Late Night Work Club is here to save 2016

Let’s face it, 2016 has been a weird and divisive year. Thankfully, Late Night Work Club is back to instill hope and unite us all under the healing qualities of indie animation. Sit back with your loved ones and enjoy the best 42 minutes of the year with “Strangers”, Late Night Work Club’s second project with films by Alex Grigg, Loup BlasterCaleb WoodSean BuckelewJeanette BondsNicolas Ménard, and Kirsten Lepore.

In 2013 Late Night Work Club made quite a few waves in the animation scene. Founded by Scott Benson, Charles Huettner, Eamonn O’Neill, and Eimhin McNamara, their intent was simple: come together and make something great. By creating “Ghost Stories,” they proved that good animation and storytelling isn’t just a byproduct of big budgets or prestigious film festivals. It can happen anywhere, anytime and by anyone.

As they say “Some of the best, most personal, experimental and vital animation going right now is happening on the internet.” and while the indie animation scene was alive and well before Late Night Work Club, they have done a lot to validate it and help get people’s attention.

A lot has changed in this ever evolving collective since 2013. The following is a Q&A with three of Late Night Work Club’s organizers: Charles Huettner, Sean Buckelew, and Scott Benson.

Q&A with Charles Huettner, Sean Buckelew, and Scott Benson

First, congrats on “Strangers” it turned out great! How does it feel to have it out in the world?

Sean: Thanks Joe! Feels great, I think everyone’s films turned out amazing, the immediate response on twitter was pretty exhilarating, and a couple of us that were awake the night of release had an impromptu google hangout, which was fun.  It can be a little weird to release something, but then just be sitting around alone in your apartment, hoping people are watching it.

Charles: So proud of everyone’s work on this.  Very happy to have it out in the world.

There were 3 years between “Ghost Stories” and “Strangers.” Can you tell us a bit about the process of making “Strangers” and if there were any hurdles along the way?

Sean: I tried balancing the short with having a full-time animation job at first, but setting my pen to Cintiq after a full day animating was literally painful, and all the work I was making at night was really sloppy.  So I switched up my personal/commercial balance after that where I would work for a month or two on a job and not worry at all about Lovestreams, then take real time off to focus on the film, which was a lot better for productivity.  The biggest fallacy that I feel like I had to overcome during the process was the myth that working on your own stuff is fun.  I enjoy animating a lot and find it kind of meditative, but making your own film is not fun at all.  It’s hard work, and you’re worried all the time that your film sucks, but all that is ok and normal and it’s a struggle that’s definitely worthy of your time and energy.

What was the easiest part of the process?

Charles: The easiest part is the beginning.  Everyone is hyped to make a film.  Nothing but endless possibilities and excitement for what’s to come.

Sean: Watching everyone else’s shorts.  I also want to give a shout out to Skillbard, who did the music/sound for my film and a couple other films in the collection.   I’d been a fan of their work in other shorts over the years, so when they agreed to hop on this project early on, it felt like a real score for me.  I was a little nervous because I’d never worked with a composer/sound designer on any film before, and I knew the music was going to be really central in the whole piece, but man, they knocked my damn socks off.  So the easiest part for me was when Skillbard was working their asses off pulling all this amazing stuff together once the picture was locked, and I would just get emailed these new passes and iterations on the soundtrack that would just blow me away.  It felt like it elevated the film so much, and they were really fun to work with, so it was kind of the most immediately satisfying part of the whole filmmaking process for me.

And the hardest?

Charles: For me the hardest part was on the management side of things.  LNWC doesn’t have a budget so we have to be pretty flexible with everyone’s ambitions and goals. But at the same time make sure things are on track and not headed towards disaster.  I’m a huge fan of everyone in LNWC past and present, most of them I consider friends.  So a big source of stress for me was from trying to make sure everyone was happy with the final outcome.

There has been a big shift in the LNWC lineup can you speak to how this came about?

Charles: With Ghost Stories I remember a lot of venues didn’t know what to do with us.  Too short to be a feature, too much of a long collection of films to be included in standard screenings. With Strangers our desire was to maybe make it feature length, so on top of the original crew, we added other friends and animators we admired.  Things kind of dragged on for a while and even when we released the trailer some people were still trying to figure things out.  But the project couldn’t go on forever. Some people were getting pretty far into their production and extending the deadline for the rest of us who were too busy with jobs to catch up wasn’t fair to them. I was very sad when I realized I wouldn’t be able to finish my film for strangers.  But it was a decision that had to be made for the sake of getting it done.

Scott: LNWC is always going to be a rotating and fluid thing. It’ll always be headed up by the same core group but as far as who is participating at what time it’s freeform by design. Lineup this time was all about who was invited and who was available and who could finish a film. Pretty mundane circumstances. Ended up being a pretty killer lineup!

How did you all decide on the theme? Was there a committee/voting process or did one person throw out the idea of strangers and everyone got on board?

Charles: Me and Scott were talking about it on gchat.  We each had a list and went back and forth on ideas. I offered up Strangers and Scott was pretty into it.  We then wrote an email to the main group from Ghost Stories and everyone there liked it.

In regards to the theme, was there a close contender?

Charles: I looked this up in my email archives.  Some of the themes we considered were Time Travel, The Future, Crime, History and my personal favorite, Breakfast.

Scott: I remember Breakfast. I think I was really pushing for CRIME but Charles suggested not following up a dark theme with another dark theme and he was spot on. My big recommendation was that we not do Breakfast.

Charles: I still think there is a lot of potential with that!

Based on successfully completing two projects, what’s next for LNWC?

Sean: Based on what happened last time, I imagine we’ll screen it around a little bit, hopefully meet up for a few, and then go our separate ways again for a little while.  I’ve got a new job coming up that I’m really excited about, but will keep me very busy for a while.  Then, I hope, on a night when no one is expecting it, we’ll all get an email from LNWC and the whole thing will start up again.

Charles: Eventually there will be LNWC #3. I at least want to take some time and finish the film I started for Strangers.  Me and Scott have been talking about it and we might try doing some small things with LNWC before moving on to #3. Not sure what that is but we are brainstorming.

Scott: Yeah there’s a pretty cool future ahead for LNWC. I’m pretty excited. Charles is pretty excited. It’s gonna be pretty exciting.

Lastly, how can people get involved and help support LNWC?

Sean: I think just sharing the link, tweeting it out, and maybe attending a screening if there’s one in your town, we really appreciate that kind of support and have totally relied on it since the beginning.  I’m also a big advocate for putting together DIY screenings in your backyard of the collection, and maybe bringing together a community in towns that don’t have huge animation scenes, I get really stoked when I heard about that kind of thing. With regards to getting involved directly on the production side, I think our official line on this for a while has been that the big takeaway from LNWC isn’t necessarily “how can I get into LNWC”, but more “don’t wait for permission to do something like this”.  This has been stated by Scott in a much more eloquent way, but I think basically we’re always trying to encourage people to start groups like this and to give yourself a serious reason to make personal work in an ambitious, serious way.  So the best case scenario is that LNWC inspires some people in that direction.

Charles: Yeah, what Sean said. Sometimes it can feel like animated shorts live in a bubble. One of the surprising things for me with Ghost Stories was how it reached people who might not have noticed if the shorts were on their own. We got messages from people saying they didn’t even know this world of indie animation existed.  Reaching new audiences was always a goal for LNWC. I don’t know if there is a sure fire method on how to do that, but people sharing the collection with others is always greatly appreciated.


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About the author

Joe Donaldson

Joe Donaldson is a director, designer, and animator who worked on Motionograpgher from 2014-2020. Previously, he was an art director at Buck. Over the past decade, he's lived and worked in Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles and has directed work for clients such as Apple, Google, Instagram, The New York Times, Unicef, Etsy, and The New Yorker. In addition to his creative work, in 2018 he started Holdframe. He's now working as a professor at Ringling College of Art and Design and when not teaching he can be found spending time with his family or out running.