Don Hertzfeldt

[ANIMATOR]

“I STILL LOOK AT ALL THIS AS PERSONAL EXPRESSION. I’VE GOT NOTHING TO EXPRESS ABOUT PAPER TOWELS OR TAMPONS OR CHRISTMAS SPECIALS.”
How to protect drawings:
Put them in a fireproof safe
Put that safe inside another safe
Never leave the apartment

Don Hertzfeldt tells stories with stick figures. He brings circles, lines, and dots to life with comedic timing and sadistic, existential emotions: balloons viciously attack children; a blob guy develops an unfortunate bleeding anus. But within the cartoon violence Hertzfeldt cultivates humanistic moments. Lily and Jim puts the melancholy of a blind date under a microscope. The Meaning of Life examines millions of years of evolution and ends with aliens trying to explain it all in their own language. The Academy Award–nominated Rejected lays bare Hertzfeldt’s anxiety about selling his soul to the commercial worldsomething he has never done.

Although he has help in some arenas, Hertzfeldt’s films truly reflect his own mind and hand. He writes, draws, and shoots everything with his 35 mm camera. No studio, no producers, no computershe is an auteur of independent animation. Other than animating, he has never held a job, not even as a busboy.

In 2007, Hertzfeldt and Mike Judge launched their third traveling collection of animated shorts, aptly titled the Animation Show. An annual feature-length compilationthe only one run by animatorsthe festival provides a rare opportunity for new and old animated shorts to play in movie theaters around the world.

I interviewed Don in the Hungry Moose Lodge during the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, where his new film, Everything Will Be OK, won the Best Short Film award. Some follow-up questions took place over his home phone. Don doesn’t have a cell phone, but he just upgraded from dial-up to DSL.

—Mike Plante

*

THE BELIEVER: Do you have any rituals when you finish a film?

DON HERTZFELDT: Sadly, I don’t. Every time I’m in production on something, especially with Meaning of Life, I’d say, “I’m going to go on a cruise. I’m going to drive to the Grand Canyon. I’m going to do nothing.” But it hasn’t happened yet. The problem is I’ve never had writer’s block. Animating is so slow and boring that all these other ideas for other movies just start piling up in your head. And you start to get really excited about them before you can finish the thing you’re trying to get out the door. So I’ll often finish a film and can only last a week or so before I get stir crazy and all those new ideas drive me straight back to the desk and the cycle continues.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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Mike Plante published the film zine Cinemad from 1998 to 2002 and has since kept it going at iblamesociety.com. He is also a film programmer for CineVegas and Sundance and writes for Filmmaker and Razorcake all the time. A Cinemad anthology of unpublished interviews is on the way.

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