Bonjour Annecy!

It’s been a while since I’ve gone somewhere new. While France is not exactly ‘new’ as a destination, the only collective experience I have of the country are horror transits at Charles de Gaulle airport and labourous days on end in Cannes at one of the TV markets.

It’s strange then to descend on a little town called Annecy by the southeast of France, 30 minutes from Geneva airport, on a lazy Sunday summer afternoon.

Here’s the venue for the fabled Annecy International Animation Film Festival, now into its 51st year.

Festivals, especially one that’s half way round the world, could understandably be perceived as luxury events to attend by animation companies more concerned with looming deadlines then independent, art-house films and general merry-making amongst artists and animators.

Truth be told, we are not (and no commercial entity is) in the business of making short films for festivals. Short films don’t make money. And companies need to make money to exist.

But I think it comes down to the overarching aspirations of any given studio. Now, this would typically be either to produce great TV shows that sell the world over, or make films that are box office successes, which in turn translate to merchandise from lunchboxes to video games to bed sheets and pyjamas.

But there would be studios – and studios are invariably a reflection of their founders and directors’ philosophies and personalities – that aspire to higher levels of personal and creative expression; to not simply tell stories (because there will always be a need for that, whether it’s on TV or film) but tell them well and from the heart, and to ensure that creative enterprise permeates through the the studio, commercial realities notwithstanding.

Animation is merely an art form, but it is one with such limitless cinematic possibilities that to be a great animation studio must be to possess the tenacity and commitment to help its artists push those creative boundaries and nurture talents to become great storytellers.

I think that is what Annecy is about. It does not celebrate the commercial success of animation (frankly, there’s no need to), but an art form that is at once infinitely varied yet universal in its language to tell any possible kind of story. And of course, it celebrates the filmmakers.

I attended mostly the short films in competition screenings at the main theatre venue Bonlieu, hoping to take in as eclectic an experience as I could.  I don’t think one really comes out of these screenings with a definite mood.  Some films are deeply personal, some are more commercial. Some are hilarious, and some make you want to put a bullet in your head. Some stir your heart and awakens the soul. Some boggle the mind, and some simply f*** with it. And then there are those that sort of straddle across a few of the above categories.

Maybe that’s why the pub is usually the best place to go after a screening. There are several pubs in the area that I was told are the usual drinking holes. There’s the Captain’s Pub, where the brits frequent. There’s the Irish Pub, where…well, the Irish, along with other folksy suit types go to (I was there on Wed with the Cartoon Network and Disney guys and saw someone tried to light his fart outside the pub). Then there’s the American Bar or Scotch Bar where the Americans hang out. I told my friend Alex (who’s from Israel) the town needs an Asian bar. But since the Asian population is so small, he suggested combining Asian and Jews. It could well be the bar with the most gang fights.

But the place that the animators and creative types frequent above all others must surely be Café Des Arts, a quaint little joint nestled in a cul-de-sac at the end of a little bridge across the canal. It’s packed to the brim on just about every night during the festival. It’s also the one where animators and artists mingle like they all graduated from one big class, draw and doodle on their sketch books half drunk, and talk about the films they saw that day.

For an executive like me who’s used to suits who are usually  more interested in how much financing we can bring to a project or how cheap our studio can produce something or what shows we could give them to add to their distribution catalogue (and to be fair they’re just doing they’re job), it’s such a refreshing and invigorating feeling to be among young people whose lives, for the most part, revolve plainly around bringing drawings to life on paper (or in a computer), and are so hungry for inspiration and to improve their craft they’d listen to anyone who has something to say about their work or just chat about animation over a few rounds.

The only part I didn’t look forward to after drinks was the dark and eerie gravel road I had to take on the way back to the hotel. There’s been cases of mugging during the festival over the last few years I was told and  I definitely looked over my shoulders more than once every night as I took the long road. If things got rough I was ready to either run or act like a I’m having a mental meltdown. Jumping into the canal in that temperature wasn’t an option, unfortunately.

Back to the short film screenings – being in the theatre is an experience in itself, if somewhat bizarre for the uninitiated. They’re almost always full, and the crowd boisterous before the films commence. There’s the time-honoured ‘competition’ of hurling paper planes at the screen, and every plane that reaches its destination (which is near impossible) always receives a generous round of applause and cheers. This year there was apparently a new quirk – audiences making bubbling noises just as the lights go down which makes the theatre feels like being inside an aquarium with invisible goldfishes.

It’s interesting how some of the short films don’t really reflect the mood of the audience, as you would expect in a typical theatre screening. No matter how dark or depressing certain films are (and there were plenty of those), the crowd is always hopelessly jovial – clapping to music, relentless with their paper planes and even singing. One suspects they’re just happy to be there, among their friends and peers, reveling in the whole tribal spirit and just watching animation – which is probably the one thing that defines most of their lives.; a higher purpose that they live for and a craft that they are striving to perfect.

But it’s also just a really, really fun experience. If I – perhaps an unrequited artist disguised as an animation executive who struggles ever so often to reconcile the apparent conflicts between commerce and art, and could in fact have developed a dangerous cynicism that veils my perception of the industry  – can emerge from it all with a somewhat renewed vision, then as an animator, you‘re just gonna have the time of your life.

To be Continued…


Scrawl’s short film ‘Flats’ wins at VSIFF 2011

Scrawl Studios’ short film about a pair of siblings as they explore their HDB estate after school – and a paean to our living Singapore landscape – took home the “I Want To Remember” award, sponsored by the Singapore Arts Festival, at the recently concluded Very Short International Film Festival 2011.

Founded in Paris and now in its 13th year, The VSIFF is an international event that spans 20 countries and 80 cities, providing an integrated platform for screenings, workshops and competition in each country. View the film HERE.


A pitch project

A pitch project for Health promotion board which called for a series of recipe that parents can share with their kids on eating healthy good, especially the greens!


MIPTV 2011

Off we go to another trip to the south of France – that beautiful, if somewhat tiresome town called Cannes. It’s April, which means its MIPTV.

It felt like yesterday when I was blogging about MIPCOM, which was 6 months ago.  What’s gotten annoying about MIPTV is that it’s literally just over a month after Kidscreen in New York. Seriously, how many of these markets do we need?

It’s especially rough for producers based in Asia like us. 36 hours on a plane (to and fro) including layovers is time you don’t get back. I do empathize with our Australian colleagues, who probably travel the furthest from down under to reach Cannes.

Back to MIPTV. One thing good about this year’s market is that it was shortened by a day. Usually the market lasts 5 days (Mon-Fri). This year, it ends on Thursday. Given as we typically leave a day earlier, that means it’s a smash and grab, quick 3-night stay before we jet back home.

It’s a nice thought, but not after you think about the time and money spent just to be able to walk through the main door of the Palais with that MIPTV badge around your neck.

It’s become a cliché to say that the market is ‘quieter this time’. Yet somehow each year the participant numbers released by ReedMidem (the organizer) show more people are at MIP, regardless of how slow traffic seemed to be on the show floor. Well, this year Reed actually said the number of participants was the same as last year. I guess attendance must have fallen.

I think I really need an extended stay in Europe, maybe a detour to Paris or Milan or Prague or Madrid, to erase this muted contempt I have for coming all the way here. Eleven times in Cannes and I’ve never gone anywhere else after the market except back home.

As always, two things in Cannes that make it almost worthwhile:

1)      Catching up with friends and making new contacts and just talking about the business with different people other than my colleagues. It’s amazing how obvious it is sometimes to tell apart those who are truly passionate about the business that you literally feel the kid inside them struggling to break free, and those who see it plainly as a business. There’s nothing inherently wrong with either, and we obviously need both, but one does get reminded of the reasons why we do this. With each passing year in the industry, I find myself becoming a bit more reflective, and occasionally flirt with the philosophy side of this thing called making cartoons. If it takes coming to Cannes a couple of times a year to get me in that mood, I’m cool with it.

2)   The Riveria weather. If Singapore’s like that all year round, I’ll happily report for reserve army training.

Same apartment as last year.

View from balcony. Crisp morning air.

Every year someone got something made in Singapore…

Singapore Pavilion

Singapore and Malaysia Pavilions separated by the Red Sea.

10 bloody Euros for this feast in between meetings.

Choon Meng has a more evolved taste for French food than I do.

Breakfast at the pastry shop below the apartment.

Embarrassingly early for our dinner meeting.

It was hotter than it looks. The weather – not the suit / shades combo.

Choon Meng calling to check why his private yacht is late.

Not quite Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Choon Meng’s choice of travel literature. You know – light, easy-reading stuff.

Munich airport on transit. Never seen a barber shop in an airport before. A cut above the rest, clearly.

Best thing about German airports – Bavarian lager. Noyce.



CNY dinner – A Crabby affair

Our annual CNY dinner. Crabs were available this time, unlike the previous year where the restaurant ran out of them.

Photo credit of Bella, with her fancy iphone

A must have for CNY dinner- Lo Hei


Proposed concept for IDA cepas card

Problem : IDA wants to create a greater awareness on the CEPAS card and let the general public know it can be used for other purposes beside public transport.The card can be used for purchases at 7-11 , supermarkets etc but not alot of consumers are aware of it

Solution: We created a” larger than life” card and our concept revolves around the consumers using the card at ease, despite its size. We took photos of our office colleagues and “photoshopped” various items and merchandise for them. As the target audience is the general public, we try to make it impactful and tongue- in -cheek . Nothing too highbrow . Unfortunately, we did not get the project but it was  a good learning experience for us. 


Our collaboration with wonky films on coldhardflash

Here’s a sample segment from a new series concept from Wonky Films and Scrawl Studios. It’s titled iLand, a Flash-animated project aimed at 6-12 years olds. The one and only Peter Peake (Aardman) is the writer behind the project, and what you see here was directed by Miki Cash and Joe Wood.

http://coldhardflash.com/2011/02/wonky-team-try-to-put-iland-on-the-map.html


Happy Rabbit New Year!

Funny that as we finish up on one rabbit show, another one is about to start and will consume much of 2011. Add the fact that 70% of senior management are born in the year of the Rabbit, there’s certainly gonna be lots of jumpin’ and humpin’ around this year.

Goodbye Bunny…

Hello Hare…

 

 

 


Healthy Lifestyle

Poll by Scrawl staff (only 50% voted) on their preferred sport / exercise activity on each Thursday, starting…today!


Ciao 2010

In a year that some might say wasn’t the best for the Singapore animation industry (and there are reasons that shall be left for another post), we have to be thankful that the studio has been kept busy and was able to throw a Christmas party in joyous spirits, and most of us were able to take a few days’ break to recharge. I’m not sure there are easy days for anyone in the business of animation these days. You’re either scrambling for projects or financing for them (often both), and even after the projects come in the headaches have just begun as a massive 12-18 month operation beckons. It’s also a business that hardens you with disappointments, be it a project that falls through, or one that never seems able to take off. Yet, we soldier on, as perseverance is worth dusts of gold in this game. There are no overnight success in this business, and every once of experience and dexterity the studio has acquired over the last 8 years have provided the solid basis for sustainability. Eventually, projects do come in, and perhaps this year we might even see one or two originals get off the ground. Uncertainty breeds opportunities and vice versa. The ride’s been bumpy but we’ve covered good distance so far, and even managed to bring a few more people onboard. Who knows what 2011 might bring in this ongoing voyage?