funded in various ways: Uncle was my student film and was funded by myself, the VCA (Victorian College of Arts) film school and a post-production grant from the AFC (Australian Film Commission). Cousin was my first professional film and was financed by the AFC, SBS Independent (an Australian free to air broadcaster) and Film Victoria (a state film funding body). Brother was financed by the AFC and SBS Independent. Funding was obtained by written application to these funding bodies with a full budget and final draft script. The trilogy was produced by myself under the umbrella of my production company, Adam Elliot Pictures. All three films were fully financed and I was paid a standard fee for Cousin and Brother to direct, animate and produce. Luckily, for all three films I was given about a full year to make each one, which was tight but adequate and in no way infringed upon their quality.

The trilogy: Uncle, Cousin and Brother.

The trilogy: Uncle, Cousin and Brother.

Don Hertzfeldt, Director, Bitter FilmsRejected and all of our prior short films were financed completely independently as each of our short films have been successful enough to finance the next one, and eventually financed our current little 35 mm studio. Although our budgets are out of necessity extremely low, we have been able to pull off some wonderful things with next to no money. I've learned over the years that a lower budget is often more beneficial to the growth of a film than a higher budget. Simply because we don't have the cash, we often have to think through our problems creatively in order to solve them rather than just throw money at them. So I'm really one of the lucky few who's able to make a living and make the films I want to make, independent of corporate financial and creative control. I'm not exactly rolling in gold as a result, but if I was solely interested in money I'd have gone to business school.

Frank Mouris, Director

Caroline got an American Film Institute independent filmmakers grant to do Frankly Caroline. As we were still struggling in L.A. just to stay afloat (I was in the directing program at A.F.I.), we were not able to meet their (then) recently introduced set of deadlines, and AFI ended up keeping most of the grant. We gave them credit in the final film for their 'seed funding' though. During the many years it took us to write, fund, produce, blow up to 35mm ,and find a distributor for our dramatic feature film, Beginner's Luck, we continued to work on Frankly Caroline whenever we could. We moved back east and among other part-time jobs, I taught animation in various New York City public schools for LEAP (Learning through an Expanded Arts Program). The director of that program finally said, "Why don't you apply for finishing funds via LEAP from the New York Foundation for the Arts?" So, we did. And that's how we finally could afford to finish the film, although it took a few more years of actual labor to do so. I also traded free lecture/screenings on animation at my alma mater in exchange for free use of their Oxberry, the same one I'd shot Frank Film on. That's the whole sordid story. A mere 17 years, start to finish. Although admittedly there were years where very little got done. We've already begun planning Franker Film, and I'm determined to do the actual artwork quickly. We shall see.

Heather Kenyon is editor-in-chief of Animation World Network. After receiving her B.F.A. with honors in Filmic Writing from USC's School of Cinema-Television, she went to work for Hanna-Barbera Cartoons. Currently, she is an International Board Member of Women In Animation and on the Board of Trustees of Trees for Life.

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