Panic Jobs and Old Age

People often speak about the multiple movie and television projects I’ve worked on and seem to regard my entertainment career as something stellar. In reality, the work I did was often challenging but they were simply jobs. Assignments taken to pay the mortgage, a car note and get the kids through school. Often, the jobs were unexpected. They were last minute assignments because a TV show had to be aired or a movie needed to wrap. It would appear that the desperation of a client sent these jobs my way. I’m always looking for a new challenge and I eagerly accept these crazy last minute panic jobs. They pay the rent and they keep me on my toes.

My first panic assignment was a troubled, network television show that failed to make its airdates. Back then, television producers were punished by fines should they not deliver, and the fines were not cheap. In order to save the production house from a total meltdown, the producers came up with a last minute solution. They would hand off the remaining shows to independent producers to accomplish what they clearly could not. For my partner and I it was a challenge and an opportunity. We could demonstrate to our industry partners that we knew our stuff and could be counted on to deliver the goods. Thankfully, things went well and we delivered our shows on time and on budget. However, our professionalism failed to send any additional work our way, and we reluctantly returned to earning a living as employees.

On another occasion, an art director invited me to an unexpected meeting at a television studio in Hollywood. A new network show had been sold to the ACB Television Network and was about to go into production. They needed someone to create a series of funny little signs that would be moved past the camera during the course of the show. I regarded this lackluster assignment as dull and mundane and would have much preffered to be doing something more creative. One afternoon, while visiting an actor friend onset I learned the shows producer had a problem. And, it was a problem I could help solve. Because of this chance meeting, one thing led to another and one day I found myself on the writing staff of the show. Of course, this was totally unexpected and the last thing I thought would happen when I first joined the project. I was now a member of the writing staff of a network sketch comedy show and was beginning a new career path. However, with the programs abrupt cancellation I became soured on television writing and returned to cartoon animation where production procedures seemed to make more sense. In any case, I put my writing career on hold for several years.

Back in the seventies a television pilot was being filmed in a Hollywood studio and the producers needed an animated title for the show. Late one Wednesday afternoon I was summoned to the set by the shows director and quickly told what was needed. Apparently, it was important that the teen dance show have cool, dancing locomotive to open the show. Naturally, the completed cartoon title needed to be animated, painted and photographed in a couple of days. Moving into panic mode, my partner and I delivered the footage to the producers on a Saturday afternoon and the successful television pilot was sold. Not long after, “Soul Train” became a television hit. Should you ask me I’d tell you I find this little animated segment somewhat cheesy because it had to be cranked out in limited time and with a severely limited budget. However, as the years passed, I’ve been told that my animated locomotive has become, iconic. Honestly, I still consider the animated show opening, embarrassing.

Of course, there are times when I’m proud of the work I’ve done. Some years ago, while attending a Comic Book Convention I received a panic phone call from a producer whose film was in trouble and his director was hopelessly behind schedule. He begged me to fly to the location and join the production team making the movie. Once arriving on set I began to scope things out and I began creating a series of storyboards in order to expedite filming. My years of making movies on the cheap truly paid off as I found ways to move the film forward without spending a lot of money. Before long, we had the shoot back on schedule and after completing another panic assignment, I returned home to my usual life of “working retirement” because at my age I can’t seem to find a real job. Certainly not at any mainstream studio, in any case. 

I guess I can’t complain. People seem to like what I do and they value my skills and experience as a writer and an artist. On occasion, they’ll even invite me to jump in and help them solve a problem. However, the one thing they’ll never do is hire me. It’s not because I’m not liked or respected. It’s not because I don’t have the skills to do the job. It’s because studios don’t hire “old people,” and I just happen to be one of those who fit that description. There is an upside to all of this, however. If things get truly bad enough on a project they just might call me. And, that my friends is how this old timer keeps working in todays animation business. A business that venerates its knowledgeable veterans but only hires children.

Keeping busy in panic mode. At my age, it's often the best way to stay sharp.

Keeping busy in panic mode. At my age, it's often the best way to stay sharp.