An Interview with Spike Decker
February 12, 2010 3:18 p.m.
KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando interviews Spike Decker of Spike and Mike.
Related Story: A New Generation of Spike and Mike
BETH ACCOMANDO: This latest program that you are calling “New Generation,” is there a distinct change in the programming or just a slight variation?
SPIKE DECKER: It’s a shift. We started out years ago with what became the Classic Festival and then we did the Sick and Twisted. So it’s taken years to accumulate these films before I could do the show. These are films that are not sick and twisted and they’re not really what we did in the early days of the original show. I kind of look at them as very cool, very progressive, hip and humorous but at the same time tend to be very sophisticated and much more artistic than a lot of the Sick and Twisted.
BETH ACCOMANDO: It’s funny you say more sophisticated because they are more sophisticated in a sense but a couple of them – like “A Town Called Panic” and “Western Spaghetti” – they have this really retro, do-it-yourself quality to them as well.
SPIKE DECKER: Yeah, “The Town Called Panic” guys for the little characters they use and what they’ve done is pretty brilliant. And PES [the production company behind “Western Spaghetti”] with taking objects and creating art and animation with them is a brilliant guy. But there are some great films in here culturally and artistically and making statements on society like “Crab Revolution” and things like that and “Eleven Roses” and “Lapsus” is a couple examples.
BETH ACCOMANDO: So what was your process in picking these films?
SPIKE DECKER: The number one criteria is always humor. And this particular show is humor number one, absolute quality of animation is number two, and then diversity in styles and mediums and then international selection.
BETH ACCOMANDO: And what was the actual process that you found them – did you have a call for entries? Were you out looking at other festivals trying to find stuff that was good?
SPIKE DECKER: Yeah we have submissions from all over the world and we play at numerous festival throughout the world – we’ve played everywhere from Sundance to every year at the Annecy Animation Festival to Stutgaard. So we solicit films and we also try to travel to some of the festivals and sometimes we’ll go to like the Cal Arts screenings for the producers’ shows. And we’ve gotten so well known now that people submit to us and we’re getting countries that we’ve never gotten from before, a lot of Australian work, and the UK is always great stuff.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Over the year of putting these on have you noticed any change in the styles of animation or any trends?
SPIKE DECKER: Aside from the obvious computer generated pieces, like I said earlier this particular show, it took me years to get the absolute cream of the crop. We look at a lot of films, hundreds of films, and to narrow it down to this. And the styles, just the industry is obviously computer generated but what’s unique about what we do here and have always done going back to the early Pixar works that we premiered is in this there’s all mediums and traditional cell as well as puppets and everything represented here so I don’t know if there’s any one particular new trend or anything that I’ve seen other than computer and again that’s what’s so cool about “A Town Called Panic,” that these guys took little plastic characters and created very humorous stories with them.
BETH ACCOMANDO: It’s fun to see as technology advances what tends to come across as more innovative is sometimes going back to something that used to work.
SPIKE DECKER: Well Bill Pympton’s film, “Santa the Fascist Years,” is the best thing he’s ever done and the rendering on it is his style.
BETH ACCOMANDO: You call this the New Generation but how do you fit Bill Plympton in it since he’s been around for so long. Is it New Generation in reference to the kind of work he’s doing?
SPIKE DECKER: Yeah the kind of work that he’s doing. Bill’s… we don’t always put a Plympton piece in and we’ve worked with Bill for a lot of years and just this one to me is just so extraordinary and I really think it’s the best thing Bill’s ever done. I think he has a chance of an Oscar with it. So it was too good not to put in.
BETH ACCOMANDO: In the time that you’ve been doing this, how has the festival itself changed in the sense of if a film gets shown in your festival does that give it some real cache in the industry and make it easier for it to move on to something else?
SPIKE DECKER: Yeah it does, absolutely. The word’s out that our history of who’s premiered with us and films that we’ve produced originally, just to throw out a brief history, the Pixar, the first films of Andrew Stanton who did “Nemo,” and Pete Docter who recently did “Up” and “Monsters’” John Lassiter, so many, “Beavis and Butthead,” Tim Burton, matter of fact all these people, not only did their film premiere at this venue in La Jolla, at the museum in La Jolla of Contemporary Art, the filmmakers themselves were there with us for their premieres. Tim Burton, John Lassiter, Mike Judge, Bill Plympton, so many.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Do you feel there are more outlets for these short works now than when you guys first started?
SPIKE DECKER: Not theatrically but obviously through new media and digital delivery systems absolutely. What we have going for this show obviously it’s an event that’s on the big screen.
BETH ACCOMANDO: I was wondering if cable, like Adult Swim, were showcasing more shorts or are they not really looking to those formats?
SPIKE DECKER: Yeah we’re actually in talks right now with both some major digital delivery people and some cable people so finally in the last, within this year we might finally have a national Spike and Mike presence that we’ve never had before. Going back real quick to your earlier question about whether or not any of these animators will become future stars, there are a few people in here that, the people who did “Crab Evolution” out of France and “Octipodis” these guys are brilliant. “Key Lime Pie,” so yeah this is a new generation of great, great talent, just like years ago when we were there at the museum with Tim Burton and John Lassiter with their first films. It’s that day again with these films and these films.
BETH ACCOMANDO: When you first started this festival did you ever think you’d be where you are now?
SPIKE DECKER: Well to me we are only half way there. It’s hard to say because it sounds like -- and sorry to sound so biased, and premiered so much great works for so long, and the brand has proven so strong not only in Californa but state after state, and country after country, you know at some point we sell out a show at the Castro in San Francisco and we sell out a show at Annecy in France and on and on, at some point what do we have to do to get our show on television, which is truly as quality and entertaining as 90% of the animation shows that are out on television so that’s what I push for to take it even much, much wider than it is. The one thing that does amaze me is that we’ve gotten such a worldwide recognition even to places that we’ve never been that have heard of us. You know a few years back we had a book out “Outlaw Animation” from Abrams Publishing, things like that are really cool, that’s very exciting.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Is the appeal of getting on television both that you can get those films seen by more people AND that you can showcase even more films?
SPIKE DECKER: Absolutely. Just ramp it up and get it out there. We’ve been sort of a cult thing and in the trenches for so many years that it’s absolutely time to be able to reach so many people. You know we’ve done the best we can with the resources we have.
BETH ACCOMANDO: In terms of putting it together, when you’re deciding on the order and the particular films, are you like a DJ doing a mix and that’s it’s really important which comes first and what follows what?
SPIKE DECKER: Yeah. We spend a lot of time on that and on the balance and the flow of the show. We have an intermission break and we always try to end with the most humorous films to leave people on a very positive humorous note.
BETH ACCOMANDO: What do you feel most proud of at this point in time?
SPIKE DECKER: I’d say the accomplishment that we get, major scores that we’ve had from years ago with the Sick and Twisted. We toured with Korn and did a national tour with them. Coming from two ex-hippie guys from Riverside ending up getting plugged at the Oscars, going to the Sundance Festival, being played there, being played at the Cannes Film Festival, playing at Annecy every year, and the notoriety and that people know us throughout the industry, on that level is very exciting on one side but I’ve seen the program so much that the other side of me says why not, I’m really as good as 99% of these other guys. So it sounds selfish but we’ve paid a lot of dues.
BETH ACCOMANDO: I run an anime club at a middle school, do you think the influx of anime and its increasing popularity has changed anything in terms of how young the audience is that comes or how open they are to animation?
SPIKE DECKER: No, I think if anybody and the most revolutionary animation done by people is obviously Pixar, going back to the early computer generated shorts and I think everybody has followed from there. Also we’ve gotten a lot of exposure and as big as it’s gotten the San Diego Comic-Con has done a tremendous amount for fantasy and animation obviously and we screen there every year and it’s turned into a phenomenal event. They’ve done a tremendous amount for the industry of animation.
BETH ACCOMANDO: The challenges you’ve faced over the years in terms of getting the films, has that changed over the years?
SPIKE DECKER: It’s actually become easier because – and this will sound funny but back in the early days even getting a contract or getting a film from Hungary or somewhere or Poland, there weren’t even… we had to go to this one place in La Jolla and I don’t even know what you call it but it was before the fax machines to get your contracts and I don’t know what it was called but you had to pay like ten dollars a page just to get the contract at this one place to send it from Europe. And we started out with 16mm doing shows, mostly universities, campuses, like the dog and pony, Barnum and Bailey Spike and Mike Show. We’d bring our own arc high intensity 16mm projector then we had to pay to do 35mm blow ups and create negatives and internegs and create 35mm prints and put them together and have a series of shorts and vignettes to create a feature. So today I think we have close to 5000 pounds of 35mm prints and negatives in storage. So the cost and the effort to do that because now it’s digital projection has become so much easier for someone to submit their film so the technology has just opened up a lot of opportunities in that regard. Now just as the industry is trying to figure out a way to exploit and market content, once that’s figured out with iTunes and that sort of thing. But as far as the technology and not having to do the 35mm and all that it’s become easier to get the show and we’re so well known now that we get submissions frm countries we’ve never been and we don’t have to solicit because they’ve heard of us.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Just as Comic-Con gets bugged about are you ever going to leave San Diego, are you ever going to change your home base?
SPIKE DECKER: I don’t know, personally I’d like to live in San Francisco because I like the culture of it. What’s so nice about La Jolla is the museum is such a great facility and the acoustics and projection, it just lends itself, especially with this show being more artistic. It’s just the natural location for it. That’s what attracted us in the first place. It’s a very upscale venue.
BETH ACCOMANDO: And an odd venue considering you started out as Sick and Twisted. Or was that part of the pleasure of having it there?
SPIKE DECKER: Yeah they’re probably glad to have the non-Sick and Twisted.
BETH ACCOMANDO: I want to thank you very much for your time.
SPIKE DECKER: Can I add one quick thing, I did want to point out – it’s kind of speaking for Mike too since he’s not here. I mentioned earlier that we paid a lot of dues and looking back – and your question what am I most proud of? It’s just the fact that whatever we’ve accomplished, we’ve done completely on our own. And what I mean is no sponsors, no government grants, no rich parents, no inheritance, nothing. Jerry Beck in “Outlaw Animation” said, “Spike and Mike came from nowhere with nothing and created a market where none existed.” And I guess that’s the biggest thing that I want to point out looking back at it all.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Do you think that’s also what allowed you to do those Sick and Twisted programs? Because if you had a sponsor they might say oh maybe that’s not a good thing to show?
SPIKE DECKER: Possibly, I guess it depends on the sponsor. Not ever having had one I don’t know. But those things do open up and make life easier for a lot of people. And whether it’s the skateboarder guy or the volleyball tournament and they have these major sponsors, it’s a much easier road and a much easier life.
BETH ACCOMANDO: So does that mean you are looking for sponsors now?
SPIKE DECKER: I’m looking now to honestly get national and then eventually world with platforms that are now becoming more and more available that weren’t in the past because I’ve total 100% as do a lot of other people trust in our brand and in our content.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Do you foresee in the future having the Spike and Mike website where people will come like with iTunes and that’s where they’ll download their short animated work?
SPIKE DECKER: Yeah, I think it would be with someone like Apple or something like that and then a cable outlet. We’re making very good progress with national cable entities so I really think if it’s going to happen it’s really going to happen this year. It’s very exciting after all this time.