If you’ve been in this business as long as I have you’ll easily recognize this situation. It’s the moment when you realize how much trouble you’re in. It’s when everything has gone wrong. It’s the train wreak, the plane crash, the awful meltdown. If film making has been a part of your career, then you probably already know.
Some years ago, my bosses had their hands full so I took over a particular project. I put together what I considered a pretty good team and created reels for our film. Before long we were ready for the big meeting with our client. However, that Friday afternoon was one of the worst of my life. Not only did our client dislike what we had produced - they hated it. The meeting was a disaster and afterward I sat numb in my office as the evening sun slowly sank. I do not exaggerate when I say I was practically in tears when I drove home that evening.
But, guess what. Our team jumped back on the project and swiftly turned things around. The completed film was totally embraced by the client and now we were heroes. I learned a valuable lesson that has remained with me throughout my career. Never fear disaster. Once you’ve hit bottom - there’s nowhere to go but up.
Over the years I continued to deal with this fearful situation and I’ve actually come to embrace it. I’ve learned that fear is pointless and unproductive. After all, when you're already part of a disaster, things can only get better. Since then, I’ve actually enjoyed jumping onto “doomed projects” because they offer the greatest challenge. As a matter of fact, I began my career in story by being thrown onto a motion picture Walt Disney actually hated. “How much of the story can we keep,” was the question we asked Walt Disney. “None of it,” replied the Old Maestro. “Start over!” So, I began my feature film story career already in trouble.
After leaving Disney in the late sixties, my partner and I took on a troubled television series that couldn’t seem to complete its shows or make its air dates. Though things were a disaster, we eagerly jumped in to turn things around. If everything was a mess already - we could hardly make things any worse. This kind of thing has continued throughout my career and become so routine that I now prefer the assignment that is in trouble. It’s more exiting to be part of a “sinking ship” than to be on a project where everything is going smoothly. I’ve received a frantic phone calls more than once from producers in trouble. Sometimes it’s an animated project or even live-action. I’ve storyboard scenes while flying to a location and I’ve quickly done boards on set so filming could be moved along at a faster pace.
Because of my experience, I’ve had the opportunity speak about this and encourage young film makers when things go bad. I share my perspective on this crazy business and remind them that this very situation is what makes our work so stimulating and exciting. If you want security and sameness then go work in an accounting firm. If you prefer your life be exciting then I recommend you go out and do what I’ve done most of my career. Go out and enjoy what I’ve come to call, “Sink or Swim.”