Monday, March 12, 2012

FLIP on Flops

I didn't see John Carter.  But I have worked on my share of flops. My heart goes out to the really talented people who poured so much of themselves into a production like that.  It's like you've raised a child to walk the high wire, and on his first step out,  he falls to his death.

Peers stare in silence.  They'll mumble privately to each other, "The kid was too fat." or "The kid didn't know what he was doing." or "They should have given the kid a better name."  but publicly, there's an awkward silence.  They put their heads down and go back to work.

When one of our peers fails, there's a shiver of fear that resonates through the creative ranks.  In our industry, failure is made very public.  Media people seem to drool over the opportunity to take smug, dismissive shots at a movie that didn't work.  They haughtily highlight every flaw, and belittle the filmmakers for their incompetence.  People all over the world get to witness this beating to their own amusement, adding their own asinine comments without the slightest idea that the movie was made by good, talented people who just couldn't make the sum of the parts come together as a whole.

And then there's a private fallout in the studio.   Studio brass forget your name.  Your agent forgets your number.  Friends forget to be friends, wanting to avoid any conversation about the whole mess. Is it any wonder that creative people are afraid to take chances?

In FLIP #17, director Dan Scanlon talked about the fear of failure in the industry:

"I find a lot of professionals artist are afraid to make something on their own because they fear it won't live up to the standard of the projects they contribute to at work. They're afraid when people see what they create without the company behind them. Afraid it will appear that they're the one who's been pretending to help lift the couch. But remember, the projects you work on professionally are made by many, many, extremely talented people, but that doesn't mean each one of them should be able to take the reins and knock it out of the park on their own. Give it a shot, and if you fail - so what? Revel in it, and most importantly, learn from it and do it again. Besides, even if your peers say your project sucks, take comfort in knowing they're still secretly jealous that you made something."

Dan was talking about independent filmmaking, but the fear that he speak of - of not being able to succeed outside of the walls of the animation studio - still applies.  The comfort zone of a big studio is hard to step away from, particularly as you get older and have families to support.  The goal shifts from having a career in animation to having a job in animation.  It's just how it is. 

But for me, the real fear is not failure, but getting too comfortable.  I remember my early years in animation, encountering old veterans with tons of great advice on technique, but terribly stale creative ideas.  I felt kind of bad for them, worse than I feel for Andrew Stanton, the director of John Carter.  At least Andrew was trying something different.   He took a big chance on a very big stage.