Late Night Work Club Interview
Born in a Void (dir: Alex Griggs, 2016)
Late Night Work Club is a loose collective of animators founded by Charles Huettner, Scott Benson, Eamonn O'Neill and Eimhin McNamara. After hours they drum up some of the most coruscating animated tales around, often characterised by dark humour and touching personal moments. We screened their first anthology GHOST STORIES at Flatpack #10. Now as we gear towards Flatpack #11 we caught up with Charles Huettner and Sean Buckelew to find out about LNWC anthology #2.
Hello Charles and Sean! Can you tell us a little about your backgrounds and how you got into animation?
Charles: In college I tried a few things but I didn’t fully get into animation until I bought an art magazine in London that had an article about how you could animate in photoshop. For some reason I thought it was impossible to animate a film on your own, but this article opened a lot of possibilities in my mind. A year or so later I eventually got a wacom tablet and taught myself how to animate.
Sean: I taught myself animation on Macromedia Flash 4 when I was in high school, and made little movies that I uploaded to Newgrounds, where people were trading lots of Flash tips and tricks. I got more serious about it when I got to college and started trying to make serious films like a real proper artist. I mainly made films on my own until I moved out to Los Angeles and started getting more professional animation jobs.
What brought about the idea to form a collective of animators and how did it get off the ground?
Charles: Late Night Work Club was born out of late night conversations between myself, Scott Benson, Eamonn O’Neill and Eimhin McNamara. Scott had recently read the nobrow comic anthology ‘A Graphic Cosmogony’ and pitched to us the idea of doing that but with animation. Me and Scott are pretty far removed from any animation communities or big cities with festivals to go to, so creating that kind of thing for the online world was huge to us. That same week the four of us emailed some of our favorite animators to see who might be interested in joining. To our absolute delight almost everyone was excited about the idea. It all happened very fast.
Sean: I was on the receiving end of that first email and was really excited about the project. It seemed like there was real energy in the online animation community that was hanging out on Twitter, so the prospect of seeing it all come together in a single anthology release seemed like something I just wanted to see, let alone participate in. I also felt like I was still trying to find a community of animators that appreciated my work, so to be invited into a crew like this was, for me, a really big deal.
Departures (dir: Jeanette Bonds, 2016)
How do you coordinate the collective, and what structures are in place with 23 people on board? What was your thinking behind the idea of a collective and how it works in practice? Have your thoughts on it changed over time?
Charles: This is the hardest part, and probably a point of confusion for other people. There is a little bit of a hierarchy. Someone needs to make decisions and organize things. I have to give a lot of credit to Scott Benson. Without him LNWC simply would not exist. For Ghost Stories Scott was our leader and he’d rely on Eamonn, Eimhin and I for support and helping to make decisions. For Strangers I took up more of a leader/organizer role due to Scott being too busy finishing Night In The Woods. I relied heavily on Sean and Scott for advice and making decisions for LNWC2.
Late Night Work Club has no budget. The trade off for that is to be as flexible as we can with every film maker’s time and desires. Everyone sets their own level of engagement when it comes to non film stuff like promotion, screenings, etc. Some of my thoughts on LNWC have changed over time, some haven’t. I love being a part of it and will always be willing to help make it happen even if I don’t have the time to make a film, as was the case this time. When we first started LNWC a lot of us were just getting to know each other but now it kind of feels like a little animation family.
Sean: It’s also difficult putting pressure on anyone with regards to making their film. Everything kind of goes at its own hands-off pace, since everyone is busy with their regular paid work and other obligations. For Strangers, we had a couple of real deadlines, but it was mainly just waiting and figuring out where everyone was at, and what kind of realistic timeline expectations people could handle. The main pressure I felt as a filmmaker in LNWC is the fear that you’re gonna be the last one to finish and everyone will be waiting on you.
الحرية (Al Hurriya) - Freedom Calais (dir: Loup Blaster, 2016)
الحرية (Al Hurriya) - Freedom Calais (dir: Loup Blaster, 2016)
You do all this work in addition to day jobs. How do you avoid burn-out?
Charles: It’s difficult to avoid that. I couldn’t handle making the film I wanted to make for Strangers while also working on jobs. Making a film is hard. I’m so proud of everyone that worked on this release.
Sean: When we started on this anthology, I had a full-time animation job and tried really hard to rush home after work and immediately sit down at my Cintiq to cram in as much LNWC before I had to go to bed. It was a total disaster, and not only did I burn out, but also had to toss all the animation I made during that period because it was really rushed, sloppy and lazy.
After that experience, I learned a really valuable lesson about setting aside chunks of time where I would say no to jobs and really concentrate on LNWC production. It can be really easy to relegate these types of projects to the “hobby” bin, and it can even be easy to psych yourself into thinking that it’s not worth your time. I also had it where, while working on commercial work, I would think “I can’t wait to get back to my personal film, it’s gonna be so much fun” only to discover that is was not fun and incredibly difficult. So it was kind of a revelation that making a personal film isn’t fun, it’s work, and it’s totally worth it and deserving of your time and attention.
Your upcoming anthology is STRANGERS. What can we expect from it and what are your own individual contributions to the anthology?
Charles: It’s a great mix of films. Everyone interprets the theme in their own way. STRANGERS runs anywhere between touching, funny, awkward and disturbing.
I animated the intro, outro and the little bits in between the films.
Sean: I think that everyone’s really stepped up their game on this one, maybe because the bar got set really high by some of the outstanding films in GHOST STORIES. At least for me, I was really inspired and wanted to go all out on this one because you’re going to be in the company of a bunch of other really great animators who maybe also kind of intimidate you.
My film LOVESTREAMS is about two people who meet online and fall in love. It’s set in 2002, when the Internet used to be a lot more like the wild west, and people were a little bit looser with their identities.
Lovestreams (dir: Sean Buckelew, 2016)
While working on STRANGERS did you work with a different method or process? What has changed in this regard since GHOST STORIES? When in the initial stages, what comes first, the concept or the theme?
Charles: We tried to replicate the same methods of GHOST STORIES, which was probably a mistake. It’s been three years since then and most of us are in very different stages of life and career. It’s been a big learning experience, I have some more solid ideas about how to do #3 when we get there. We also didn’t curate anything. Our only requirement besides technical boring format stuff is to make a short film that relates to the theme. Sometimes we’d talk to each other about our plans but each director has full control of what they want to make.
Sean: I think that makes it more fascinating. Whatever themes are common between films is coincidental, but sort of revealing about what we’re all thinking or dealing with at the time. So there’s definitely some throughlines in STRANGERS, but it’s maybe not what you’d expect.
Wednesday With Godard (dir: Nicolas Ménard, 2016)
What so far have been your most treasured experiences of being a part of LNWC?
Charles: Making friends and building the community! Before LNWC the only animator I knew was Scott Benson. I’ve since made great friendships with people from LNWC and talk to some almost daily. It’s been such a positive impact on my life and career. I love it to pieces!
Sean: I sort of said this earlier, but I felt like I didn’t really have a community before LNWC, I was just kind of making work and launching it out into the void. And since GHOST STORIES came out, my community of LNWC friends online and IRL animation friends have totally blurred. Scott Benson came to my house in California and hung out for the day. Charles and I do a podcast together. I mainly hope that this new anthology will allow me to meet and hang out with all the animators in the group that I haven’t met.
What are the best things about working collectively?
Sean: Working with a group like this makes you want to put your best foot forward and make something amazing and unique. You’re conceptualizing your film knowing the company that it will be in, which I think allows you to take bigger risks. Everyone in the group is also really positive and encouraging, which is just good old-fashioned nice.
Charles: Yeah pretty much what Sean said. Also just getting feedback from peers you trust is great. You can get in your own head sometimes when making things but having this group of artists available to bounce ideas off of or get honest feedback is a cool thing.
What in your opinions are the best animations to come out of LNWC so far?
Charles: All of it. I know that sounds like a cowardly answer but it's true! I LOVE seeing work people make for themselves. It’s the best thing.
Sean: That’s maybe the best part, everyone has different favourites. It’s a diverse group of films that cater to a lot of different tastes, and some might just speak louder to your sensibilities.
What happens after STRANGERS?
Charles: I’m going to finish the film I originally started for STRANGERS.
Sean: Some serious TLC with my PS4.
STRANGERS features new work by Sean Buckelew, Nicolas Menard, Kirsten Lepore, Alex Grigg, Jeanette Bonds, Loup Blaster, and Caleb Wood, and is revealed in its full glory on 28 November.