While prepping an animated genre feature film like Lester, it’s a good idea to to study how these kinds of projects come and go.

Royal Space Force: Wings of Honneamise was an anime colossus released during the Manga Video heyday with amazing art and zero (almost) story. It was a movie made entirely by animators who prioritized world-building and created dozens of crazy set pieces, who then wrote the script as they went to make sense of it all. It would be like if 8711 made John Wick by shooting 5 action scenes without mentioning the dog. There’s a John Wick 2, 3, 4, and 5. There’s no Royal Space Force 2.

Royal Space Force is gorgeous. For ¥800M (~$8M USD) it better be. Apparently they raised the cash in a coordinated non-stop bullsh*t campaign at Bandai-Namco, who were probably impressed by the proof of concept. But in the end it nearly bankrupted the animation studio. Case in point: story first!

Royal Space Force: Wings of Honneamise, 1987

Rock & Rule (1983) was another massive film made by animators with incredible animation, great musical numbers and perfect casting.

The memorable set-pieces are connected with a story that can hardly be called that. The story involves the villain luring the heroes from their small hometown to his castle, kidnapping the girl, and taking her back to their small hometown. Story first!

The second and much bigger problem for Rock & Rule was MGM not knowing how to market an R-rated animation in the early 80s. It would’ve done okay today, but back then it grossed $35,000 of its $8M budget. You can watch it for free now.

Rock & Rule, 1983

And finally there are the ~$70M megatons like Titan A.E. (2000) with its studio issues and plot problems, resulting in only grossing half of its budget. But look at it.

Titan A.E., 2000

One of the greatest flops in history was Iron Giant (1999), another $70M megaton which had a solid story but probably was just too damned expensive.

Iron Giant, 1999

Higher budgets mean more intrusive oversight by studios, who will panic and make funny decisions to cut losses, like they did with Food Fight.

If you need to pay an army of people to animate for two years, then you need $70M to tell your story. If you only need to pay a small team of animators for a stylistic take on your project, you could do it for a tenth of that or less. The investors might not even care much about your story, and you’ll probably recoup their losses.

If your story is solid, and you have a cost-effective pipeline, there’s no end in sight.

EDIT: I’m also broadcasting on Telegram at t.me/ericjacobus where I dump more thoughts in smaller bites.

I’m making action filmmaking tutorials now for indie action filmmakers, martial artists, and stuntmen and stuntwomen, a series I’m calling “Indie Action Essentials”. The first skill I’m tackling is the Hong Kong spin, or the “HK”. The video includes all the steps plus what padding I recommend when doing the stunt on hard surfaces.

If you have any requests for tutorials you’d like, comment below or at the video’s YouTube page. I’m always listening!

HK Spin Tutorial.mp4_snapshot_02.27_[2013.04.23_09.13.41] copy

Last night I finished editing Death Grip, much thanks to help from producer/co-star Rebecca Ahn, co-stars Chelsea Steffensen, Nathan Hoskins, the cast and crew, friends, family, and industry pros. I loved the process of editing, but in the future I’d rather not do it again.

I’ll still edit action scenes. I can churn out a 5-minute fight scene in one day with sound effects. But for anything else, especially if there’s a lot of footage, a minute of edited film might take me a couple days. Editing a feature film is supposed to take an editor 8-12 weeks. It takes me between 18 (Bound By Blood) and 26 (Death Grip). From an industry perspective I’m not efficient. A better idea would have been to spend just half those 6 months raising funds to hire an editor. In the meantime I could have been spending more time prepping the next projects.

Still worse, there’s the unavoidable problem of the director treating his edited product like a finely crafted work of art before anyone has even seen it. As directors we’ve all heard it: you shouldn’t edit your film because you become attached to it. But being married to footage is only half of the problem, and it’s not impossible to overcome that. My process involved screening the film to friends, family, crew, and execs. Opinions varied widely. Cut this, add that, re-shoot these parts, sound critiques, story issues, etc. In the end I had to average it all out into one edit. Painful, but not impossible.

The real issue, however, is that as directors we’re married to “directing”. Directors tell people what to do, while editors help viewers understand what the hell the director was thinking. A director in the editor’s seat will glue shots together to tell the audience what to think, forcing his vision across even if there’s not enough information to really make the idea work. Editors glue shots to make use of the target viewers’ average mental faculties, producing the intended effect. If the footage just isn’t there, then as directors we haven’t done our job. We might go as far as blaming the audience for not “getting” it. Editors, on the other hand, might suggest a new direction for the footage that we have, or maybe a reshoot. In any case, editors are “helpers” for the audience. While audiences are willing to be directed in certain circumstances, such as major blockbusters where they’ll happily sit at the mercy of the studios and take anything thrown at them (god bless em), in our low-budget and indie situation we have to make a special appeal to the audience. A director isn’t always the best person for this job.

I say this on my high horse after editing my films for 11 years, and I wouldn’t expect anyone in the independent world to do it any differently. I probably won’t either unless I can afford a competent editor. But as directors, telling the audience what to think isn’t our job. A film is nothing without them. Fans trust us to tell them what to think, but a mindset of “take it or leave it” won’t suffice for everyone else. Once shooting is over and it comes time to start cutting footage, we take the director’s hat off and accept our new role as servant until the editing is done. It’s only temporary. Or we can avoid servitude altogether by hiring someone else.