Fundraising. Story 6.

Money is too interesting a subject to just drop it.
It is a perfect abstraction (we don’s exchange three goats for a cow no more) and it might be the only abstraction that is so immensely useful, and definitely the only abstraction that we give so much energy and emotion to.
Sex, on the other hand, doesn’t have the same power and is easily translated into a currency.
Love gets a hold of us (through sex, or hope on having sex) and then fades as we get disappointed that our partner either has too much money or too little.
We can get unconditional love by buying a dog.
A cow’s value is determined by how much milk she gives and the weight of her meat, which all is measured with money.
Money brings us together (- Can I borrow $5 from you?) and money pulls us apart (-Motherfucker, you stole $5 from me!).

So, how does one fund her film in this capitalistic environment, where greed and self interest seems to dominate human decisions, and market dominates the artist’s message?
In the fall of 2004, depressed (Bush was re-elected), completely out of money (freelance gigs dried up like a river trying to run through a desert), with a project that definitely didn’t fit the market demands,  I sat in front of my computer. At least I had a computer, an investment that I could use.
So, I went online and looked up dog walking gigs.
I am very good with dogs. Actually, I understand and can work with dogs better than with humans. I imagined a lot of long walks could do me some good.
I just needed to get over this slow slump, till a better opportunity came.
But all the dog walking jobs offered very little money. I would had to walk 10 dogs a day to barely pay my rent. If I wanted also to eat, buy shoe laces, and to pay for my film’s digital transfers I’d had to walk 25 dogs a day.
To get that kind of volume of dogs I would had to put adds in papers (that costs money), print postcards (that costs money), and lower myself to extortion and blackmail.
Even if I did all that, walking 25 dogs a day would leave me no time nor energy to work on my film. All the money earned would go towards food to restore my body and get it ready for another day of 25 long walks.
So, I typed into Google window “grants for animated films” and clicked “Search”.
Oh boy! some stuff came about!
I’d never heard of New York Foundation for the Arts before and here it was – full of wonderful information for starving, needy artists who are about to get 25 dog walking gigs.
My wrist started to hurt from clicking.
National Endowment for the Arts doesn’t support individual artists. Why not?! Oh, but it supports artists via non profit organization related to the field. What is non profit? What is 501(c)3? Where do I find one AND soon?!
New York State Council on the Arts – same thing! Why!? I run out of my food money if in the next 5 minutes I won’t find a foundation that supports an individual artist!
And here it was:
Jerome Foundation!  Supports individuals! artists! food eating persons!
YES! I jumped up and down in excitement and shouted for 5 minutes like a good dog about to take a walk.
But there was a catch. There is always a catch with foundations. They want you to write a project proposal.
The project I was working on was a crazy one. Few months before I had noticed that pregnant women flip me out. I had been pregnant, so I knew what is was like from inside – difficult, but nothing overly strenuous, not in the first 5-6 months. But 15 years after my pregnancy seeing a pregnant woman made me sick and faint. I decided to make a film out of it and decided to make it the way I made “Five Fucking Fables” – with no storyboard, with no clear idea what am going to make next. All kinds of strange images with babies, mothers and umbilical cords came out of my head onto animation paper.
But now I had to write a proposal for a crazy film I wanted to make. From experience I knew that proposal like this: “I want to make a series of demented images just because I want and I can” will bring you nothing.
So I sat down and wrote an eloquent, elaborate justification of my subject.
Do you want me to quote?
Here’s a quote:

In Short: this project is a 10 minute animated film addressing the universal fear of childbirth which is  a transforming experience for every birth giving woman.

Expanded: Pregnancy… Some fruitlessly long for it, some call it unwanted, some enjoy it, some suffer through it.

This film will be more of a visual poem rather than a physical or psychological description of  pregnancy.
By using visual, symbolic language I hope to equate fear of childbirth with the universal fear of change – fear of losing ourselves in order to create something new, something different from us.
Birth here may serve as a symbol of spiritual transformation.  Overcoming fear, the conservative desire to stay the same,  is one of the most important aspects of human life.
Only the ones who are able to change are the ones who survive successfully.

Animation is a perfect medium to explore this topic.  It strips the images of their realism and psychology.  It charges them with  symbolic meaning thus lifting the subject  into a realm of poetry, symbols and archetypes.

While writing this I realized that in the proposal I am explaining a better film than I am making.  Now I wanted to make a different film – a film that communicates clearly and connects with an audience emotionally.
I submitted the paperwork to Jerome Foundation. Then, one afternoon, after a session of torturous insecurities and fleeting desires to kill myself rather than do anything, I wrote the script for “BIRTH”. Soon after that Jerome Foundation got back to me and said they are supporting my project with the amount of $$ that clearly would last me only a half a year, even with my low standards for quality of life.
Still, it was an incredible thing that happened to me. Now, officially I was an artist supported by an arts foundation. Some people actually believed that what I do is Art. I had an official paper to prove it.

Now with that kind of credit getting a full time dog walking job would be not an option. As an artist you are obliged to borrow to never give back, to live on credit, to eat at other people’s dinners and have wealthy art connoisseurs to support you.
There was no other way but do all the above and make the film I wrote the proposal for.

“BIRTH” was finished in 2009 and went to more than 100 festivals. It connected with the audience the way no other film of mine did – people laughed, people cried and some of them swore they never be pregnant, they’ll adopt. My desire as an artist to influence, to make an impact was achieved. But it was Jerome Foundation that pointed me to the right direction.
As an artist, I am an omnivore – I’ll take anything that comes my way and turn it into a film.

About rocksinmypocketsthemovie

I was born in Latvia, educated in Moscow, live in New York. I have made about 14 animated shorts so far.
This entry was posted in Fundraising, Hazards of being an artist and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Fundraising. Story 6.

  1. Brett W. Thompson says:

    Wow!!!! Signe, you are a natural storyteller. I didn’t know you got funding for “Birth”- I’m so glad you made that film, it’s wonderful. And I love hearing about what is behind-the-scenes like this, fascinating!!

  2. Signe, I am your fan, undoubtedly. This blog is a true gem. Nothing has kept me glued to the screen as much as this. I think I even have a screen tan now.

  3. Elliot Cowan says:

    Hey Signe.
    I see you’ve linked to me there.
    I’ll make sure I catch up on this blog of yours.

  4. Tomm Moore says:

    Hi Signe, Very interesting and informative blog! Thanks, T

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