Independent animator and filmmaker Don Hertzfeldt has just released his latest short, titled ‘World of Tomorrow’, on Vimeo on Demand after having screened it at film festivals like Sundance and SXSW. For those who don’t know Hertzfeldt, he is most well known for his short “Rejected Cartoon’s”, a surreal film in which various cartoon adverts for “The Family Learning Channel” are played back to back. The cartoons eventually begin to fall apart and lose sense and structure, a reflection of the fictional artist’s own descent into madness.
‘World of Tomorrow’ follows a young girl, played by Hertzfeldt’s own four-year-old niece Winona, on a journey through the memories of her future self. Don describes the character as “Mary Poppins but with part of her brain missing” in a recent Reddit AMA promoting the film. When asked about what is was like to work with his niece, Hertzfeldt said “I don’t know why I was ever under the impression I could direct a 4-year-old.”
“She wouldn’t even recite lines back to me. Everything she says in the film is just her being herself while we hung out and talked about the world…”. He later went on to say that he ended up using an iPad app to record her, and rewrote parts of the script to match her dialogue. Hertzfeldt mentioned working with these limitations was sort of fun, having to improvise the animation along with her dialogue.
On the subject of the creative process, Hertzfeldt described it as if “…you’re floating in an ocean, and you want to build a raft. So you just float there and you wait and wait. And eventually this little piece of something comes drifting by, maybe a memory, and you hang on to it, and then another little piece comes around, it is unrelated, maybe it’s a funny sentence you overheard somewhere…”. He says more and more pieces drift by and you collect them until you have enough to build a raft, and eventually you have to make a decision.
Which pieces are essential for the raft and which aren’t? Writing a story is very similar to his raft idea, you collect ideas and see what works well together and toss whatever doesn’t help the story, or raft, float. He also notes that he doesn’t spend a lot of time “swimming around, or (doing) calculation(s)…”, saying stressing over details or trying to figure things out is like poison for creativity, “The big ideas won’t happen right when you mentally stress on them… It is more a matter of being patient and being open to all the things that just drift in.”.
Don was asked about why he chose to release ‘World of Tomorrow’ on Vimeo on Demand, and he responded by saying “It’s a bit of a risk, I’ve traditionally funded everything else through theatrical tours and DVDs, and most people will tell you there’s no market for shorts online. But if we continue to believe that without ever trying to do anything to challenge it nothing will change, right?”. He praised Vimeo’s ability to allow him to update his videos throughout the 30-day rental period, saying he could improve picture quality by using better compression methods, or replace the footage altogether.
He’s come to like the 30-day rental concept, regarding it as a 30-day movie ticket, where you can watch the film as many times as you wish and get more out of it. With the knowledge that the film will disappear after a set time, and that we won’t actually own it, it turns into more of an experience and less of a fleeting though like many of today’s films. “What if after the end of the 30 days I deleted all of the master files and removed it from theaters and the film will forever only exist in our memories? Isn’t that kind of beautiful? Ok I won’t do that.”.
Someone asked why ‘he didn’t just post the video to YouTube for free and use their algorithm to generate revenue’ to which Hertzfeldt answered, “Vimeo gives the filmmakers a 90% share, which I think is unprecedented. They also seem to genuinely care about presentation. YouTube gets more traffic than anybody, but they are sort of eating themselves alive with advertising.”. Since Don is an independent, he has to sustain himself and as such has started to sell his shorts and films through platforms such as Vimeo.
“For the survival of young short-film makers and aspiring animators today, we really need to begin training people to pay for short films. Theatrical tours and DVD sales and the old models that I relied on are not going to be realistic much longer for them (or even for me).” He notes that the free YouTube model the public is growing fond of is hurting independent filmmakers, its teaching the newer generations of artists that their work has no value and that their “silly” personal projects should just be dumped online for free.
Unfortunately, the “free” model isn’t exactly viable for most people working on their own as Hertzfeldt does, “… if they’re lucky it will attract an advertising gig to pay the bills. And maybe make one more “personal project” that they can do on the side again. It’s not a good cycle.”. Don then began to speak about how he was on the Sundance Jury a few years ago, he watched amazing short films and independent productions that were met with great praise from the jury and festival attendees alike. Unfortunately, these same films would later fade into obscurity after their festival screenings, with little to no funds for a theatrical or physical release and with the creators reluctant to upload their films for fear of having them circulated for free, these films often disappear.
He says, “…many filmmakers aren’t even bothering with the internet… ‘Getting exposure’ doesn’t fund films. When you pay to see a movie you are casting a vote. You are saying, hey please go make more of this sort of thing.”. Everyone knows that Hollywood is a machine that makes money, and all it wants to do is make more money. People tend to bemoan and complain about the string of bad movies we’re forced to watch in between the few gems, and yet they line up to see them, casting their votes for more bad movies to be made. Nobody is forcing people to watch the “bad” movies, but they go and watch them anyway. However, when people pay to see independent movies they are saying, “hey i’d like you to actually have the chance to go make another one.”.
Hertzfeldt announced he was working on a new feature length film as well, ‘Antarctica’, saying the only thing holding it back at present was paperwork. He mentioned he will continue to make more shorts leading up to the new film. Finally, when asked on how he defines art Hertzfeldt said, “Anything artificial that is intended to produce an emotional reaction.”.
You can see some of Don’s shorts on his channel at YouTube, watch his short ‘World of Tomorrow’ on Vimeo on Demand, and check out his website. If you’d like to find out more, including Don’s favorite ice cream flavor and his opinion on David Lynch, you can read the full AMA here.