Indie is a mindset

Indie is the mindset of “I am going to make the best thing possible, on my terms, with the resources I have”

Best thing possible – Best for the audience, that means something specific, something well made for the people who care.

On my terms – Made in the way I can be proud of.

With the resources I have – Using what you already have or raising enough to get the job done. It doesn’t mean raising tons of funding, it doesn’t mean waiting around for things to line up.

Indie is the only way forward. The posts I write are for other animators and creators who are hungry and maybe a little impatient. It used to be that in order to get the chance to make things to run a show, direct a feature, make a short film you had to be picked. That usually meant you had to work really hard at a big company and prove yourself. Get to be a good enough animator and you’ll get the chance to be a director. Except it didn’t really work that way in the end. There are no Disney features directed by Ward Kimball or Mary Blair. Andres Deja, and Glen Keane had to leave Disney to really get the chance to make their own work. But beyond that if you want to work at these studios, and who doesn’t, being indie helps. It’s only through making things can we be noticed. The only way to be a creator these days is to create.


I do a post every Friday morning about making animation on your terms

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Development is not really a job

If you feel strongly about doing work for free than developing a show for broadcast is probably not the best path. I’m not an expert I haven’t been involved with a lot of development. If producer or creators say different go with their recommendations. I’m still learning.

From what I’ve gleaned much of development falls to the creator. You work on your own time on pitches. You might get a bit of development funding. That funding is better used to commission new work than pay your salary. Many producers defer payment on the productions they work on. The idea being when the show gets made when it’s a hit then you make back the hard work you put in.

This kind of system favours the well off the people with resources. Only some people can afford to spend months out of the year not making a paycheque. Fortunate people have the space to work evenings and weekends on creative projects.

I’m probably wrong about a lot of this. I’m not calling for a big change in the system. I want to talk with you the creators and animators. If you knew that the process would take years and you wouldn’t paid out for it would you still do it?


I do a post every Friday morning about trying to make indie animation

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Why a small audience is cooler

I’ve been continuing to write five days a week this month. It’s been an interesting experiment of what comes to mind when one has to write. I wish more people in animation committed to writing more consistently. There used to be so much great information written in blogs about animation. It costs almost nothing and you can publish whatever you want.

This week I’ve been thinking about the opportunity of the internet. I’ve been trying to share some hopefully helpful ideas about making stuff. My goal with indie animated is to convince more animators to make stuff on their own rather than go the traditional route.

If you pay attention to the development process for animated series they probably take on average about 5 years. For most show 5 years is probably a low estimate. That’s before the show gets made. This is what your signing up for if you want to make shows in the traditional method. If you want to pitch production companies and networks. It takes a long time. (There are definitely exceptions to this rule, I’m working on a show that took a year or so. From what I know it’s not normal. It’s safer to be pessimistic)

I’d rather be making things. We have the best distribution tool at our fingertips. If We want to make things we can just go and start building. I’d rather spend 5 years making things and building an audience. If you want to understand how creative businesses work on the internet read Kevin Kelly’s 1000 true fans.

“To be a successful creator you don’t need millions. You don’t need millions of dollars or millions of customers, millions of clients or millions of fans. To make a living as a craftsperson, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app maker, entrepreneur, or inventor you need only thousands of true fans.”

 

“A true fan is defined as a fan that will buy anything you produce.”

Kevin Kelly outlines the pretty simple math. If you can earn $100 profit from each true fan, 1000 true fans is $100 000 a year. This is how the business model of every blogger, youtuber, webcomic artist works. Seth Godin refers to this as the smallest vialble audience. We are seeking the smallest group of people that we need to keep doing what we’re doing. What’s great is that it’s smaller than we think. It’s much smaller than the number that Television Networks need. On television you’re constantly worried if you have the hit show or not. What’s your rating or ranking. What a relief it would be to try and focus on getting a small number of loyal followers.

We’re entering the era of the cult classic. Nothing is a super hit like we used to have. Everything is a cult classic. Difference is now the way to be successful is to make cult classics. We’ve figured out the distribution and marketing of making things for specific niche audiences. You don’t have to make a diluted version for the masses. So go on make something.


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The old development method has been flipped

Here’s a reminder that the method that things get made has changed. The old method was based on scarcity, that there were only so many time slots. Only so many weeks in a year. There was no incentive for the networks or distributors to want more. Now there’s limitless space.

The old method of starting a project was to collect funding from people who had money. Sell off your idea so that you could get it in front of an audience. This method has been flipped. Now what you do is you build something for an audience, when it catches on and you have their attention the people with money will come calling.

Live Broadcast Method

Every once in awhile I get an interesting idea for an experiment. Since I don’t have the time to try it out I thought I would share them and see if anyone gets inspired.

Say your making an animated series I have this idea for a business model. Once a week livestream new episode – all day. Then make the archive available to paying subscribers. This way you lower the bar to entry letting people discover the show. But you also have monetization. It’s essentially a freemium model. Where everyone can have access for free. But if you want more the customer can pay. This could all be built with existing tools like YouTube live, Twitch, and Vimeo.

The hard part is finding the audience and finding the fans. It also brings up the question what kind of show do you have to make to get people to pay to watch it? Do you sell advertising during the live-stream? With the right show and the right audience it could work well.


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The choice between indie and established

I missed a few weeks of writing, and I feel a little bad about that. In the scheme of things it’s not a big deal. It’s still important, because for the last year I’ve tried to build trust. I’ve tried to say, “Every Friday. I’ll be here.” Thinking if I show up consistently with something to say, others might show up too.

In a small way that’s happened, and it keeps me going. I work very hard not to fall into traps, not worrying about metrics that will distract from what I’m trying to do. I was just listening to an interview with Srinivas Rao, he talked about how being an artist on social media comparing followers, views and likes, creates a status anxiety that in the end gets in the way of making creative work rather than entice it. So I try to focus on writing for a very small audience. If one person is waiting to read the blog or newsletter, that’s enough.

Making something creative is hard. Building an audience is hard. How hard it is has shaken the confidence in the premise of this blog. You too can make a series on your own. You know what, it’s still a good option. The real point is that it’s an option that didn’t use to be on the table. Not long ago it would have been nearly impossible to make animation without a studio, a distributor, and a lot of money. While all those things are still useful, you don’t need them as much.

The point I missed was that it would be somehow easier than the traditional method. Or intrinsically better. I think the truth is it’s just hard in a different way. Reaching an audience who cares about what you make will always be hard. Having distribution might help but it doesn’t solve the problem.

The point I want to keep making, is that you have a choice. If you want to make something, and you are willing to go through the hard parts (for a long time). You can just start making the thing. You can show up in front of an audience and show off what you’re making. We have the tools to make the work, tools to distribute it, and tools to make it a business. On the other hand, if you go the traditional route know that there’s an option, an alternative. That way you’re not blinded by being asked to make something. Do not make average work to please people.

With more options, with opportunity, it asks what you really want out of your work. If we know it’s going to be hard, and it might not work. Will we keep going?


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Studio in a Box


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Just before I published last weeks newsletter I went to a talk with voice actor Christian Poteza. Christian has years of experience in the industry and the unique opportunity to meet with thousands of animation fans. So what he said made me sit up in my seat.

Christian talked to us about how we don’t need the broadcaster or the networks to make anything we have all the resources at our fingertips. He teaches classes on how to get started in voice acting. He works with hundreds of students that want to be voice actors and are dying to get involved with animation. With Switchboard (https://www.facebook.com/SwitchboardNetwork/?fref=nf )he’s showing people how to use technology to start a whole new career in voice acting. What this means is that getting voice acting isn’t a barrier to entry it’s an opportunity. He showed us that getting voice talent is now just about reaching out. Connect and collaborating.

The event reminded me of this video of Ralph Bakshi. This video is 10 years old but couldn’t be more relevant. We all have computers that are essentially studios in a box. It’s easy to forget how many processes are replaced by better technology. With Harmony or Aftereffects on a laptop you have a better multiplane camera than Walt Disney ever had. We might moan or groan about not having the work we want, when the opportunity to make something is at our fingertips.

I know it looks impossible. It’s not going to be easy. You will still need to find away to make a living, pay rent, buy groceries. All of this is manageable. If you want to make something, tell a story and connect with an audience, there’s never been a better time.

All the best
Luke

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