You make the choice. Is it better to be an inexperienced young filmmaker or a wise old veteran with too many years under his belt? When I came into the animation industry many years ago being young was a liability. Whenever my colleagues and I wanted to do something or move ahead in our career we were continually hit with the same answer. “Sorry, kid. You’re too young and inexperienced.” This was often the reply from the old guard. Climbing the ladder at the Walt Disney Studio would prove to be a daunting task if you were under thirty. We sucked it up and bided our time hoping for the opportunity to show what we could do. I suppose I had it better than most. By caprice, I managed to end up in Walt Disney’s coveted story department on the feature film “The Jungle Book,” but my film making career pretty much stalled after that.
By the eighties, I had put filmmaking aside and found a new medium to play in. By accepting a job in Disney’s publishing department I was afforded the opportunity to be a story teller again. However, something interesting was happening in Walt Disney’s animation department. Suddenly, young kids were being given the opportunity to animated, write and direct motion pictures - and most of them were just out of school. This would have been unheard of back in the old days of the nineteen fifties when an earlier group of young kids had just entered the business. No doubt I had a pretty darn good job as a writer in Disney’s publishing unit. Yet, it still rankled me that suddenly opportunities were being made available to a group of young filmmakers - most of whom were just out of school or recent hires. What was their biggest asset, you might ask? They were all young, enthusiastic and full of ideas. All of a sudden being youthful was no longer a liability and the studio embraced the young talented filmmakers.
I had become painfully aware of the Disney “Youth Culture” some years earlier when I hoped to garner another shot at becoming a Disney animator. Eager to groom young talent I had heard the studio would be launching a new animation training program. This was a bit of a tradition at Disney because we were given training in animation back in the fifties. Of course, the training classes had to be on your own time. The studio was much too busy trying to complete the feature film “Sleeping Beauty” to use valuable studio time for training. In any case, I eagerly looked forward to additional training in the art of animation, but that dream quickly came to an end when I was not even invited to be a part of the class. One afternoon, veteran animator, Art Stevens stopped me the hallway to ask why I wasn’t in class. “I’m afraid they don’t want me,” I replied. “It seems I’m too old to be in the class.” I suppose I’ve mention this before. I was thirty eight years old. By the time youth had finally become an asset I was much too old to take advantage of it.
Today, I look back on those days and laugh. I’m a good deal older than my thirty eight years back in the seventies and I’ve found that the motion picture and television industry has totally moved into the “Culture of Youth” full force. Whenever I start a new job or pick up an assignment on a show, the person in charge is usually the age of my granddaughter. It would appear the days of the grey-haired, cigar chomping studio boss is a thing of the past. Kids run the industry today - and you can bet those kids will be replaced by even younger kids. When I visit a studio production facility today I feel like I’ve entered a day care center. Finally, this is not a diatribe against our young talent. I find the kids I work with to be delightful. I’m simply reflecting back on another time. A time when studios were run by tubby, balding old men who usually worked until they dropped. People didn’t retire so much in those days. By the time you turned sixty five your career was just getting started. I suppose that’s why there were no job openings back in the fifties and sixties. Nobody wanted to leave the animation business. Nobody wanted to leave a job they loved.