Mark Simon discusses how to match talent with the right attitude.
"Every show on your network sucks…
…and I'm going to save it."
That's not a great start for a pitch or a job interview. But, it's exactly what Linda Simensky heard when she was head of development for Cartoon Network. This terrible attitude with legs did not get a deal or a job at the studio. But, he did get chased out of the building.
Was he super talented? Who cares?
Talent is not enough. In film and TV, we work long, hard hours with a close group of people. One rotten apple in the bunch can make a project miserable.
While we can, and often do, have to work with quirky personalities, a terrible attitude will kill any possibility of a job.
Long-time producer/director/animator Scott Shaw! looks for artists who can help solve his problem -- the problem of creating a successful animated project on time, on budget and of a high quality. "It really doesn't matter how talented an artist is, if he's also a chronic complainer, an art-snob, an alcoholic, a chronic masturbator, a manic-depressive, a bigot or any number of other negative traits. It's probably not worth hiring him, no matter how good he is. Troublemakers never solve a problem, they compound problems."
Shaw! continues with some great examples, "After producing many projects, I now wish I'd taken some psychology courses. That would have come in handy when dealing with some uniquely bizarre personnel experiences such as:
- The legendary background painter who showed up for his job interview with a gorgeous non-English-speaking female 'protégé,' who he assured me was 'really good' (she didn't have a single sample) and that I should hire her because he wasn't remotely interested in working on my show.
- A Cal Arts student hired to design characters for the second season of an Emmy-winning series who informed me that the world-famous creator of the property was severely misguided because the characters would obviously look so much better if they were designed differently.
- A background supervisor who I nearly had to physically restrain from demolishing the shows' new character designer, a person who was midway through the process of a sex-change operation.
- It's tough enough to make a cartoon, but trying to do it with a staff filled with variable bad attitudes is nearly impossible!" says Shaw.
I've found ways to deal with artists who are chronically late for work, lost his license or even lost his green card. But a bad attitude gets no leeway.
One of my lead animators was so mean and condescending to our crew that the entire crew under him quit. I also caught him trying to steal my clients, while he was still working for me. I got rid of him as fast as I could.
It works both ways. That same ass-of-an-animator (his name sounds exactly like Jeff Varab) once called me to run ink and paint for his sequences on the animated feature 8 Crazy Nights. As close as I can remember, my exact words to him were, "There's no way in hell I will ever work with you again." I won't hire or work with anyone who has such a terrible attitude.
I work very simply with my storyboard artists. No contracts, just the understanding that any client I book them with is my client and if they go around me to try and take that client, it will be the last time they ever work for me.
Years ago I placed one of my storyboard artists (I'll call him Ungrateful Smith, name changed to protect the guilty) on a project with a well-known producer. During the production my artist decided that he didn't need me or my company to run the job and went around both me and the producer and struck a new deal with the creator of the project.
What happened? The project folded. I've never hired him again. The producer has never hired him again. In fact, when I get calls from that producer for artists, he starts the conversation with me the same way each time, "Who do you have who is not Ungrateful Smith?" In his politically-incorrect effort to make a few hundred extra dollars on one project, my ex-artist has lost tens of thousands of dollars in future work.
As an artist, you do NOT want people talking about you that way.
Word travels fast. When people have problems with certain artists, they share (code word for warn) their friends to avoid those artists.
Most of us enjoy what we do. We won't let some sourpuss with a chip on his or her shoulder ruin our fun.
Lose the lip and avoid the pink slip.
Share your stories of horrible production attitudes below.
Mark Simon is a 25-year pro in the entertainment industry as a producer, director, writer and lecturer, with nearly 3,000 production credits. He has also landed over 25 deals for his own TV shows. His books include Storyboards: Motion In Art, Producing Independent 2D Character Animation and the Facial Expressions series of photo reference books.