cupidsbow (cupidsbow) wrote,

An Open Letter to Fest Runners: Writing vs Art

Dear Fest Runners,

I thought I'd let you know why I'm not signing up for your fests as an artist.

Lately I've been noticing desperate calls for artists all over the place -- "We have 50 authors and 15 artists" is something I see a lot. This isn't anything new, as I remember seeing it as a writer and wondering why there were so few artists willing to play. I think I know why now.

In the past, when I signed up for fests as a writer, I didn't pay much attention to the rules for artists. I should have, because the rules tend to be pretty uninviting, and make it clear artists are second-class citizens.

Anyway, I see these calls and I feel sympathetic ("I can make fan art now!" I think to myself), so I wander off look at the FAQs to see whether I can fit it into my schedule. I usually decide pretty quickly that I can't.

This is what I commonly find in the FAQs and sign-up pages:

  • Artists are given less than half the time authors are
  • The minimum length for fanvids is nearly always 1:30 mins or higher, which seems reasonable at first glance, but is actually not doable in the time limit usually allocated (at least, not without working crazy, crazy hours on it)
  • Artists are much more constrained in terms of theme (usually illustrating a story, which is clearly not seen as a collaboration, but icing on the fictional cake)

There are a couple of different issues embedded in this, so let me unpack them.

Time: AKA, just how long is 1:30 minutes anyway?

First, the time thing. It's assumed that writing takes longer than art. This is for two reasons: a) mostly these are BigBang style fests with a high word limit, and b) the art is seen as a pretty decoration and not central to the project.

As someone who is a competent writer, and a fairly new artist, I can tell you this. I can write a 1,000 words faster than I can make a piece of fan art. If it's a simple piece of still art, the time starts to equalise at about 5,000 words (for me). If it's a short, simple fanvid with just one source show, it takes about the same time as writing a novella.

To recap: a vid = a novella.

That means, when the writer has written 15,000 words, which I am illustrating with a 1:30min vid, it's likely it will take me somewhere around the same number of hours to make that vid as it took them to write the novella. However, dear, hard-working Fest Runners, you are allocating half the amount of time to do so.

Everyone's vidding practice is different, but I've found that it takes at least three weeks (including three weekends) to make a vid of 1:30mins, and that's pushing it.

My minimum vidding schedule

  • Week 1: Plan the vid. Source the audio and visuals. Edit the audio to the right length, convert the visuals to the right format. Make any title art needed.

  • Week 2: Lay down clips, add effects.

  • Week 3: Get beta feedback. Make final changes. Test render. Render in the various required formats. Finalise splashpage art. Host the vid somewhere it can be downloaded by others.

I point out for the record that this schedule assumes I have no commitments in my free time other than fandom. :)

A more realistic schedule would actually be 5-6 weeks.

The above also assumes that nothing goes wrong, like hitting a problem in the beta stage (ie. the vid makes no sense and needs to be significantly re-cut), and that you don't need to do anything that takes more effort than usual, like having to find source footage from multiple sources (ie. for a constructed reality vid).

For every problem, add another week(end). For every 60 seconds of editing, add another week(end) (preferably two, so it's not a mad rush).

In addition to that, as soon as you add more stringent requirements to the vid, such as setting the minimum length at more than 1:30mins, needing to include specific images/themes (such as illustrating a specific story, rather than responding to a prompt), you need to add more time.

Artists are commonly given three weeks to a month to make their art, and must illustrate a story -- which can be fabulous and inspiring, but can also be a difficult constraint. This is probably enough time to put together a piece of digital art, or draw one piece of art... although now I've had some practice at those, I'd say it's not a generous portion of time.

As soon as you go multi-media, like fanmixes or fanvids, in which you not only make cover art, but need to edit media as well (and yes, good fanmixes do actually need to edit the media's meta-data and sometimes equalise volume too), the time needed blows out.

Please, Fest Runners, if you want artists to sign up, give us more time.

Constraints: Illustration vs Collaboration

It's really awesome making fan works in response to prompts, and seeing all the different ways people fill them. It's also a lot of fun collaborating with other fans on a joint project.

For artists, a lot of fests are kind of awkwardly positioned between these two things, and the result is not as much fun as you might think.

Let me explain. In many fests, the writer goes off and does their thing on their own for months. Then the artist comes in near the end of the process and illustrates what the author has done. There's no true collaboration in that process -- no exciting bouncing around of ideas, no influencing each other as the project develops, no back and forth. The writer is firmly in the driver's seat, and the artist goes along for the ride after the writing is done. (Yes, I'm thinking of a music/cakehole analogy here, in case you are wondering.)

Honestly, that doesn't interest me much. Every now and again, sure -- it's fun to mix it up and play by different rules sometimes. But mostly, I'm making fan works because I have something to say, whether that's as a writer or as an artist. If I'm going to sign up to work with another fan, I want it to be collaborative -- I have something more to add to a project than putting the icing on the top at the end. That's really not very satisfying.

Fest Runners, if you want me to sign up as an artist (and maybe you don't, maybe I'm not your type, and that's fine too), then sign me up at the same time as the writers, and team me up with one. Let me make art side-by-side with them, as a collaborative process, which has just as much time allocated.

You could even still have the current sign-up system for those who want to illustrate or pinch-hit. They can just sign up at the end as usual.

In short, the way things currently tend to work in many (but not all) fests makes it pretty unappealing to sign up as an artist. There's too little time allocated, it's not collaborative, and artists are definitely made to feel like second-class citizens.

My advice to you, should you care to take it, Fest Runners, is to re-think the way you integrate artists into your fests. Sign them up at the same time as writers, and team them up. I know that will mean more work for you at the start, and will add all-new headaches to the proceedings, especially when people inevitably drop out. But it solves both the time allocation and second-class citizen problems.

Also, I am far, far more likely to sign up if you should do so.



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Tags: discussion, fest, meta, open-letter, vidding
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