Saturday, April 17, 2010

Nature versus Nurture

(master art director, Bob Levy, working at Grey Advertising in 1980––cooking up major ad campaigns by the day, and coming home by night to share the blow-by-blow stories with a seven year old Dave Levy)

Lately I've been trying to figure out why I hold the attitudes and beliefs I do about the industry and why they sometimes differ from the opinions held by my heroes and peers in animation. This Spring I've been teaching an 8 week animation career course for the Rochester Institute of Technology (held at the 92nd Street Y) where recently, one of the students may have slipped me the answer. The student asked, "Do you think you relate to management because your father worked in advertising as an art director?" I suppose that in a lot of ways that's true. I grew up on a steady nightly diet of my dad's management and workplace collaboration stories. These were tales from the creative executive side. I found them fascinating. I learned from my father that you make the greatest contribution to a project from a position at the top. And I learned the negatives too––the eternal challenge of working effectively with people, the increased stress that goes with greater responsibility, and how the greater the responsibility the greater the consequences of failure.

Maybe its more important to think about the stories I didn't grow up on. There was no parental figure telling me the world was out to get me, not to trust people, or to be automatically cynical on bosses and management. The interesting thing is there were lots of evidence in my dad's office stories that could have supported that view of the world, but instead I always took the stories as studies in human folly, not institutional folly. I didn't believe that ALL management was bad or that ALL workers were good. The reality was that to be successful in the commercial arts field, you needed to learn how to work effectively with all kinds of people and that was true whether you worked at the top or in the trenches.

As an employer, I've come across very talented animators, some at the top of their game, who behave as all employers are out to shaft them in one way or another. When you're not that kind of employer, dealing with these situations just seems like big fires to put out that didn't need to be lit in the first place. It makes for a very unpleasant work experience for both sides. It saps everybody's strength away from the fun stuff.

I know there are many bad experiences out there and each of us has similar and diverse experiences in the field. We can view the industry and our relationship with the people in it with an open mind or with a pre-judgment. And, this makes me wonder how much of our attitudes come from nature and how much from nurture? Does it depend on the diet of stories we grow up on? And, what part comes from the genuine instances of being screwed over by worst-case-scenario studio owners and bosses? Nobody denies that bad studios and bosses exist, but is it reasonable to assume each new job experience will follow suit? And, to treat people that way accordingly? Or is either view held simply a valid response to working in such an unstable industry?


mikecarloooyeah said...

Sometimes it has nothing to do with your up bringing but everything to do with how the industry SOMETIMES (not always) works especially in NY. For example, I am not the kind of person or at least I wasn't to suspect that I would never get paid from a job especially when that job was being directed by an artist friend of mine, but last year had the unfortunate experience of being stiffed a large some of money for a job I worked on, and completed no less. There was mix up with the production company which wasn't the fault of my friend who had hired me, but it still left me feeling like from now on when checks start coming late or not at all should I keep donating my time to working that way. I can't help from feeling like a job really isn't definite or over until the check clears, and that is unfortunate but sometimes the way it goes. SO can you really blame someone for acting in such a way? It seems as if everyone needs a job completed on time but doesn't feel its necessary to pay on time.

Joe Cappabianca said...

One of the many time it has happened to me, (as I'm sure it's happened to all of us) I recently worked a job for a very good friend of mine. We all worked hard, turned out a great product, and when it came time to get paid the whole thing fell through. I don't blame the friend I worked for, but it was just another good lesson learned about how this industry can be. Not how it is all the time, but how it can be. I feel like the New York Animation Scene is a good representation of New York gotta be on your toes. I know I can't speak for everyone, I just know myself. New York can leave you jaded, I know I am to some extent. But I'm not depressed about it, I'm more determined than ever to keep going...just as long as I watch my back.

David B. Levy said...

Hi Mike,

Good thoughts. And, you hit on an important aspect of the issue, that often we work as friends who sometimes employ us and sometimes, with us employing them. Things get complicated.

That situation you describe sounds really rough. And, I agree that everyone wants the deadline hit and that so often the pay is so late. You're right, you should never be in a situation where you are just donating time to something with pay an uncertainty. That's a good use of looking out for yourself.

David B. Levy said...

Watching one's back is a good and important thing, Joe. I call that being one's own advocate. It's like a spidey sense. : D

But, I find that the risk would be taking this to extremes and expecting a bad experience even with people who treat you right and appreciate your work, effort, pay on time, etc.

roconnor said...

Man, I'm sorry I missed the unedited post.

Damned work makes me miss all the good interneting!

David B. Levy said...

And, I'm glad you did miss it! : D

I know some bloggers who run everything they write past an objective other before they post, saving them from writing something in the heat of the moment that they might regret later. I could have used that!

Darcy V said...

This is an interesting post because it's a topic that I had another run in with recently.

As a former studio worker now manager, I try to respect artists' space and not push anyone to do things that they may be uncomfortable with. I enter the employment agreement in such a way that trust isn't a necessary component beyond me trusting that they can get the work finished on time and on budget. Everything else is put in writing with a clear paper trail.

For me, rule one has always been that if someone comes up and assumes or requests that I should trust them, it's a red flag that I shouldn't because the fact that they are wanting trust means they are aware that they are requesting things that could be out of line for the type relationship you have with them. And their request for trust means that they are hoping for to accept the situation despite any uneasiness they may have.

Some examples of situations where trust has been most commonly requested from me: employers or clients asking you to do things without a written agreement, asking you to show or tell them proprietary things that they are digging for that you didn't offer up to them, them asking you to start a project without a first payment or continue without payment or with a late payment that's "in the mail."

I don't think you should ignore your gut feelings to keep an employer happy or to keep anyone happy, and I don't think an employee should be required to trust anyone. they need to do their job, that's what they are being paid for, but beyond that we don't have the right to require much more.

Francisco said...

I was just about to say that you all having problems should always begin with somekind of legally binding contract or agreement. I would think that after one time of being screwed you would learn to do that.

Flaming Medusa Studios spells out (just flip it around as you the artist saying it). Don't start anything without contract, written agreement, or some kind of payment.