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Mr. Beaks Interviews Don Hertzfeldt!! Get Your ANIMATION SHOW Contest Entries In Now!!

Published at: April 22, 2004, 4:03 a.m. CST

Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

Mr. Beaks has a new boyfriend, and his name is Don Hertzfeldt. Well, okay, maybe they’re not technically dating, but I can tell you this... Beaks can’t stop laughing when he talks about the guy. If you’ve ever seen his animated films, you have a good idea why, and this interview should get you interested enough to track them down if you haven’t seen them yet.

“The Great ANIMATION SHOW, VOL. 1 DVD Contest of 2004” is nearing its end. You have until 11:59:59 Friday night to qualify for one of ten (10) DVD’s signed by Mike Judge and Don Hertzfeldt. If you want to see what’s on the disc, run over to the official site and all shall become clear. You can also pre-order copies of the DVD if you’re convinced you haven’t a chance in the world to win this contest. That would mean you, Harry. For those who need a refresher on the contest’s rules, check out last week’s interview with Bill Plympton right here!!.

While you’re conjuring up some far out idea, here’s my second interview with the brilliantly twisted, and Academy Award nominated, animator of “Billy’s Balloon” and “Rejected”, “Dandy” Don Hertzfeldt, who might be better known to some of you as the man who inadvertently popularized Dalmatian Tentacle Porn a year ago in an interview on this site. You may express your heartfelt gratitude by reading the transcript below, which features details about the next ANIMATION SHOW installment, his long-awaited follow-up to “Rejected”, and Judy Blume’s massive smack habit.

I noticed on your website that the ending for your new film just kinda coalesced in your head.

Yeah. It’s such a high-wire act. I had something in mind, and then I started seeing the footage coming in together. It just wasn’t going to work anymore. It’s interesting, because, after all of this time, if I had this footage and it only took a year to make, I’d probably think it was pretty good, and that’s the way it should go. But after all this time, with all the stakes and the pressure, which really shouldn’t be there… nothing’s good enough and everything’s raised to the next level a little bit. I think this is going to work. It’s different. It’s hard to explain without giving too much away, but…

Just a basic premise, maybe?

Well, the film itself, the more I see the stuff coming together, it reminds me a lot of FANTASIA, actually. (Laughs.) When I really think about it, it’s probably what I would’ve done if I had the opportunity to do a segment of a FANTASIA thing.

Oh, awesome!

It’s very different. It’s abstract, it’s kinda surreal, and it’s set to music. It’s linear, but it’s not; it’s character driven, but it’s not. It’s so hard to explain.

Is it humorous?

It is, but… (laughs) there are parts that are humorous, but overall I would say... I mean, it’s not dark, or somber, or depressing, but it’s not going to make anyone burst out laughing like the other ones might. It’s… I don’t know, it’s so difficult. I have a feeling that once everyone sees it, they’re going to go, “That was it?” (Laughs.) It’s light. It’s not funny, but it’s light. It at least looks like it’s light. It could… and that’s kind of how crucial the whole ending is, because you could just turn it around right there and color the whole thing.

And just darken it significantly?

Yeah. It’s amazing that, after all this time, I still can’t explain it. Isn’t that just horrible?

But isn’t that somehow similar to how you’ve done things in the past?

Oh, it’s very similar.

That you just… not that you necessarily find your story as you go along, but you have to find new ways to amuse or interest yourself.

Yeah, it’s all script-less. It’s always been that way, and it’s always just kinda shaped itself. I guess, this one has just taken longer – twice as long – as any of the others. It’s easily, I think, going to be the strongest of anything I’ve ever done, but it just freaks me out a little more. It’s a long time to make a cartoon. In hindsight, had I known it would’ve taken this long, I don’t know that I would’ve started it. I could’ve made maybe three other films in that span of time. I’ve already got the next one in my head. I don’t know how long of a vacation I’m going to get, but I’m going to try to make that one really quick. Just do it in pencils and get it out of the way.

This one’s not just in pencils, then?

Oh, yeah.

That’s cool. What’s the length?

It’ll probably come close to ten minutes. (Laughs.) I don’t know how that works out over four years.

The ratio? We probably shouldn’t think about that. (Laughs)

The deeper I get into this stuff, the more I think about it, it’s just so tempting to pull a J.D. Salinger one of these days. The rumor is that he’s still writing?

There’re all sorts of rumors.

That he’s never quit and he doesn’t publish. He just writes a book, finishes it, and puts it in a bank vault. Oh, man, I respect that so much. I totally understand that so much. I mean, you finish it, and the compromises, and the distribution nightmares, and… oh, man.

But there’s still enjoyment to be taken from sharing it with other people. That’s why we do these things.

I’ve been wrestling with that.

Really?

Of course, there is, but I have so many friends whose work is never seen. They paint a picture and throw it away, because the point it to get it out of them. I just feel I’ve been giving birth to something for four years, and…

That’s an intense, long labor. That’s cool, though. I can’t wait to see what you’ve been cooking up.

The difficulty in explaining it is that it’s just about broad things. It’s about life, more or less, but… that probably just sounds really awful and pretentious.

Well, no. David Lynch refuses to explain his work. A lot of filmmakers are like that. There’s nothing wrong with that, I guess.

That’s probably why I hate audio commentaries.

That’s such the bane of my existence. I write for The DVD Journal, and have to listen to commentaries, and often they’re just so self-congratulatory. Or they explain too much. Like DONNIE DARKO, which is a movie I love, (director Richard Kelly) begins to kind of explain what he meant by the film, and I’m like, “Oh, I don’t want to hear that. I rather like my interpretation.”

Yeah. You made it. You shouldn’t have to explain it. That’s how I see these things. It’s bizarre; I don’t know if there’s an actual demand for them, that people want to hear them, or if the demand is on the other side – that directors want to give them so badly.

I think there’s certainly a large segment of the DGA that would love to explain how brilliant they are retrospectively, especially if the film’s a piece of shit, like BATTLEFIELD EARTH. (Laughs.) And there is. There really is a director’s commentary where (director Roger Christian) is explaining the film like he just made BEN-HUR.

You’re kidding.

Oh, no. It’s quite funny. It’s almost worth listening to for a laugh. But the whole commentary thing results in a lot of navel gazing. Just let the work be, and let people have their own interpretations.

Yeah. I mean, can you imagine walking into a gallery, and there’re paintings on the walls, and the director’s track is sitting there? “This is what I meant by these colors.” It’d wreck everything.

(Laughing.) Da Vinci explaining why Mona Lisa is smiling.

I know!

It’s awful. So, while you’ve been working on your new film, you’ve also been doing a lot of traveling behind THE ANIMATION SHOW. How much touring did you do?

Quite a bit. I think I hit maybe a dozen or fifteen cities with it. I think Mike did about seven or eight. That was pretty cool. It was a nice excuse to get out and about. Seattle was my favorite of those. It was so long ago, though. I don’t remember how many cities it eventually went through. I think we’re still playing a city or two every weekend, and I’m not sure about the next one if we’re looking at the fall. We’ll have to go over when the next one is launching.

You’ve already got works queued up and ready to go?

Absolutely. We’ve already got… probably about three quarters of a show together. Mike and I still need to go over a lot of it, but it’s just a matter of timing and what we learned from the first year: where not to go, who’s more friendly with this sort of thing, what cities we got hurt in because we were in the wrong time frame. We’re actually going to talk about it this weekend, so it’s still kinda new.

But generally the experience was positive? Getting out and sharing animation with all sorts of folks?

Yeah. We’re doing respectably. We’re on par with art house receipts: we’re not raking in four million dollars a week—

But your per-screen average is good?

Absolutely. We’re doing pretty well. It’s just a matter of keeping it going. Once you get the second year going, and you get the second DVD out – I think we might start doing two DVD’s a year, or more. Get that series going.

Great.

Yeah. I mean, we’re only nine months old, or so, and it’s still kinda start-up. Mike is shooting his new movie now.

I’ve actually got the script for that sitting *right here*.

Uh-oh. You probably shouldn’t have that. Or was it sent to you?

I, uh, happened upon it.

Oh, that’s right. You guys happen upon things.

That’s kind of our… stock in trade. That’s what we do. Sorry to get off on that—

Yeah. But we’ll reel ‘em in in the next few weeks, put the next one together, and keep it going. I keep switching gears from the show to my film, and I’ll probably be working on the film, now, for the rest of the run. Finally get that out of the way, and take a break somewhere.

Hopefully, the DVD will do a lot of the work for you – allow a wider audience to become acquainted with the show.

Did you get one?

I did.

What’d you think?

I love it! I think it’s really well put together. I love the new additions. The Adam Elliot pieces (“Brother”, “Cousin” and “Uncle”) are terrific.

I like those, too. I like those a little more than (Elliot’s most recent, Academy Award winning short) “Harvie Krumpet”, even.

Really? I haven’t seen “Harvie Krumpet” yet.

It’s great, but I’ve seen these other ones for so long now, they’ve kinda grown on me a little more. It’s very similar. His style of writing is really present; it’s very noticeable, the way he creates characters.

Yeah. It’s so strange. It’s humorous the way he animates them, but if I was just reading them, they’d be so dark.

I was really glad to get those together. That’s the first time they’ve all been together on one release.

There’ve also been some deletions, however. “Rejected” isn’t on the DVD. What was the reason for taking that off?

Just the fact that it’s already available elsewhere. We also had problem with space on this disc. There was one last minute film that we weren’t sure we’d be able to get on, which we eventually did, but we ran out of disc space. And I didn’t want to have too much of my stuff on there, and take away from one or two other films that we could include instead. That was ultimately the reasoning. I think we absolutely crammed everything we could on one disc. Then, we were looking at the two-disc set territory, which seemed a little early. And the “Mars and Beyond” piece, Disney would never in a million years let that get on the disc.

I think when last we talked it was presumed that that would not be on there. Do you know if Disney has any plans of releasing that themselves?

In May, there’s something coming out called “Tomorrowland” – one of those “Disney Treasures” tin sets.

Oh, yeah.

I guess they’re going to have the complete “Mars and Beyond” on that, and all sorts of other stuff. But I think we tried to sculpt it so that the ones that were in the theatrical show and not on the DVD were at least available elsewhere. Like (Tim Burton’s) “Vincent”.

Which is on THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS DVD.

(Lengthy digression elided. Things somehow get back on track here several minutes later.)

So, I talked to Bill (Plympton) the other day.

How’s Bill?

Good. I had a very interesting chat with him.

Interesting? (Laughs.)

Yeah! It went really well. I hear you’re doing a voice for his new movie.

Yeah, apparently I’ve got a big scene with Matt Groening. I haven’t seen it, yet, but I remember when he came down to do the session here, I saw the lines, thirty seconds later we did two takes, and he was done. Man, that guy’s The Flash. He’s just so fast with his entire production process, it’s amazing.

So, you weren’t together with Matt?

No. It was all piecemeal, so I have no idea how that came together. I can’t imagine I was very good. (Laughs.) I think it’s at film festivals right now. Did he mention that?

He didn’t say for sure. It certainly sounds like an interesting idea. Plus, we talked about the story behind “Parking”, which, actually, is pretty fascinating: the parking lot owner being shot *dead*.

I think I heard that once.

I didn’t expect that, because the commentary led me to believe there was some fun little anecdote I’d get out of him about “Parking”, and then he’s talking about this guy getting shot and dying on a couch in front of him. I’m trying to get a follow-up question going, and I’m like, “Jesus.” And he’s just like, (deadpan) “Yeah.”

(Laughing.) Whoa.

But Bill’s interesting, and maybe this is something you can speak to, he was talking about how we hold back so much of our imagination because it’s just too disturbing. And he said ninety percent of what he thinks *doesn’t* get on the page. Which frightens me. Do you find that with yourself? Having to hold yourself back and say, “Okay, I don’t want to freak people out too much?”

Maybe. I understand the subconscious thing he’s talking about, because, for instance, just getting the idea for my ending… I was struggling with it for a week, and I was just kinda depressed because I was starting to panic. I got the footage, and I was like, “Ah! This is *not* going where I thought it was. How can I wrap it up after all of this?” You can sit and think all you want, but it’s not going to come to you until you’re in the shower. You know, you’re thinking about something entirely different, and it just pops in there. Usually, and I don’t mean offensive ideas like I think Bill’s referring to (laughing), but usually the ideas that come to me are like, “No, that’s just *too* out there! That would never work!” But you end up thinking about it a week later, and it’s still there. Those are usually the best ideas that I get, and those are usually the ones I go for: the ones I reject at first because it seems too much of a twist, or too far out. As far as offensive stuff, I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever (laughs)… I don’t want to inadvertently put down Bill, but I don’t know if we think of the same disturbing, perverse, horrible, murderous things.

Now, you are the person who got the nation hooked on Dalmatian Tentacle Porn.

That’s right. Did you find the hidden Hentai Tentacle Porn on the DVD?

I was looking for the easter egg, but I haven’t found it yet. Don’t tell me, ‘cause I want to find it myself. It will be really fun. (Laughing.)

But, honestly, I’d like to put that back in Bill’s court. I’d like to see that film.

Really?

Well, if he says they’re his best ideas, but they’re too disturbing, I say go for it! Let’s see that.

The downside to that being he might get locked up.

Well… that’s just great publicity, though. (Laughs.)

And some artists have done great work in prison! That could take his craft, his art, in a whole new direction. And I’m sure he’d be up for it.

I think he’s on to something, though. I think the best stuff really does come to you when you’re doing absolutely anything but working.

What the hell is it about the shower, anyway? That’s what I find works for me, too.

Somebody said it’s “hydrotherapy” to me. Apparently, people get ideas when they’re doing dishes, as well. Or washing the car. It has something to do with the water. I don’t know if that’s full of shit, or not.

Well, the shower is... I don’t know, a fertile little embryo of ideas.

See, I take a shower first thing in the morning, so it probably has something to do with the fact that I’m not even awake yet. It’s lucid dreaming. The best stuff is when you’re half-asleep, entirely subconscious. You don’t even know what it means, but it works somehow in the film. And two years after the film is released, you finally get it yourself. (Laughs.) That’s where I find the best stuff.

That’s interesting. Bill says he doesn’t take too much out of his dreams, because his dreams are too plain.

They’re not really dreams, per se. It’s like… thoughts that come out of nowhere. I read about a lot of musicians who feel silly for even taking credits for the songs they write, because they just wake up in the morning and it’s playing in their head. Who knows where it comes from? Isn’t that how Paul said he wrote “Yesterday”? Or was it “Let it Be?”

It was one of those. Actually, I was thinking about the goofy “Stairway to Heaven” story, but that was where they got really fucked up, passed out, and found the song written in the morning.

I always thought that was bullshit, but, the more I think about it, all the best creative stuff comes when you’re not trying. It just falls into your head.

Well, you know, Judy Blume wrote most of her best stuff on heroin.

Alright!

Yeah.

Is that true?

Sure. Sure it is. (Laughs.) I’ll enjoy the letter I get from her lawyers for printing that.

(Laughing.) That’s awesome! That should be true.

That’s one of those things that *so* should be true, we’re just going to assume it is. She can deny it all day long, and I’ll be like, (sarcastically) “Yeah, Judy. Okay, okay… *of course* you didn’t.”

But drugs and alcohol don’t even help.

Alcohol… I’ll write stuff after I’ve had a few drinks, and I’ll think it’s the greatest thing. Then, I’ll wake up in the morning, and be like, “I thought I was going to do something with this?” Marijuana is sort of the same thing.

It just makes you numb. It’s another roadblock in a way. I don’t know… I guess it affects everyone differently.

True. Some people just get incredibly paranoid. Another thing I wanted to touch on from my conversation with Bill is that he was giving advice to young animators who wanted to get into this racket. His thing was that 1) you’ve got to make it short, 2) you’ve got to make it cheap and 3) you’ve got to make it funny. Those were his three guidelines, and he said you fulfill all three of those. Do you agree with that?

Yeah... (pause) I agree with making it cheap. Making it short, to some degree. Funny will make it easier for you, definitely. But I like the notion of “listen to advice and disregard it entirely”. I just feel like whatever you do, you just have to do your own thing. I think… (laughs) because Bill’s right. That’s the problem; Bill is probably more of a realist than I am, and I’m more of an idealist, where it’s like, “No! You have to make the film that’s right for you!” Meanwhile, you’re never going to sell it, and you’re never going to eat.

It’s not like Bill hasn’t been doing it for a while.

I know. He blazed the trail for all of these people. I think cheap, short and funny is going to get you financing to make the next film, but, regardless, you just have to do it. I get that question far too often, and it’s become really irritating because it sounds like a lot of young artists are spending the time asking the question without doing anything about it. The most irritating one is when they phrase it, “How do I break in?” The word choice implies that they’re not invited, and they’re cheating by “breaking in” as if it’s some exclusive club and we all know each other. Like we all have some secret handshake. None of us really “broke in”. You just have to make your film, get it out there, and get it seen. Everyone thinks there’s one guy they’ve gotta know, and then they’re going to be given a stack of money so they can go make movies.

The golden ticket, or whatever.

It’s a lot of hard work, but you’ve just got to make your own stuff, get your own voice out there, and you’ll be invited in. I feel ashamed and disappointed when I have to tell people that I don’t really know how you “break in”. I don’t think I’ve “broken in”; I’m just trying to make the next film and get by.

Well, you’ve just followed your own voice, and it’s caught on with some people. That’s the most honest way to go about it.

Honesty is the key. The film’s got to be honest, as well. I guess my violent reaction to Bill’s statement was just… I see too many films, especially now with the show going, where you can tell that the voice behind it was not honest to itself. It didn’t believe in what the film was doing, and it was structured just to please distributors. You could tell it was hackneyed. It wasn’t really anything unique. You could tell that the guy wanted to make *this* film, but he wound up making another film because he thought it would be easier to sell. And when it comes down to it, you just have to ask yourself, “Why do I want to break in”. If you want to make a lot of money, because you should just go to Wall Street if that’s the case. Or do you have stuff in your head that you just *have* to get out, and can you be like J.D. Salinger, and… put it in a vault, and never make money off of it? If you’re that kind of compulsive person, than this is probably right for you, but if it’s sales and accessibility and popularity, this is the wrong place to go. It’s rough. That’s why we created the show. The show’s doing pretty good, but it’s still rough waters out there.

But with THE ANIMATION SHOW, Vol. 1 on its way to DVD, and THE ANIMATION SHOW, Vol. 2 gearing up for later this year, hopefully there’ll be safer passage for aspiring young animators in the years to come.

Get those contest entries in, folks, and be imaginative. I’ve been reading some great ideas over the last week, and that doesn’t include the goofy one Harry sent in under a fake name. Actually, I’m kidding. He didn’t even bother to create a fake name.

Faithfully submitted, Mr. Beaks

Thanks, man. Great, strange interview. Almost as many digressions as my wild chat with Jim Jarmusch I’ll print this weekend. We’ve got the best gig, don’t we?

"Moriarty" out.





Readers Talkback

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  • April 22, 2004, 5 a.m. CST

    FIRST!

    by Still_Jackson

    Finally, so help me God! First! I'm going to buy a lottery ticket! And great article by the way! Woo hoo! I love Aint It Cool News!

  • April 22, 2004, 6:32 a.m. CST

    Someone needs to get Don his first feature to direct, STAT!

    by richy

    For years he's been the last undiscovered genius.

  • April 22, 2004, 1:37 p.m. CST

    David Lynch doesn't explain his films because he CANNOT

    by beamish13

    He's the cinematic equivalent of Dave Eggers: a poseur to end all poseurs

  • April 23, 2004, 9:11 p.m. CST

    SAW IT...

    by IFartOnYourGrave

    It runs about 60-40. Most of it was pretty good. Don Hertzfeldt's "Rejected" was funny as hell.

  • Of all the shorts that I saw at this mini-festival, almost all of the ones that were laugh-out-loud, gut-bustingly hilarious were made by this guy Don. And they were all so damn simple... although there was one other short that was just totally amazing. It featured this two creatures made out of rocks and it showed the passage of time. When time was slowed down, experiencing it the way that we experience it, they didn't appear to be moving. But when time was sped up, they were actually moving and talking to each other, taking decades and centuries to get a few words out, and, all around them, you see evidence of civilizations and people coming and going in the blink of an eye. Amazing work. The Cathedral was also a bit of amazing computer animation. Man... just writing about it, I can't wait to see these again. Just some really great, imaginative stuff... which is more than I can say for your average live-action independent film festival, Sundance, Toronto, and Telluride included.

  • April 25, 2004, 7:45 p.m. CST

    my spoon is too big

    by lopan

    and MY ANUS IS BLEEDING!!!!!

  • April 26, 2004, 3:18 a.m. CST

    Talkback for ANYTHING?

    by GrinZ

    SNL, Sopranos, Deadwood, hello anyone home??? Animation show entries?? WTF? WHO CARES?

  • April 26, 2004, 6:42 a.m. CST

    now i want to see the "Battlefeild Earth" commentary

    by The Data

    THat would seriously be awsome, i must say that the worst films often have the most mastabatory commentarys, for example "daredevil" and "comic book the movie" 2 of the worst movies ever and also 2 of the most "Arent i the greatest director/writer/producer" commentarys ever.

  • April 26, 2004, 10:45 p.m. CST

    Attention Angel Fans: Don't believe the rumors of TV movies for

    by Jim Jam Bongs

    You guys may have a shot with TNT, which has been running Angel repeats, and those are doing pretty decently ratings-wise for the network. You MIGHT be able to convince that network to greenlight ONE Angel tele-movie to air on their network. If this was to happen, production on it could be done in late summer for air on TNT in November or December. So get to it. Oh, and the early word is that Arrested Development has been renewed for a full season, and Tru Calling renewed for another 13 episodes next season. WB isn't interested in Wonderfalls -- they are watching it to see if the lead actress could be added to the cast of one of their new shows next season. The network is already commited to one Fox Television production, Lost in Space (which is being run by another Buffy vet, Doug Petrie), and that's all they can afford. (Fox Television productions ain't cheap, my friends.)