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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Why art challenges work

Today’s November 30th and the end of NaNoWrMo. Individuals challenges themselves to write a novel in 30 days. During this month I challenged myself to write a blog post every 5 days. I’m glad that I did it, and I’m relieved that I finished it. I’m not sure if I’ve ever made it halfway through Inktober. Challenges are hard, they’re fun for the first few days, then they’re just work. I don’t judge anyone for quitting. The challenge is a personal challenge. The people who do it and get through are the people who want to change by the end. People who want to prove something to themselves. Challenges work and create change in interesting ways.

Social Pressure

The first way is social pressure. It works by committing to something in front of everyone. Then when you see everyone’s work around you to get to work yourself. Guilt isn’t a bad thing when it causes positive change. The point of the challenge is to grow, to get better, to push yourself. To often people want it because the attention and status. This doesn’t work very well, the #hashtags are crowded. It’s possible that new people will find you, it’s likely these are not the right people who are looking for your specific work. The social aspect is important. It keeps you honest and engaged.

Time Box

For NaNoWrMo the month of November acts as a time box. This challenge is for everyone who’s wanted to write a book, but never had the guts to try. It says, “Here take a month and write that book, look at all these other people who have done this”. Giving something a deadline helps you actually get it done.

Daily Work

The next reason that these challenges create change is the daily practice. When you start doing something everyday your mindset has to change. You adopt a professional posture. You show up and do the work no matter what. Even when you don’t feel like it. As Seth Godin puts it, “I don’t want an authentic surgeon who says, “I don’t really feel like doing knee surgery today.” I want a professional who shows up whatever they feel like, right?”

The trick of taking on these challenges is how will you keep this going after the challenge is done? You’ve set up this daily practice. You’ve made something in a month. Will you take these good habits and apply them forward.


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

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Time boxes

Humans are not very good at estimating. We think a task will take 10 minutes and find that it’s taken us 40. This goes double for big projects that have many moving pieces. They also ways take longer than you think. The comic Isaiah and I are working on has taken about 10x longer than we expected. We’re committed to finishing it but we know that we’re going to have to change our process for the next project.

Estimating is hard, budgeting is easier. Instead of trying to figure out how long this project will take figure out how long you want it to last. Or even better what’s the maximum time you could bare. When you’re working on a personal project you have infinite time, as much as you need. The constraints are up to you. Figure out the time box that you want to put this project in. Is it a year, 6 months, 40 days. Then commit to that time and fit the project to the time box.


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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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Making the first version

I was reading this post by Derek Sivers That’s version ∞. First launch version 0.1. I was thinking about software development, but I think these concepts can apply to most projects. It’s about how many business plans are too complex they focus on every little feature they want to have.

“I have to say, “OK. You know software version numbers? Mac OS version 10.4? 10.5? What you just described is version infinity. That’s everything it will ever do in the future. First focus on launching version 0.1.”’

We need to start with the first version, the simplest, stripped down version. Too many projects get bogged down in the details of what they want to become.

“What’s the one crucial part of that giant plan? What’s the one killer feature that nobody else is doing? Get it launched with just that. Then add the rest later.”

If you think back to when you were a student and studying animation. You wanted to be good at everything. When we were making our thesis films we tried to make everything as good as it can be. Everyone wants a film that has a good story, great animation, cool designs and beautiful art direction. As animators we’re obsessed with craft.

When starting out we can’t make everything perfect. We have to make choices about what where to cut corners. What’s often more important is where your strengths are, what you can uniquely bring to the project.

“The book “Good to Great” studied hundreds of companies that started out as good, then at some point in their history became great.

They found that all of these companies had the “Hedgehog Concept.” They focused on the one thing they do best, and let go of the rest.”

If you have a complex story idea, or series pitch, break it down into something simple. Into the shortfilm or storybook version. Figure out what’s important or cool about your big ideas and figure out a way to highlight those. What you focus on will be what makes your work special amongst the other work that’s out there.

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.