Sunday, May 17, 2009
It's a Small World After All
Most of us working in this business are constantly in the state of looking for work. Even when we're working, we know the importance of keeping an ear and an eye out for the next gig. Much of the time, I don't even notice making an effort at this because at some point it just becomes second nature.
The hardest time to look for work is when one is just starting out in his or her career. One has to build their experience, web of contacts, and reputation- all of which (eventually) make the job hunt easier. Although I've logged 15 years in the animation business, I remember those first few attempts to find work as if they were yesterday. Two stories are at the forefront of my memory and I'll think you'll soon see why.
Sometime around Spring of 1994 it dawned on me that I would graduate SVA in a year and an internship might not be the worst idea. One of my classmates did several internships and he had the habit of repainting the back of his jacket to match whatever studio he temporarily called home. He was like a walking billboard. While that was a bit silly, I admired his boldness. I knew an internship might help me make real-world connections at studios and that might make it easier to find a job post graduation.
An SVA instructor gave me the name and phone number of an MTV Animation producer, which I called during a break from my part-time data entry job. The producer did not pick up her phone so I left a short message. A couple of hours later my mom called me to tell me that Linda Simensky had just called our house. I had never heard of Linda Simensky (she'd be my teacher a year later) but, apparently the phone number I had been given was wrong and actually belonged to Linda at Nickelodeon. My mom told me Linda asked that I call her back. Not only was Linda incredibly friendly to a nobody like me, she even gave me the correct phone number of the producer I was looking for at MTV Animation. I never forgot her helpfulness, and it inspired me to return the favor in helping others make their first industry connections.
With the correct phone number in hand, I finally reached the MTV producer. She seemed nice and told me to call her back in one week to set up an interview for an internship. I thanked her and made a note to call her back in 7 days.
Imagine my shock when she screamed at me (no exaggeration) when I called back the following week. "Don't call here! Do you understand??!! I'll call you when we're ready! Don't call here again!" she yelled, before hanging up.
It was pretty traumatic. Did she think I was someone else? Maybe. Either way, I didn't call back.
A year later, in Linda Simensky's SVA career class, we took a tour of MTV Animation, which was then still in its first location at Columbus Circle. And, which producer do you guess gave us the tour? The smiling producer was none other than the woman who had treated me so rudely on the phone.
I never said anything to her about it, nor did I mention anything to Linda Simensky. But, I did get the lesson of how small this business is. How foolish this producer was to muddy her reputation. I think one can tell a lot about a person by how they treat the least important people. Certainly I was the least important person in her universe the day I followed her instructions to call her back. Do I still remember her name all these years later? You bet I do. But, luckily we haven't overlapped since, except in periferal social circles.
PHANTOM CELL PAINT-
In the Fall of 1994, I tried a different track to look for work--SVA's job placement office. They had a scant few job listings for animation back then and even less for somebody with as little qualifications as me. One lead, for a cell painting job, seemed promising. I had done cell painting on my own films and thought I had the knack for it. I called the producer who owned his own animation studio downtown and we set up a day and a time for me to come by for an interview. He asked that I bring samples of cells that I'd painted so I decided to spend a few days practicing my technique. By the time of the interview my confidence was up because I had some very clean samples to present.
Imagine my dissapointment when I got to the studio's floor and found its door locked with nobody inside. I waited for an hour to no avail and then I got to a pay phone to call the producer. No answer. I left a message and waited around for another half hour. I called again the next day. No answer and no call back. That was the end of that.... until one day three years later when I was working as a storyboard artist at Nick Jr's Blue's Clues. The creator's of the show were in need of a new producer and (knowing that I knew a lot of people through ASIFA-East) asked me if I knew a certain producer they were considering. Guess who that name was?
I told them about my encounter (or lack of encounter) with this producer and it was all they needed to hear to cross his name off the list. As that ride at Disney World claim's, "It's a Small World After All."
I am glad to say that these early encounters didn't at all represent the majority of the people I would come to meet in the animation industry. Most of my experiences have been very positive, but I would suggest that we help set the tone for the experiences we'll have based on our own attitude.