A Note on Executive’s Notes
I’m in the middle of reading “To Infinity and Beyond!: The Story of Pixar Animation Studios” a rather substantial tome that is well worth the amount of time it takes to read it. I’ll likely post a proper review in due course, but in the meantime, it’s got me thinking about the bane of every employee’s life: notes from the management.
Animators are all to familiar with notes. They can come from directors, producers, executive producers and network/studio management. Some are rightly judicious, some are just downright nonsensical, most are somewhere in between. Of those, they can be broken up into general story/plot notes and technical notes, which, for the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume that encompasses all the animation/directing/sound/effects/etc.
There seems to be a propensity among a small percentage of executives out there that they must issue notes on a project that must be adhered to or else. Such a style of management is a very poor one. The production of an animated programme or film, like any team exercise, is a collaborative effort that can only truly flourish if everyone works towards the ultimate goal.
I bring this up because in the course of reading the aforementioned book, it is mentioned that Toy Story went through an initial plot that was rather poor. The reasoning behind it was that the Pixar team, who had never created animation for anyone else before, had blindly followed any notes sent up from Disney in Burbank. They assumed that the executives were always right in their judgement. Of course, that is not the case, and the resulting film was very nearly scrapped before Pixar was able to cobble together a tweaked plot and some animation to back it up.
If you’re an executive and you feel that you must issue notes then you are doing it wrong, very wrong. Seeing as I’m a dreamer (I was diagnosed at an early age but was only informed of such when I was in my early 20s), I’ve concluded that the purpose of the production team (animators, writers, etc.) is to create the project. The executive’s job is to make sure said project comes in on time and on budget and that all that is undertaken in as smooth a manner as possible. Meddling in the creative areas of the project should be kept to a minimum, and even then, the criticism should be constructive.
I say all of this from an outsider’s perspective. I’ve never had any personal experience is such situations, and there’s a good chance that I only ever hear all the bad stuff that goes on. No-one (not even me) will say that a project is running as normal. People only ever talk about stuff that is going really (and I mean exceptionally) good or it’s going from bad to worse. That’s human nature and we’re all guilty of it at some point or another.
The old saying “less is more” holds true in any case. The less an executive has to manage a project, the more time they have to focus on more important things, like whether the project is on budget, can things be run more efficiently, etc, etc. I know myself, I like to be given a task and then left alone in peace to do it. One time I was doing a job and I was micro-managed all the way. Not overwhelmingly mind you, but it made the whole experience much less enjoyable and it dissuaded me from putting in my normal amount of effort.
So executive types out there, keep the hands on the wheel, not on the kid in the back seat! Creative types need management but not necessarily the kind you think they need. Focus on your own job and try to think on a larger scale. Remember, some of the bets shows out there had the least interference of all.