You Dream It, They Film It: Welcome to Slumber TV
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because watching someone’s dreams is a lot easier than listening to them telling you about them.
By Eugene S. Robinson
Joe W. Sams, thin and tallish at about 6-foot-2, blond, bespectacled and in full-on geek mode, sports a sweatshirt emblazoned with Uncle Dad Productions, his 6-year-old San Francisco-based production company. And what they’re producing? “Simple,” he says. “Dreamspace cartoons for what we’re going to call Slumber TV!”
Which doesn’t sound nearly as simple as the 26-year-old Sams might imagine. He clears it up by explaining that people tell them what they’ve dreamed and Uncle Dad animates what they’ve been told. No dream too outlandish or dull. And cleverly, he’s jiggered the odds away from the latter by drawing his sample selection from the ranks of those from whom you’d expect a lot of the former: musicians.
Like? Like Uncle Imani from hip-hop wild men the Pharcyde, singer Keith Morris from punk greats the Circle Jerks and on deck: Jad Fair from alterna-legends Half Japanese. “I started Uncle Dad Productions mostly because I had a dream of creating my own mixed-media variety show,” says Sams. Using puppets, visual effects, illustrations and David Daniel’s strata cut animation techniques (think Pee-Wee’s Playhouse animations) in a crazy concatenation of wildly shifting styles, Sams — with the more than able assistance of sound man Tyler Hafer, producer Juvenal Cisneros and cameraman Michael Pawluk — spends his time trying to illustrate how, for example, Keith Morris got away from Nazis in a spaceship.
“The struggle is always to try to make the animation as significant to the viewer as the dream was to the dreamer,” Sams says. And based on the steady stream of note for Uncle Dad — videos for the Dead Milkmen, wins at the Out of Focus Video Festival, feature spots at Sydney Film Festival’s Animation After Dark Showcase — Sams is hoping that when Slumber TV hits this fall, people appreciate it as much as he has. Up to and including his full-blown enjoyment of going collaborative with some of his favorite musicians. An enjoyment that clearly draws him more than the scant recompense he gets for the three months of work that goes into producing an episode.
“Animation is a blast,” says New York animator Pilar Newton-Katz, whose past work includes stints at Nickelodeon, MTV and the Cartoon Network. “Getting poorly paid for what you put in? Not so much.”
Which is why Sams’ Uncle Dad sees him doing anything and everything to get the cash to fuel Slumber TV’s big debut, including freelance poster work, editing at Rooftop Comedy, illustration and animation for hire. Charles Bukowski once said that no one who was worth a damn ever produced anything “in peace,” a sentiment Sams seconds. Specifically since none of his art heroes ever set out to “make it.”
“Mike Judge, Ralph Bakshi, R. Crumb — some of my influences — I’m sure didn’t start doing what they did to get rich,” Sams says, laughing. “We do it because we’re crazy.”
Ah yeah, we can see that.