Don Hertzfeldt is a guy who has a lot on his mind. He is often referred to as a "cult animator" and his short films are popular with severely damaged people, children, males of a certain age, and many, many critics. He can also be referred to as "Academy Award-nominee Don Hertzfeldt," which is exciting. His latest film, "It's such a beautiful day," is the final in a trilogy of animated shorts involving a very sad man named Bill. It is being screened around the country, and Hertzfeldt is traveling with it, making appearances and holding court for Q+As with saucy audience members. Wouldn't you like to be one of them?
We suggest you check out Hertzfeldt's updates on Twitter, which can be pithy and hilarious. Here's an example: "as america focuses its energy on building more bombs, canada is hard at work figuring out how to make its money smell like waffles."
Don subjected himself to a short phone interview with HuffPost Arts, and the results are below.
HuffPost Arts: What has been the most annoying question you've been asked so far on tour?
Don: When you get questions that annoy you the art is answering them differently. If you’re bored with it, then everyone will be bored with it. Sometimes it feels like a play every night but the lines or cues are in a different order. It’s naturally kind of humiliating and strange to have a microphone; when you’re young you just make movies, you don’t worry about all the peripheral stuff that comes with it.
Maybe the most annoying questions is: “Where do you see yourself in so many years?” It’s a terrifying answer no matter how you think of it. I think I’d be making [films] no matter if I was wealthy or not, but you never know. It takes one to two years sitting in a little dark room all by yourself, and you have 12 ideas at the end of it but you can only choose one. It’s been 17 years of constant production with no idea what I’m doing.
HuffPost Arts: What did you think adulthood would be like when you were 10?
Don: Most people’s personalities and roles are locked by the time they’re nine or 10. I think there’s something to that. I still have the same outlook on things that I did 10, 20 years ago. As an animator, there’s no career path that you can follow; there’s very few people doing this that you can look to and pinpoint the mistakes. It hasn’t changed since I was little. You have interests and follow them and strange things happen, organically or not.
HuffPost Arts: What is your biggest complaint about the arts today?
Don: Honestly, I don’t know what post-modernism means anymore. I don’t know if it’s the internet homogenizing things, but to me it means very little. I’d love to start some movements. What I’m tired of is irony, and sarcasm, and music/movies/what have you, not having the guts to mean anything. Maybe it could be called ‘sincerity.’ It’s self-referencing and random humor and it seems more gutsty and rare to have something to say. It’s some weird risk now all of a sudden. There’s so many people who are afraid and hide under ironic shield.
In an e-mail a few days later Don clarified: You wind up seeing so many things now that are just sort of about nothing; all wishy-washy and timid and defensively self-ironic because it's more of a scary risk to actually have something to say, to commit to the ideas. I guess I just miss people meaning what they do. I've made some really stupid and silly movies, and I'm happy to say i meant every frame of them. I made a cartoon about a baby being pulled out of a guy's face. If you're really going to go there, then go there. It's sort of what we were talking about -- that if what you're writing is coming from an honest place, at the very least you're going to make a really interesting failure.
HuffPost Arts: Is that our generation or is it something else?
Don: Rejection births a lot of that. I don’t think "Rejected" would have been funny at all if it didn’t have a purpose. If you take that away, it’s not funny anymore.
The internet is an easy platform for artists who might not be ready to put themselves out there. I made some terrible things in high school and I hadn’t lived enough to put something out. Even if whatever you’re making is a failure, if you were creatively honest, it’s at least going to be a small success; if it’s a committee failure, it’s not interesting. It really just comes down to a gut thing. At the very least, it was honest and was an interesting failure.
HuffPost Arts: How have people been reacting to the latest film?
Don: I grew up on Carl Sagan and Oliver Sachs and have been interested in development and memory problems, and this new movie tackles these issues. A lot of people think, “What happened? Were you in a car crash?”
"It's such a beautiful day" doesn’t try for as many laughs. In the other two, and this one to a degree, the comedy is the sugar that makes the medicine go down. Without that it would be hard to watch. Hopefully we were invested in the character so I didn’t need as many of these comedic moments.
I’m used to hiding in the back of the room [in the theater] and if people are laughing, I know I’m doing well, and if they’re quiet, then I’m dying. So it’s been strange because it’s been quiet. It’s like you’re making a present for somebody, and you want to see them open it. But this one has been very different. It’s been making people cry; and people are bringing very personal things into the Q+A. It recharges the batteries to see how people are connecting to it; it reminds you why you were doing it for so long.
HuffPost Arts: How have you survived for so long as an animator?
Don: I always feel like a live action filmmaker who happens to draw. When I was 18 my first film got distributed and it just sort of grew. It’s always been feast or famine with the last film paying for the next one, and I think it’s been an unusual one-on-one relationship where theaters -- no distributor or Amazon getting 40% -- and I think that’s more attractive than knowing it’s going to someone’s yacht. I think that’s been very unique in this country and kind of cool; people feel like they’re supporting something they like.
HuffPost Arts: And so now you're in a position where you're performing in a way. It’s “Don Live!”
Don: When I was doing a show with Mike Judge, it was hard to draw a crowd unless Mike was there, unless it became an event. That’s part of the reason why I’m touring and also I’m selfish because I want to see the movies play live. I need the feedback and to see the energy of the room. I released one cartoon online ("Wisdom Teeth"), and then you get a phone call and it’s online. You think: “Maybe there’s a comment!” but that's about it. That’s a part of the theatrical tour -- the energy of the room -- it’s so much more fun.