Bill Plympton Talks Kickstarter and His New Feature, Cheatin’
DS: You could make an argument that you’re one of the most prolific independent animators in history. You always have at least one or two shorts in production, often a feature as well. You’ve been drawings comics for decades as well. I know you’re always at your drawing table working on something. What still drives you to work this hard, on so many things? What drives you as a storyteller?
BP: A number of things drive me. One is fear. Fear of being a failure, fear of not being a success. Two is boredom. I love to draw and I love to write. Making these stories is entertaining to me. It really makes my life happy. It’s very fulfilling. And three is I need to make a living. I need to make these films to bring money in. I’ve got a nice little library now. I’ve made 10 feature films and 50 or 60 shorts, lot of books and they are all bringing in money. It’s sort of a mini-Disney…
BP: … Yeah, catalogue. But they are always out there making money. The more films I make and the more successful my films are, hopefully the more valuable my work is.
DS: Do you have a pre-determined timetable or blueprint as to how many films you want to do each year or two?
BP: In general, it’s about a feature every two and half years and two shorts a year. But it’s not a hardcore pattern. I have another “Dog” film. The script is all done, the storyboard is almost all done, it’s ready to go. But then I got this idea for a kid’s film. I just had a kid so I’m thinking my next film will be a kid’s story. So really, the decision is based on what is exciting, what looks like the most fun project. This kid’s project is really a simple story. It’s a very easy story, something I could turn out in two or three months. So that will probably be my next short. And then I have an idea for another feature. I’ve just starting working on the script so it’s not worth talking about.
DS: You’ve done several sets of shorts riffing on the same characters, like the “Dog” shorts. Have you ever considered, written up or pitched any series work?
BP: I have. It’s funny you should ask that because at my Stuttgart Animation Festival panel, I showed this new pilot for a film I want to do called Tiffany the Whale. People loved the whale but unfortunately I’ve been so wrapped up finishing Cheatin’, long days finishing the art work and overseeing the coloring and editing that I haven’t had a chance to properly push this TV pilot. This fall I’ll be able to start showing it around and see if I can get people interested. If I can't get a network interested I would certainly be happy to do it on the internet, sort of as a serial.
DS: You certainly know the business and you know about animation as well or better than anyone…
BP: Well I wouldn’t say that…
DS: Certainly from a creative standpoint…
BP: Let me tell you what I estimate are my own talents. I think I can make people laugh and I think that’s valuable. I’m a good drawer. That’s about all I got. I’m a terrible businessman. I don’t know how to do the Hollywood pitching game and all that stuff, maneuver around all the Hollywood big wigs. That’s why I kind of stick to myself and do these films and hopefully someone will like them and people will buy them.
DS: I guess my point is that because there has been a resurgence of more adult oriented episodic animated TV shows, series I would think that there might be the right combination of you paired with a producer, with the right deal and the right situation…
DS: Do you think there’s a possibility you might get involved in such a project?
BP: Well definitely Tiffany the Whale would be perfect. It’s doesn’t have a lot of sex or violence or anything. If SpongeBob had more adult material, that’s the kind of show it would be. The animation is limited which I think is important for television. You have to thank The Simpsons and that FX show...
DS: Archer. My favorite.
BP: Archer, yeah…and The Life & Times of Tim…for breaking a lot of ground. These shows are helping set the table for more adult animation. It’s a good atmosphere right now, a good climate for something like Tiffany the Whale. I take your point very well. I think that I should get out to Hollywood and start pitching it.
DS: Last question. After all these years in the business, what about your work gives you the most personal sense of satisfaction?
BP: I tell you, the masterclass I did in Stuttgart, hearing the people laugh and applaud and come up to me afterwards and tell me how much they liked Cheatin’. They really are dying to see the film. That to me is more important than making a lot of money or getting prizes or getting good critical reviews. It’s the connection with the audience.
That’s why I think Cheatin’ really has the potential to break that glass ceiling, or glass wall I guess is a more appropriate word, of the fear American distributors have for animated films that have adult topics.
I really think a smart distributor would see that audiences are waiting for something like this. People like you and me, we love Pixar, we love Blue Sky, we love their films. But how about some animation that deals with issues that we’re thinking and talking about. I think Cheatin’ is a film that will break that wall.
Dan Sarto is editor-in-chief and publisher of Animation World Network.