Why I'm Pleased to Have an Animate! Grant!

By Jo Ann Kaplan

I am a filmmaker with a very mixed career. I’ve made a number of television programmes, a drama short intended for theatrical distribution, and a number of “experimental” films which play at festivals and venues specialising in such work. Like many Animate! recipients, I’m not an animator by trade, though I draw and paint. Most of what I’ve made is live-action based, but a lot of it has “special effects”, including prosthetic effects, lighting effects, live-action effects, digital effects and animation.

an-anatomy-of-melancholy-jo-ann-kaplan-1.jpgImages from An Anatomy of Melancholy (work in progress)

I make films by any means necessary.

The Animate! scheme is based on a very broad but primary definition of animation – roughly as “frame-by-frame” filmmaking. This minimalist definition offers a mixed old bag like me another means to practise without squashing myself into an arbitrary box of skill or genre. It’s allowing me to make a film out of drawings, but drawings that are made and photographed in ways directly contrary to the conventional expectations of drawn animation. In other words, Animate! is allowing me to practise as my eclectic and opportunistic self, and by the way to add something to our evolving definitions of cinema.

Having offered my words of thanks, it must be said that Animate! grants are Loony Toons finance. It is the implied, if not stated policy, that grants like Animate! are meant to cover only direct production costs, never the living costs of the filmmaker. Therefore, there is never enough even at the top end of the grant “band”, to pay yourself for the time it takes to make the film. Quite simply, this is a pernicious form of economic discrimination. You are cast as the “suffering” artist whether you like it or not. This is a political issue which stretches from direct-cost budgets to income support and beyond to the very idea of “profitability”. Poverty is thought to be fair dues for the privilege of “unprofitability”. This is not to blame the administrators of funds who have devoted their lives and careers to the support of unprofitable work, and who are themselves starved not only of funds to administer but of any space outside the commercial mainstream to exhibit the work they fund.

an-anatomy-of-melancholy-jo-ann-kaplan-2.jpgImage from An Anatomy of Melancholy (work in progress)

In celebrating ten years of Animate!, the Arts Council and Channel Four publicly congratulated its filmmakers for making art with cartoon budgets, ironically acknowledging a poverty of vision which confuses high ideals with low profit-margins, experiment with low audience-ratings, high-risk investment with low turn-around product. Such poverty of vision makes the terms of financial support a lottery based on commercial viability, whether calculated in terms of box-office receipts or at-home audience ratings, not on investment talent on long-haul, slow-burn creative development. This chronic cultural myopia dooms any kind of risk-taking, odd-ball, “artistic” project not only to poverty but to utter non-existence, leaving this particular bag of tricks and a whole bunch like me, running on just about empty.

Jo Ann Kaplan is a film director and editor

The scheme was created by Channel 4 and the Arts Council in 1989 out of a desire to promote the work of animators and video artists throughout the UK. It is intended to be as open as possible, funding work by artists from across a range of related disciplines and backgrounds who wish to work in animation. Animate! aims to encourage work in any medium (including cross-genre and mixed media) with a focus on the experimental and challenging.

Animate! has supported over 30 completed films during the ten years of its existence and has played an important role in the development of British animation. Currently the scheme offers up to six grants per year of £25,000, with the added potential for broadcast and exhibition.