Chapter 18: Why Prague, For God’s Sake?
The best thing was that the communists knew nothing of how animation films were made, so they generally left the studio alone. They couldn't stock it with communists. Here was one category of work that required people with a very specific ability. Holding a Communist Party card could not get you from pose to pose.
In spite of the grayness and boredom of communist ideology all around, and the paucity of goods they craved, the Brat?i v triku animation studio was an oasis of fun. It was like a huge family. The studio was stocked with married couples, lovers, former lovers, former married couples, new couplings, offspring, always evolving relationships, and all working together for years and years. As I write this, my Zdenka has been working in the studio for 55 years - continuously.... and she is not the oldest staff member!
But today, Zdenka is one of the last survivors. Capitalism has played roughly with the studio. The automatic acceptance of their output during the communist days of state support required no sales department. Once set adrift to survive on its own, the studio has atrophied, now being totally reliant on custom production, which previously almost all came from what Zdenka and I brought in. I don't know whether I should feel guilt or gratification that I, following Bill Snyder, introduced the idea of custom production to a studio previously solely devoted to "art for art's sake" production. I personally suggested to them the idea of doing character-based serials. They had previously done only individual films in the creative styles of their dozen or so directors. The custom film unit, doing our films under the production leadership of Zdenka, was even set up in another part of town. The original studio, on Klárov Square, considered itself as the "artistic" producer, and the staff there tended to look down on the group doing our work. Due to the political shadow, our clients would not even allow our animators screen credits with their true Czech names, and our films were rarely shown publicly in Czechoslovakia - almost never on local television. So our animators had a professional disadvantage on the home scene. Only those working on the "artistic" films in the Klárov studio were able to build a national reputation. But sadly, they were animating on borrowed time, supported by a fantasy financial situation in a regime facing a dead-end. After the Velvet Revolution, the personal, "artistic" films could rarely get financing, and movie theaters, no longer under State control,, stopped showing cartoon films. Step by step, the custom films and serials became the only viable production. But a marketing culture never developed in the never-never land of State support.
The new studio owners are still relying on Zdenka and me to bring in most of their business. Zdenka was finally officially appointed chief of the studio in early 2000, and at 72 is busier than ever, and shows no signs of slowing down. But how much longer either of us can carry on, and whether the top management can develop their own successful marketing is anyone's guess. The studio has somehow survived 55 years of glory to date, (late-2000), and we hope it will carry on when we eventually go into retirement. At this writing that is not yet on the horizon!
Studio "Brat?i v triku" is a national Czech icon, and has played a significant role in the history of cinema animation. Long may it continue!