Tagged: independent

Engaging with the cinema/animation scene

Ever since I started getting into animation and cinema as a snot nosed 15 year-old, I’ve been very self-reliant and independent about the whole deal, almost to the point where I’ve been secretive about what I do. I’ve pretty much refused to promote or talk about any of my work or interests to any great extent especially with people face to face in real life.

I grew up in a small town 4 hours away from the next big city and my interest began in animation not because I fell in love with the medium (that came later), but simply because I could do it all myself. There wasn’t anyone in the town who liked the cinema I liked, had similar interests and ideas that I valued, or wanted to work with me to make the kinds of things I was interested in making. I couldn’t rely on anyone so I found ways to not have to.

gummo-weightlifting-e1373279419200wasn’t the kid from Gummo, but wasn’t that far off either

When I turned 18 and moved to a bigger city to study, I carried this sort of behavior of secrecy and independence with me. Sure I talked to the occasional person at art school about it or a friend or two, but I never went out of my way to seek out and find people doing stuff that really interested me (I met a couple by accident anyway), or even just engage with people and community in the cinema/animation scenes. This isn’t all bad as self reliance and independence can be great and is very useful (you get shit done), however at some point being secretive and clandestine about my work and interests has limited my exposure to different people and ideas working in the animation and cinema areas.

So why have I avoided them; the people and community of a subject and art I’m very much interested in? Mainly because I don’t like 95% of the stuff being produced, made or talked about. The truth is that if you have particular or discerning taste in something, you won’t like 95% of it. This applies to any form of art, be it cinema, music, comics, games, fine art or whatever. Most of the works in any medium you like you’ll consider pretty bad or at the very least, just not for you. And y’know, that’s ok! If you liked or even tried your best to like everything you’d lose the ability to be critical and that’s not something that will help you, anyone else or the progression of the art and by (maybe a long) extension… humanity. The ability to be critical allows for improvement and evolution.

But is that a valid reason to avoid the community and scene at large?

…probably not.
I’ve really begun to question the validity of my actions in avoiding the scene. Even If I don’t like a lot the work in a community of an art I’m interested in, I’m not helping myself by avoiding it. Instead I should get out there and engage with people. At most I’ll find people who have interesting work or ideas that I can learn things off, at the very least I can provide an alternative for others who have similar taste to me (even though they may be far flung).


So I’ve decided I want to get out and engage with the animation and cinema communities. I’m going to try to go to screenings and meetups, volunteer at festivals and generally engage with others in the scene. It’s something I should have been doing for years now but I’ve only just realised that If I change the way I treat the community I’ll be more likely to improve myself and impact it as a whole. No doubt there will be things that will annoy and frustrate me, but to grow and improve as a filmmaker it will help to engage with others.

-Hamish. S


SO you’re making your own animated feature or ambitious short film. You’re dedicated and working as hard as you can to make the best film possible, but you still need to eat, pay the rent, get equipment/materials, pay the electricity bill etc. So there comes the big question. How you fund your creative project?

Options really depend on where you’re living/making your film. I live in Australia and there are certain options I can take that might be different from ones where you live, but I’ll try and keep this list as globally relevant as possible.

I’m sure you’re already clued into crowd-funding. But if not, sites like Kickstarter, Pozible and IndieGoGo can help you get funding by giving you a platform to ask people who may want your work to fund it in small donations in return for content. For crowd-funding to work you’ll need to already have produced some content like concept-drawings or trailers to allow possible donors to see and become interested in what you’re offering. I also recommend not asking for too much money as if you don’t reach your target in the allotted time you don’t get the money. Crowd funding seems to work best for creators whose audience has taste inside edges of mainstream. Content such as genre films, pop culture references or sequels to already well known IP is often successfully funded. It probably won’t be very successful if you’re trying to fund you weirdo art film or avant-garde comic book but you might as well give it a go because one of the best things about crowd funding is that you have nothing to lose by trying.

In Australia artists/filmmakers can apply for grants from Screen Australia for film, or Arts Council for more experimental work (art). Getting a grant extremely competitive and you really need to know how to write applications in a certain way. You’ll also need to fulfill and fit neatly in their key criteria depending on the specific grant. It really depends on the project you’re working on whether you’ll even be eligible to apply. It’s not looking like I can apply for funding for my feature at either of these funding bodies due to my unconventional production (solo animated feature), but I’ll keep looking around and maybe I’ll be able to in the future.

UK: The British Film Institute looks like it’s your place to go.
Germany: Check out The German Federal Film Fund.
USA: Unfortunately there’s no federal film funding body in the US. Certain states offer tax credit but it’s unlikely it’ll be useful for D.I.Y or underground filmmakers.
Other Countries: It really depends where you are. Have a look around for federal or state/provincial film funding. Send out some emails to people. It can’t hurt.

This is what I’m doing for my first feature. The idea is that you get a job you work at 2/3 days a week that will pay enough to cover living expenses. The rest of your time you use working on your film. You’ll probably be living below or close to the poverty line but it’ll be worth it in the future when you’ve got films to sell. Just be careful the job & the lure of more money and easier living doesn’t suck you into doing too many days and compromising on your film. I’ve seen it happen. You’ll end up with no film AND a shitty job.

Independent filmmakers have been known to use bank loans or credit cards to fund their feature film productions. It’s pretty a pretty risky move though due to insane interest rates which mean you end up paying much more than you actually borrowed. Filmmakers Susan Buice and Arin Crumley took out a bunch of credit cards to fund their 2005 debut feature Four Eyed Monsters and accrued over $100,000 in debt. I’m not sure if they’ve paid it off yet but I doubt it. Be careful, doing this might help you make your first feature but will cripple you financially enough that you won’t be able to make your second for ages.

Investments: Generally to get a large enough return on any investment you need sufficient capitol invested to begin with. So… probably not the most useful to us as if we had that kind of money we wouldn’t need funding to begin with. Keep an eye out for stuff like bit-coin though, even though it’s high risk (markets could crash and you lose your moneys).

Hook Up With a Rich Person: Long shot here… but you could always hook up with a sugar mummy/sugar daddy. Unethical and kind of immoral… but if you love each other I guess it’d be ok.

Medical Research: Robert Rodriguez did it! Didn’t work for me unfortunately but maybe they’re more willing to use human guinea pigs where you’re from.


If you want to become a better animator/storyteller, one thing you MUST do is watch and study other films. If you aren’t engaging in culture how can you expect to make it? Here is a list of interesting animators and animation directors and a few of their works. It’s by no means an exhaustive list and I’m sure I missed plenty but maybe you can find some stuff in here you haven’t seen before. Also I recommend to not just watch animations but explore all cinema! There are a vast amount of amazing films which you can learn a lot from and enjoy. Dive in!  :0

Solo Feature Animators

M Dot Strange – We Are The Strange, HSM, I AM Nightmare
Lotte Reiniger – Adventures of Prince Achmed
Bill Plympton – Mutant Aliens, Hair High
Hiroshi Harada – Midori
Nina Paley – Sita Sings the Blues
Jimmy ScreamerClauz – Where The Dead Go To Die
Ray NowlandGo to Hell!
Don Hertzfeldt – It’s Such A Beautiful Day

Collaborative Feature Animators/Directors

Hayao Miyazaki – Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Nausicaa
Shinichiro Watanabe – Cowboy Bebop, Animatrix, Macross Plus
Rene Laloux – Les Maitres du Temps, Fantastic Planet
Ralph Bakshi – Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic
Isao Takahata – Grave Of Fireflies, Winter Days
Jiri Barta – The Pied Piper Of Hamelin, The Last Theft
Jan Svankmajer – Alice, Lunacy
Ari Folman – Waltz With Bashir
Katsuhiro Otomo – Akira, Memories
Richard Linklater – Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly
Mamoru Oshii – Angel’s Egg, Ghost In The Shell, Patlabor
Adam Elliot – Mary and Max, Harvey Krumpet
Sylvain Chomet – The Triplets Of Belleville, The Illusionist
Satoshi Kon – Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress
Henry Selick – The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline
Hideaki Anno – Nean Genesis Evangelion
Osamu Tezuka – Cleopatra: Queen Of Sex, Jumping
Kihachiro Kawamoto – The Book of the Dead, Oni
Richard Williams – The Princess And The Cobbler
Yoshiaki Kawajiri – Ninja Scroll, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust


Peter Chung – Æon Flux
The Brothers Quay – The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer, Street Of Crocodiles
Nijole Vladkeviciute – The Tree, Professor Cosmodrome Cricket
Suzan Pitt – Asparagus, Joy Street
Ray Harryhausen – The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad, Jason And The Argonauts
Phil Mulloy – Intolerance I II & III, Cowboys
Tomek Baginski – Fallen Art, The Cathedral
Anthony Lucas – The Mysterious Geographic Explorations Of Jasper Morello
Run Wrake – Rabbit
Vladimir Todorovic – The Snail On The Slope, Silica-Esc
Chris Landreth – Ryan, Bingo
Marc Craste – JoJo In The Stars, Varmints
Emile Cohl – Fantasmagorie
Berthold Bartosch – L’idee, The Ornament Of The Lovestruck Heart
Caroline Leaf – The Street, The Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa
Oscar Fischinger – Allegretto, Kreise
PES – KaBoom!, Game Over


Here’s a list of books, textbooks and manual that I have learnt a lot from and found really useful. They range from books on film aesthetics, screenwriting, storytelling, animation and motivation.

The Art of Dramatic Writing  by Lajos Egri
The best guide to writing narrative I’ve read yet. It teaches you how to write solid characters, structures, premise and pacing, and it also shows things to look out for that will make your narrative fail. Just keep in mind that it’s written primarily for writing stageplays and not screenplays so certain things don’t always apply if you’re writing for film. It also doesn’t take into account visual storytelling techniques as it’s written primarily for dialogue based theatrical storytelling.
party thing

The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
Probably the most well known book of comparative mythology and religion from Joseph Campbell. This book looks in particular at the ‘Hero’s Journey’ which is a form of narrative that permeates the majority of our fiction today and throughout history. Quintessential for writers who want to understand their craft, even if they don’t want to follow the hero’s formula.


Re-Imagining Animation by Paul Wells and Johnny Hardstaff
A really interesting book on contemporary animation and it’s changing culture. Primarily focusing on the changing rolls of animation in the post-digital age. Invaluable for intermediate to advanced animators and animation academics.


Sight Sound Motion by Herbert Zettl
An in depth textbook covering the aesthetics of moving image filmmaking. It looks at the fine details and choices in film-making and their psychological effects on the viewer. The book covers, light, lighting, colour, area, depth and volume, screen volume and effects, time, motion, continuity & complexity editing and sound. It can get a bit dry at times and as a cinema goer you will already know some of the elements in this book, however it’s worth sitting down and reading it entirely.


Film Art by David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson
Staple textbook for many cinema courses in film schools & universities. Looks at the aesthetics and mechanics of cinema in slightly broader context than ‘Sight Sound Motion’. Useful as a basis in understanding cinema for creators, academics and critics alike.
If you want this, get the edition before the latest and buy it second-hand as new editions cost a ridiculous amount of money for minimal new content.

B Book by M Dot Strange
A great book from an actual independent feature film animator/director. It looks at motivation, turmoils and the life of a dedicated fringe artist.
“I wrote this book as sort of an artistic pick you upper… a kick in the ass… a slap in the back of your head to get you going creating the awesome work that you should be!” – M Dot Strange


The War Of Art + Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield
Really motivational books from author Steven Pressfield. After reading these I worked harder than ever. They talk about the personal need to create and becoming professional in your approach. There’s a couple of parts that talk about Pressfield’s religious connection to creating which didn’t really gel with me as I’m quite secular, but i just ignored these and the other parts were extremely relevant. A good book for when you’re stuck in a rut.


The Animator’s Survival Kit by Richard Williams
The best textbook I’ve found yet for character animation. Useful regardless of what animation style you use. Written by the director of ‘The Cobbler and the Thief’. The examples given by Williams are quite stylized and cartoony but just tone that down if you want more realism or varying style in your character animation.


In The Blink Of An Eye (2nd ED) by Walter Murch
Insights and rules formulated by master editor Walter Murch. Editing is a hugely important step in film-making so the better you get at it as a D.I.Y or independent filmmaker the better your films will be. Incredibly useful information for filmmakers looking to get better at their craft.51KFHHJJAZL

The Conversations: Walter Murch And The Art Of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje
A five lengthy interviews with aforementioned master editor Walter Murch by the writer of The English Patient. They go through a lot of interesting content throughout their conversations. Worth a read if you read ‘In The Blink Of An Eye’ and want more.


Rebel Without A Crew by Robert Rodriguez
This book is mostly journal entries from Robert Rodriguez in the early 90’s when he was 23 years old and making his debut film El Miriachi with a $7000 budget. While I’m not particularly into his films, it’s an interesting and motivational look at D.I.Y and independent film-making. Good stuff.


1st Script Draft Finished!


I’ve finished my the first draft of my feature script!!!

There’s still a long way to go however. I’ll probably end up doing from 10 to 20 drafts until the script is finished. I really want to spend the time on the script and get it right as it’s my first one and I’ve still got a lot to learn.

The script is 20 pages at the moment. The usual rule for script time is that 1 page = 1 minute on screen. This rule is for conventional films where there tends to be a lot of dialogue, but my film will have minimal dialogue. I’m aiming at the film being 70-80 minutes long so I’ll try to get the script to be 45-50 pages minimum.

-Hamish .S


I AM NIGHTMARE is the third and latest animated feature from M Dot Strange. It’s a supernatural horror film of sorts and it clocks in at 128 minutes making it his longest film yet, which is necessary as it’s also the most complex and intricate narrative M Dot Strange has worked with yet.


The story follows a group of orphans and their caretaker Marie who have newly arrived at the ominous ‘Lantern Town’, “a town that never changes”. The town is curiously devoid of other children and the adults that live there spend their nights in the tavern engaged in acts of hedonism, while the orphans are forced to go out on patrol for monsters. When Marie enters the tavern to talk to the Mayor about changing this policy of child labour, she is shut down quickly. The Mayor exclaims “It’s just the way it is. Your children will get to live this good life as well once they’ve worked hard enough and reached the proper age.” Something is definitely a bit off with the townsfolk in the tavern.

It then shifts to Shy, a teenage girl who’s hiding by a well. Simmons (the Mayor’s advisor) comes and tells her that she must go and work at the inn as she’s of age. As he drags her away her tears fall down the well. Luminous pages suddenly spiral out of the well and a dark figure with a sword materialises. Meanwhile the rest of the children are out patrolling in the woods. One of the children Mack tells a story about a nightmare trying eating a boy who escapes down a well. They are distracted and then attacked by several black cloaked monsters which swallow two of them. The monsters are subsequently defeated by a mysterious and silent nightmare hunter and the children are saved. The nightmare hunter then appears at the tavern and tells the Mayor that he’s been summoned to the town. The Mayor questions him but the hunter walks off in silence and enters a shrine. The townsfolk are uneasy and the mayor wants him gone.

I AM NIGHTMARE is a supernatural horror film that has many similarities to Kaidan or Japanese Edo period ghost story films. It’s setting and tone evoke comparisons to films such as KWAIDAN, UGETSU or KURONEKO. It’s a tale of murder, betrayal, a vengeful spirit, immoral monsters and the loss of a loved one. True to M Dot Strange’s style, he manages to weave these into a fantastical world which contains elements such as a bizarre town surrounded by monster infested woods and even a Mecha battle. It’s clear that M Dot is influenced by Mecha fiction as it is a recurring element in I AM NIGHTMARE as well as his 2008 film WE ARE THE STRANGE.


The supernatural horror theme of I AM NIGHTMARE is pulled off with M Dot Strange’s use of an excellent atmosphere, frantic but well placed action and fleshed out characters. The set design and visual style is much more minimal compared to his previous films. Perhaps this is due to time limitations but it still looks great due to M Dot Strange’s use of lighting, colour and particle effects. The minimal style makes it all the more effective when chaotic and surreal scenes are introduced towards the climax and M Dot’s signature visual mayhem unfolds.

The lip syncing is quite jarring at first (the mouths only move up and down and not phoneme shapes), however you soon get used to it and it even makes sense when you remember that it’s a world of strange humanoid dolls. The character animation is for the most part good, but seems a little rushed at times, and occasionally the camera movement is a little clumsy. These small defects start to make sense when you find out that M Dot Strange produced this film in 1 year, pretty much by himself.


The voice acting for the most part is really great. I believed in all the characters and the dialogue fit well, especially with the adult characters. Some of the towns creepier denizens like Bore and the town drunk had me in stitches with their perverted lines. Some of the children’s jokes fall flat but this adds the fact that they’re y’know… children. The voice of one of the children Teenee is fucking annoying, but again this is because the character is an obnoxious hyperactive child, so it works. The soundtrack by M Dot Strange and Mad Dashiel is excellent and the diegetic sound design and really makes the world come alive.


I AM NIGHTMARE is a film about children for adults. The world is fantanstical, vivid and cohesive but M Dot Strange has always done that well. What I AM NIGHTMARE succeeds at best is the narrative. The story is relatively complex and it’s executed with finesse. Early on in I AM NIGHTMARE themes arise such as the painful division between child and adult but as the story begins to unravel it shifts to ideas around loss, pain and willful ignorance. My one criticism of the story is that it becomes too simplistic and black and white towards the conclusion. Throughout the first half of the film things aren’t so clear. You weren’t sure what everyone’s exact motivations were and the characters existed in a world of gray which I found really interesting. However as things become clearer in the delirious climax, the world turns to one of good and evil, black and white, which I found too simplistic and less interesting. In essence I AM NIGHTMARE is a sort of fairy-tale analogy and it works well as one, but i’d find it more interesting if there was a bit more realism and duality to the characters.

Overall I AM NIGHTMARE is M Dot Strange’s best film yet. The visuals aren’t quite as impressive as his first two films (likely due to the fact he created it in one year) however it’s minimal style is effective and it works. The films characters are cohesive with the story and it explores some interesting themes. Throughout I AM NIGHTMARE you can really see an artist begin to gain mastery with his medium. It’s definitely recommended for fans of weird independent animation.

-Hamish S.