By David Tousek
So, we made it to MIFA today. Actually, we hitch-hiked again, this time got a ride from a local man that pulled over in the rain. Mark, another bohemian travelling together with me, was trying his luck and it did not take too much time to know we don’t have to walk again. The local people are so relaxed about hitchhiking; I was hidden from the rain at the bus stop, with a beautiful French girl standing by me. I asked if she wanted to come along with us and so a poor driver was surprised that all of a sudden there were three people instead of just one. Especially since all the seats were completely full of stuff and he thought there was only Mark to help. However, he was so willing, not a word of complaint, exemplary hospitality that I thought this must be a different France then what I keep in my memories from the past.
MIFA is a trade show for studios, producers, individual artists and pretty much anybody involved in animation so they can share time and space intensively for just a couple days of the year to see if they can do business together. And so people talk a lot. Yeah, it’s all about talking and knowing how to start a conversation as well as ending it in the right time.... you can imagine. That’s basically what it’s all about and how to take advantage of such opportunity to have all the key players and everybody else as well on the same spot. But this is typical for any tradeshow, at least the philosophy and logic behind it. However, MIFA has something much more valuable - being extremely friendly. I cannot think of another term other than a family party (though I assume your family is also pretty cool.)
You may find a tradeshow to be a common gathering event that any industry has. But what I saw and experienced at MIFA is that this gathering is more than unique. How friendly and open minded everybody is, considering that most of the people are competitors one way or another. It’s actually pretty unbelievable.
Just consider pitching or just asking for advice from somebody at some other place and time. Maybe just trying to set up a meeting in your home town. People may not be available, or you aren’t able to get in touch with the right people. Often, that important person gets distracted with something else or just isn’t interested in what I have or was expecting something completely different. At MIFA, we can find out in real time if we are potential partners in crime. And, again, only friendliness brings along effectiveness.
Let’s put aside the business side. There is also a great chance to just explore so many interesting people not only because they are involved in the same craft as you are, but just walking around and spontaneously having a chat here feels just great. Just great.
There was a stand with an independent artist from India that writes stories and develops the concept art completely on his own, meaning that he finances his endeavors from his own pocket. He had me sit down, introduced himself and talked about his life. Eventually, he showed me an illustrated book and mentioned that he found on Facebook a Czech illustration artist and now they are presenting their book together at MIFA. Facebook can really generate friendships, I think.
A Spanish manager from one studio wanted to set up a meeting with us through the official website a week before the event. When we finally met her at her stand, she was visibly tired, I asked her openly up front how she was doing, and she replied with a cute smile that she had been having meetings one after another all day long.
But that did not restrain her from putting every last bit of energy she had left into pitching their TV series to us. I have to admit that in the middle of listening to all the details of the story and each cartoon character’s profile, their most playful motivations and reasons for their smartass eyes, I had basically almost fallen asleep. After all, it was getting late for myself too. But she impressed me with how much she lived for their story and getting as much from our meeting as the situation allowed. We may not work together now, because we are looking to produce our own story and that brings along a contradiction. But she explained to us that the cost of labor in Spain is close to the cost of labor India. Wow, I had no idea. Their animation was pretty good too. What a great possibility to keep all that work in Europe, I thought for the moment.
Swedish folks from Milford Films were coming to MIFA for the very first time. I would not have guessed that at least from what I saw in their portfolio. The level of quality and detail of their 3D commercials was jaw dropping and I would assume they must have been at Annecy before with some of their own shorts or other art stuff. But they have not done their own marketing ever, doing only commercials for US, UK and Sweden (mostly). They realized that they no longer wanted to rely only on one agency to bring in work. They wanted to do marketing on their own. So they came to MIFA. Also, they had never done any art project or applied for funding (by the way, in Europe, we have national funds. Without them, no art gets done. Just a point for those that do not know). In fact, I was introduced to the Swedish studio by a Finnish producer that I had been having a conversation with just minutes before about one of the short films we are producing. And since the Finnish fund was supposedly empty, due to lack of money for new projects, he immediately recalled talking to the Swedish folks a couple hours earlier and remembered that their new efforts to do some co-productions. SO he recommended us. That’s what I love about networking at MIFA. It is so much in real time.
The Luxemburg booth had an interesting presentation of their studios. I looked around at the posters, chose one that looked like a very cool short film project and asked for a representative from that studio. Actually, it was not that smooth. There were so many people around and everybody from the Luxemburg barricade was busy talking to visitors, I had to wait a bit of time for somebody to break free. One producer was pretty busy but I agreed to come some hours later. We then chatted about their current work and plans for the future ... and if they would be interested in working with us. The producer looked at me with a friendly but sort of serious face to warn me up front, before having looked at our work yet, that it all depends on "q u a l i t y." I agreed to suggest that that’s perfectly fine and understandable (not sure what quality means to other people but I wanted to find out and had him look at our stuff. He rolled up on his nose big cartoony glasses and then looked down. Then he looked back up at me and with a funny French accent said,”diz is kvality.” Wow, all the kids are happy and what a great news! So let’s talk more. The conversation starts to be mutually meaningful...
Disney had a nice stand. The interesting thing about it was that it did not look too ambitious or fancy as I may have expected for such a huge and successful studio. Actually, it was like a smaller living room in which young artists could feel at home with the heroes, Sitting on the floor all around were people listening to very rich talks and showcases about Disney’s magic and behind the scenes formulas.
When I walked around, I usually just passed by. No serious business here for me and crowded most of the time so I could not even hear what they were talking about. But the next day when it was very empty in the morning, I thought I would ask something. Since we also do animation courses, ANOMALIA, where we try to invite top artists, I thought I would give it a chance and ask if there were some artists from Disney that could come to Prague. I did not expect anything, after all, it is such a huge company and I’m such a small mortal. But such an invite usually works on a personal basis, which is what I like since we don’t run a classical school. So I asked. A very cute and friendly girl was a pleasure to talk to. She even knew people that I know from Pixar. Wow, such a small and friendly world after all. She introduced me to a talent development director who was also very open and friendly. So we had a relaxed and fun chat. I felt like I had been invited to their living room for a cup of tea.
Mediadesk was represented by a very supportive lady. Their main focus is as an office of the EU MEDIA fund. She asked me and my director, Matthie Jorrort, if she could record and interview us about one of our projects from the Creative Focus that we submitted in February. And since Matthieu is from France, they spoke mostly in French. I was not sure what he said but the lady was obviously smiling. I didn’t know why. I can only assume they spoke about losing virginity, which I think I understood at one moment because Matthieu talks of this subject in his new story and really wanted to discuss it in the interview. Oh well, those French. There may be a print version of this interview somewhere later on.
Belgium or France, not sure where the next man I met was from. But, the one piece of advice I got from that conversation was that if you want to pitch your idea to somebody important, such as his boss (he pointed at an older man behind him that was playing with his mobile, looking important), you must explain your story in one sentence. He asked me, “Do you know the shortest pitch ever, for the movie Alien????” He gave me a look waiting for me to figure it out. ” I don’t know, can you tell me?” “Yes,” he replied. ”Jaws in Space.” Wow, my jaw dropped and we all laughed.
Anyway, many other interesting people from all around the globe, they all had their stories, projects, sense of humor and ways to perform their best at MIFA. As well as having fun at all kinds of cocktails. Such as the Russian cocktail. They served caviar with vodka shots that were as big as three shots outside of Russia. It was in the open garden outside the MIFA tents and people could walk in spontaneously. Friendliness brings effectiveness. Prestige helps us think we all know how to animate and sharing the same space and time defines opportunity to drink, in this case, triple sized vodka shot in the middle of the day.
On the way home, we hitch-hiked again. A young guy, a local, gave us a ride but we ended up in a pub sharing a beer. So what I learned is that he worked as an illustrator and tried animation in Flash but since his motivation was to do work that does not take too much of his time, he focused on designing pictures and websites. Then it resonated in my head when I realized that to make something nice in animation, I have to lose my life and earn it with patience before anything happens on the monitor. This is completely opposite his way of thinking. We also learned from this fellow that the main partner of the Festival, a TV station Canal+, started broadcasting by screening porn films for the very first time in France. Not sure if I will explore this historic fact but since my accreditation batch was still hanging on my neck with the logo of Canal+, I think I got his point. Last think I remember what this guy also said that the true definition of art is “that, which is made to never be shown to anybody else.” I agreed absolutely. But I wouldn’t want to create animation if people didn’t watch it. Since making a film takes so much time, blood and sanity, it cannot be but pure art itself not only to finish it, but to present it to the public and .... and just that tedious and almost insane decision to complete such a hard core marathon justifies the effort itself. I would have to choose to be an illustrator rather than an animator if I thought that animators should not want people to see what they do (even if people in reality never see most of the animations anyway). Illustrators have it easy, sounds like; they don’t need an audience if they want to call it the art. ....
And so that’s in short what my day was like.
David Tousek is an animator and partner in 3Bohemians, a boutique studio and training company located in Prague. This was David’s first visit to Annecy and the MIFA. His English is actually pretty good. His work is even better. You can contact him via his website at http://www.3bohemians.eu.