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I Have a Question John Schnall

In which Chris Robinson asks animation professionals profoundly inane questions about the inner workings of their existence. Today's guest U.S. indie animator, John Schnall, answers some brand spanking new questions! It's exciting!

'Zombie Tabernacle Choir' by John Schnall

John Schnall is the President of Quality Schnallity Inc, an animation production company that produces explainer videos, in-house corporate videos, music videos etc.  Our latest reel:

His independent films include: I Was a Thanksgiving Turkey (1986), Goodnight Norma… Goodnight Milton… (1988), Frankenstein (1992) and The Binding Of Isaac (2004)

John produces and hosts an occasional radio show, Midnight Matinee, which Brundleflys weird hybrids of movies, music and sound. It appears on freeform station WFMU about three or four times a year.

Schnall agreed to meet with me at an unknown location in the Catskills for rare back from the dead performances of the late Morey Amsterdam and Jean Carroll. We laughed, we cawed, he asked insanely complicated questions.

I get the greatest pleasure from....

It’s so corny, but I really do love what I do. Whether it’s figuring out how to simplify and communicate an intricate process in animation, chopping up film dialog and making it into a song, or photoshopping Governor Chris Christie into friends’ photos just for the heck of it, I really like what I do.

The name of my autobiography would be….

I suppose my auto’s biography would be called “I Am John Schnall’s Subaru”. What a strange question, you’re a very odd fellow, asking about books about anthropomorphized cars. Go figure.

My most beloved possession is….

I was once asked to do animation for a documentary about Thomas Alva Edison (I live near the Edison Historic Site in West Orange NJ); the idea was to animate Edison’s sketches so they made me a packet with copies of a whole bunch of his sketches as reference. The project fell thru, but I have the packet of copies around here somewhere. And he drew a bunch of dirty pictures in the margins, which they dutifully copied for me. So, somewhere in my studio, I have copies of dirty drawings from Thomas Alva Edison. No, you can’t see them.

A (non-family member) person I have high respect for is....

There are many, but I’m going to go with the crossing guard at the corner of Broad Street and Watchung Avenue near my house. We’re political opposites, she’s not particularly good at her job, sometimes she accidentally curses in front of small children… But she treats life as a dance; she’s got that quality of totally enjoying everything she does. She greets me by raising her arms and waltzing into the busy intersection. We dance to safety thru whizzing traffic. There is still hope for humanity.

The song that makes me tingle is....

There are so many. The song I use as the theme song on my radio show has to be up there. It’s the main song from Werner Herzog’s Even Dwarves Started Small, which apparently was sung by a young girl in a cavern. But the version I use was off a VHS tape that was off a badly damaged 16mm print of the film, and it has an ancient, scratchy quality that really adds to the song. The movie has been restored, and I have a DVD of it with the song in crystal clear, pristine quality. It’s not nearly as interesting in good quality; really leaves me cold.

Other contenders:

Cassiber – “I Tried To Reach You”

The Longshoremen – “Locomotive”

John Cale – “Leaving It Up To You”

Sol Hoopii – “I Like You”

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – “Stagger Lee”

So many. I’m going to stop here. And it’s absolutely amazing to me that we live in a time where you can find every one of the songs above on YouTube; why haven’t you listened to them yet?

The funniest thing that happened to me….

OK, this is a long story, but it stands out: Robert DeNiro’s restaurant The Tribecca Grill had an animation brunch many years back, and one week included one of my films (I forget what the specific program was). They invited included filmmakers (though I think I was the only one in the area) to have a free brunch and I totally took advantage of that. The next week was supposed to be a program of Japanese animation, but the films got held up in Customs for some reason, so at the last minute they asked if I could come again and they’d show the same reel as the previous week. I don’t turn down free food, so… yes. But apparently Henny Youngman, the famous “take my wife, please” comic, had a friend who loved Japanese animation. Anyway, for some reason Henny Youngman was there, and he thought I made all the films he just saw. So he wanted me to make a film of his doctor jokes (“Doctor, it hurts when I do this” “Then don’t do that” etc). I had meetings with Mr. Youngman; the best were at restaurants because he thought his superpower was insulting people; he would insult waiters and act like he just gave them a tip. And he’d forget his insults, so he always had friends around who would helpfully whisper his jokes and insults into his ear, then he’d repeat them to the ‘lucky’ waiter. Long story short – the project never went anywhere but I did get cursed at over the phone by Henny Youngman, so there’s that.

I’d like to be remembered as….

1: …often as possible.

2: …the creator of the mash-up. I’m not sure if that’s true, but it kinda might be; back in the 1980s quite a few people were taking dialog from movies (Scott Johnson) / news (Steinski and the Mass Media, Jerry Harrison) / recording their neighbors (Robert Fripp) etc and writing original music with the found dialog, but I think I was the first to take dialog from movies and existing (usually cheesy) songs and combine them into something new that has elements of both. Which is a mash-up. I should be famous for this.

3: …People Magazine’s sexiest octogenarian. I better start working out now…

4: … the guy who made that film The Dead Comic. It’s my most disliked film, so that’s the one people need to remember when I’m gone. Maybe people will have to watch it again. They’ll still hate it. But I’ll be somewhere laughing that they had to watch it again.

Chris Robinson's picture

A well-known figure in the world of independent animation, writer, author & curator Chris Robinson is the Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.