Unlike other works on this subject, Hand Drawn Life traces the history of the newspaper comic strip by detailing its effects on the readers and its impact on society. The film explores not just the timeline of their creation but the emotional connections these drawings have had, and are still having, on the reader.
These strips are arguably the first form of American pop culture. Unlike the books, sheet music and traveling side shows of the late 19th and early 20th century, newspaper comics were syndicated to papers across the country, thanks to William Randolph Hearst. This meant for the first time, people in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and elsewhere could read the same cartoon at the same time. These cartoons united the country in a common entertainment experience like never before. And they continue to connect readers to this day.
With interviews from 20 of the greatest names in the comic strip world, both creators and historians, the story unfolds without a narrator. The people that know best weave history and personal experience into a tale of modern American culture. They explore how these comics, developed by newspaper editors to sell newspapers, turned into a truly unique art form. Not just their ability to craft a gag or joke in just a few panels of drawn figures, but also to convey complex ideas and emotions, to create other worlds and fantastic stories, and to let millions of readers know they are not alone. They have their trusted friends right there on the comics page, day after day, with new adventures and laughs, new stories to tell.
Jeannie Schulz, widow of Charles Schulz says in the film, “People read the comics to get away from themselves but in Peanuts, they found themselves.” That could also be said of comics in general. Even with radio, movies, TV, and now the internet, comic strips continue to connect with their readers. This is their story. Together with historian R.C. Harvey, Picture and Sound Productions will be bringing that story to audiences everywhere.
For the past 8 years I have been collecting interviews with newspaper comic strip cartoonists/artists. I asked comics historian and author Robert "RC" Harvey to be my consultant for the film as well as a subject. With his help I've gotten to know some of the most influential and noteworthy cartoonist of our time. To this point it's all been self-funded. We've traveled to the National Cartoonist Society Reuben Weekends every year and made trips to several states to do these interviews. To hold down the costs of these adventures, I chose a shooting style that required the least amount of gear, a small footprint. So, with a couple of exceptions, they are shot with available light in informal settings. Perhaps a bit rough but I wanted to also reduce the pressure of "performing" under lights and cameras. I wanted natural, honest, and heart-felt responses. And I got just that.
The film has already been "written". Although there is no narrator or voice over tracks. The narrative of the film comes entirely from the subjects in the film. Nothing is scripted. Through their words, and experiences, they weave the story of the newspaper comic strip. From the early days of Hogan's Alley (the Yellow Kid cartoon) right up till today, they show us with first hand knowledge the importance and influence these visual Haikus have made on American culture and society.
The last chapter of this adventure is the post-production or editing work. This I can't do on my own. To bring the work of these fine cartoonist/artists to life in a video is more than just showing the artwork. Their work will not be manipulated, animated, or otherwise changed. Only the way it is presented will be changed. Nothing within their frames will be affected. For that I need a professional editor, whom I have found in a dear friend, Paul Venus.
The budget for this part isn't extravagant by film or TV standards but is beyond my means. It'll take 6 weeks of full-time work to complete. And it's work that can't be done now and again like the way I shot the interviews. It has to be done in one continuous flow.
The budget looks like this:
After Effects editing for the art work $6000
Audio Sweetening and Scoring $6300
Final Conforming of Material $5000
Color Correction and Output $4200
Re-edits on review $2500
Research and Clearances $4000
Misc and Unforeseen $2000
For a total of $30,000
For a 90 minute, professional, theater release/air-able film this is a low budget. But I can make it work. Partly because I'm not paying myself anything and partly because I can get some things as trade-outs or in-kind. Every dollar given to this project will end up on the screen. There's no overhead here.
In a perfect world this will raise more than that. The money beyond the $30K will go toward Kickstarter fees and duplication costs. Any remaining funds would go to more production value if needed and/or promotion, marketing, and advertising costs.
The finished film will be shown at film festivals and events and then shopped to distributors and TV/cable outlets for other showings. I can say with certainty there will be no monetary return on invest here. This is a labor of love. It's meant to establish an additional lasting record of these cartoonists and their creations so generations to come can enjoy them. That viewers may also, hopefully, dig back into the past to experience the true genious of what these cartoonists accomplished.
Risks and challenges
At this point there shouldn't be any major hurdles to clear. But dealing with copyrighted material can be tricky. I have secured permissions from the artists involved as well as syndicators Andrews-McMeel (Universal) and King Features which will cover almost all of the material. There might be a couple of items I really want to use that might require a fee. So far I have avoided that since this is very low budget and intended to promote the value of this art form and all the work contained within.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)