Christopher Panzner wades into the soupy waters of negotiating and find that animation can be a funny business.
Animation is a funny business. Or, rather, its not at all. Which makes it funny. But only in the sense that a clown in the soup makes it taste funny.
So few people know how to sell themselves. Or what they have to sell. Mostly, its naïveté, timidity, insecurity or a disgust with having to sell anything, period. Especially something they dont believe in. All too often, themselves or their talent. Are you experienced? helps, because its a lot easier to sell than most things: I did this, I did that. But, even then, a lot of people sell themselves short.
Its a big problem for both sides of the table. Its a big problem in this industry.
You need to add nuts, and Im not talking matzo balls, to the soup. And feed the soup to the nuts and clowns doing any funny business.
Will Work 4 Money
Ive hired hundreds of people in my career and negotiated many of the contracts myself. (For the anecdote, Ive only had to fire a handful, although in just about every case, technically speaking, they fired themselves.) What most people dont realize is that a contract is nothing more than tree bark and squid ink with two signatures on it. Everything is negotiable just about. Or that a contract is more about what happens if you dont do your part of the bargain than if you do.
But what if you intend to not only do your job, which you do well, but youre talented, ambitious and want to do more, expect more, earn more? The classic mistake most people make when they apply for a job is to tell a potential employer the situation they are looking for and not what they can do for a company, which is why they are there in the first place.
Most employment contracts are boilerplate, standard-form: job description, conditions, salary, benefits, studio policy, etc. Its the basis for negotiation but, surprisingly, very few people actually negotiate in the true sense of the term. In fact, in my experience, most employee discussions center almost exclusively around I show up, I work, you pay me. Punching the clock and pulling down a paycheck. But past a certain point in your career, youre no longer a number, youre an asset. And an animation company is just four walls without the talent.
As an employee, Ive always negotiated benchmarks that are rewarded: If I do this, then I get this.... Its always about built-in evolution from day one. But its also about motivation, developing my potential, creating opportunities, growing the company and growing with it.
Most companies appreciate ambition. Some dont, but then you have to ask yourself if thats where you want to be working.
As an employer, Im always stunned when people sign whatever is put in front of them. And, as an employer, its not up to me to encourage the future employee to negotiate, although nine times out of 10 I am ready and willing. About all I can say is that you should go over every single word in a contract. If theres a dispute, the lawyers and the judge certainly will. Cross out whatever you dont agree with. Write in what you want to see. Its a friggin piece of paper until its signed. Then make up a separate list (bring it with you but dont show it or give it to the potential employer) of the big things and what you want ideally not necessarily within reason and try and get those things or as close as possible. Compromise if you have to, but take your time. Talk it out. Talk to friends, your lawyer.
Negotiation is part poker, part theatre. Dont get excited. If you feel yourself getting excited, dont. Move on and say you want to think about it at home, calmly. Which is where you want to decide everything. Be polite, be calm, be firm but dont waste the other persons time or insult them. Sometimes you may have to go back to the table two, three, four, five times. There is always a solution if both sides are willing to negotiate.
Patience. You dont want just a deal, you want the best deal.
And never give up anything without getting something in exchange. Even symbolically. Okay, but I get to wear a Speedo and thigh-high Doc Martens in the studio. Build in certain things that youre not necessarily interested in or will part with easily so it looks like youre ceding ground. Alright, Ill shave my back. So when you get to the important, crucial things, you can say Look how much Ive already given up!
And leave the unpleasant subject of money until last. But finish on a convivial note.
Im Only Here for the Beer
Another thing people dont realize, forget or dont do is interview the interviewer. That goes for the company as well as the person interviewing you. Taking an interest in the company, in their goals and ambitions, is as important as yours. Do your homework, everyone has a website (print it out and take it with you), and formulate questions related to your ambitions and theirs. Show them you know about them, want to work there and explain why.
And dont forget that the person in front of you is, usually, an employee, too. Do they like working there? Whats the best part? What are the advantages? And the next part is tricky, because it can turn into the If you can fake sincerity, you got the world in the palm of your hand thing, but get to know them a bit. Professionally. How long have they been at the company? What have they done? Where did they work before? And, if theres room, on the personal side, too, like mutual interests, friends, shows, etc. I once made a helicopter out of soup cans, too! Most people in animation are personable, easy-going, fun, interesting.
But you can bet that the person doing the hiring has seen their share of kwazee and crazies, too. So at least pretend to be reasonable, rational and borderline normal.
On that note, Id like to thank the hundreds of other people I didnt hire for providing me with some of the best stories ever. Like the guy who showed up at 7:30 am at my office with 200 identical, original drawings of the same thing: him with a 14 penis smoking a joint. When I told him, straight-faced, we did childrens programs and that sex and drugs was not the kind of thing we wanted to be showing kids, he told me he could draw guns, too. Not the kind of confusing pun you wanna hear at point blank range early in the day.
And, then there were some of the people I did hire, one of whom I had to deliver a last paycheck to in the bughouse.
Put your best foot forward. Dont tell the human resources folks about your outstanding warrants, show up cop-slugging drunk in a bathrobe, bring your mom, talk about your penchant for bareback sex on Jimsons Weed, how the headmaster at the orphanage said youd go far or how people would belittle you at the drive-through window at your last job so you spit in their drinks. Be yourself but not your own worst enemy. Keep it work-related, avoid politics and pay attention to hygiene. Nothing worse than people sweating garlic in the elevator. (And if you have three teats, please dear God, dont wear a wifebeater.)
And, a word to the wise: if you have hobbies like rock-climbing or preparing fugo (the Japanese pufferfish delicacy whose poison, tetrodotoxin, has pain-killing effects 160,000 times stronger than cocaine), leave them off the resumé.
The point of the last part is that negotiation can only take place once the interviewer has seen and talked to you. Making a bad first impression, creating distractions from the discussion, acting irrational, being late, etc. wont get you past the first cut. Employers want to hire and work with likeable, cooperative, reliable, hard-working people.
Reputation, good or bad, goes along with experience. They both follow you.
Concentrate on your strengths, be pleasant and professional, come prepared, be passionate and ambitious and negotiate the best deal possible. Also, very important, be happy with your deal! And dont sign anything youre not completely satisfied with or youll find yourself back in the soup.
Chris Panzner has split the last 25 years doing TV, animation and films. His fathers best advice was If you cant be good, be careful. He recently created writing company Power Lines and production/distribution company Eye & Ear.