Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Picking the Crop

Naive Investor, when struggling to set up an animation operation to produce your picture and make your fortune, be prepared to work hard at it. Choose as your confidant an animation professional that is accustomed to working hard as well. It's not a part time job. It quickly becomes your life. In my case, I learned early on that there are worse things than working 65 hours a week with no overtime pay. Worse things than seeing the sun rise over the top of your drawing board after working all night. Worse things than seeing the credit for the work you did go to someone else. The worst thing is to have no work at all. The Old Trappers worked the mountain streams from mid Autumn until the deep snows drove them into hibernation. They often starved over those winter months, sometimes eating their horses or even the soles of their moccasins to survive. After the Spring thaw, they went back to work until mid-summer when the pelts were no longer of value. Six months on and six months off.

The Animation Industry had a similar schedule. The companies would hire artists at the end of spring and work them through the summer and into the autumn. With the shows all produced, the artists would be laid off before the holidays in November. Why pay for Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Years? Six months on and six months off. See the similarity? It didn't matter if you were a Company man or a free trapper, once the work was collected, you were unemployed again. Animation braceros. You pick the crop, hurry it to market, then hunker down and endure the winter until work begins again in the Spring.

No one liked this arrangement but the Network production schedule demanded this kind of procedure. The company men worked for their meager pay, collected unemployment benefits and consoled themselves with their health insurance that carried them over until the next work season. The freelancers worked like dogs during the season, squirreled away their superior earnings , bought expensive toys and prayed they wouldn't get sick. The best of the company men were carried over the winter on salary, working on "special projects". The smartest of the free-lancers scrambled for the high-paying scraps paid for product commercials. A few of the company men did both. I did.

Being a Company Man took care of health insurance, vacation and provided extended employment. Working evenings and weekends as a Free-Trapper introduced me to contracts, clients and connections that would serve me through the years to come. It also allowed me a degree of freedom and creativity that my company job did not. I remember one such contract agreement for a company that produced educational films for schools. Like all school funded projects they had to be informative, entertaining and CHEAP. Because the money was meager, they allowed a great deal of creative freedom because they couldn't expect to make strong demands for the money available. For a young buck out to make a name for himself, this project was heaven-sent! I designed a project that had way above the usual amount of quality and quantity in it and consequently required an enormous amount of work from me, but who cared. I had fun!

That's the point of being in entertainment, isn't it? To have fun? Isn't that why you've chosen animation to invest your money in rather than pesticide manufacturing? It's like the old joke: Patient:"Doctor, what should I do? When I hold my arm up like this, it hurts!" Doctor: "Don't hold your arm up like that." If in the midst of your production you find that you're not having fun, stop doing what hurts. Pain often comes from carrying too much weight. It's all a matter of control. If you want to be in control of every aspect of production (And most new investors do), then expect to carry a lot of weight every hour of the day. Expect to spend the most time on the really unfun parts of the job. If you want to have fun, then let go of the jobs you don't like to do. How do you know before hand what jobs are fun? I suggest you choose a veteran guide that will walk you through the choices in advance BEFORE the drudgery of animation production stops being fun before it starts. The experienced guide has encountered every problem before and has a solution. Several examples follow. Script development can be fun, unless you're expected to have quick answers to complicated questions. Solution: Hire a Story Editor to answer those questions. Voice direction can be fun, unless you want to hear every "take" played back and compared to every other take! Solution: Hire a Voice Director to edit the "takes" you review. Reviewing all art work can be fun, unless you could care less what color the tablecloth is in the eating scene. Solution: Hire an Art Director to limit choices to what you're interested in.

The truth of film production is, it is not magic. It's just hard work. Great animated films aren't created in their entirety by an explosion of pixie dust. They are built one heavy stone at a time. It's called the Production Pyramid. Building that pyramid is a topic for another time.

No comments: