This observation comes from my wife, Adrienne. We were having a discussion concerning the number of talented young men and their desire to play in the NBA. While a dream of playing basketball and earning millions seems like a pretty cool idea, one might be wise to take note of a harsh realitiy. There are a limited number of teams in the NBA and they only require a limited number of players. That means even if you were lucky enough to be one of the gifted players your chances of a professional career would still not look very good. There are any number of talented young basketball players out there and the professional teams cannot hire them all. Even then, you’d have to be among the cream of the cream of the crop. This doesn’t mean a kid should give up his or her dream of a career in professional sports. However, the odds of your making it to the top doesn’t really skew in your favor.
We’ve been seeing more and more talented filmmakers leave their jobs at major animation studios in order to gain greater opportunity elsewhere. It’s not surprising when you consider there are only so many directing slots at the big studios. And, for the most part, those who got there first have those jobs sewed up. If you’ve been lucky enough and talented enough to garner a directing job at Disney, Pixar or DreamWorks, you’re going to hold on to that gig for as long as possible. After all, there are only so many feature films being produced each year. You can probably imagine how many eager young directors have their eyes on that plum job. Should you work at one of the top studios you’ll already know the first choice will be one of their “proven” directors. In the unlikely event that the director of choice declines the project it’s pretty much guaranteed the seat in the directors chair will be sought by many. Most of those aspiring for the assignment may have cut their teeth on directing smaller projects and have been waiting around for years for just such an opportunity. However, things are changing in today’s animation landscape. No longer do tyro helmers wait patiently on the sidelines for their shot at the big time. When another studio comes calling with an offer from the outside, they’ll more than likely jump at the opportunity. That’s why we’ve seen a number of defections from major animation houses and we’re likely to see more in the future. Some call this a “brain drain” or loss of talent from the majors. And, I imagine in some ways it is. I also think we no longer have the kind of loyalty to a company the way we had when I was a kid working in the business. Can you imagine major Disney animation talent going to a competitor because they recieved a better offer? To be fair, there weren’t very many competitors back in the old days, but Disney did have a few. When they offered twice as much money - the Disney staffers chose to remain with Walt. I know this for a fact because I was one of the Disney artists who was offered more money to leave the company. Of course, there’s the matter of loyalty again. The Old Maestro, Walt Disney was very big on loyalty. It was no accident that I never chose to leave the company until Walt’s passing.
Unfortunately, todays studios, with few exceptions make no pretense of loyalty. You’re being paid a salary to do a job. A job where you are easily replaceable. Should you choose to move on, or take on an assignment elsewhere it’s doubtful the company will beg you to stay. When there’s not a hint of loyalty from the company, there’s hardly any incentive to be loyal to them. Actually, I find this situation rather sad. Back in 1966, my bosses tried to talk me out of departing Disney and I was nobody of any importance. Reluctantly, I eventually left the Walt Disney Studios. However, it was nice knowing they wanted me to stay. The past few years I’ve seen a number of what I consider animation “stars” move on to opportunities elsewhere. It still baffles me why studios would allow their top talent to walk out the door. Then, I remember the Walt Disney Studios and what happened back in the seventies. The mouse house showed little concern as guys like Brad Bird, John Lasseter and Tim Burton sought opportunities elsewhere only to be brought back for a good deal more money. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, should I?