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Philip Piaget and Rikke Planeta talk to Zippy Frames about “Hygge” TV series and feature film in development.

Philip Piaget and Rikke Planeta are two emerging animation artists based in Denmark. We talked to them within the framework of the Indie Online 2020 research project (headed by Michelle Kranot and supported by The Animation Workshop/VIA University College, Center for Animation, Visualization and Digital Storytelling, Denmark.Viborg. The purpose was to investigate the  independent filmmakers' own response to the increasing rise of online content, and the demands this creates.

VK: Tell us about your “Hygge” TV series and feature film in development.

PP- RK: Hygge Is a Danish term that translates to coziness. The show is about dealing with everyday emotions and everyday problems, and channel negativity into positivity, to discover inner peace and comfort. Even though the feature film is more 'epic' in scale, it is still down-to-earth. The feature is made for an older children audience, whereas the TV series is for a younger audience.

VK: When did the project get started, and did the March lockdown and the pandemic affected your work?

PP: We’ve been working on and off the project for a couple of years. As young artists, it's really hard to get development funding, especially here in Denmark. So, it's been mostly our own investment and our company resources (and our own time) to keep developing the project - and keep moving it forward. During the lockdown, we were able to keep working. In Viborg, life didn't change much during the lockdown. We got to keep some key creatives here trapped a little bit on the visual development, and solidifying the art direction of the project. That helped us a lot.

In terms of funding, we applied for European funding through our co-producers Parka Pictures (Lilian Klages is the associate producer); we have been preliminary awarded the funding. But, because of COVID, there's been an incredible amount of delays; we don't know if we are actually going to get the funding (circa 60,000 EUR) anyway. We sent the application in January, and we got the initial news 6 to 8 months later. Even though the rules do specify a 6-month turnaround, we haven't received confirmation from the European officers. It’s a bureaucratic process, and obviously the pandemic has greatly affected response times.

RP: It's basically just a waiting game during the lockdown. And we were lucky to get some freelance work for the company; so, we said to ourselves, let's keep the company running for the time being. That's what we're working on in the meantime.

PP: When the lockdown started, we were working on a new project; it was scary because we were afraid the office buildings would be completely locked, and we'd have to turn our apartment into an office. Thankfully, we were in fact able to use our office. We just threw ourselves into all the work that came through the first semester of the year; we had the objective to put two months away for our project, and we're going to do everything we can do now. So, we had a plan {to work both at our project and the commissioned work}. And the pandemic gave us the space to do it as well.

RP: After lockdown, we had a bunch of freelance, and commissioned work. We were lucky.

PP: At the same time, we had to turn down a really big job because of the lockdown. When different countries decided to close the borders for travelling, a job offer came in where we would have been required to travel to the UK to conduct interviews. At that time, England was in this 'herd immunity' tactic, and we decided that this is too risky and crazy; we were never going to find the people there to work with and meet.

RP: It was a big project, and we had to hire a crew - and we're not sure we could do that, us being based in Viborg.

PP: As a small company, it's hard to shift to remote. Usually the budgets we have to deal with don't give us enough leeway to waste a couple of days of work. We usually have to work very efficiently. For us, it's complicated doing remote work with other people we haven't worked before. So, we had to turn a big opportunity down that would have probably given us more funds, and more time to work on our project. But, at the same time, we had some other interesting offers come up right after.

PP: The other thing that affected us was that we couldn't visit Annecy. We had plans to visit MIFA and look for a French co-producer. The human element of negotiation and finding a partner is gone when doing it online. Our co-producer had to go through all the markets (such as FMX), and we were cut out from that world. It wasn't the same.

Doing all this co-production talks and markets online makes the whole thing faster: you cut the bullshit and get to the point. But, at the same time, the intuition and the visceral reaction of people responding to ideas, projects and opportunities is completely gone - or hindered in some way.

VK: Do you embrace the analogy of being and going to a ritual when physically attending all these events vs. simply doing your professional work when online?

PP: In the online thing, we were waiting for feedback from a lot of people. Since everyone's at home, distraction goes up through the roof, so we're waiting for a lot of feedback at the moment. There were also a lot of events occurring together, like CEE Animation Forum, MIPCOM, etc. So people attend these events, and that's why those delays emails might be happening.

VK: Did you actually watch any online content yourselves?

PP: We participated in a panel at Fantoche festival. We were supporting Michelle & Uri Kranot in The Hangman at Home VR Annecy presentation but we haven't been watching the Annecy films; we missed that.

VK: Was it because you didn't have time or the conditions were not optimal for you?

PP: Both really. Working and doing some teaching, didn’t leave much space during the day to watch short film programs. Also for me, the magic of the festival is gone without its people, to be honest. Going to the cinemas really made the festivals for me. So, it made it less attractive to watch the films online; working and at the same time watching films.

VK: If a festival tells you we are giving you an option: either a screening fee of 100 EUR for an exclusively online screening or a theatrical screening without a screening fee. Which one would you prefer?

PP: It's a hard question.

RP: I'd rather have no screening fee and go to the cinema. It's a different experience. I'd rather have people see it in the right way instead of getting a little bit of money, and then people watch the film as they would normally do with all other YouTube stuff.

PP: You're more selective when you watch video from your computer. I'd go through the film's logline; if it doesn't catch me, I'd probably skip the film. And that's a kind of a tragedy. It might happen a lot with other people. Experiencing a film after the other in a particular order influences massively your experience of the festival.

RP: Because you see them as a package.

VK: Would you actually embrace the possibility of submitting your projects to US festivals, which have more funding and screening fees for films? And also be seen by a large audience who would otherwise not be able to see the film?

PP: This is the advantage of going online. But I'd be very curious to know what the actual attendance of online events is.

Watch Reverie by Philip Piaget

VK: Since you're actually developing a TV series, might there not be an increased demand for content, especially content for kids? I'm not sure I could reconcile this with your applications being rejected by the funding bodies.

PP: There is an increased demand, but it’s different in every country. It's a strange phenomenon in Denmark. The national broadcaster launched an initiative for new kids' programming, but they have very strange conditions for the pitch. They would only provide 50% of the financing, and you had to finance, produce and deliver within one year a full series, live-action or animation - which is completely unrealistic. I don't think there's anyone working in animation who could deliver under those conditions.

In terms of support from regional funding, our co-producers have plenty of experience in producing and writing feature films. But the regional funding wouldn't give us support unless we already had support from the national funding. And they decided that our inexperience could not allow us to be funded. And, mind you, this was an application for the development stage, not production support. We were applying for script support (10,000 EUR maximum). That was very disappointing. Veteran producers get the funding, so it's really hard to crack in.

RP: Their argument is that you don't have experience; but how can you have experience if you cannot find the funding to make anything? It's a hard wall to get through.

PP: So, we needed support from the national Film Fund. But there you get those ambiguous answers why you don't get the funding. They told us that our story only takes place in the winter and it's not enough -they wanted 4 seasons altogether. But how can you justify that answer when the most successful animated film, Disney's Frozen, takes place only in the winter? This is a bogus argument

RP: They told us that children of that age group would not be able to hold focus on a film that only took place within winter landscapes. It feels like a bad excuse to us.

PP: We unofficially hear about commissioners' bias, that they want to focus on Danish dark humour or more adult things or documentaries. So, we're locked from both film fundings. Hopefully showing some more development can sway their opinion, otherwise we might need to to apply in 10 years or so, until we get the experience.

We talked to international broadcasters and producers and there was considerable interest. We updated our designs and treatments, but then they wanted one treatment script. We gave them one treatment script, and then they ask us to provide three more. So, we're just doing a lot of unpaid work; we’ll probably end up writing the whole series that way!

Honestly, sometimes it feels like it makes more sense to go work for a toy-making company that provides very generous salaries (6 months work for them, 6 months our own work). It feels like a more viable strategy than receiving support from the people we should be receiving support.

Watch Eldorado by Philip Piaget and Rikke Planeta

VK: Do you feel satisfied that you did the right thing during the lockdown and the pandemic? Any lessons learned?

PP: It is dependent on the outcome, to be honest. If we find funding, we'd feel we did the right thing. In terms of commissioned work it was really good, in terms of the development of our project, it was good but could have been better. It would have been very beneficial if we had found a French or another international co-producer (and also external support) a little bit sooner.

VK: Would it have been easier to organize your strategy better if the lockdown and the pandemic didn't take place? Did you actually change your own creative path during the lockdown?

PP: Absolutely. Every time we went to an event (a market or a festival or pitching forum), things went good for us; people paid attention and increased our possibilities of realizing the project. We just feel cut off. Now, it's on us to move the project forward.

RP: Since we had all those jobs earlier in the year, and we had the time to take some time off to work on our project, the lockdown helped us realize this.

PP: I think it inspired us to try new things and push the project forward. It forced a lot of reflection on us about how to up our game. It gave us a little space, a bubble to be more self-reflective.

RP: Because our producers were also in the same situation, they also had to reflect on the project in the same way.

Watch Bacchus by Rikke Planeta

VK: Do you plan to publish books, for instance, as part of your own IP strategy?

PP: The desire is always there. We'd also like to try VR. We are format-agnostic. We approach each project with the format that fits best. We're working with a friend on a kids' book, and we'd like to figure out the next project with him, but we have to figure out the best way to do it. But the publishing game is just as ruthless as the movie funding game. I didn't have any such experience, but friends of mine who had published books and graphic novels tell me so.

VK: Are you the same creative people that you were in March 2020?

PP: I think we are so, or more so. I remember during school we had the self-study weeks at school, which you could do whatever you wanted - and you had this energy. I had even suggested that we could do a short film in the next couple of weeks - let's do something crazy. We've also brought more people into the studio, and helped them with their projects. So, I really felt the need to be inspired by the lockdown.

RP: We haven't changed our view of our IP because of the lockdown, but we could certainly focus more on it.

PP: There are certain political things that we could actually include in our universe.

VK: What would you make of the online content and the way festivals put it together?

PP: I think the accreditation for Annecy was almost the same as last year's early bird accreditation. And that really put me off. I know it's a monumental effort to even put a festival online; but there's something weird having to pay the same amount for the online format. On the other hand, we consume so much content for free online, and now we have to pay for the festival. That's strange. As a small company and underfunded creator, it starts hurting our pockets if you had to pay the same for the online festival content.

VK: Anything you would hate to see online? And if you were to make any kinds of rules for consuming online content, what would be the one?

PP: I would be definitely more inclined to watch shorter than longer formats online. I don't know what the process would be for feature films. These VOD releases make more sense than watching a feature film through a festival. Perhaps it would make more sense to highlight short format artists. VR projects would be hit by this. I wouldn't like to watch VR trailers online, etc., that would be such a shame.

French distributors, like MIYU and Autour de Minuit, launched their YouTube channels. So, many people can watch their films, which is fantastic. But on the other hand, it kind of devalues the films because you are now competing for attention with viral videos, cute kittens and puppies. So watching those short films through the online portal of a festival makes more sense to me.

RP: It's a kind of recognition to get selected and your film part of the festival. So, it would feel a bit sad if it were just YouTube channels for short films.

PP: And it would make sense to make physical presence safer and less risky.

VK: Would a smaller, group-like online participation make more sense than an almost anonymous Zoom meeting? In a way, you could have private study groups online instead of an online Zoom presentation addressed to each and every participant?

PP-RP: I guess it would make sense. We would probably choose a lecture format, even online. When we did the talk at Fantoche, there were some people in the room, spread out with masks. We were in Denmark, and the Q&A participants were at the festival, and asking questions. It was nice because we could actually see the room.

PP: As someone who has been teaching online for a bit, it can get weird where there is no feedback from the “audience”.

RP: You need people to react to what you're saying, and you need people to ask questions - and if there's nobody in the same room that answers, it becomes very uncomfortable and weird very quickly.

VK: What would you advise creative people if we had a new coronavirus attack 50 years from now?

PP: Online content creators in general are more suited to the times that we're living, whereas as short filmmakers we have relied on traditional structures of funding and distribution. Online content creators, on the other hand, have relied on building an audience and a support network that is independent of the traditional funding and distribution schemes. As creators ourselves, we need to adapt to the situation.

Since we have to compete with the mainstream to have access to funding, I guess it makes sense to adapt our self-expression to what's happening. Perhaps getting your own YouTube channel is what we should have been doing for a while. The Australian animator Felix Colgrave, for example, has opened his stuff on YouTube and Vimeo; he just opened his Patreon page, and people are paying for his films. We need to do this kind of thing. I’m not sure how successsful he is at this, and certainly the model isn’t suited entirely for animation, but in general, YouTubers and content creators don’t seem monetarily affected by this pandemic, and they are crowdfunded.

RP: Since we felt cut off from the world during the lockdown, we created an Instagram account for our company. We would usually show these to people and have a conversation; we now put them online on Instagram and have a similar kind of conversation - from a distance.

PP: We were not out there, so have to be out there. And we put a lot of behind the scenes. It goes back to this debate as an artist: do you cater to yourself or do you cater to an audience? And if you want to cater to an audience in order to get funded, then I guess this experience that content creators have makes a lot of sense; and that's something we need to shape our methods into.

Embrace the Patreon, embrace the daily experience. There's a whole new mindset. Perhaps, there is something there.

About Philip Piaget and Rikke Planeta

Ouros is an animation production company founded by award winning filmmakers Philip Piaget and Rikke Planeta in 2018, located at Arsenalet Creative Hub in Viborg, Denmark. Both graduates of The Animation Workshop, Philip and Rikke are passionate about creating exciting and visually unique films with a positive impact in the world. With different cultural backgrounds (Rikke from Denmark and Philip from Mexico) they are developing original IP's with a diverse perspective. Philip and Rikke have experience in multiple areas of animation and visual art, having previously worked at prestigious studios like Aardman Animations, Global Mechanic, Might & Delight, Atomic Cartoons, Tindrum Productions as artists for TV series, commercials, short films, VR experiences and video-games. Philip and Rikke are part of the vibrant animation scene in Viborg and often collaborate with The Animation Workshop, Late Love Productions and the ANIDOX residency.

The interview was conducted October 2020 (interviewer Vassilis Kroustallis). It is part of the Indie Online 2020 research project, headed by Michelle Kranot and supported by The Animation Workshop/VIA University College, Center for Animation, Visualization and Digital Storytelling, Denmark.Viborg.

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