The Giants

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Flushed Away!

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For 15 years, BC, (Before Computer) I put out a little silly holiday season greeting each December in the form of a pocket-size gagged-up newspaper. It was an actual paper thing, with articles and pictures pasted in position with actual white paste, copied on actual Christmas-green paper, folded and inserted into actual, hand-addressed envelopes, with actual tongue-licked stamps, hauled to the actual post office, and actually mailed at considerable expense to nearly a hundred actual friends, relatives and colleagues each year, as stated above… for 15 years. The taxing syntax of that sentence indicates the exhaustion of the annual effort, which I couldn’t get out of until so many people actually begged to be on my mailing list that I was forced to sever my connection with the post office, and post the thing on the internet, where it resides to this day at www.genedeitch.com  and is occasionally up-dated.

I wouldn’t even mention this to you, except that on the last day of May, 2012, when digging in my dungeon for anything at all interesting, I came across a gag drawing I made 22 years earlier, that might be marginally amusing. I showed it to my perceptive blog techie, Hary Jordanov. He didn’t laugh.

“Gene, you’ll make fool of yourself with this. That gag’s been all over the internet. I saw the same idea over ten years ago!” (I told you he is perceptive.) He quickly pulled four versions onto my computer screen. I nearly blacked out.

“Come on!” I yelped. “These are not just four other guys with the same idea. These are word-for-word, image-for-image knock offs of my 22 year old drawing!

Was my 1991 quickie gag better than I thought, or is it that toilet humor is a sure winner? Should I have copyrighted it? That t-shirt gimmick could actually make money!

In this detail of my old drawing, you can see the hurried white-out correction fluid, the pasted on labels, and the unmistakable old time dot-matrix printing. I did a later version with the title header,  “Understanding Computer Technology,” over the same 1991 drawing,” and emailed it to a few people. It was probably from that later email version that these guys stole it.)

So toilet t-shirt marketing is flushed down the drain for me, but listen here, you all: everything in “Roll The Credits” is copyrighted!!!

In 1991, EU-TV Asked Me If I Saw The Future…

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…which I didn’t. But I knew what I’d like it to be! Right after they finished quizzing Zdenka, and getting her passionate feelings, the EU TV crew hauled me before their camera. Even by 1991, thirty years after I began working in Prague, I still considered myself to be an outsider.  I did have the advantage of being Zdenka’s husband, and with already 30 years experience working with her crew, I did have an inside view, and personal friendship and collegial connection with the studio people. I had been living the local life; I was inspired by the 1989 democratic Velvet Revolution, and was even able to speak passable Czech.

The first part of this 1991 interview was a quick-as possible run-through, answering the inevitable Question Number One: “Why and how did I “decide” to come to communist Czechoslovakia????

That was the first question in every interview I ever did.  I got it digested, so I could get it said as quickly as possible, and get on to what I was actually doing, and hoped to do in the suddenly free and democratic Czechoslovakia.

I was still a foreigner – a guest in this country, but I was in a unique situation, and did have a front-row seat at a historical drama.  So I felt I could say something of value to people, if they were interested in interviewing me…

Even under the Communist Party rule, I’d been consulted by the Big Bosses for my ideas of how the studio should be organized.  But as my outline called for open relations with foreign producers, Western promotional ideas and marketing techniques, and free access to Western literature, my ideas were jovially listened to, but quickly consigned to a locked bottom drawer,

The bitter irony is that by 1991, when the studio had all of these possibilities, it was already too late.  The privatized studio fell into  the hands of those who saw value mainly in the vast archive of films; especially historic newsreel footage, all without the financial risks of new production, about which they had zero knowledge.

It was quickly realized that without the financing which the Communist government had provided, the studio was doomed.   We produced many of our best made films during that following decade, when Zdenka and I were into our 80s.  When we retired from production, and Czech TV stations set up their own studio sources, the world famous “Brothers in Tricot” layed down and played dead.

Market capitalism operates not on hot air, but on cold cash.  My suggestions that a marketing arm be established for the studio were not even taken up by the new owners! The great animation boom in the new century left the Czechs in the dust.  Within ten years after these 1991 interviews, the historic studio did a slow & steady fadeout.

Even when the independent Czech Republic was formed in 1993, Czechs still considered themselves, along with the French, to be the inventers of cinema animation, and thus sure to inevitably continue to be the leaders.  This nation was so busy getting rich and West-oriented, that the local Czech culture, including its famous animation reputation, was allowed to dissolve. Zdenka’s studio more and more depended on foreign customer production. mainly our long-time personal contacts.  Prduction of local Czech animated short films virtually vanshed.

There was no funding to develop a CGI capability. We only got as far as computerized scanning and coloring of drawn animation.

So it’s poignant and sadly instructive to see these 1991 interviews with Zdenka and me today, filmed exactly at the tipping point of Czech drawn-animation production.

GD June 2012

This was the complete staff of the Prague animation studio just three years before my first visit. You can see Zdenka there, circled in yellow, soon to be Chief of Production. This was the cartoon – drawn animation – staff at its height.

Zdenka speaks out on EUTV

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In 1991 this country was still Czechoslovakia. Just two years after the booting out of Communism there was a searching for new directions in the animation studios. After 40 years of numbing “socialism,” no one really knew the way ahead in the restored free-market economy.  Old Communist Party leaders were kicked out, but the various new owners knew nothing about the need for publicity, promotion or sales personnel, so there were none!

Zdenka continued as production leader of the cartoon animation studio known as “Bratři v triku,”(Brothers In Tricot). It was still going full-blast, but was on its own to find financing, customers, and distribution. We were running on empty, working hard, and simply counting that our reputation for innovation and high quality would carry us along. This was the workplace Zdenka grew up in and worked in for 65 years, and where I joined her 50 years earlier.

EU-TV sent in a crew in 1991 to interview Zdenka and me. This week I’m pointing you to Zdenka’s interview, still smoldering in the Dungeon. Next week you’ll hear what I had to say. Both of us were flying blind. Sadly, ten years later the studio was defunct, but in 1991 we had great hopes!

In the meantime, this country cracked in half, and we were in the Czech Republic. The “Brothers in Tricot” animation studio, was tossed from one new owner to another, none of whom had any interest other than its vast archive of old films. None of them knew anything about film production, marketing, or distribution.  It fell on us to keep it going, which we did for ten more years, well in excess of any reasonable retirement age, until the conditions no longer existed to continue. We managed to make a lot of worthy films during that final decade, working for our own longtime clients, with virtually no support from the largely invisible owners.

You can sense what we were doing, what we hoped and strived for, in these interviews of 1991. Instructive! XXX Gene