The aim of this paper is to study the trajectory of a self-produced animated short film wherein the director herself takes on all the tasks of communication, administration, financing of production, and distribution. This is a handcrafted and alternative model of production in response to the post-Fordist theory. This system was born during the 1970s and emphasizes the idea of flexibility, geographical proximity, and innovation. This model is characterized by an international division of tasks, which consists in the spatial decentralization of different labour processes in various countries thanks to the advance of information and communication technology inputs and their subsequent distribution. Some authors have pointed out the importance of this theory based on the flexible schedules, non-standardized consumption (Jessop 1992) together with the reconciliation between the interests of capital —high rates of productivity— and the values of the working class —fulfillment at work with rising levels of income— (Clarke 1990). In the context of the animation industry, such factors have promoted the transformation from mass production located in a few-large-key companies to the spread of the regional industrial development, through the cooperation among small and medium-sized suburban studios (Hook, 2016, p.8).
These factors have given rise to an extraordinary diversity in the production framework (Álvarez-Sarrat, 2014, p.78) including co-production between countries for the development of non-commercial low-budget films such as Michaela Pavlatova’s, Tram (2012), a Czech-French-co-production, Decorado (2016), by Alberto Vázquez, with a Spanish and French company, or Mr Hublot (2013) by Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares, of Luxembourg-French nationality. Moreover, there are cases of freelance animators participating in experimental short-film collections produced by private TV channels. The Italian filmmaker Donato Sansone, for example, took part in the collection Dessine Toujours!, which is a selected compilation of animated short films released by the TV channel Canal+France, in which the production and the distribution themselves were extensively promoted on this platform.
There are several aspects that turn the sector of animated short films into a professional one. Those factors are: the co-production situation described above, Nisi Masa —the European network of young cinema associations (2015, p. 49) —the thematic compilations, the Informational Revolution, the major technological phenomenon, beyond the Industrial Revolution, in which the internet changed the way people communicate among themselves. This revolution took place between 1986 and 2007, which began the appearance of specialised distributors and regional catalogs promoting short films, the emergence of elite European animation schools such as La Poudrière, Gobelins or The Animation Workshop, and the continuous contact of sales agents in various territories and markets. However, this number of agents involved can hinder the development of films born outside the institutional, academic and business systems. The weight of the already mentioned schools, along with long-term studies and producers who defend their editorial line and their own network of artists and graduates, can be a tough competition for independent filmmakers who seek their niche market (De la Rosa 2016, p. 152). This situation forces filmmakers to use different resources, such as financial, promotional and distributional tools, without a guaranteed success.
This article examines the path of a contemporary independent animated short film, made and promoted by a solo filmmaker. The aim is to identify the key concepts that frame the long journey of the independent animated short film, to analyze the roles of filmmaker-entrepreneurs, to determine the reasons for this artistic-industrial mix and to examine its consequences, in order to establish some conclusions about the long process of the promotion and distribution of an independent animated short film.
Some film scholars such as Sébastien Roffat (2015), who studied the internationalisation and industrial practices of French feature animation films, or Cécile Noesser (2016), who analysed the progressive acceptance of French animation cinema from the 1950 to 2010, carried out studies on the economics of French animated cinema. Although such studies are valuable, the analysis of the production system of the contemporary French independent animated short film is barely dealt with in research. In the animation context, the production is placed in multiple audiences despite the cliché of this cinema in the form of children’s entertainment.
According to the producer Jean-Pierre Lemouland in an interview carried out by the lecturer Isabelle Le Corff, animation might be able to communicate more than entertainment, transmitting “essentials, deeper, more adult, riskier” emotions but these aspects “[…] n’intéressent pas nécessairement les financeurs. […] Le cinéma d’animation a toujours été un ghetto, qui ne côtoie qu’assez peu l’industrie de la récréation” (quoted in Floquet 2007, p. 94)
Along with this issue, it is not possible to discuss the production of an animated film of a certain size without acknowledging the role of monetary terms. In the present decade, financial partnerships permitted the cinema to increase its production volume and spread films in the cinematographic circuit (mainly festivals), taking them to a greater extend, in VOD platforms. Referring to more modest productions, the self-produced animated short film is a practical method of production as long as the director is linked to market strategies such as co-productions, institutional aids and the possibilities of digital distribution on the Net. These strategies, which will be explored further below, take into account not only the artistic talent of the filmmaker but the economic potential of his/her filmworks. In fact, the solo director’s possibilities of creation of an animated short film, depend on the external environment conditions in which such film is involved: market scope, cinema laws, and national or regional economy. All these factors determine the human, material, or financial resources implied in the production of an animated short film. However, there is another regard which is essential in case the director wants to carry out all the responsibilities of his/her work: the dual creative and administrative roles as an artist and entrepreneur. Thus, in order to carry out a self-produced animated short film efficiently, independent directors must combine their roles of entrepreneurs and creators. It is therefore important to examine and discuss the processes of funding and distribution animated short films to understand the ephemeral commercial tour experienced by many other creators of these films who have designed, produced and distributed from a self-production perspective.
The advertising theory can help to understand the tension between these functions —creative and administrative— through film promotion and distribution. In the first place, the promotion in digital media makes emotional and persuasive communication pass at the speed of information (cited in De Salas 2002, p. 10). It also warns that the internet is used as the first means of promotion for independent filmmakers. In this context, the promotional coverage of the short films and their mediatic impulse usually falls to the filmmaker/producer himself/herself, with few resources. Also known as “guerrilla marketing,” the cruciality of online independent film promotion is increasingly widespread. For example, creating excitement on the Net from the beginning of the production around the short film, laying the foundations of the appeal of the film —called packaging— with a series of advertising materials to obtain financing and arouse interest in the market (Levinson 2009; Bravo 2013; Marich 2013). Likewise, the profitability of interactivity is preached as a characteristic of the medium, through which the possibility of refining the quality of the impact is offered. For example, the search can be associated with tags of the short film, generate data about the viewings controlling the frequency of visits or avoid the repetitive impacts of the same image on the Net. Furthermore, persuasive communication continues with the idea of product positioning and digital brand in a world-socially interconnected, multi-platform, cloud-based, customized, selective and abundant, where it is sold, retransmitted and shared (Holt, Sanson 2014).
Further, in relation to film distribution, the proliferation of festivals specialized in animation have played a crucial role in both the promotion and in the prizes of their palmareses, considering themselves a fundamental support in the commercial career of the short films. However, the digital revolution has meant that festivals have ceased to be exclusively platforms for the exhibition and promotion of works that previously could not be shown beyond this privileged area, to become meeting places for professionals. The spectator is no longer forced to attend these events to watch animated short films. The forums and markets have gained more weight, a fact that is repeated in both large festivals and in small ones.
Audiovisual consumption has changed drastically, becoming the engine that is accelerating the change in the sector of the short film. The emergence of viewing platforms at the beginning of the new millennium, such as Vimeo or YouTube, and more recently those of VOD have completely reconfigured the panorama of the audiovisual exhibition. However, to date, these windows have not been a great source of amortization compared to other factors —subventions, televisions or prizes— although new changes in these media are beginning to be glimpsed. Some of the initiatives that begin to arise in these spaces are the rent of 48 hours and the payment for the discharge of high quality or even packages of short films available in Premium accounts. Similarly, the careful selection of producers to show their catalogs, place before the viewer a new way of conceiving the movie consumption. For example, by labeling the videos chosen as Staff Picks where a list of the best of the channel is shown.
In addition, the digital premières and live broadcast plans have meant a new turning point in the promotional career of the short films, where the filmmakers can interact in real time with their audience. In the same way, the promotion is happening in social networks. These exchange websites allow the animated short film to become an ideal format for viewing “on demand” from any home screen, be it computer, tablet or smartphone. The immediacy of access to content is key in the promotion and contemporary cinematographic distribution, as a consequence of the technological impact.
In this context, independent cinema is relevant as a means of animation since it occupies a segmented market dedicated to the niche. This is not covered by commercial cinema in the major companies. In addition, they are also focused on low budget films (Marich 2014). According to the journalist Robert Marich, independent studies can also be divided into two groups: on the one hand, the truly indie does not have industrial support, while on the other hand, filmmakers who receive this support, whether institutional or private. The latter can enjoy greater exposure given their connection with other agents, televisions or festivals. However, these can be directed to a wider audience, for example to generalist festivals, while pure independents can target their films to a more specific and sophisticated audience. In addition, these types of films can be oriented towards local art and essay spaces that support talent from the region.
While in the commercial cinema the relationship between the exhibitors/theatres and the distributors, is characterized by a constant tug of war. In order to obtain the most advantageous negotiations the independents are free of that pressure. For instance, the conventional billboard is usually of two to four weeks, depending on the attendance of the public. Independent films do not fit into a standard profile, so generalizations are difficult. The more expensive an independent film is, the more it resembles the marketing impulse of a commercial study and the more it will resemble its production strategies. This process includes the investigation of the consumer markets, the forecast in the budget of distribution-quotas, or fees such as travel and accommodation to festivals, promotional materials and creation of events. In the eighties, the economy of the commercial cinema depended to a great extent on the income coming from domestic video and DVD sales. The films could no longer remain in the cinema market. More recently, video on demand windows are established as a primary alternative to physical videos and piracy.
Marich also analyzes marketing in independent films. He says that they do not fit into a standard profile, so generalizations are difficult. The more expensive an independent film is, especially in terms of manufacturing costs, the more it will resemble the marketing of a large studio. This process includes the investigation of consumer markets, the purchase of television advertising, and the rental of exhibition spaces. Nevertheless, most animated short films are released with small budgets without initial tests before an audience. There also is no television advertising, as is the case with commercial cinema. These films with small budgets start to market through the Internet because of their low cost, and their reach to a widely dispersed target audience. The central strategy is to emphasize the frequency of advertising, which contrasts to the main studios. This is placed in televised advertisements, so there is an indirect effect for the non-mainstream audience. The public can discover indie films due to the work of a critic or through word of mouth in cyberspace. In this way, the titles of their short films are particularly important, because a name may influence the minds of moviegoers.
Both indie and commercial filmmakers, online advertising and promotion begin months before distribution, in order to connect with a potential audience while their film is in development. A central point of the first stage of marketing can be the official website of the film, due to its quick configuration. Another initial consideration is the constant and systematic aggregation of new visual content that provides an incentive for the followers of the short film. In addition to the images of the film, the appearance of the filmmakers at festivals, and the acclaim in the critic’s reviews is particularly vital because they influence the public. The exhibition at festivals attached to favorable reviews are used in subsequent advertising during the distribution of the film. In addition, festivals are also platforms for independently produced films to align distribution offers on viewing platforms.
This paper will be supported by an interview with Joanna Lorho to draw conclusions on the funding and distribution of independent animated short films, for instance: the search for subsidies, irregular production, the difficulty of delegating, and the uncertainty of the profitability and visibility of the work. In this way, it can be studied the particular trajectory of Kijé, a self-produced animated short film in the festival circuit, composed of diverse intermediaries such as institutions, foundations or curators, as well as the starting point of the director, Joanna Lorho, as the main person responsible from the very beginning from this animated short film.
Joanna Lorho: draughtswoman, pianist and self-taught animator
Joanna Lorho is a young French multidisciplinary artist based in Belgium. Her first contact with animation was through L’Arrosoir à Émile, a Breton association that promotes and diffuses animation through workshops, for which she made an animated teaser for the screening of short films. After this brief experience, and, in a totally self-taught way, she embarked on her first professional animated short film, Kijé, in March 2006, which is about a man who abandoned the grey nocturnal life in the city to encounter nature and to embrace himself.
At that time, there was a notable growth in spontaneous productions of animated short films, thanks to digital changes and the internet revolution. In spite of the significant reduction in the production costs caused by this technological transformation, Lorho still encountered economic difficulties in the production of her short film. The first problem that she had to deal with was the impossibility of paying the high expenses for copyrighted Kijé music, which is owned by Universal Pictures. Faced with this first obstacle, Lorho decided to interpret the piece of music herself. She began to work on the score of the soundtrack of the short film. This initial cost savings together with her artistic ambition to make a high-quality short film, justified her choice to work autonomously. The second obstacle in financing Kijé was the impossibility of producing the short film only through her own resources (see Figure 1).
Figure 1, the filmmaker Joanna Lorho
In 2006, Lorho began to collaborate with the studios Zorobabel and Graphoui for the creation of animation workshops for children and teenagers. Being unable to request subsides on her own, Lorho decided to try her luck by the support of these two producers in 2008. She first applied to the Belgian State aid for Le Center du Cinéma de la Fédération Wallonie Bruxelles (CFWB) dedicated to the production of their first films. Paradoxically, this help was rejected because of her lack of experience as an animation producer.
At the same time, Lorho sought funding through private scholarships for young artists, but this did not come to fruition. However, in 2006, the CFWB introduced a new funding with an annual sum of €100,000 for experimental films. These audiovisual creations proposed an innovative approach to cinematic expression, which differs from traditional narrative patterns, giving rise to an individual and artisanal work. As the director herself has declared, she felt lucky because this national funding was still unknown to most filmmakers, giving her a competitive edge. Furthermore, as this funding was put in place during that year, the rules for the submission were more open and flexible. For instance, neither filming, release formats, nor duration limits —minimum or maximum running time — were restricted. Lorho took advantage of this unique financing opportunity and quickly apply to this cinema grant. Fortunately, she received €20,000.
The level of competitiveness of these grants were not high enough at that time and the likelihood of being funded were more probable. In any case, Lorho did not make any special effort to be more fundable by adapting the project framework to the cultural, artistic, and technical expectations of the submission call. The experimental films that Belgian Funds is looking for to incorporate in its catalogue should be “innovative or a development of cinematographic expression, and which moves away from traditional narrative outlines in order to create a work that goes beyond the norms and is unique, which has an artisan feel to it.” These key values of this cinema institution was part of the essence of Kije’s project, coinciding with Lorho’s artistic and ideological interests.
Two years later, she obtained the “vocation grant” of € 7,000 from the French private foundation Marcel-Bleustein. This organisation has been around for 58 years, and in each call for funding there are 5000 candidates of which only 20 are award-winning. In spite of the high competition Lorho received this prize due to the innovation of her proposal. In fact, this foundation was focused previously only in Literature and Poem Awards. Now this award supports more than 18 different domains such as architecture, agriculture or science. However, both state and private aids were not enough to cover the costs of the short film, so Lorho would have to support herself through other works —teaching, illustration, piano concerts— to take her animated short film forward.
The Multitasking role in the Animated Short Film
Lorho, as a multidisciplinary artist, developed different professional activities that allowed her to earn a living, but which made it difficult to dedicate all her time to her animated short film. Her other works consisted of piano concerts, the commercialization of her artistic works —illustration, animation clips and comic— and technical performances such as pedagogical collaborations in the workshops of initiation to the animation by Zorobabel and Atelier Graphoui (see Figure 2) and teaching graphic narration and illustration in École de Recherche Graphique.
Figure 2, The studio Zorobabel, courtesy of the artist
Lorho had many challenges trying to scrape together a living while working on her passion project Kijé. In Lorho’s own words:
Because I had to make a living while making my passion project, it took much longer to complete. Finally, once I had the ability to focus all of my energy on the film, I ended up doing other things in addition to it: like comic books, music, and teaching…causing me to lose focus on the film.” She also added: “I felt I needed to do other activities outside of the film to feed my creativity”. This testimony reflects the irregular production of novice artist, especially when the auteur is involved in many other projects in order to make a living. Therefore, it is necessary for her to take breaks in order to come up with new ideas powerful enough to withstand the demands of an animation production.
These fluctuating works, derived from the practices of different artistic performances and irregular income, allowed Lorho to benefit from a special quotation system in Belgium, the so-called “status d’artiste.” (Roosen, Gening 2012, p. 40) According to Belgian law, those who provide artistic services are entitled to compensation from the state between the end of one contract and the beginning of the next, in view of the short duration of contracts in this sector. The “status d’artiste” allows unemployed artists to get a minimum “salary” according to the hours worked, providing these artists, in this way, with financial support and legal security.
That said, filmmakers outside Belgium should look into their professional legal rights such art statutes in the cinema sector in order to safeguard their exploitation and intellectual property of their short films. According to lecturers Lisa Moore and Liz Wheeler, art statutes remain relatively unknown among the art community and practitioners at large, despite their valuable protection to artists. (Moore, Wheeler 2011, p. 559). For example, one of the most favourable legislations for artists was made in Quebec, Canada. This law considers every creator a professional artists so long as they accomplish these requirements: first, the declaration of considering themselves as artists. Secondly, the production of artworks on their own behalf, as well as their distribution through different means of exhibition, production, publishing, or public presentation. And finally, by the social recognition of practitioners, such as critics or juries who give them an award, prize, scholarship, review, adjudication committee or an invitation to participate in festivals or salons.
In the world of animation, short-term intermittent contracts are commonplace. As studios do not usually require the same number of employees all the time, the contracts can last for a few weeks to a few months. Professional artists and technicians often carry out several temporary contracts during the same year. The status d’artiste allows them access to an unemployment benefit that usually comes almost immediately after they finish a contract and start the next one. To do this, social protection legislation for artists in Belgium takes into account the number of days worked and the age of the worker. Generally, directors will use this unemployment compensation for the self-production of their personal short films, since it is precisely in such periods of inactivity that they can devote themselves to the production of their own artistic pieces. In the case of Lorho, under age 36, she had to work 312 days in the previous 18 months in order to apply for the unemployment insurance.
Lorho had to do external artistic services —mainly music and animation— to reach the hours needed to apply for status d’artiste. This circumstance provoked an intermittency and discontinuity in Kijé‘s production, which made it impossible for Lorho to do the film in a rigid and linear scheme, characteristic of commercial studios, for a greater efficiency and productivity. Lorho verified that each phase in animation was interdependent of the other, and she was adjusting the temporal parameters according to the creative needs of the project. For example, in the film, there is a complex scene of a parade with multiple characters in perspective walking towards a close-up shot. Instead of using simple cycles, Lorho opted for a full-frame animation with different design typologies. These aspects were particularly challenging for her due to the complexity of the action, which meant a great investment of time in the animation. Consequently, much of the creative execution was devoted to this phase. On the contrary, the search for a visual style was completed faster, thanks to the wealth of knowledge in graphic narrative and comic books acquired during artistic residencies and previous comic book publications.
Promotion and Diffusion of Kijé. Blog, Festivals and DVD+Book.
At the same time that she made the short film Kijé, Lorho used a blog as a virtual diary, where she narrated in first person the production of the film that she disseminated monthly, coinciding with the proliferation of this media at the end of 2008 (Martín Prada, 2015:182). This communication platform served not only as a catalyst for her brand, but also in order to show the process of Kijé from the very beginning in a detailed and meticulous way (see Figure 3).
Figure 3, The blog of Joanna Lorho
In her blog, Lorho presented Kijé with two objectives: first, to use this social space for building an audience. For example, arousing interest to potential online followers by revealing the visual universe of the film, through captivating material, and sharing an emotional connection. In this sense, Lorho formed a chronological timeline of her artistic process by creating expectations about Kijé long before its subsequent screen exhibition. Her second objective was to bring together the meeting of independent animation fan-based communities by forming an online encounter that virtually accompanied her during production. This was characterized by the modern watching-liking-sharing culture.
By giving early knowledge of the gestation and the latter materialization of the short film, the reader can follow all the details that make it up, as well as the personal thoughts, communicated publicly, of the director in each phase of the project, fostering a sense of belonging of an online community or audience to the creation process of the film (see Figure 4).
Figure 4, Sketch of a scene in Kijé, courtesy of the artist
By definition, the audience is made of actual people who not only visit the site once, but who also consciously return to enjoy the content again. That said, the core audience actively seeks to consume new content from particular artists and usually signs up to get content sent to them through various means, such as sign up to a mailing list, or through social media platforms. Therefore, it is not for people who are just visiting a site once and moving on, but also who consume content and sign up to get more. Some audience-building activities used by independent filmmakers are related to consumer psychology. For example, directors should analyse what kind of needs or desires his/her audience has. Marketing consultant Gloria Bretones and Carmen Jiménez sum up some ideas that reflect this behavior of the online audience: to endorse a cause or a creative passion, to make a statement, to acquire prestige or social belonging (Bretones, Jiménez, 2017:78).
When filmmakers post on any social platform, they hope to receive a message, subscription, comment, like or retweet from their audience. Although auteurs are grateful for these interactions, they cannot be considered reliable measures to evaluate the creation of a loyal core audience. In fact, these intercommunications are composed mainly of random people that come and go. Some technological aspects support this reasoning: the platform’s algorithm, time of day the audience visits their social networks, the competition for attention, and the impossibility of controlling who leaves/joins the artist’s online sites.
Other marketing via social media strategies, such as the creation of a blog such as Lorho’s, can be a more personal way to reach the core audience. Filmmakers have full control over the sign-up funnel and they can build little by little their audience by the way of publishing relevant content. When online users see themes and information which is pertinent to them, they tend to show their interest via watching/liking/sharing that content. Then, after the filmmakers have shown their film to the public through the digital media, the audience cannot wait to consume more of what filmmakers have to offer, as long as the artists keeps providing valuable content, such as entertainment, culture knowledge, or aesthetic allure.
At this point, it must taken into account the main purpose of filmmakers like Lorho, which is to feel recognised and to know that their film has been seen as a positive impact for future films —whether be it through inspiring new procedures, delighting new audiences, or teaching them values that will benefit them in their work or lives. Having said that, cultural analyses of advertising techniques via social media are essential to describe how filmmakers market their films. According to some marketing experts, it is necessary to constantly make content that sparks emotion to engage the audience. Reiss highlights how most film websites fall into a monologue from creator to audience: as he mentions “once people have seen the trailer, read the synopsis, and perhaps see where the film is playing, there is no reason for them to return” (2011, p. 92). In order to avoid this, people must stay on the site for longer period of time. Reiss proposes to develop the relationship with the audience. That means to build a dialogue through different means, for instance a blog with comments section, links to the film’s page with social networks such as YouTube, Vimeo or Instagram, links to sites filmmakers are partnering with, sites that relate to their film, or widgets that the audience can broadcast on their own sites (Reiss 2011, p. 92). Furthermore, the creation of film promotion materials can contribute to the flow of valuable information around the film, such as short clips, posters, postcards and events oriented to word-of-mouth screenings. It has also been noted that regular publications seem to be effective to engrave the filmmaker’s name in his/her audience’s minds.
The monthly publications allowed Lorho to take a communicative action of her creative activity, raising awareness of the short film by organizing spontaneously each phase of the project. Despite it was impossible to known concrete stats of her blog’s readership due to the private configuration on this data. Her Vimeo account had 63 followers, obtaining 1284 reproductions on Kije’s teaser. Lorho compiled and archived chronologically all the information related to the short film, alluding to the original material of the film, through the creation of texts, photographs of graphic material and files of animated images. The regular publication in the blog allowed Lorho to provide structure and meaning to the most relevant or striking elements of her short film, facing the exuberance of animated images, selecting and presenting them to the public on the net (see Figure 5).
Figure 5, Notes about the film Kijé
In this way, what she published in the blog was not only a way of publicizing her short film, but also the use of this platform as a useful tool to establish intermediate stages of production. By executing and recording the different steps of the process (refer to Figure 5), the filmmaker achieved small goals and obtained a solid routine during production. Through the blog, Lorho declared the victories achieved — finishing a scene, obtaining a grant, or installing the multiplane camera — and the challenges to face, based mainly on trial and error (see Figure 6).
Figure 6, An example of a finished scene of Kijé, courtesy of the artist
In fact, this development process was as relevant as the final creation and showed the close link between the filmmaker and her film. The blog revealed throughout its different entrances the firm commitment of the director with her work, the desire to materialize it and to see it displayed on screen.
Kijé’s blog, therefore, offered a very rich and multifaceted vision of the short film allowing the audience to learn first-hand all the details of this project. Lorho’s way to promote this work was by writing elaborate texts about Kijé‘s production and showing its audiovisual content in a blog. Lorho also used her blog as a personal diary, sharing her own subjectivity openly, letting it be revealed in her comments and selected images. In fact, her personal life, the information of the project, and her thoughts about it are intermixed in the blog platform. Lorho revealed a certain way to value and appreciate her short film, pointing out the relevant aspects that, in her opinion, presented the production of her short film. For example, she showed in two images several worn out pencils due to the large number of drawings she had made for the short film. She adds the following comment in which she reveals how this hands-on activity affects her physically: “Black hands and wrists on fire.”
Once the production was over in 2014, Lorho kept on using the blog as a platform to announce presentations and events of the film, such as the release and the list of awards and selections. Kijé began its path along the festivals a year later. These festivals are the main showcases and means of distribution of short films, which explore diversity and formal aesthetics of the short films through a competitive selection. By means of subjective criteria of a jury, for instance: the judgement over the artistic quality of the plot, design and animation as well as the technical quality of the short film, the films are likely to win awards being this symbolic or prize money. These recognitions are profited by the filmmaker to give the film a commercial validity or standard, reporting them to have a press impact. Although the echo of the traditional means of communication continues to be slight in the case of short films, the news of the awards and selections are used to be exploited by the filmmaker in order to support his/her film in the social media, and foster a positive word-of-mouth among the public and specialised media and critics.
Without any doubt, the process of distribution in festivals is a challenge for filmmakers. Despite of the fact that each film is different and has its own distribution track, this is conditioned by various aspects, such as: the kind of film, the budget and the time available, as well as the specific objectives of the director. Moreover, what has to be accounted for is that the number of the films produced is, in most cases, higher than the films selected in the festivals’ programmes. For example, according to its website, the festival of Annecy receives on average 2600 films every year, nevertheless, its official selection is made up of 200 titles.
There are several types of festivals, films will be destined to one or another festival based on the type of film created, considering its theme, technique and duration. In the case of Kijé, which has a poetic-tone and experimental treatment film, it was well received in some specific animation festivals. In her blog she lists the selections she has so far, such as Anima Brussels Animation Film Festival, Sommets du Cinéma d’Animation de Montréal (Canada), Animasyros (Greece), Krok Festival (Ukraine), Festival Animanima (Serbia), Animasivo (Mexico) and Trois jours trop court Festival of courts métrages d’animation de Castres. Lorho was also selected in Tricky Women (Austria), the only animation festival dedicated to female filmmakers. Kijé was also part of the catalog of prestigious generalist festivals abroad such as Uppsala International short film festival (Sweden) International Film Festival of Lanzarote (FICL) Fike (Portugal) and music festivals like Mediawave International Film and Music Gathering (Hungary).
One of the most important exhibitions for Lorho was the avant-première of the short film at the Nova cinema in Brussels on October 19th, 2014. The Nova cinema is an art and rehearsal cinema specialised in curating “alternative films, not conventional or simply different,” who find it difficult to debut in commercial rooms. The completion of Kijé and its presentation on the screen meant for Lorho the culmination of a decade of work (see Figure 8).
Figure 8, Première in Nova Cinema. Joanna Lorho (left) presenting Kijé and answering questions from the public
Along with the screening, Lorho presents an exhibition at Microboutiek, the Cinema Nova bar, which gives “carte blanche” to the director to organize a micro-event around her short film Kijé. Lorho sets up an installation of TV screens in which GIFS are seen in loop and frames and illustrations of some scenes. It is in an intimate and amical environment where Lorho presents Kijé, later to enter in cinematographic meetings of greater magnitude. It was precisely at Belgian festivals such as the Befilm festival and the Brussel Short Film Festival and the French, the Séquence court-métrage Festival, Festival BD6Né, Festival International du Film d’Aubagne where Kijé got more recognition. Lorho’s short film won the Format Court prize at the prestigious Angers festival, consisting of the conversion to DCP for an upcoming project, a screening at the Salle des Ursulines in Paris and an interview at Format Court magazine, specializing in short films. Thanks to this award, Lorho made a presentation of Kijé in one of the most emblematic art and theater room in the French capital, getting repercussions in the press as well as a small help for the next film (see Figure 9).
Figure 9, Exhibition of Kijé
Through interviews and reviews in specialized media such as Format Court, which Lorho herself will later include in her blog, Kijé received more feedback and validation of criticism, which undoubtedly gives cache to the short film. Lorho was also interviewed by Deuxième Page, a cultural magazine dedicated to emerging culture, which in June 2016 gave a broad overview of “this small production of great aspirations” (Hedgsworth 2016). In the press, it is highlighted not only the awards and selections received but also the analysis of the theme, key sequences and the inspiration as a starting element. Furthermore, the press highlighted Lorho’s heroic multitasking function.
Kijé is an eclectic animated short film that can be selected at festivals of different editorial lines, judging by the diversity of exhibitions in which it has been chosen. As mentioned above, festivals will take into account the “production value” of a film: the theme or genre, the target audience or the ability to develop merchandising, such as books, applications, among others. In general, it seems clear that a short film can be considered more marketable if it is selected in a renowned festival, as it will provoke the effect of snowball, where, after an important selection, other festivals will try to get the film for their own catalogue. It must be noted here that Lorho had the advantage to be working previously on the association L’Arrosoir à Émile, dedicated to the promotion and diffusion of animation cinema. This position allowed her to know the ins and outs of the functioning of the preparation of events dedicated to animation professionals, especially at local level. This is why becoming a member of these kind of organizations can be favourable for auteurs.
The commercial trajectory of the animated short films depends highly on the funding, which influence significantly the distribution phase. Speaking from a self-distribution perspective, which depends on an artists’ financial capability, they can choose between two ways of distribution: on the one hand, a selective strategy during the distribution of their films, or a selection of a few large potential festivals that specify in the genre or theme of their film; on the other hand, they may take a more intensive approach with wide distribution in generic festivals. While it is not clear at the very beginning how an animated short film is going to do, the first method can be advantageous over the second one. A selective strategy is cheaper than an intensive one, due to its careful choice of specific and specialized festivals. As a result, the film is more appealing to its audiences. In addition, this scrupulous strategy tries to get its films shown on the most renowned spaces and cinema markets. Its main disadvantage, however, is in its slow distribution, due to the limited opportunities of applying to festivals during the year. However, auteurs can opt for a mixed distribution of their film —first selective, then intensive — to spread their films in the most worthwhile way.
Online platforms which send the film’s press kit to the festivals, such as ShortfilmDepot, charge registration fees when filmmakers inscribe the film at these film events, conditioning the number of festivals to which the short film can be submitted. However, a short film that is well liked usually receives many invitations from festival distributors and is more likely to get discounts or waivers to a larger number of festivals. In these cases, filmmakers can take advantage of this privilege to save money and reach audiences more easily.
In Kijé’s case, the precarious financial situation meant that Lorho had few opportunities to go personally to festivals and meet the public and professionals of the sector. Precisely this is one of the main demands of these events: to know face to face the director of the film, the artist’s approach to the public and industry, and possible future business — productions, co-productions, distribution contracts, invitations to other festivals, future projects — begin to take shape in the festivals. However, it is usually the filmmaker who has to pay for the trip and although most of Kijé‘s selections were in Europe, the director’s presence at the festivals was impractical.
Depending on the time available, Lorho considered whether to deliver her film though distribution companies or to be in charge of it herself. After the long production process, shw was exhausted; so, finally, together with the production company Zorobabel, she carried out the distribution of Kijé by festivals during 2015 and part of 2016. Note that while the realization of this animated short film took a decade, its distribution hardly took more than a year. The huge amount of films produced annually, thanks to digital technologies, and the desire of the festivals to showcase new content made the short films have a short life on big screen. The ephemeral presence of these films in festivals contrast with the long time that takes to produce them: the constantly changing demand of the public requires a yearly renewal of content. This situation demands the most current and contemporary cinema, from an artistic point of view. As Antonio Ahucha brings up, it is not about the accumulation of films, but to establish a way of communicating collectively together with the public (2009, p. 17). In this sense, curating films should be a means to enrich the capacity of recognition and appreciation of animated images by the public.
While during the production of the short film, Lorho was concerned about the absolute control and the creative freedom of her work, she showed less attention to the profitability and repercussion of the work: “I do not carry a calculation of all profits or selections at festivals […] So far I do not see the benefits, except the satisfaction of knowing that my film has been seen by people at festivals” (Lorho, personal interview, May, 2016). It should be noted that Kijé was not broadcasted on television, so the director did not benefit in terms of copyright, and consequently, did not earn an economic income for the exhibition of her short film.
Together with the exhibition at festivals, Lorho published a DVD + book by Kijé with the independent Belgian publisher Cinquième Couche, founded in the 1990s by a group of comic auteurs from the Institut Saint-Luc. This 60-page publication about Kijé’s process together with a copy of the film, contains some texts and images from the blog, released in June 2015 for € 9. However, this prize estimation cannot compare to the high sentimental value that Lorho has for Kijé, which it is independent of its commercial one. On the one hand, she has revealed in the interview how her film makes her to feel extraordinary emotions, which explains her difficulty in selling her art for lucrative ventures: “The independent animator / director goes to animation when it makes sense for him. If I have to do a job just for the money, I prefer to get away from my artistic practices” (Lorho, personal interview, May, 2016).
On the other hand, economic value can vary over time, depending on the state of animation/editorial market. Also, the economic state in general and the public’s tastes change. Specifically in the context of animation, it can be observed how some features such as duration, date, theme, genre, concept, and finally its origin have affected the appraisal of short films. Before continuing, it is time to define these concepts. First, the duration of a film can determine its income, because the budget on television to acquire short films is established by their running times. Secondly, the date of release is relevant to determine the value of a short film. Depending on when the film was exhibited on the screen affects the price of the ticket. The price is not the same for a recently released film as it is for an older one because the economic value decreases over time. If it is a “classic” film, the economic value will increase over time due to being replayed in festivals, television, or VOD. Thirdly, the thematic genre or concept of the short film depends on the taste, trends and national context of festival curators or TV agents. In relation to this, previous nominations and awards in festivals have also affected the evaluation of animated short films, due to the consideration of cinema experts and critics. As states the producer Manuel Cristóbal, irrational components and subjective criteria are imposed over rational values in the art market. This explains how animated films reach a certain artistic worth over a commercial value (Cristóbal 2017). Finally, the origin of the film is based on where the film was made or even to the nationality of the director. According to this, a short film can apply for specific funding depending on the country in which it is conceived or even apply to certain grants which support national or local talents. That is why the origin of a film is truly important: there is a economic relation between the film and its origin, depending where or who made it. The film can obtain certain financial advantages which are always related to the economic cinema regulation of each country.
Although the budget of a short film can be predicted, its actual earnings are very difficult to evaluate on the cinema circuit. Beyond its limited availability in bookstores such as Fnac, Format Court or BD Channel, the DVD + book of Kijé went on sale after having been viewed at the screening room of the festivals where the short film has been selected. After the screening, the film process can be seen through a booklet that collects the “raw material” of the film and its genesis (see Figure 10).
Figure 10, the DVD of Kijé
In order to do so, it is important to foresee how much extra work is necessary. Apart from editorial activities —writing, illustration, photographs, graphic design and book layout— the exhibitions of the works in galleries, salons or boutiques are also integrated as an essential part of the artistic practice. In fact, all these aspects not only help to appreciate the short film more, but also provide the material for a valuable catalogue, such as the comprehension of aesthetic and technical aspects, descriptions, and stylistic studies.
Sebastien Roffat highlights in the magazine La Lettre de l’AFCA how animated short films are promoted through merchandising. In this way, these films are not conceived alone, but with complementary works. According to Roffat, its business model is based on direct sales such as salons, festivals, or the internet. Then, this combined content of book plus film allows to enlarge its marketability. From the auteur’s perspective, this merchandise offers a second opportunity for promoting the distribution of a short film, and at the same time shows to the spectator a new way to (re)discovering the film through a pedagogic approach (Roffat 2011, p. 5).
Like the blog, the book describes the workmanship and craftsmanship of the short film, presenting itself in a chronological way, highlighting the creative process, a record of its visual development, storyboard evolution, excerpts from sketches, backgrounds, sequences while interweaving various annotations. In the book, Lorho narrates in first person her internal crises and struggles to continue making the short film, such as loss of purpose, motivation and fatigue. As Format Court points out (Augé 2015): “We lived with her, in the course of the book, her thoughts, her memory, her demons and her wishes” (see Figure 11).
Figure 11, Book of Kijé
After reading this article, the reader might ask, “Is this way of conceiving an animated short film a model to follow? Why would someone want to choose this path? Should animation filmmakers be forced to follow a basic training? What does Lorho do, for example, to get out of this situation?” Some considerations should be thought through carefully, particularly for novice filmmakers who are dealing for the first time with the creation and distribution of their animated short films. Firstly, it should be pointed out that all the cinematographic projects are unique prototypes, and the level of notoriety in the festival circuit and criticism are unpredictable. This is due to the high affluence and competition of short films powered by the digitalization. It is precisely this tool that Lorho uses to make her work visible given her scarce financial possibilities. At this point, filmmakers could divide themselves into two types of creators: those that are supported by an outside producer and those that produce their short films on their own, although both models can converge.
Secondly, the traditional formula until now with short films was to move around the festival circuit, hope to win economic prizes, and then sell the short film to a television or to a distributor for a DVD edition or VOD catalogue. In this sense, the importance to promote animated short films is not only based on artistic expression and its consequent cultural influence, but also in order to make a living for auteurs. What are the formulas for an animated short film to reach economic profitability? Now, with the monetization of audiovisual content through crowdfunding programs such as Kickstarter, IndieGoGo or GoFundMe, the proliferation of video platforms are changing the independent cinema industry landscape. The pay-per-view platforms live together with those that share free content such as YouTube, which remunerates the creators of videos with a return for every per thousand views. This amount is usually negligible, but if the short film gets a certain amount of view it will generate an adequate source of revenue, especially if the film becomes viral. If the short film is being watched many times, it means that the public is enjoying it and it is being valued. This means that the film has reached some important objectives: to attract an audience of loyal supporters for the filmmaker and to promote future projects and a promising cinematographic career for that particular director.
Precisely, the appeal for people to go the festival it is not only to view the films on the big screen, but also to meet and network with the directors and their teams in a casual environment. In this way, the value of an animation short film it is based on the creator who has conceived it. Furthermore, they can attend masterclasses or conferences, in order to have the opportunity to experiment with different animation techniques and learn new trends from the sector.
Thirdly, when these two ways of generating profits come together they can help to decide whether or not to upload short films to the internet. If the short film has a generous budget, it is logical that initially it will go through a more traditional route, counting on large festivals and awards with high remuneration or prestige. Afterwards, when the short film has finished its tour of festivals, television and VOD, it will be shared via streaming or downloaded on the internet. If the short film has a limited production, it might be interesting to take a reverse route: obtaining a “Staff Picks” from Vimeo could ensure that many festivals are interested in the short film. In addition, the filmmaker can see if his/her short film works in certain countries or demographics, thanks to the statistics.
Never before have so many modifying factors converged. The uncertainties about the future of the animation short film do not focus as much on the production itself, as on the other factors around it: In which direction is the promotion and distribution of animation short films going, and what role will it play in connecting audiences? What will be the new screens? Will it be possible to reach the general public thanks to new technologies, or, on the contrary, will they be more segmented for super-specialized niche market? It is in a process of total reformulation of the consumption of animated short films, and all those involved in this process, to look for ways to adapt traditional formulas to new ones.
From the above, the following conclusions are drawn:
The long journey that Lorho had with making Kijé, is due to several reasons. To begin with, it was the first animated short film created by a single artist with limited resources. Lorho’s inexperience tripled the production time since she took on all the creative and management tasks (Winder, Dowlatabadi 2011, p. 76). As she states on her blog, the making of the short film proved to be a long way of learning, because of the use of new techniques and the meeting of her limitations.
As the project progressed, the filmmaker became aware of how long it took her to perform certain tasks and the difficulties of directing a work that surpassed her ability for a complex work: the duration of the film of 9 minutes, the multitude of characters, the full-time animation, among others. The production of the short film caused exhaustion in the director, who finally channeled her energy into other less complex projects: animated video clips such as Blueland, which was released along with Kijé.
The continuous realization of animated short films is closely related to the budget available for the production, promoted mainly by the presence of producers through the initiative of the filmmakers. In general, the budgets in which they work require, on the one hand, a great investment by the institutions and the flexibility of the filmmaker, given the high budgetary requirements in the production, greater than those of live action films. Depending on the budget and, especially, on the auteur’s intention, there may be greater or lesser specialization or versatility in the short film: if funds are scarce, the director must combine several roles to minimize staff and equipment costs. A result of being a self-employed and independent worker is to teach oneself in new animation techniques and earn incomes at the same time.
In the same way, the auteur’s basic identity in regard to his/her work must also be examined. In a first film, the director will tend to perform all the processes to make his/her “own” work and to have an absolute control. In a second film, the notion of the filmmaker of a “total artist” can vary. During the making of the first film, the director realizes that certain tasks, as repetitive and mechanical, can be delegated without losing his/her personal touch. For example, Lorho reflects on the blog her desire to collaborate with a team for personal work. In short, the adaptability of the director, whether through plastic and technical mutability or specialization, will be determined by material conditions as well as her formal curiosity and ideological positioning (see Figure 12).
Figure 12, Kijé’s main character
The career of an animated short filmmaker is usually rather short and uneven since one has to combine creative works with their day jobs. Animators usually make a first, a second or a third film and their continuity in animated production will depend directly on their financial independence, derived from the amortization of the work, the income they obtain from other works, institutional subsidies, or unemployment benefits. Countries such as Belgium and France consider the status d’artiste or intermittent du spectacle. This unemployment insurance is addressed to artists to benefit from the general social security scheme, provided that they justify a quota of working hours. This legal state, therefore, offers no privileges to artists, but a different framework accounting for the particularities of the profession. Based on periods of irregular work intensity, the status d’artiste could be used as a model for other countries who wanted to support animation filmmakers.
Filmmakers are so driven by their passion and eagerness to produce artistic works, that many times, they do not consider earning money from the project they are asked to do. They only consider paying for the material expenses and the team’s salaries. It is difficult to think of an alternative and fair exhibition circuit for animation creators, since nowadays there are many online platforms in which people can watch films for free. For example, the audiovisual consumption of experimental animated short films through festivals, art galleries and new digital spaces have not guaranteed an improvement of the labor conditions for these auteurs, as the filmmaker Isabel Herguera pointed out in an interview in 2006, El País. (Montero 2006). Moreover, in most cases, no economic compensation is provided for each exhibition, except for pre-sales on television. In addition, the registration fees for distributing films at the festivals, are designed to make money off the artists for the promotion their cinematographic career, without promising any economic profitability for the short films.
Therefore, it is the filmmaker who keeps the whole cinema business afloat: it would seem as though everyone should profit less than the filmmakers, but in reality it is the opposite. Animated short films are usually a liability for the filmmaker, however, it is not a field in which you can work for free: you have to provide value to the short film through investing economic value into it. Undoubtedly, the production of animated short films is broad and heterogeneous: there is a wide typological variety of works and auteurs. New talents and students co-exist with veteran filmmakers, small service producers who produce their own films or co-produce with a creator. Naturally, the independent filmmaker, having fewer resources, accumulates more difficulties in making himself/herself known. Initiatives such as the recent creation of the Agence Belge du Court Métrage, born in 2016 as well as the already established Agence du Court Métrage in France since 1983, which can contribute precisely to the interests of this group in full expansion, through four axes of action: registration of Belgian and foreign festivals, management of international sales from the creation of a catalog, dissemination in carte blanche programs, cine-clubs, retrospectives and schools as well as the establishment of a network of professionals. It would be desirable for other countries to join this project to promote and disseminate the national short film.
Clearly, the animated short film reaches the end of its journey when it comes to the public, which justifies their creation and distribution. Lorho’s long path to Kijé seems to have been rewarded, but one has to wonder how many promising projects have been stalled for lack of support. It would be a loss for everyone to miss out on these auteurs who carry out this type of film and who cannot continue because of an absence of financial stability.
Adriana Navarro-Álvarez is Ph.D Candidate at the Universitat Politècnica de València, and she had researching stays at the Sorbonne and The Animation Workshop. Goya Award nominee 2014 a by Vía Tango, which was selected for the compilations From Doodles to Pixels and One Hundred Years of Spanish Animation. She has delivered papers in CONFIA, Caimán and Con A de Animación, and collaborated in the magazine Format Court: Regards Pluriels sur un Format Singulier and in the association Coordinadora del Cortometraje Español, dedicated to the promotion and diffusion of the Spanish short film format.
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 “Do not necessarily interest financiers. […] Animated cinema has always been a ghetto, which hardly rubs the industry of recreation.” Translation by the author.
© Adriana Navarro-Álvarez
Edited by Amy Ratelle