Sunday, July 5, 2009
Ignoring the Poison Mentors
When I started working at Nickelodeon, my first experience on a series production, I was struggling to master my job and stay on schedule. So I came in early for a few days to get a leg up on the work. One of those mornings, an animator 10 years older than me came by my desk and warned me how foolish I was to give the series extra time and effort. In his eyes, the company didn't deserve it and if I continued to do this, I was a sucker. I decided not to call him out on being early himself and instead explained that I was only putting in a little extra time until I got a handle on the job. He still shook his head as if I was making a huge mistake. Then he said some very unkind things about the production and its leaders. He was a very bitter employee who quit the production very soon thereafter.
Another employee kept taking me out for coffee to complain about the production, ranting that nobody knew what they were doing. These encounters made me sad because I had started this job with such excitement. Although I was new to this production and only two and half years into my career at that time, I had the suspicion that the anger and frustration I was hearing had little to do with the series. There is no single way to react to any workplace situation. I found that in most cases the problems had to do with the individuals own inability to properly communicate or collaborate with others. A more rational person would have understood that because the production was one of the first digital in-house animated series in its first season, it was still working through its natural growing pains.
I remember a meeting with the creators/producers where the bitter employee who liked to take me on those "coffee walks" exploded into a rage over being asked to move a couple of characters a few pixels to the right. He slammed his palm on a TV monitor and shouted at the creators. There was no good reason why the characters couldn't be nudged over so this employee's reaction was way out of proportion. In fact, he quit the production a few weeks later.
Since my time on this series, I've worked on a half dozen more while also having the benefit of hearing about work conditions on other series produced elsewhere. The conditions at this first series stack up very well against the best situations I have personally experienced or heard about. More evidence that these negative people were primarily projecting their own inner demons on the young and well-meaning production. Certainly there have been conditions in this town that have been worth such a negative reaction and beyond, so by no means I am suggesting that every situation can be made workable simply by holding a good attitude.
The bottom line is that despite the efforts of these misguided mentors, I didn't become disenchanted with the production. In those important first weeks, I was too busy learning my job, which included my first experience working on a Mac. I tried to be a sponge soaking up all the technical and creative nuances of the show, which were taught to me by the many talented and terrific artists on the staff. By the end of those eventful first two weeks, the producers called me into their office and surprised me with a $100 a week raise. It was such a victory over negativity, and it showed me that (under agreeable circumstances) each employee can define his or her own experience on a job.