Under the Gun

Recently I was working very hard. As I was riding the train into work early one morning, already feeling beat-down tired before the day had even begun, I tried to put that particular schedule-crunch in perspective… It was not the hardest that I have EVER worked, but certainly the hardest I have worked in many years. After some reflection, I realised that the hardest I ever worked was on the worst stuff I ever worked on. Namely some really wretched Saturday morning cartoons in the late 1980s.

This shouldn’t have surprised me… It had already occurred to me years ago that it takes just as much hard work to make a bad show as it does to make a great one… but I guess I had forgotten that lesson over time.

When people express their displeasure with a film that they do not like (or a comic book, or what have you) they frequently bad-mouth the people who worked on it. As if only lazy talentless morons could be responsible. In some cases that may indeed be the explanation… but not as often as you might think. In my experience the sad reality is that there are a lot of smart, talented people absolutely busting their backs to produce the entertainment that you hate. I know, because I have worked with them when I worked on it myself.

It’s a bit counter-intuitive, isn’t it? The best explanation may be a tug of war. On the projects that don’t turn out well, everyone is working as hard as they can, but the rope is barely moving at all. Because all the effort is at cross purposes, and towards different directions.

When I was working on such projects, the love of the job itself and the camaraderie of my co-workers kept me going, even though I knew our hard work may have been in vain… PLUS, it was the best work that I could find at the time.

So next time you watch a complete mess unfold on screen, by all means wonder at the strenuous effort taken to go nowhere, but don’t hate the crew.

25 thoughts on “Under the Gun”

  1. as always, jamie, a very thoughtful observation…

    it amazes me how easily people will jump into crew slander after watching a lousy movie or show. obviously there are many to blame when projects melt down, and rightfully so…but more often than not, it’s probably someone besides the artists…( no personal bias, here! )

    also consider that as a viewer, you get to avoid most of the accountability…imagine the frustration and conflict for people who spilled blood and guts on it..!

    having worked on many, many turds, i know this feeling well. as an artist in this business, you have to steel yourself for these moments. loads and loads of hard work materializing before your eyes as an abomination! then to hear the bashing begin after the show…it’s hard not to take some of it personally. but you have to be able to get back up and hit the drawing board again.
    i’ve actually come to carry these jobs as badges of honor…having survived them just helps me enjoy other projects even more….

    thanks again jamie…

    • Derek>>Yeah, crew-bashing bothers me too, especially when done by people who work in production themselves… I guess that some people are lucky enough to only have worked on good projects, so they don’t know how hard people are working on the OTHER stuff…

      I’ve tried to put my finger on what the main difference is between the few GOOD projects that I have been lucky enough to work on and the many BAD ones (apart from the end-result, that is)… Contrary to what many people might think, in many cases the talent levels and the enthusiasm levels are about the same… the difference seems to lie in the WAY that the project is done; the chain of command, the amount of time allowed for each step, and so forth… On the “good” projects, just as many mistakes are made but there is time allowed to fix them.

      I like your “Badge of Honour” approach. Maybe we could get some special animation campaign ribbons, or even PURPLE HEARTs made for all the times we’ve been wounded in the field… I’ve stood on quite a few PORK CHOP HILLS in my time.

  2. Nice, Jamie.

    I think that it’s almost always the person, or people, at the top. They have to direct the project along a path while allowing the crew to be creative. It’s a delicate balance.

  3. Very well said. I feel your pain. I look forward to working on a good project one day so I know how it feels on the other side. Worked with some AMAZINGLY talented artists, but sometimes, depending on exactly what you said (who’s running the show and the structure of the entire project/production), it just isn’t enough.

  4. Brian& john>> It is surprising to me how often even the people at the so called “top” have so little latitude… they too are often hemmed in by forces beyond their control. All the good ideas and good intentions in the world wont help if people arent empowered to use them.

    When i worked on commercials, which were often behind schedule already on the day they got a green light, I found that a small number of key people really busting ass for a few weeks could really pull that thing out of the toilet and make something pretty cool despite the limitations. If you really needed 12 weeks to do the thing right, but the schedule only gave you 6 weeks, two or three people working late nights and weekends for 6 weeks can make the difference. On a bigger production that kind of mad-dash really doesn’t work, because it is a marathon not a sprint.

  5. Dear Jamie, I appreciate your honesty. Being a mother of two artists I’ve witnessed what you said. Thanks. Christine Cossin

  6. I think i’ve experienced this too. the thing is, we are all beholden to what is available to us for work as artists. if our skills and location can only get us so far, then that is simply the reality we have to deal with. a lot of people are living in areas where there is NO industry at all for them to work, so I especially feel for those artists.

    Recently there was a nasty article in the Guardian regarding the company I work at and what an evil place it is. I had to snigger at that because what the article did NOT say is that it employs 2000 people in the bay area, whereas other places in the bay area (film companies and game companies in particular) are OUTSOURCING to foreign locations (foreign to SF anyway). I mean seriously, we all have to make a living. I wish people would take that into account when they criticize and judge.

  7. I think this is my favorite drawing that you’ve ever made. I was going to buy that jeep picture off of you one year at comic con, but it sold before I could get back to your table with the money. Good to see it again. Brilliant!


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