Choices

While enjoying my breakfast on the outdoor patio one quiet summer morning, a young man approached me with a dilemma. A complication to be sure, but it was probably the best kind you would want. You see, he had been offered a job opportunity outside the company. A new position that would include a substantial pay increase. How do you deal with this predicament, he wondered? Should he remain with the company that clearly valued him, or should he take advantage of the opportunity awaiting him on the outside? It was a difficult choice - or so he thought. What if his choice turned out to be the wrong one? I reminded him that there are no wrong choices. There are only choices. Be grateful that you’ve been given such cool options. Now, take advantage of them and make the best of your situation.

Back in the sixties I had to make a similar choice. I had been given the opportunity to move upstairs to Walt Disney’s coveted story department. This was a job eagerly sought by many in animation, yet the plum job was practically dropped in my lap. Certainly, I recognized the opportunity to work with a story genius such as Walt Disney, and I took advantage of being on the re-write of The Jungle Book. However, as soon as my work was complete, I opted to leave the job behind and hand in my resignation. Not surprisingly, my boss, Andy Engman was dumbfounded. Why would I turn my back on such an amazing opportunity? Why would I leave this highly sought after job for anything else? I tried to explain to Andy that I was not unhappy with my new position. I was grateful for the opportunity, but now it was time to move on. You see, while doing storyboards is pretty awesome, it was hardly the pinnacle of animated film making. I was young, ambitious and filled with the desire to do more. Please understand we’re talking about the Walt Disney Studios of years past where things moved at a snails pace. More often than not, the movement - what movement there was, could be considered, glacial. I simply didn’t have the time to wait for my next promotion. I wanted to produce, direct and write. I wanted to be a total filmmaker, and the mainstream studios were hardly eager to promote young people to such lofty positions. Unlike the pace of today’s studios, you’d have to wait your turn, and that wait could take decades.

Leaving Disney in 1966 could easily be considered an unwise decision. Sure, I could have stayed on as a story artist and eventually earn that screen credit I never received on The Jungle Book. I could have contributed to a number of upcoming Disney feature films and merited my place as a story veteran. However, even the challenging task of story artist can park you in a rut where you do the same job day after day. For better or worse, I wanted more. Much more. Sure, I wanted to animate, but I also wanted to write, produce and direct. I wanted to do all the things I would never be permitted to do in a mainstream studio. Such promotions are impossible, of course. Impossible, unless you’re working in your own studio - and that’s exactly what we intended to do. In 1966, four young men of color had the audacity to launch their own motion picture production facility at a time when the smart money would have said, bad idea. The bad idea turned out to be an incredible learning opportunity where we earned our film making “degrees” the old fashion way. That meant each film was a master class in writing, direction and production. Disciplines we never would never have garnered had we remained in the restricted ranks of the major studios.

So, when it’s time for you to make that important decision, it might be wise to consider your choices. Why are you leaving? Why have you decided to stay? Know what’s at stake and know what you are trying to accomplish in your career. Know that life is always a series of choices. Choices only you can make.

I love this image from Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland. Tough choices, Alice.

I love this image from Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland. Tough choices, Alice.