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Posted by Charles on April 05, 2000 at 13:41:07:

I've been asked by several people to post my opening remarks from last Monday's meeting. Here's the speech in its entirety.

For those of you who were here last year, you may recall how I started the meeting. I've changed my approach somewhat by preparing my statement beforehand instead of winging it. But I did bring along something that I opened with last time and I'd like to show it to everyone once again as a reminder. It's this…

The annual report for the Walt Disney Company for the 1998 business year. In case you can't make out what's on the cover, it's an animator's drawing of Tarzan. On the back, there are several stills from the movie. I wanted to bring this once again and show it as a reminder of our influence. I wanted to show it once more so that we can begin this meeting by grounding ourselves in the fact that we are the essence of animation. Without animation artists, there would be no animation and there would be no animation industry.

An animation studio is not defined by the size of its management team. It is not defined by its ability to farm out production to the four corners of the globe. It is not defined by the extent of its international production connections. It is not defined by its real estate development, the sports teams that it owns, the live action movies it produces, the broadcast networks that it owns or the theatrical distribution system it has in place. An animation studio is defined by virtue of the animation artists it houses and the quality of the animated product that they produce.

There has been a growing and nagging problem that I don't have to bring to the attention of most of the people here or of anyone who has worked as an animation artist in this town during the last two decades. That problem is the quality, or in my opinion, the lack thereof, of the executive management that many animation artists have had to endure for the better part of their careers. We are subject to a system that they set up which has effectively and routinely disenfranchised many animation artists from their own industry. A system that is set up not for the best interests of the animation community, but for the interests of a select few who rarely if ever have to deal with the displacement that this system causes for the very people who make animated art possible. The very people that make their executive careers in this field possible.

Animation artists are neither the root nor the cause of the problems that this industry is encountering. We are not the problem when the market for animated product is growing and studios are laying off artists. We are not the problem when an animated masterpiece is produced and the studio that produces it fails to back it up with an appropriate marketing campaign. Artists are not the problem when executives who have no animation production experience whatsoever decide to play Walt Disney and destroy a film. Artists are not the problem when production and pre-production design is arbitrarily sent to overseas studios by executives who couldn't care less about the final quality of the product and have no idea what they're looking at when they get it back. Animation artists are not the problem when a studio opens up with tremendous capitalization, yet can't make a go of it because the non-creative executives in charge have no experience in the medium and have no idea how to manage development.

Animation artists are not the problem. They never were. They make a film as good as an executive wants, or as bad as an executive insists. Yet animation artists are expected to bear the full brunt of any slowdown in our industry caused by executive greed and ineptitude while the collective non-creative management team responsible for nearly every problem this industry encounters suffers nothing. Indeed, we are told by the very people that propagate this system that this is just the way it is and that it is normal for us to experience displacement, unemployment and professional instability. Even when the economy is booming, demand for our product is high and national unemployment is at an historic low.

Animation artists are not to blame for the ridiculous compensation some of these executives receive and the budgetary problems it causes. Artists are not to blame for expecting to make a living wage. To many of these executives, our great sin is in thinking that we have the right to the pursuit of happiness in our chosen profession. They actually think that we like this system. They think that we want it this way, that artists want to go from studio to studio, perpetually knocking on doors and dropping off portfolios that many times aren't even looked at. In their system, a copy girl has a better chance of a long-term career with a studio than an animation artist does.

I am not willing to accept this system, nor the empty cup that this system holds for our community. I am not willing to accept this model of an animation industry where the only ones who can expect stability and the promise of a fulfilling career are people who can't draw. We don't need these nannies to run our industry.

There's no reason why any of us should accept it, and there's no reason why any of us should resign ourselves to the illusion that things will never change and that there's nothing that we can do about it.

There's never been a more opportune time in the history of entertainment for animation artists to take their first steps towards reclaiming their industry and creating a new system. Only a year ago at our first meeting, in this very room and at this very podium, I talked about the advent of broadband technology and how the distribution process was becoming accessible to artists. Many of the people present at the time looked at me as if I were speaking another language. Today, broadband and high speed Internet access are being aggressively marketed. Internet entertainment companies are hungry for content. Dozens of new studios have opened up that are catering to this new and emerging market. A bona-fide revolution in entertainment is under way and no community is better poised to take advantage of the promise that it holds than the artists of the animation community here in Los Angeles, all across North America and the world.

A year ago at the first Animation Nation meeting, the consensus was that approaching executives with our grievances and concerns was futile, as I believe it still is. We came to the conclusion that independence was the only realistic alternative. Today, an animation industry independent of the status quo studios is not only a perceivable reality, it is a movement that is well under way and will affect the course that animation takes for decades to come. It is still early in this revolution. Technologies are still being developed and it will take some time before broadband is as commonplace as dial-up modems, but there is little doubt that this is the wave of the future and with it, the opportunity to liberate ourselves once and for all from the one sided system that has controlled our community and artists everywhere for so long. A start up studio of today could very well be the mega studio of tomorrow.

To achieve a collective goal of professional stability for artists, we have to embark upon a path of restructuring many of the systems, ideas and concepts that we've come to blindly accept. We have to assume responsibility for allowing things to get this bad and we have to assume the responsibility of fixing it. We need to wean ourselves away from much of the stereotypical thinking that has defined the behavior of our community over the years. We need to assume managerial responsibilities if we are to rid ourselves of the plague of over-compensated, non-creative executives who wreck havoc with production budgets and schedules. We need to replace non-creative executive management as we know it with a system that works for us and is increasingly controlled by us. We need to exercise fiscal responsibility and we need to do it better than the executives who we've been subject to. We need to service the animation market better than they do. We need to become better problem solvers than they are. Union and non-union artists need to cooperate and communicate for the common good. We need to encourage entrepreneurial artistic endeavors, not hinder them.

Above all, artists need to realize that other artists are not your enemy and that harboring ill will or animosity towards other artists in our community does nothing but weaken us. Healthy, creative competition is one thing, but back-stabbing others for the crumbs that fall from the masters table is not going to do anyone any good. It won't help in changing anything and it won't help you in the long run.

Much has transpired since last year at this time. I know that several of you in this room have come a long way from the anger and uncertainty that you found yourselves experiencing at the last meeting. New studios have opened. New friendships and professional relationships have been established. Several non-union studios have voted to go Union. We've survived for another year. But many experienced artists are still struggling when they shouldn't have to be struggling and many artists who are qualified to be working as professionals are still struggling to get in.

I pledge the Animation Nation movement to this end. That artists can someday work in an industry where animation artists are the executives. Where we have direct access to production capital without the hindrance of the non-creative middlemen who routinely and as a matter of course, ship production to other countries to justify their positions without exploring domestic alternatives first. Where animation artists can develop and produce their projects and let the public decide whether or not they like them instead of being left to the whimsy of an entertainment executive's particular tastes. Where experienced animation artists can look forward to a real future and where those looking to break into the business, who love the medium and seriously strive to pursue a career in this field can find similar opportunities for their future as well.

I have complete faith in our community and in our ability to achieve these goals. I have no doubt that animation artists will come to the full realization of the power that they hold. I have every confidence that the day will come when this room will be packed with artists, honoring the new age in our industry and celebrating the fact that we longer have to live and work in any shadow but the one that we ourselves cast.

Thanks again for coming and thanks for listening.


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