Digital Henchmen Launch Party - Had a chance to stop in at the Digital Henchmen launch party last Thursday night @ Club SAW here in Ottawa. Didn't see too many from the animation comm...
Friday, March 13, 2009
I had a chance to chat this morning with Mark Cappello, of Nova Scotia’s Invisible Entertainment. Mark is known for being a straight shooter, and some of you may remember him from his open letter to Nova Scotia Animators. Here’s what followed:
Michael: Hey Mark.
Mark: Hi Michael, how are you?
Michael: Busy, which is good. You?
Mark: Only a little busy, but I'm okay. What are you working on these days?
Michael: Mainly the blogsite. It's becoming my full-time job and I got some short-term money from the province for a bit to get it up and running.
Mark: Well that's awesome. It's funny I had tried to jumpstart a professional association a few years back. Basically a central online place with all the features you want to build, plus some more standard benefits as well. People were not terribly interested, of course times were better then...
Michael: Yeah, there is still a hesitation from people in the industry when it comes to committing to anything. ASIFA Cananda, for example, currently has no members.
Mark: I know, it's nuts. Especially when you consider the amount of people in this industry across the country AND the amount of graduates colleges pump out across the country every year.
We've really devalued our professional status, and no one seems to care or want to communicate.
Michael: It's getting a little better, but you have to practically trick people into it. I think the way to go, and I've been talking to a few people about this, is smaller, loosely-organized groups. Once they're up and running, tie them together for some actual industry representation.
Mark: What's funny to me is that every other profession that touches animation is represented. Writers with the guild, producers with the CFTPA, Directors with the guild, Voice actors with Actra, post and sound guys with their association... right down to the janitors that come in and clean the studio. But the artists are not represented. Is it any wonder that only our work gets sent overseas?
Michael: We're strange beasts.
Mark: I'm not a 'union' guy, I don't think a union would work at all, but a professional association? I agree with you, it may be best to form a template and start locally with the idea that these groups will eventually coalesce.
Michael: Toronto has a few different groups already: TAIS, Alexis Victor runs something called Industry Night and always draws a crowd, and now here's a new group started by Barry Sanders: Animatic TO. There's also been talk of something out in Vancouver, just an opportunity for industry folks to socialize semi-regularly. And I'm going to be getting a seasonal get together started here. Start it as event-based, a screening, a lecture, plus something social. No dues, no memberships. Just getting people into a room together every few months, then a year down the road, create a membership, but no dues. Raise some sponsorship to cover the events, then you tie the groups together.
Mark: That sounds great, but it will be amazing how few people show up in a large animation community for free! I think you're right, we're strange creatures.
Michael: Well, it helps to have an open bar, or at least free drink tickets!
Mark: Agreed, but the studios are very fearful when it comes to labour organizing. Booze would work though!
Michael: Yeah, but what you do is make sure they have representation on your advisory board, so the studio interest is represented. You're there to be their voice, as much as the individual. But you have to have the worker bees represented as well. Put them at the same table
Mark: I could see that, but what things would you eventually be going for, other than strengthening the community? What benefits come out?
Michael: A unified voice that can bring issues like the provincial tax credit situation to our policy makers, but for now, I'd be happy with just having more communication in the community, that would be a victory unto itself.
Mark: That's a major one. We need to strike down the laws that make it difficult for us to go where the work is, each province could have it's own rate knowing that when a worker is there his money and taxes are dropping right in the province.
Michael: Agreed. We're competing with ourselves.
Mark: I think we need to talk seriously about group health benefits, seeing as how so few companies offer them.
Michael: Also very important. Without treading into union territory, it wouldn’t be too hard to arrange a group benefits program that members would have access to. I have friend in the insurance business that I've been talking to about this very thing.
Mark: I think we really need every 6 months a wage survey, so people know what the 'going rate' is for services. No one forces you to abide by this, but you can see for every region what the standard rate of pay is and you will feel obligated to follow that.
Mark: We are competing against ourselves, but companies prey on the ignorance of the newbies.
Michael: That's always been the case, that's why all the seasoned talent ends up working in their guest rooms and basements doing boards or sheet direction. There's always someone who will do the job cheaper.
Mark: Haha, it's true.
Michael: Not necessarily better, but cheaper rules the day. The real tragedy is that the current studio model is actually incredibly inefficient. An older model, with the emphasis on a strong director who is also the show runner and experienced talent is much cheaper to run. You pay more for fewer people.
Mark: I find the 'veterans' are often the toughest to reach with this stuff because they have carved a comfy little niche for themselves. They don't see the next generation being taken advantage of as their problem.
Michael: True in many cases. They've been burned, so now it's someone else's turn.
Mark: I agree the current model sucks, there is so much waste.
Michael: And they're usually only too happy to see the snotty, cocky punk straight outta school get the entitlement knocked out of them
Mark: It's true, I just wish they saw those people as themselves when they were full of naive hope and animation industry ignorance.
Michael: Well, the current attitude coming out of the schools, and I'm saying this in the broadest sense, is a lack of respect and level of entitlement the likes of which I've never seen before. No one feels they have to prove themselves.
Mark: It's so true. I've hired at Sheridan for 8 of the last 13 years and it's worse EVERY year. They're talented, but every one of them wants a directing job, or a development design job. It's brutal!
Michael: Well, since animation became a "hot job" (and that's a direct quote from an issue of Entertainment Weekly circa 1994) it began attracting people who are essentially lazy, people who can draw, and think it would be an easy way to make a living. And there are so many schools out there, every one of them will get in somewhere, and be pumped back out into the industry , 10 months later in some cases, thinking they are animators.
Mark: The schools are a big part of the problem. There is one here in Halifax that charges $17,000 a head per year for two years, and I can't even think about hiring them. I've spoken to some of the instructors and they're told not to fail anyone. It's borderline criminal.
Michael: Nick Cross recently said to me that he's only just become comfortable calling himself an animator. And Nick has been making his own films for 10 years.
Mark: Nick is awesome.
Michael: Yeah, arguably the best independent animator working in the industry, and he only just started calling himself an animator. The school situation got bad 10 years ago. In some areas it settled down, but there's always some where else that opens and cranks out kids. I was in Vancouver when it happened there. Fly by night outfits that opened, took your money, and were sometimes out of business before they graduated their first class.
Mark: This is the kind of 'reporting' I would like to see for our industry. Articles about tax credit law, and where you're eligible (because most people don't know), articles about the education problem, articles about successful individuals who have maintained humility and respect for the industry like Nick Cross. Not fluff like Animation Magazine.
Maybe we can start an online news source and build the community and interest that way?
Michael: Hmm… You think?
This is the direction I'm trying to take the blogsite. It's tough. People don't talk too much, so getting those opinions can be tricky.
Mark: I don't know, we all have our routine on the computer, check CHF, check your site, check facebook, then get to work. It can be part of the ritual.
Michael: I hope so. I haven't really pushed the content on the site too much yet, but that's where it’s headed. This would be a great thing to post, this conversation. See if we can get people talking. There are rarely comments on the blog, which I find surprising.
Mark: It will be difficult, in fact it will be tough to keep it from sliding to mudslinging and conjecture. But real reporting is difficult. I think if you had some regional people that got a lot of this info together... you're essentially editing it at that point.
Michael: Yeah, it has to have teeth, and I don't mind REPORTING on mudslinging, but you have to be respectful of all the players in the community. People have to be willing to sit down and speak frankly
and stand by what they say though. It can be done without being offensive. Speaking your mind and being disrespectful are two very different things.
Mark: There are a lot of stories out there that need to be told. Reporting could be cool, going into a studio and asking why the decision was made to send a project overseas, pros, cons, etc. And report that unbiased to give everyone the reasons from that company's perspective. Approach Teletoon and ask why they only put a fraction of shows together last year. The editorializing can come when we discuss why the greatest and most fertile animation country in the world has 'Teletoon' as our official cartoon network. We can ask why the real creatives are not getting opportunity.
Mark: As far as the studios, it allows for them to advertise jobs AND proudly represent any awards, or production deals, or news that they have DIRECTLY to the animation artist community.
Michael: Sadly the reality is more likely just a place to fire off press releases.
Mark: For some. Others may take the opportunity to talk directly to the artists.
Mark: I don't know how to brew more commentary. You would think that if this thread was posted there would be lots of people who agree, disagree, and have ideas of their own, but very few people would comment I think.
From there the conversation devolved into mutual masturbation and appreciation. But I’m going to make this a regular feature and open the door to other members of the community to have some frank conversation, share their feelings about the industry, the larger animation community, and the blog itself. I’m not putting forth that Mark or myself have any answers to the questions of the day, but maybe these types of conversations can at least give us the questions.
Please feel free to chime in: tell us what know-it-all bastards we are, offer alternatives, opinions or links to get rich quick schemes.
Communication furthers our community and benefits us all.