Cheatin’ – A Conversation with Bill Plympton

We were lucky to catch a screener of the animated film, Cheatin’  and also talk to the film’s director, Bill Plympton. Be sure to catch the film in select theaters and on Vimeo!

Usvsfilm: Your hard work really shows in Cheatin’. It’s very unique and it’s like a one of a kind story. I’m sure the script is structured differently from other films, so what was your process of getting it ready like and set for production?

Bill: The general plan was to do an outline. I did a three page outline, where I kind of ordered all the shots and the scenes that I wanted to put in there. Then once I liked the outline, then I did a very rough, very crude storyboard with very tiny drawings, like an inch square. Then once I approved that then I want to a much larger storyboard where there’s three inch a square and a lot more detail. The character designs were there, the costumes, the backgrounds, the editing, the camera angles, the shading, all that stuff was resolved in that storyboard.Then once I liked that I would go and start doing the drawings; start from page one, drawing one and do all the animation.

Usvsfilm: It came out beautiful too.

Bill: Thank you. Thanks so much. Yeah, we’re really happy with the look of the film.

Usvsfilm: Going with the look of film, what were some of the inspirations that helped shaped the environment that you had in the film?

Bill: The thing I liked the most was the watercolor technique that we used and that was something that I used when I was an illustrator; I used the watercolor and crosshatching to do my art. It’s always been impossible to do that because I was using cameras and cells and things like that and doing a watercolor would take forever. When I was starting with this film, my studio said that they could figure out a way to do a digital watercolor effect on my drawings, so I said, “Yeah, let’s do it.” Unfortunately, we had to hire four more people, because it’s very slow and labor intensive and that really killed the budget. That’s where we ran out of money very quickly, so that’s when I went to Kickstarter to raise more money.

Usvsfilm: You’ve worked on numerous animated films, but all the productions, I assume, differ from one another. What was one particular event that happened during the filming or during the production of Cheatin’ that you’ll remember for the coming years?

Bill: I think one of the coolest ones was doing the sequence with the hitman getting dressed, getting ready to go out and kill Jake. I thought putting on all those bombs and grenades and machine guns was fun to do and then I thought, oh, it’d be cool to have him staple his nipples, you know, the final, angry gesture to battle. While I was doing that, I was drawing the nipple, I said, “Wow, it kind of looks like a face” and then I looked at my storyboard and saw the next shot is this guy screaming and I thought, wow, wouldn’t be wonderful to have that nipple turn into a screaming man and so I did the in between drawing, I think it was like seven in between drawings and it worked perfectly. That was improvised; it wasn’t in the storyboard at all. That sequence was so much fun we showed it at the Society of Illustrators, I think it’s about ten drawings, maybe, maybe twelve drawings, and also I think we showed it at the Museum of Moving Image.

Usvsfilm: Good stuff. Absolutely loved that transition. Yeah, that was definitely one that stuck out in my mind throughout the film.

Bill: Yeah, we call it the screaming nipple sequence.

Usvsfilm: Love that name. Music is also a huge factor in film, especially for Cheatin’ I felt. Can you talk about your work with Nicole?

Bill: Yeah, I’ve worked with Nicole since 2000. She did the music for a film I did called, Eat, and I’ve used her music throughout my films that followed that. When I started doing this film I didn’t know how to do the music and then I looked at it and it felt really like an opera, it felt very passionate, over the top kind of gestures and emotions. Then I realized that Nicole had to be the right person to do it. I called her up and I brought her in and I showed her a rough cut of the film and so she went home and did some music, some rough music, and we played it with the film and I gave her notes like this is too slow or less percussion here, whatever. She came back a few months later and said, “Here’s the finished piece” and I loved it, it was really great, it was really perfect.

Usvsfilm: Absolutely. Going on with the crew, without them, of course, there’s no film, so can you talk about some of the members of the film that you could not have made this movie without, that really made your dream come true with this overall, you know, the finished product of the movie?

Bill: James Hancock and Adam Rackoff were the two guys that helped me get distribution on the film and for me that’s the hardest part; getting the film out to the public is impossible for me and they really facilitated that so much. Desiree Stavracos was a producer and she was very instrumental in organizing the team to work on the film and helping develop the watercolor technique that makes it so well. Then Lindsay Woods, who was the art director, did a wonderful job on the backgrounds and she helped do a lot of coloring and the mood and the feeling of the film, the emotion of the film. Those are the people that really helped a lot.

Usvsfilm: Going back to Kickstarter, I’m sure social media played a big part. Can you talk about some of the experiences you had with that, like if you met anyone that you never thought you’d meet through online networking?

Bill: There’s been a couple of celebrities, if you’re talking about celebrities that came onboard simply because they were fans; John Leguizamo was a big supporter and, who else, Patton Oswalt helped support us a lot. He was a really, really cool guy in helping us make this film. Yeah, so we had a lot of great, great, great help from the digital media. You know, mostly just fans of mine who love my work and they wanted to support me and finance my new project.

Usvsfilm: Filmmakers often talk about the quality of the cinema that they love, but what sets you off and what qualities did you not want in Cheatin’?

Bill: I didn’t want cute. I don’t want cute. I wanted evil, also. The women that he sleeps with are all kind of sluts and the hitman is kind of an evil guy. This is the anti-Disney film. I don’t want fairy tales. I don’t want little cute animals and things like that. I mean one of the biggest hits of the film was the fish that lands in the car and he freaks out and is afraid to die. I wanted kind of the dark side of the Disney kind of storytelling; that’s what I wanted. I wanted film noir. I’m a big fan of film noir. James M Cain is one of my heroes. The films like Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice and Mildred Pierce were really great films because they showed dark side of humanity and that’s really what I wanted to do for this film.

Usvsfilm: That’s great, because it’s not very often that we get an animated film for adults. Hopefully no parents mistake it for a kids movie or something, it being animated.

Bill: Yeah, that’s why I think this film is very unique. That’s why I’m hoping that America turns out for this film, because it’s so hard to see this kind of film in the U.S.; the distributors are afraid of it, they think I’m going to corrupt America’s brains. One of the distributors, after he saw the film, and he’s a friend of mine, he came to me and said, “Bill, you know this film has nudity in it?” Like I had killed Christ or something. These live action films, they have tons of nudity. Fifty Shades of Gray can do it, why can’t animation do it? Is there rules written that you can’t do that in animation? It really upsets me, it really offends me that there’s such a narrow-minded view of animation. That there’s all these rules that you can’t touch animation, you can’t do this with animation, you can’t do that, and that’s what I’m hoping, that Cheatin will breakdown these stereotypes and these stupid rules.

Usvsfilm: Absolutely. Well, thank you for your time, Bill. That’s all I have, but I really appreciate you answering the questions. I loved the film, it was absolutely beautiful.

Bill: Thank you. Be sure and tell everybody that the film opens on April 3rd at the Village East Cinema. I will be there every night. It’s one week only, from the 3rd to the 9th. I’ll be there every night doing Q&A, introducing the film, and everybody that comes gets a free sketch, a free Bill Plympton drawing. I will give everybody free Bill Plympton drawing and then after that I cross America, promoting the film in, I think, fifteen cities, to help promote the film. Then it comes out on April 21st on video, video-on-demand, so I hope people check that out, because I financed this film out of my pocket, with the help of Kickstarter, of course.

I spent five years on this film, so we really want it to be a success and that’s where we’re hoping that your viewers, or your listeners rather, can support the film and support independent animation. We need more independent animation in this country, so I’m hoping they’ll support it.

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