Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Make Your Own Luck

I recently began a new chapter of my career as a TV animation writer for scripts and development. I don’t venture to guess how much this might come to dominate my career. I’m still directing series, making films, teaching, etc. However new I might be to development and script writing, I find I’m turning to some old tricks to make it work. My first strategy is making creative time during captive time. By captive time, I mean time spent traveling; sitting on the subway, and (at the moment) sitting on a plane during a return trip from Arizona. Instead of tuning out with my ipod, I write in my journal, jot notes on a script, and scribble thoughts on post-its.

My father, Bob Levy, was the art director who single-handedly conjured up the long running series of Crest toothpaste cavity creeps (“we make holes in teeth) campaign (see image above.) While I was growing up, my Dad still had his original conceptual drawings for the series stuck to his home-office walls. My Dad is my industry hero because of his seemingly supernatural ability to brainstorm ideas and solve creative problems. He believes in letting the ideas flow out without stopping to judge them or edit them in any way. The point is to get them down on paper first. Later, he’ll sift through a pile and start picking out the key ideas, the ones that stick. Chuck Jones called his writing meetings with key collaborators like Mike Maltese, “yes sessions.” But, I think it’s important to bring that same yes-energy even when creating on your own. Perhaps even more so.

Writing to order is a really fun challenge. When I write for my own films or pitch projects I can indulge in a relatively full creative freedom. Writing on assignment is about bringing your own sensibility to the table to help birth something else for someone else. I think when it’s done right, it need not lack a personal touch or genuine inspiration. John Lennon wrote “A Hard Day’s Night” as an assignment. Ringo Starr had coined the phrase and the Producers chose it for the title of The Beatles all-important first film. The song Lennon dreamed up captured the true spirit of the band at that exact moment in their development. It was honest, real, while still being made to order.

I owe this writing stage of my career partly to pitching. To pitch is to try to prove how a project is both personal to its creator and at the same time universal in the market place.

Tom Warburton, creator of Cartoon Network’s Code Name Kids Next Door has only pitched 4 times in his life. He’s been successful four out of four times, scoring pilots, series deals, development deals, and most recently a children’s book. That’s a unique kind of success. If I measured my pitching and development career by that marker, I’d be a failure ten times over (ten times representing ten years of pitching without success.) But, then again, what is success? In this business we define our own success. Creating and pitching shows has helped land me 3 directing gigs to date as well as two new jobs as a writer. Over my ten, often frustrating years pitching and missing, I would fantasize that if development executives didn’t buy my ideas, maybe they would engage me as a writer or developer on their own projects. It never happened. Until, one day it did.

The key is to do what you need to do when you need to do it. Make yourself ready for opportunities imagined or unimagined. In a recent lecture to my career class, Tom Warburton advised my students to, “make your own luck.” Despite our very different levels of success, I believe Mr. Warburton and I are talking about the very same thing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading your post -- especially considering I missed the class with Tom Warburton. Funny how EVERYONE remembered that very same phrase "make your own luck." Ever since my friend Fernando spoke of Tom, it really got me thinking.

Isn't it interesting how some people find different forms of success than others? The amount of success can only be TRULY measured out by the person who is obtaining the success. Although it was an arduous ten years, your hard work (with time) managed to take you into a direction that you probably never thought about (or maybe you did ;p), but that's just really cool! I've always found self-discovery intriguing. Heck, before Tina Moglia visited the class, I wouldn't have ever dreamed about entering her type of work. Although it isn't the most preferred, it opened my eyes and I saw exactly what she did. Perhaps I'm wrong, but didn't she originally go to Boston U for something other than television production? I think that's really cool!

Speaking of which, this entry reminds me SO much of our last guest speaker -- Richard Gorey. The story about his fascination about the movie "101 Dalmatians" and the eventual development of his book "The Great Rabbit Ripoff" really reminded me of that journey. Gorey managed to achieve his goals without even realizing it until someone had made a correlation between the book and the film. He MADE the "101 Dalmatians" but in a different form and he discovered something about himself. It was truly an inspiring story.

Also, Gorey's analogy of the "Circus Fire" and our career paths reminded me of the "create your own luck" phrase. Why go out where you came from when you can go in a completely different direction? It was an evening I will NEVER forget.

I guess all we gotta do is just keep on truckin'. Do what we want, strive for it and even if it isn't what we expect, we may (hopefully) just enjoy what riches the animation industry provides for us with time. :)