Do we have as much fun making films now as we used to? I really don't think so although we do make a better, slicker more polished product, without doubt. As animation revenues have risen so has the serious aspect of what we do and how it is accepted. Perhaps the hijinks and pranks of passed days aren't appropriate any longer with so much money on the line for the studios, but it sure was a fun ride while it lasted.
WHERE'S THE FUN IN THAT?
This is a clever question posed by Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) on the CBS show The Mentalist. Jane is the guy that can see through all of our facades and get a true read on who and what we truly are inside... A neat trick for sure but I'm more interested in the actual question as I'm afraid that we're not having as much fun as we should these days. I could understand after all if, actuaries or meter readers or even manicurists were not having barrels of fun in their work, but people making animated films? We should be laughing and scratching and smiling, shouldn't we?
In years past animation people had lots of fun. Not to say that everything was perfect and no one had any problems, because we certainly did but we were generally a pretty happy bunch. We worked hard and we played hard and we even fought hard but at the end of the day it was like a big, creative, dysfunctional family that loved what they did and the people with whom they did it. Animation studios seemed to accept that they were employing people that had never fully grown-up. Jokes and pranks were common and were part of the daily routine. They were not only accepted but also expected.
At Hanna Barbera the basement housed the editing and xerox departments as well as the stock room. In the busy season the editors worked pretty much around the clock, some even sleeping in their cutting rooms as xerox across the hall ran 3 shifts weekdays and at least one on weekends with over 100 people employed in the department. When the editors weren't gazing bleary eyed at the tiny screens on their Moviolas, they were pulling pranks on one another, placing bets with the studio's de facto in house bookie or playing cards. They worked like demons and they played and laughed every chance they had. It was not uncommon for someone to bring in a case of beer on the weekend or for someone make a small puncture in the seat of someone else's chair and fill it with water using a small squirt bottle. When the victim of the prank sat down the water would slowly seep out at such a slow speed that he wouldn't notice it until he was fairly well soaked. Xerox, where I started was like a monkey house. Long hours and maybe the duel clean fumes kept everyone a bit goofy and always ready for a practical joke or some other sophomoric amusement. When things came to a climax, the department head would just run into his office and shut the door. We would roll the 12 field cells up tight and make them into large pea shooters but in our case it would be garbanzo beans (chick peas) that were our ammunition of choice. Mostly this would turn into a boys versus girls as inkers and checkers were part of the department and they were mostly young women. Their desks were off to one side in several rows and we all made face shields, again from the cells, before we opened fire. If this sounds juvenile, it was. Everyone let off steam and found ways to deal with the long hours and the pressure of not missing an air date - Remember back then the studios and the networks were not related divisions of the same conglomerate. Missing an airdate was like missing the last lifeboat on the Titanic. Or at least that was what were all told, and told and told until we believed it.
Beyond the jokes and pranks there was also a lot of romance. I say romance because it's a nice word that evokes pleasant feelings and memories. Of course the truth is that there were a lot artists that were married to other artists, or divorced from one another but remarried to another artist and yet having a small fling with yet another artist.... It was a randy bunch of highly creative people who had a great many interpersonal relationships which tended to make for an interesting workplace. As there were really only 3 major studios that everyone worked for (not counting Disney) it was hard to get away from someone that you'd rather not see everyday at the desk across from you. While you may disapprove of this type of behavior, and there were those that did, it was part of the commune atmosphere that pervaded the studios at that time. People in the industry were perhaps, dare I say, greater characters back then. I know that there are some highly unique and individualistic folks working in the business right now but the herd of characters, oddballs, geniuses and totally free spirits has been somewhat culled by the corporate mentality that now oversees the very big business of making animated films.
While there are still a great many talented and creative folks working in animation all over the globe these days, everything has toned down... And perhaps for the best. Animation is now a big and very lucrative business, far more so then forty or fifty years ago. People don't have three or four martinis at lunch anymore. They don't have crazy parties that are open to the industry, where people came wearing the most provocative costumes and hold long and somewhat serious conversations about politics and art - only to argue and go outside and take a few swings at one another then return to the party, have another drink and hug one another like long lost friends.
Jane Takamoto's parties were famous for their frivolity, fun and their anything goes nuttiness. The Tuckers were the King and Queen of Halloween party givers bar none. Even Union meetings, often held at the old Sportsmen Lodge were great. Hundreds of people milling around beforehand, mostly at the bar. Then into the big ballroom where great matters were discussed and debated with Mo Gallob passing around the microphone for the rank and file to speak or ask questions, unless of course it was a question he didn't like, and then pity the poor fool. Mo would yank the microphone away while offering a few salty insults and move on in search of someone whose comments or question would better represent the union line. Then after we all would pile out and head back to the bar to discuss the meeting everyone had just left and to have a few more drinks which naturally expanded everyone's understanding of what they had just heard or voted upon.
And names.... Why don't we have people working now with names like Corny Cole, Hicks Lokey and Grim Natwick?
Of course over the years the industry has become more of a business and to be fair I have to say that there are certainly more places to work now than in the past. With video games, internet and feature films and DVDs heavily supplementing the Saturday morning business, the landscape now offers more opportunities, but still... Why does everyone look so serious. Where are the crazy artists? Maybe they all bought 6000 square foot homes and have 3 cars and 2 kids.... Maybe behind the black jeans and the cool tattoo and the spiked hair is someone that is.... perhaps, a normal 9 to 5 guy or gal that not only needs but likes job security and is not all that different than a counterpart working for a brokerage firm or as a hospital administrator - or maybe not.
It just seems to me that after spending a little time thinking about this, I think people are pretty much the same but the times, they do change. Maybe there is more to lose now then there was back when, I don't know, but I do know that people were more carefree and less stressed. Today strong, creative people still abound and their work is often amazing. It just seems that they are as a group, what's the word.... More stable perhaps. It reminds me of the story lines where the parents are the old hippies and the kids all graduate with business majors. Nothing wrong with making a good living and wanting job security but I hate to see anyone missing the joy and fun that was truly part and parcel of working in the business. I would like to see more pirates and risk takers and less briefcases and line toers. At the very least, more smiles and laughs, funny drawings and the insight to understand what a wonderful business animation really is, or should be. After all, 'all work and no play....'. And where's the fun in that?