Chapter 23: Self-Help For Nudnik
There is now the beginnings here of large-scale animation production for TV. My wife, who is production manager of the "Service" unit*, is now engaged in low-cost series production for the Czechoslovak TV. They have also done some TV commercials. As I said, there are some special "Reklam" groups, but this is an about-to-explode thing here. The "New economic system" here has already begun to pump up the consumer market, and ads on TV are on the sharp rise. Theater commercials, put on while the house is filling, are of course common everywhere in Europe, and here too, though still crude by our standards of slickness.
*(1 see that I dropped in something here that takes me back to me again, and to the long answer to your first question: Yes, it is true that my wife is the Production Manager of the group that makes my pictures! Somehow we have been able to maintain our balance over the years, as I represent the customer, and she represents Czechoslovak Film. So I guess that after all I DO have a "role in the CS animation", at least by marriage!)
"Animated features?... ..where do new animators come from?"
There are no feature-length cartoons in work, and none contemplated that I know of. Of course, I have been involved, with Snyder in several feature proposals, which we would have produced at least mainly here, but none of these have as yet come to production, and I would doubt that the Czechs would undertake a feature cartoon just now. New animators strictly come up from the ranks of the inbetweeners, and very slowly at that. There has not been a single new animator created in all the years I have been here, although a few animators have been made directors. It appears though, that with the beginnings of TV serial production, several of the best inbetweeners will now be made animators. We need them. There is course, under the aegis of Adolph Hoffmeister, that develops the philosophy of animation and film graphics, but it is certainly not what you would think of as a true course in animation. The people that apply for jobs here are just the same kids as everywhere who are fascinated by cartoon films and want to get into this line of work. There is no logical reason for anybody wanting to be a cartoonist. You do it because that is your thing! Don't forget, this is a very small country (14 million total pop.), and it supports a miraculously large film output, but it is still small in numbers. The total Prague cartoon film, personnel must be no more than 150 people. Outside of Prague it would be only a handful. Of course, there are a great many graphic artists, newspaper cartoonists, children's book illustrators, painters, etc. who do design for the cartoon films produced here. In fact, most of the films are designed by "externists".
"Are animation studios state owned or subsidized?...any private?"
Individual artists, such as those I have described above who work as externists, are private, and some few informal groups work together on private projects, but there are still no private studio organizations. Still, that doesn't convey the true sense of how things operate here, to merely say that they are "state" owned or run. All film production is supervised and partly subsidized under the government department of culture. But the "Czechoslovak State Film" is set up and run as a separate organization. I wouldn't say as a "business" organization, because the nationalized film industry was not set up to make money but to "create culture" and to bring honor-to-the nation, and all that* But they have their General Director, and directors of the sub groups, such as "Short Film", under which the Puppet and Cartoon Film organizations function organizationally. They each have their bank accounts, pay their bills, and sell their films, either to the Central Film Distribution, Or to Filmexport, `or TV, or to advertisers, etc. All finished films are routinely reviewed by a board which you would certainly call a "censor", but I have never heard of a cartoon film being censored.
"What is the status of animators .... salary compared to others, etc.?"
I would say that the status is much higher than among us, and the salary average is well above that currently made by doctors and lawyers. These levels are just now about to undergo changes, as the new economic system gradually takes hold, but till now, the average animator has been in the very highest income bracket here. You must understand that the spread between the salary of the humblest street cleaner, and the managers of the biggest factories has been remarkably small in Czechoslovakia, a land of theoretical equality among the working people. Of course, in fact, there are ways of making a lot of money here, and the people in the creative arts have been the ones making it. There is no way, short of my writing you a whole book, to intelligently compare their wages with our wages.
It is all relative according to our way of life and their way of life, and it would be strictly a philosophical question as to whether the quality of life is better here or there. I will assume that you haven't the patience to "read my book." There is not much foreign animation shown here; only rarely.
"Do they still cook cabbages in the studios?"
Yes, And that's not all! The Czechs believe in being comfortable and cozy while working, The animators' rooms are filled with pictures, flowers, all sorts of plants and vines, fish tanks, canaries and cooking gear/There is no Schrafft's here, among other things, and no send-up sandwich joints. So coffee is always on the boil, and the bread knife at the ready.
Fellas,I've been banging away on this for days now, in odd moments, and I haven't even begun to tell you about what fascinates me about this place. Can you imagine, for instance, that all animation is produced here without exposure sheets at all, as we know them! There is so much that is interesting, if I and you only had the time to just write and to read! I hope that I have written something that is really of interest; if not, you should certainly have a better idea of what to ask next time!
All my best, Gene