Will Ryan reviews Jack Enyart's new motivational tape, Your Art Dream, and finds advice for out-of-work animators.
A glance at the history of employment patterns in the animation business would not instantly summon up the word stability. In the earliest days of one-shot novelty films (Humourous Phases of Funny Faces, Little Nemo, et cetera), not very much in the way of compensation or job security went to the producer or artist, who was usually one and the same. As the 20th century rolled along and Colonel Heeza Liar, Bobby Bumps, Commodore Buckeye the Braggart and a giggle of familiar characters from the funny pages began appearing on the silver screen, cartoon series were ordered up on a season to season basis. And why not? Legit theatre bookings were planned seasonally (Broadway pretty much closed down for the summer heatwaves). Same with Vaudeville houses, burlesque houses and the amusement parks. Year-to-year seasonal work was good enough for the likes of James ONeill when he was planning his 4,800th performance of The Count of Monte Cristo. It was profitable enough for that enterprising agent William Morris when he was lining up kilted client Harry Lauders triumphal tours of the States. It was adequate enough for the Salome dancers when they were powdering their Anna Held beauty marks in preparation for another spin on the Columbia wheel. And it certainly made sense to the Schenck Brothers as they prepared next summers aeronautical wonder to lure the sweltering escapees of Manhattan to their Palisades Park in New Jersey. Of COURSE animation work was seasonal. ALL theatre bookings were seasonal. All of show biz was seasonal. Hey, all of nature was seasonal. The paper-flipping scribblers who toiled away on the Bringing Up Father, Mutt and Jeff or Happy Hooligan film cartoons would no more expect long-term contracts than legit audiences of the period would expect actor DeWolf Hopper NOT to favor them with a curtain-call recitation of Casey at the Bat!
Always of a Seasonal Nature
A quarter of a century ago, Disneys was the only studio providing decades-long security to artists working the animation racket. Oh sure, there were a few year-round jobs to be had at Hanna-Barbara, but most of that studios output was tied to televisions seasonal needs. Layoffs were expected by most after a seasons work was finished.
About a decade ago a film called The Lion King made an unexpectedly large amount of money. More notably, it made an unexpectedly large amount of profit. It was, and pardon me if youve already heard rumors to this effect, an animated film made by employees of Disneys feature animation division. The Bambi Meets Kimba success spawned not only long lines at the box office, but a new kind of Gold Fever. Suddenly, studios were trying to out-bid each other for animation talent in a new delusional as it turned out box office gold rush. There was actual competition for feature animation talent! DreamWorks SKG, newly formed, brought out a checkbook and waved it, along with matching long-term contracts, in the faces of perennially under-valued Disney animators. Other studios Warners, Fox, Turner were competing for the same moving-picture delineators. Agents and other middle-men entered the picture. Salaries went up.
That was then, as a couple of Monkees used to sing at the time, and this is now. The last couple of years has been a real eye opener for many. Profits from animated features, for whatever reason, never approached the level executives were gambling on. Such worthies as the next 30 generations or so of Disney CEO Michael Eisners descendants will be able to live well off of the loot pulled from that companys coffers. But its a different story for most of those among us today who toiled on the other side of the Magic Kingdoms tracks (read: former denizens of Flower Street in Glendale or of the architectural curiosity in Burbank which shouts the word ANIMATION to freeway travelers). Kids who were hired during their sophomore year out of CalArts, who signed multi-year contracts with a studio, who got married, who bought houses and who just recently started having families of their own have been laid off left and right. Some have left the business. Some have left Los Angeles. Many are on the cusp of something, but arent quite sure what.
Some Solid Advice
Hence, the appearance of, and a presumed market for, a motivational audio tape such as the one under review: Your Art Dream.
Shifting employment patterns in the animation field have not gone unnoticed by Jack Enyart, the author and narrator of this tape. After nearly a quarter century of writing scripts for imaginary stars such as Alvin and the Chipmunks, the Carl Barks gang at Disneys Duck Tales and many other television cartoon shows, he must have noticed the writing on the wall. He pondered the business, met with a high priced executive-type career counselor, picked up some pointers and is now a consultant himself. Or, as he prefers it, a Consul"toon"t. This a position, we are told, he has held for such animated series as The Pink Panther, Dumb and Dumber and Johnny Bravo and is currently providing for several animation studios, including two in the Far East. The idea, he assures us, is to take the wisdom gleaned from that high-priced career counselor and begin transposing that advice to MY world the world of the Arts. Whilst the Muses of antiquity may quibble with the geography, it is indeed to fellow inhabitants of the Land of Talking Ducks and 65-Episode Deals that this tape is directed.
And a well-focused marketing direction it is. This tape is absolutely geared to artists in the animation field. He advises the listener to dodge those falling anvils and refers to a business changing at Road Runner speed. He makes off-hand allusions to the Cruella deVilles, Johnny Bravos and Scrooge McDucks of the world. Such references punctuate the text. Theyre entertaining and facilitate communication. For example, in a segment where he contrasts different ways of dealing with challenges, viz., as a child, as a teenager and as an adult, he uses three personalities we can readily picture the child: Elmer Fudd; the emotional teen: Daffy Duck; and the wised-up adult: Bugs Bunny. There is also some subtle humor, as when he contrasts the art-school types to the wise and cranky pro.
So much for style. What about substance? Well, most motivational books, tapes, videos or whatever do not actually reveal earth-shattering secrets. What they do accomplish, if they are in any way effective, is to examine a problem (or a challenge as its usually euphemized), codify common sense solutions and instill the reader/listener/viewer/audience with the desire, confidence and positive attitude needed to solve that problem, to face that challenge! Yo, Joe!
Near the beginning of Your Art Dream, Mr. Enyart assures us he will be telling us nothing theoretical. Everything I say here will have been tested and found true by myself or my clients. Fair enough. Side one deals with the general idea of a career in the commercial arts. Included is advice on resumes, promotion, agents, the current marketplace, etc. The Great Truth he strives to instill with encouraging advice and motivating examples is a simple, basic one which is sometimes easy to lose sight of. Despite the Scrooge McDucks and Foghorn Leghorns out there who seem to be running things, You are in business for yourself. The second side of the tape is concerned with Your Dream Project and how to see it through. Topics such as deal-making, pitching, partners and the like are dealt with here. Good, practical advice is to be had. And, as on Side One, the artist-friendly style combined with the positive reinforcement of the text allows the author/narrator to accomplish what he set out to do: create a good, general motivational tape targeted toward any working, or hoping-to-be-working, artist in or around todays animation business.
So cast away dull glare and grumbling. Even in this dark period of massive layoffs at the animation houses, there is room for hope. As Dewitt Hopper might have put it, there is still some joy in Mudville, even though Casey, mighty Casey, has struck out.
After all, theres always next season!
Your Art Dream, an audiotape written and narrated by Jack Enyart. 60 minutes (US$39.00). To order, visit www.toonshoppe.com/JackEnyart
Will Ryan recently delivered the keynote address at the International Ventriloquists Associations Annual Convention in Las Vegas. Mr. Ryan is an Annie Award-winning, Emmy and Writers Guild-nominated free-lance hyphenate of no fixed transmission. The Elmo Aardvark musical compilations which he produces are available at cdbaby.com