Monday, June 9, 2008

There Are No Strings On Me

For the past six months I've been working only part time as a swim instructor to allow more time for my films.  The paycheck I receive twice a month usually has about 15 hours a week on it and does not cover my monthly living expenses.  At this point, I'm slipping into debt.  Why put myself into what looks like a constant downward spiral of financial woe rather than get out there to find more substantial work?

When I had a job working on a TV show, I was miserable.  The task I was asked to do did not appeal to me: I was working every day on three characters who all had very similar body mechanics, the style of animation had limited capacity for emotional range, and by the time the shot landed in my lap most of the challenging creative decisions had been made further up the pipeline by the writer, director or storyboard artists.  I frequently found myself literally falling asleep as I poked and prodded the characters into place.  Eventually, my lack of curiosity about the job brought things to a head and I found myself back in the line of work I'd first taken up as a high school sophomore: encouraging toddlers to blow bubbles and put their faces in the water.

Perhaps ironically, I was more challenged, rewarded and excited to go to work as a swim instructor than I had ever been in my one year of "animation industry" experience.  I was ecstatic to be free of the animation factory that had been my first and only nine to five.  There was twice as much time to dedicate to Germans in the Woods, which had been in limbo somewhere between a sloppy storyboard and something that vaguely resembled animation.  The project was finally becoming a cohesive film whose direction I could control.

The finished film has really changed how I think about my place in the "world of animation".  I feel like someone who has found his corner of the sandbox instead of an outsider looking in.  At this point, I am curious about finding more substantial work but as long as I can at least keep my finances on life support while continuing to work on my own films I have no great desire to get back into a regular nine to five.  I'm young, I'm healthy, I'm just getting started, why not take a few risks?  I'm willing to bet the rewards over the long run will make all these peanut butter and jelly dinners worthwhile.


David B. Levy said...

I see no reason why you can't get a Pat Smith-like career going. Your films will get the attention of agents such as Acme Filmworks and they can get you commericial work that pays well and allows you to spend up to half your year working on your own projects.

I'm sorry your year of working 9-5 in the industry wasn't rewarding. No doubt, the studio was not the right fit for you. But, other studios such as Michael Sporn Animation, would and could feed your artistic soul.

Tim Rauch said...

Hi Dave! Mike and I are working hard to try to get things going the way you describe, it's just tricky to navigate right now as neither of us has any substantive experience in this field. Still, we are confident that we'll learn along the way and have been blown away by how supportive and generous other animators have been with us. If we have any success, we will owe a lot to the NY community which has been so welcoming.

I also agree that there are other studios out there where I could fit in. I love Michael Sporn's approach and have been quite interested in being a part of anything he does if there's ever a spot for me (hope he doesn't mind my saying it here). In the meantime, he is at the fore front of a group of veterans who have done everything they can to answer my questions and provide encouragement.

I'd also like to be clear that I mean no disrespect to the studio I spent that year with. I made many great friends there and was impressed with the talent of everyone involved with the show. Really some top notch people, many of whom went out of there way while I was there and after I left to provide me with advice, support and friendship. It simply wasn't a good fit for me. I wish them all the success in the world and still keep in touch with what they are doing.

In the end, I want to be a self-supporting independent some day not as a way to "avoid" other people and their creative projects but simply as a way to further my own.

The Makings of Nat Cat said...

Hey Tim -

I think the decision you made to work part-time and dedicate yourself entierly to your films is not only valid but admirable. It takes a lot of guts to leave a job and really have things happen YOUR WAY!

Most people never take that leap and only imagine a NON 9-5 work setting.

Whether you continue to work part time and "barely make it", or begin working at a studio it has become more than evident through German in the Woods and Park Bench, that devoting your time and energy towards projects you truly believe in has been worthwhile.

Keep it up!

stephen said...

How can you write such a well-composed post in this HEAT.

I'm sure things will work out for you, Tim. I know you hear that a lot, so it might not be as encouraging as your own willingness to work hard and take risks. But you've got people rooting for you also.

I know the PB&J diet all too well. Throw in some rice; it makes it all stretch a little more.

MiriamRGibbs said...

I'm sure you don't care too much what your big sister thinks but in my experience few things are more freedom-reducing than debt and few more freedom-providing than savings and financial stability. That said, of course there are appropriate times to take big risks. After all, that's what Ryan and I did. My belief in your right to decide to do that and in your right/responsibility to reap the results either good or bad is one of the many reasons I am politically conservative. You are talented and I wish you success!

Jamal O said...


Thanks for your comment. Things have slowed down on my personal work. The kitchen has heated up a bit. But don't worry its coming ;)

I really enjoyed this Honest last post. For some time now I've been thinking about writing about my experiences in TV animation which have been honestly kind soul wrenching. There have been highlights here and there. I'm exited about some new developments. But alot of your thoughts echo the same feelings that I and other colleagues have felt.

If you have an Indie/filmmaker streak, working in tv animation will make you want to quit all together.

The wait is long to rise up and become a Director, and unfortunately there are many politics involved. Not to mention the aversion to risk taking which is the norm in the industry.

One who has the urge to share a unique expression, rarely fosters in this type of enviroment. It's more like "get in where you fit in" and Conform.

That said, I have met and learned from many talented people. I'm glad to have the opportunity to still work with them from time to time.

But ultimately i dig working out of my home studio.

Dave is right,(great book btw) if your doing something you'd rather not be doing you might as well get paid well for it.



David B. Levy said...

Howdy Jamal,

Your comments sure where food for thought. What you call, "conform" I might call "collaborate." That's my feeling of what goes on in an IDEAL studio commericial job. I know the reality is sometimes different..., but I think its always a people problem when things are not satisfying. Usually its the flaws of people that make us feel unappreciated or kept down. There are toxic people and studios and the sooner one makes a break from them, the better.

My feeling is that we can make ourselves into anything we want. We can play to our blend of strengths and develop them. When we do this, others notice, and this can lead to opportunties and a happy career.

Jamal O said...

Good thoughts Dave,

No doubt the film making process should be a collaborative effort.

However, an Artist that wants to work, understands that he or she has to conform their work to fit the house style and the vision of the director. If you cannot do this, you will have a new problem called unemployment. I think we have all had to do this at some point, and it can be fun and rewarding, when working with a talented director who knows what they want.

Your right we can make ourselves into anything we want. Perhaps there are many rewards for staying true to one's self.

Tim Rauch said...

Interesting back and forth, Dave and Jamal.

For all my dissatisfaction with my one industry job, I was at least quite happy to have learned the value of collaboration there. I wouldn't say it was at all about being creatively submissive or conforming: if you aren't the one who provided the original idea, if you're not the creative in charge, if you're not providing the funds, then what right would you have to be calling the shots anyways? If you want to be more in control, impress the director and the producers that you're worth their trust by contributing in a meaningful way to the task at hand. You will move up in that company or if you really need to be "in charge", do your own thing. Never let conditions at your job be some kind of limitation to your personal creative endeavor. I used to come home and animate from 7 pm to 3 am every night, a full 8 hour day. Was I tired at work? You bet. But I was much happier than I would have been by letting my talent rot. Now that sacrifice seems to be moving me into position to be more and more in control of my own creative projects. There's no secret to independence: it comes from self discipline and deep motivation.

Jobs can never limit you, you have to do that to yourself.

David B. Levy said...

Jamal, Tim, we are all in agreement. Cool conversation.

My default feeling is that far too many people give all their talent, energy, and power away to their employers and expect to be creatively satisfied and financially taken care of. Others never provide for us. We provide that for ourselves, with our pride in our work, our trust in others, and in the long-term investment in ourselves through personal (outside of the workplace) achievement.

There's a great career and a happy life out there for anybody who understands this.