On Tuesday evening, August 12, Bill Plympton gave a presentation and complete screening of his seventh and newest animated feature, Cheatin’ (75 minutes), for a packed house of ASIFA-Hollywood members, at the DreamWorks Studios in Glendale. He also showed his latest short, Footprints, which will premiere at the HollyShorts Film Festival in Hollywood, CA, August 14-23. All attendees got a quick cartoon sketch by him.
The presentation was similar to the one that Plympton gave on July 24 at the Comic-Con International in San Diego, but that did not include a screening of the entire feature. Cheatin’ premiered at the 2014 Slamdance Film Festival in January, but since then it has been playing primarily at film festivals in Europe, winning more than ten awards including the Jury Award at the 38th (2014) Annecy International Animation Film Festival in June.
This presentation was a preview for the U.S. premiere release of Cheatin’, for one week at the Downtown Independent Cinema, August 15-21. Plympton, the NYC-based “King of Indie Animation”, will personally attend evening screenings from Friday through Sunday to give brief Q&As. He said that this one-week screening is to qualify Cheatin’ for the 2014 Academy Awards, and to give it some visibility for the Annies and the Golden Globes. Where it may play after that is not yet known, except that it will be at the 2015 Kansas City Film Fest, April 15-19.
At the presentation, Plympton complained about “running into a brick wall of distributors who believe that his films are just not distributable.” He cited four strikes against Cheatin’: "(1) It’s an adult comedy with sex & violence. Most distributors still believe that animation is for children. (2) It’s not computer animated. Most distributers believe that only computer-animation sells today. (3) It doesn’t have a big-name animation studio behind it. (4) Hollywood still does not understand animation in general, despite so many animated features being among the top ten grossers of the past few years."
Cheatin’ opens with a woman, Ella, going to an old-fashioned carny show. You can tell she’s beautiful because all the men smile lasciviously and their eyes bug out. An accident at the electric-powered bumper-car ride puts her in danger of being electrocuted, but she is rescued in the nick of time by Jake. It’s love at first sight – in fact, the drawings imply that this is the most passionate romance the world has ever known. Ella and Jake are happily married, and have eyes only for each other, despite Jake being so sexy that every woman who stops at his gasoline station throws herself at him. But a scheming rival fakes evidence that Ella is cheatin’ on him. Heartbroken, Jake throws himself into a series of tit-for-tat one-night stands – that make Ella equally jealous when she finds out about them. She toys with having Jake murdered, but finally decides to get El Merto, the carny show’s disgraced magician, to use his forbidden “soul machine” to transfer her mind into Jake’s lovers’ bodies. But what if the carny owner and the police shut down the soul exchanger while she is still in another body?
Plympton revealed several production details at the presentation. Cheatin’ contains over 40,000 drawings. It took three years to make, stretched over six years due to funding problems partway through. He finally created a Kickstarter campaign to finish it, raising over $100,000. The 75-minute feature is all in pantomime, partly to emphasize the music and sound effects, and partly because his exaggerated art style does not go with dialogue. (Can you imagine trying to lip-synch to Plympton’s faces?) The score, by long-time associate Nicole Renaud, is deliberately and noticeably operatic, with well-known passages of Puccini, Ravel, and others. The artwork is equally referential, with Ella walking through several famous paintings. The drawings, which look watercolored, were actually scanned into a computer and digitally colored.