Sunday, April 8, 2007

It's the budget, stupid!

(For the record, I'm not calling anyone stupid. I'm simply recalling the old "It's the economy stupid" comment from lo those many years ago.)

There's been a lot of discussion about how much overtime, and weekend time, the storyboard artist has to put in. I have seen this first hand. I think the previous post did a fairly good job of pointing out that whether a script is 22 pages or 50 pages, it can still end up being a 22 minute cartoon.

With that in mind, lets do some math:

Let's pretend we're working on, for the sake of argument, a show that just got a 20 episode pick up. WOO! Now, lets use the 839 animation guild "average" weekly salary for a production board, which is $1900.00. (Woo?)

You're the studio: Here are your options.

Two board artists doing 11 minute segments in three weeks, or in five. For the sake of easy of math, that means each half hour episode will either cost six weeks worth of work, or ten.

six weeks - 11,400. Round that up to about 14,000 bucks when you start considering insurance, office costs and stuff like that. I dont know the specifics on that as well as I should, so that's a rough guess.
ten weeks - 19,000. 23,000 bucks with the same rough guess.

So what we're really talking about is the difference of about $180,000 in story board artist costs over the course of 20 episodes.

If somebody can tell me what the domino effect of the above is, that would be great. Do the prop / character designers need more time? Do timers? Because if it's just the board artists doing the extra time, then all we're talking about is a hypothetical $180K. Maybe that's a lot, maybe it's not. Depends on the show. But it is several people's salary on a production.

Now, here's the economic reality of it.

At three weeks, it makes sense to bring this storyboard artist into the studio. Figure it's $7000 for the three weeks. But at five weeks, suddenly, that artist is costing $11,500. The average 839 rate for a freelance 11 minute board: $6000.

So suddenly, a money tight studio or production is going to be forced to decide:

* Pay $11,000 more per half hour episode to have the board artists around which, creatively, is a very good idea. It's good to have them in the pitches, it makes the show better... everybody contributes. Artists can talk to the writers and vice versa. The show will, by the nature of the production, be better... how much so, eye of the beholder.

OR

* Freelance the board out for $5500 less per 11 minutes, $11000 less per half hour which adds up to nearly a quarter million dollar savings for a 20 episode production.

A lot of the issues that are being discussed here come down to dollar and cents discussions... and suddenly, it becomes a very distasteful discussion about art and commerce. Maybe my math is wrong. But I think the theory is intact. On a spread sheet, to a buyer, to a studio... if the board artists can't do 11 minutes in three weeks, it suddenly becomes less cost effective to have an internal board team.

What do you all think? How to you twist the math to make it work in favor of what many clearly believe would be a more reasonable deadline?

- Steve

10 comments:

Bob Harper said...

The "domino" effect is the most elusive and important part of your hypothesis for producers to "get".

Do you pay extra up front for a board artist to figure out the problems that a script might cause for production? Or do you cut costs up front and pay more in the end when designers, cleanup, colorists and animators need OT etc. for problematic episodes? Or do you just settle for hack like 80's TV?

Ideally the planning stages - Script, Boards etc. Are worth spending a little extra in order to save on the multiple salaries and freelancers that would be needed to clean up the mess.

vet said...

All of the little details of your hypothesis are irrelevant.

The fact is, a show's budget it a show's budget... if you have a million dollar budget, you make a million dollar show. If you have a ten thousand dollar budget, you make a ten thousand dollar show. Sounds easy, right? Well, it's not - it takes a working understanding of every detail of the animation process.

You can make any kind of show work in any kind of budget, but you have to be able to make smart, informed decisions, and most writers-turned-producers can't do that because they've never been animators.

It's when writer-producers allow episodes to be written that don't fit the budget of the show that everything falls apart.

I don't blame writers for this... I blame studios because they would rather let writers waste millions of dollars than promote an animator to 'producer' (note: ANIMATOR... not 'artist').

A good producer should be able to look at a budget and have an immediate idea what type of background designs the show will require and what the line quality will need to be for the prop designs and what type of storyboarding style to use.

Most producers aren't capable of that, though, because they come from a position of ignorance.
Animation is incredibly complex (which is obviously why you're asking for help in learning how to produce a cartoon)... there's an art AND a science to it.

Unfortunately, most of the people who "produce" cartoons simply don't have the experience necessary to make smart decisions. Instead they fly blindly and wind up wasting tons of money and torturing everyone who works for them.

But, again, I don't blame writer-producers. If someone offered me a huge salary to run a shoe factory you can bet your ass I'd take the job despite the fact that while I have a basic knowledge of how shoes work, I have no idea how to manufacture them.

Steve said...

Actually, I'm not asking for help producing a cartoon.

I've produced plenty, on time, and usually under budget.

I don't see the facts I've placed out there to be irrelevant. They are fiscal realities that affect actual scheduling and budgeting decisions on a day to day and cartoon to cartoon basis.

I'm posing a hypothetical question that deals with the reality of union minimums, production schedules and the studio system as I perceive it.

So with that, I point to the post again.

DamienDevilDemonLucifer Smith said...

This is a question of whether or not you want a quality show.

A three week board (or freelanced board) will look rough and shitty because it's A: rushed or B: the artist is not in-house and doesn't fully understand the show. A five-week-in-house board will look better, have more detailed information, and the story and gags will work better because the artist has had time to think and knows the show.

With a three-week (or freelanced) board, it will then be in your designer's hands to do the filling-in. They will become overburdened detailing the 70 or more vague scenes (and will go into overtime in the long run, costing you the same amount of money or more.)

Either way, you will need to make sure the information is there for overseas to interpret. If you don't give overseas the info, it will be up to them to fill in the blanks, and believe me, they will...and the end result will look like crap.

Kicking board artists out of the studio or taking away their time will result in shittily crafted shows. Period.

I mean, come one, why don't you ask the same question of your writers? Why not freelance out ALL your writing? I'm not saying the occasional freelance script isn't great, but for the most part, you want your story guys around.

Storyboard artists ahould be around too. Their material eventually replaces the script and becomes the blueprint that is the HUB of your show. Story, design, timing, color etc...EVERYTHING hinges on that board. Ask any one of your production people and they will agree.

Save you dough somewhere else.

Walt Disney said...

I agree with DamienDevilDemonLucifer Smith, it's the same with writers. Most animation writing is done with freelancers and that's a big part of the problem. Any show I've ever worked on is better and faster with a tight crew of in house people.

It's the old saying, "You can have any two of these items: fast, cheap, good."

Pick your two.

s,r, hulett said...

Here's my perspective:

I've seen, over and over, the following scenario: studios use in-house people, get a quality they like but a cost they don't.

So they freelance the job out. NOW they get a cost they like but a quality they don't. So then they use revisionists in-house to clean up the freelance messes.

Then somebody decides: "Hey. Let's bring it ALL in-house."

And they do. And they like the quality but hate the costs, so somebody gets the idea to freelance the work out...

And so on, ad infinitum.

Another problem I come across: producers who like board artists to board overlong scripts, which they then cut after the visuals are all there.

Why not cut the script to length BEFORE handing it to the board artist?

handel said...

nature of the biz. Stop bitchin about it. You knew the job was dangerous when you took it.
And Steve Hulett..Your a nice guy, but a serious pain in the ass.
your right by the way, But thats the same in any business. stupidity runs rampant. Like being forced to pay dues for a union that doesnt DO a whole hell of a lot! Kinda crazy huh.
sigh..
Now THATS worth bitchin' about!

Doodlebugg said...

handel: what, exactly, is the union not doing for you? Why aren't YOU doing something about the union supposedly not doing anything? Btw, bitching on the internet about how nothing is being done doesn't really get things done.

Anyway, back on topic...storyboards may cost a chunk of change, and they SHOULD. They're the blueprint of the show. It's a pity that the blueprint of a show is so easily taken down in quality by stupid decisions by production people who don't know a damn thing about the medium they're working in. Hell, even the artists these days have precious little animation experience.

What to do about it? Hell, take out the production assistants for the production assistants at any big animation studio in town and you'll save big bux right there. Artists and even writers should outnumber production people at any studio. That doesn't seem to be the case anymore.

And the artists themselves shouldn't do unpaid overtime. That's bullshit to give your life over to some studio that doesn't give a shit whether you work on their tripe or not. They don't care about you, so why should you care whether they make their unreasonable deadlines by you giving up your weekends, your family, your life? How can you bring any creativity into your work when you don't get to get out in the world and experience it?

Just askin'.

Steve said...

Point for Point With Doodleflavin:

::Anyway, back on topic...storyboards may cost a chunk of change, and they SHOULD. They're the blueprint of the show.::

I'll give you that for the sake of this argument. However, on a script-driven show, they aren't as much of the blue print as the script is.

And actually, boards might cost a chunk of change, but in the grand scheme of things, when you break it down by sheer number...

...the difference between doing a production in a way that makes the storyboard staff happy and not isn't that much.

More on that in a moment.

::It's a pity that the blueprint of a show is so easily taken down in quality by stupid decisions by production people who don't know a damn thing about the medium they're working in. Hell, even the artists these days have precious little animation experience.::

I think that's moderately unfair.

I think it goes production to production.

And lets be fair, there are some shows where a week's less board wouldn't mean a damn thing. These shows include:

* Preschool shows where everything is micromanaged to the point of which a shoe is tied.

* Animated shows where the EP or Producers go in and revise things as the show evolves and then a director or story board artist gets that task accordingly.

I'm sure I'm missing others. However, I think to not have a longer board production schedule on a show where that's mission critical is borderline mental.

::What to do about it? Hell, take out the production assistants for the production assistants at any big animation studio in town and you'll save big bux right there.::
Artists and even writers should outnumber production people at any studio. That doesn't seem to be the case anymore.::

That's illogical.

There are a lot of non-creative tasks that a P.A. does that allows an artist to focus on being an artist.

And considering what P.A's make... and the fact that one probably wrangles four board artists at a time... that's not a corner anybody would or should be willing to cut.

Plus, the empathetic P.A. of today is the empathetic Line Producer of tomorrow. You want somebody who sucked it out in the trenches talking to you about deadlines and what your time is worth.

::And the artists themselves shouldn't do unpaid overtime. That's bullshit to give your life over to some studio that doesn't give a shit whether you work on their tripe or not. They don't care about you, so why should you care whether they make their unreasonable deadlines by you giving up your weekends, your family, your life? How can you bring any creativity into your work when you don't get to get out in the world and experience it?::

I don't disagree with this.

There was a great quote from Phil Rosenthal - "Everybody Loves Raymond" - about how the writers room stopped around 6pm because if the writers didn't go home and live a family life, how could they be expected to write about it?

Unpaid overtime is insane. These are things that need to be discussed at the top of a production schedule, not during.

- Steve

Doodlebugg said...

It's too early in the morning for me to go point-by-point, but I'll make some rebuttals nontheless.

IMO, storyboards are more of a blueprint for an episode than a script because the storyboard has to flesh out the action, dialogue, etc. more thoroughly for what needs to be done. You can get a better taste for a show looking at the boards than looking at the script, because the one-sentence descriptions that a writer can get away with, the board has to show.

And I've never met a PA-turned-producer that hasn't been corrupted by the studio system when it comes to them starting out as artist-friendly...they eventually become as fearful as any other suit and won't rock the schedule boat even if it means the show would be better as a result. I've seen schedules where a production has to physically move from one building to another, yet the schedule won't reflect that downtime. Why? No one was willing to say, "Uh...this doesn't make sense...why are we having an animatic during the week that the computers are boxed up and moving across town?" Who suffers in the end? The entire WORKING staff. It's ridiculous.

hey, that last bit kinda went off on a side tangent, didn't it?

Anyway, I know that writer schedules aren't any better than artist schedules...it's all going down the toilet, despite your preschool kid show examples. There are action-adventure shows that are suffering from a too-squashed schedule already...cutting more time on the writer/artist end certainly isn't the answer.