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Ottawa 2006: Attendees’ Dirty Secret

In this months Career Coach, Pamela Kleibrink Thompson lists the top seven ways to make a great impression on an interviewer.

Beautiful downtown Ottawa and the elusive black squirrel. All images courtesy of Rick DeMott.

For me, Ottawa 2006 marked my first film festival and first time in Canada. The legendary hospitality of our neighbors to the north was well appreciated. I actually saw a driver cut someone off and the person cut off waved and smiled to the apologetic offender, assuring him that there were no hard feelings. I have never seen such behavior in Los Angeles I was captivated. With ginger ale readily available everywhere, I just had to tell my Canadian brethren to stop trying to make me love their country, because they had me at Schweppes.

As for the festival, as a newbie, I wanted to find out why people love coming to this event, which is a statement Ive heard from many who have attended before. For busy execs, animators and students, there has to be something more to event than just the chance to see mysterious black squirrels and network with people who are only an email away. Ottawa isnt the largest festival nor is its TV conference.

One of the easy answers is that meeting someone in person is a far more effective way of getting to know that individual rather than just exchanging emoticons over IM. For students, this may be the only chance to meet and converse with professional animators and their toon heroes.

Another easy answer would be the attendees love of animation whether its for business or solely artistic reasons. But why Ottawa and not the myriad of other events that for some may be closer to home? Why do they keep coming back and why do I find myself wanting to go back? Even though its hardly ever spoken and seems a contradictory statement when looking at a week of 17-hour days, Ottawa allows people with common interests to take a break from their busy work lives and remember to have fun.

Ottawa 06 kicked off with TAC the Television Animation Conference. One may first think with a title like that this is the strictly business section and the fun comes later. Youd be wrong. Some veteran festival goers said there was concern about how the conference would affect the integrity of the festival. With TAC & Workshop director Maral Mohammadian bringing the same unrushed and laid back atmosphere of the festival to TAC, the conference looks like any other professional event, but feels like a club meeting.

This vibe was kicked off by having Michael Ouweleen, svp, programming and development, at Cartoon Network, give the opening keynote. First and foremost, Ouweleen is an entertainer, who makes the words studio exec sound more like candy than arsenic. His witty humor enlivened the topic of digital technologies changing the TV industry, dispelling the doom and gloom scenarios that TV is dead by reminding us that these changes have all happened before.

The brave TAC pitchers Chris Dainty and Stephanie M. Yuhas.

But is anything really learned from conferences? For those a bit outside the rat race for sure, but for many in the studio system its all been discussed at nausea during work hours. So the question is again why go? Heres that word again its fun. What busy animation exec or independent producer hasnt at one time enjoyed reading a business trends book on their free time? When one gets to a certain position in the industry or wants to get there, they start to live and breathe this stuff. As sad as it might make us feel at times, we have fun listening to engaging speakers talk about market trends, because it excites us. More than one exec on a TAC panel referred to their children as their own private focus group. I guess theres no difference between that and a police detective who reads true crime novels on his spare time.

This does not mean that business isnt being done. Just walking through the lobby of the Chateau Laurier, many attendees were scattered throughout engaged in meetings between panels. For me, the most inspiring panels of TAC were Pitch This! and Ruby Gloom Case Study. The first panel featured live pitches of TV projects. Chris Dainty and Jessica Borutski pitched their property The Constellations and Stephanie M. Yuhas presented Jersey Fresh. The pitches displayed projects that were at different stages of development and received encouraging and insightful comments from the panel of studio execs. For rookie pitchers, the event was a helpful how to.

I heard many an artist who have optioned projects to studios tell Dainty, Borutski and Yuhas that they were impressed with the guts they displayed to put themselves out there in front of a room of strangers. (The fact that the ballroom is the very one from The Shining must have added to the scariness of the experience.) All the participants displayed their love for what they were doing and it was inspiring to watch their excitement. They showed that they were having fun.

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The Ruby Gloom crew: Scott Dryer, evp, production & development, Nelvana; Bonita Siegel, director, development & production, Corus Ent.; Rita Street, md, Radar Cartoons; Robin Budd, director, Big Picture Animation; Carolyn Hay, story editor/creator/writer, Nelvana; and Merle Anne Ridley, Nelvana.

Ruby Gloom Case Study brought together the various artists and execs behind the new series Ruby Gloom, which began as a merchandising line. As business sounding as the decision to turn a successful clothing line into a TV series sounds, the panel really displayed the creativity behind the scenes. The writers and animation team struggled to keep true to the vibe of the original property while expanding its universe in a logical and compelling way. Sometimes it seems that artists feel that on a network level animation is only a product. But this panel showed that everyone involved in a project knows it has to come down to strong characters, engaging visuals and compelling stories.

But what if youre appalled by the mere mention of ratings and focus groups? Why go to Ottawa? Well, of course, theres the screenings, which I will get to in a bit, but the festival also offers a host of workshops, exhibits, parties and the famous Animators Picnic.

It was a privilege to be asked to moderate the panel titled, The Tools We Use, which included filmmakers Jonas Odell, Karl Staven and Guru Studios Tim Dormandy, discussing the whys and hows behind finding the right medium for each individual project. Having a biased opinion, I cant comment on the quality of this panel, but will say that students, filmmakers or educators who attend panels like these are looking for more technical information, but it cant be only out of necessity. Folks who get into the more technical sides of animation do so because they enjoy it. The event understands this and allows its laid back mood to even infuse the more dry subjects, knowing that this information will inspire some in the audience and whats more fun than finding inspiration?

While older students may find inspiration at workshops or discussions held by idols like John K. or Lucasfilms Rob Coleman, younger students looking to go to college have ample opportunities to find the school that inspires them the most at the Career Day exhibits and presentations or the AniMarket displays. The AniMarket, held right outside the main screening hall at the NAC, also allows students and filmmakers alike to play with new software.

The nightly parties and Animators Picnic make me bring up that word again fun. These events give attendees a great chance to connect with old friends and make new ones. The traditional pumpkin-craving contest at the picnic, underlines the creative energy thats alive everywhere at the event. Projectile vomiting on the bus ride home from the picnic wasnt enjoyable by those directly effected, however the way the story grew in grandeur as the weekend went on was like watching an urban legend form before your eyes. Like the picnic, the parties allow people who love market trend reports to converse with fans of Estonian experimental animation.

What often brings folks like this together in conversation is the screenings. For some, they have seen the films at other events and others this is their only chance to see these films. Everyone has their reasons for attending as many screenings as they can, but few say its because they have fun. At this point, why hide it? Not everyone will like every film screened, but they will enjoy debating their likes and dislikes with fellow attendees.

Festival artistic director Chris Robinson mentioned during the event that they like to keep the number of films in competition smaller than other events. I believe this is an essential part to the festivals success. During the course of the event, several attendees complained about the amount and quality of the selections at other big festivals like Annecy. But even though the same people may not have liked all the films at Ottawa or had seen some of the same films elsewhere, they did not complain about the selection.

Jonas Odell, creator of Never Like the First Time, and Ian Gouldstone, creator of Guy101.

Why is this? You guessed it theyre having fun. Robinson chooses his films wisely, picking more flawed, but interesting films over quality, saccharine, paint-by-number pieces. Unlike me, who loved Andreas Hykades The Runt, which deals with dark issues of life and death in a brutally truthful manner, others may have said it wasnt fun watching the film, but its power is undeniable as many attendees did have fun discussing films like it at the parties afterward. Its inspiring to sit in a theater with a crowd of animation fans and mark the varied reactions.

The universal laughter at Journey into the Disney Vault, which brilliantly satirized the Mouse House, to the way the edgy subject matter of Ian Gouldstones Guy101 sneaks up on the audience completely quieting the crowd, is compelling. No matter what area of animation one finds themselves in, the competition shorts exemplify the wide range of what animation can be.

Interestingly I found that three of the retrospectives, which showcased the work of Konstantin Bronzit, Bob Clampett and Bruno Bozzetto, highlighted a question that I heard many ask during the event wheres the funny films? I also think the juries decision to award top prizes to comedies like Joanna Quinns Dreams & Desires: Family Ties, Oboms Here and There and Michaela Pavlatovas The Carnival of the Animals points out this thirst for laughs as well. However, it is not the festival thats creating this thirst. The festivals humorous retrospectives show that it is not biased toward dark and disturbing material over comedy.

There were also comedies in several of the out of competition screenings, but none of them made me wonder why they were not in competition. They just werent as out and out funny as Bronzits At the Ends of the Earth or Clampetts Wabbit Twouble or Bozettos Europe and Italy. In our own part of the animation world, is our obsessions with flow charts or existential experiments or figuring out how to render our project and not crash all the computers within a six-mile radius made us loss our funny bone and intelligent wit?

Cartoon Networks Heather Kenyon (middle) having a lively conversation with a group of animators.

Ottawa allows us to witness and contemplate these trends and ideas. Maybe, someone seeing the works of Bronzit, Clampett and Bozetto will be inspired to make the next great comedic masterpiece, whether the medium be Flash on the Internet or a TV series on a major network or a five-minute short done with clay puppets in a filmmakers home studio. Or maybe someone will just see the thought-provoking subject matter of darker films like Odells Never Like the First Time or Run Wrakes Rabbit and be inspired to tackle the same issues, but only from a more humorous approach?

During the Q&A after his retrospective, Bozetto was asked if he had worked a menial factory job before, because he deals with the subject often in his films. He said he hadnt. However, this subject strikes me as a core issue to everyone in the animation community, because were all to some degree avoiding those menial factory jobs by working in entertainment. Throughout the year we get caught up in the business of living and working in animation and might forget that its far better than various (fill in the blank) jobs. It takes events like Ottawa where we can be inspired in various different ways and talk with people that share the common love of creating or just enjoying the illusion of life to remind us why we do what we do. When people are having fun, theyre going to be more creative, which, in the end, is good for our business.

Thats why Ottawa is an important industry event. But, come on folks, lets finally admit to ourselves that dirty secret for going its fun to watch animation its what got us into animation in the first place.

Rick DeMott is the managing editor of Animation World Network. In his free time, he works as an animation writer for television. His work on the new series, Growing Up Creepie, can be seen on Discovery Kids. Previously, he held various production and management positions in the entertainment industry. He is a contributor to the book Animation Art as well as the humor, absurdist and surrealist short story website Unloosen.

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