Monday, June 21, 2010

A response to the Producers' Dilemma

Today's blog post from Animondays got me thinking. David Levy points out that times are a-changin' not only for animators, but for the people at the top - the producers. There are flocks of unemployed producers out there, having been let go from the networks and big studios during economic earthquakes. Now they have to redefine their role in a changing industry.

When I graduated from college in 2001, every animator wanted to be directed by someone else's vision (i.e. Disney, ILM all the big names) Now every college grad (whether in the arts or business) wants to be self-directed. These days, there are independent studios popping up like mushrooms after a rainstorm. Most of them are doing excellent creative work thanks to cheap technology and fast, global communications, but very few realizing their fullest potential through lack of resources. I fall right into that category.

I would LOVE to have a producer for my upcoming short film, or even an agent for the one-of-a-kind freelance animation I produce. But as Levy points out, being a one-woman business with the lowest overhead possible, I can't afford to put one on salary. But then, isn't it part of a producer's job to find the money to fund their own salary? I'm sure a producer can't animate as well as I can, but I bet she would be more efficient at all the other film logistics that I've hacked away at over the years simply because I've had to. I wonder how many more films I could have made if I could have all that time back. I can, and do, determine budgets, contracts, work schedules, festival submissions, deliveries etc. But I don't do all those things as well as I animate and I probably spend at least 50% of my working time taking care of business tasks! If I could double the number of jobs I take and (theoretically) double my income, then it all comes out in the wash as even. Except I would have more work and experience on my demo reel and a producer would have a job. But to actually jump-start that sort of relationship takes an initial investment on the part of both me and the producer.

I hear a lot of talk about introducing business and marketing classes into art curriculum to make our art students more well-rounded. Where I am now in my professional life, I wish I had had some of that training. But I also wonder if trying to make our creative people into business people as well defeats the purpose. There seem to be plenty of creative ideas out there in the cloud, many of them being made regardless of budget and audience limitations. We don't need more animator-producers, with half-baked ideas that never get beyond a few thousand views on Youtube. We need a way for the people with the producing skills to effectively team up with the creative executors so that neither party starves in the process and the world is edified by good art.

Once this economy upturns, will all these free-floating producers get reabsorbed into the big studio system, or has the structure of commercial animation fragmented for good into a self-directed, industry on both counts? If it has, (and I hope it has), then hopefully there will be a natural selection where the visionary, brilliant artists and the savvy, entrepreneurial producers will find themselves the last ones standing in a symbiotic relationship.

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