Distribution is the bane of short films' existence, but for 25 years there has been one traveling option, Spike and Mike's Festival of Animation. Now more than a traveling screening, Paul Feldman goes into Spike's lair.
At times, there seems to be a tangible link between Rock 'n Roll, Underground Animation and the artists that produce them both. The children of this marriage include not only the animated music videos found on MTV, but a certain clique of feature and short films as well.
It is fitting then that one of the main producers and promoters of cutting-edge animation is itself a product of the union of Rock and 'toons. For the past twenty-five years, Spike and Mike's Festival of Animation has been a traveling road show of some of the most original, innovative and more often than not, bizarre independent animation currently in production. While animation festivals happen worldwide and feature short films, they are rather exclusive affairs. Spike and Mike's Festival is probably the only time that short films travel to local theaters and college campuses all over North America to expose "normal" people to the joys of animated short films.
Spike (AKA Craig Decker) explains the Festival's genesis: "I did bass and vocals in a '50s style Greaser band, my stage name was Spike. We rented a house in Riverside [California]." This same house would become the namesake of Spike & Mike's production company, Mellow Manor Productions.
Spike goes on to recount his first meeting at the Mellow Manor with Festival co-founder Mike Gribble: "Mike showed up at a party in a clown suit with mirrors on his shoes, trying to look up girls' dresses...When the band broke up we started doing Midnight Rock 'n Roll films, using Max Fleischer, Betty Boop, Popeye...[It eventually] evolved into the Festival."
Now, a quarter century later, Spike and Mike has expanded from existing as a touring festival into a much wider enterprise, encompassing the commission and production of works, in addition to the releasing and screening of animated films.
"Mellow Manor is our production company. Spike and Mike's Festival is first and foremost a theatrical release. We've toured with Korn. We've also done DVD and Internet releases. The evolution of technology lends itself so well to what we do...it's really cool. It's unlimited what you can do."
Animation on the Run
Spike and Mike's Festival is composed of two main screenings, the Classic Festival, which focuses more on films that will get the attention of the Academy and the renowned film festivals of animation, and the Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation, for which the duo is known best and...uhm...respected (?).
After twenty-five years of running an edition-based theatrical release that remains uncompromising in its independent and unique spirit (and its ability to gross an audience out), one could wonder what keeps the fires fueled and burning at the Mellow Manor. While "[The Festival] is how we make a living," explains Spike. "It's turned into a place for finding and discovering new talent."
This is certainly a statement that needs no qualification. A look at some of the Festival's past alumni is proof enough. Heavy hitting names such as John Lasseter (Toy Story), Craig McCracken (Powerpuff Girls), Mike Judge (Beavis and Butthead, King of the Hill), Trey Parker and Matt Stone (South Park), Nick Park (Wallace and Gromit), Tim Burton and Bill Plympton all gained attention with shorts placed in Spike and Mike's Festival.
Perhaps one of the reasons that Spike and Mike has been able to remain true to its original vision is the absence of any outside influences, monetary or otherwise. "When people look at any of our numbers, where we play or what we've done, they should remember it was without rich parents, government grants or corporate sponsors. It's easy to get big when you've got Nike behind you," remarks Spike.
The offerings at this year's installment of Sick and Twisted animation seem to have no problem filling the shoes of their predecessors. This year's releases included Behind the Music That Sucks, Bad Phone Sex, which features Chris Rock, Harry Pothead and the Magical Herb and a new piece from Bill Plympton entitled Eat.
In addition to the Festivals, Spike and Mike also aids up and coming filmmakers in the creation of new animated shorts. "We've produced about fifty-six shorts that we've made or helped make," says Spike. "We're always looking for the next Rugrats."
Filmmakers wishing to contact Spike and Mellow Manor should send in a video of their work to Mellow Manor Productions, 7488 La Jolla Blvd., La Jolla, CA 92037, USA.
The Future Is Open
What does the future hold for this animated black sheep of the art house film circuit? Quite a bit, judging from what Spike has to say about it.
"We're planning another tour; we did really well with the merchandise on the last one. We're playing at Comic-Con in San Diego; we always screen there and set up a booth. We have a book coming out. It's a coffee table book, biographical."
Spike also added the cryptic yet interesting note that... "We're taking a lot of meetings with people in the industry."
The passing of partner and cohort Mike Gribble in August of 1994 did not dampen the spirit of the Festival, though understandably it increased the workload and pressure on Spike.
"It's a lot of work. I'm at the point where I'm looking for a partnership with someone. It's like being a small fire station with a lot of fires to put out."
Paul Feldman is an L.A.-based freelance writer who has covered entertainment industry stories for on-line journals such as the Creative Planet community sites of Director's World and Cinematographer.com.