Article written by Katie Cropper.
On Wednesday April 22, ASIFA-East held a panel discussion about the current state of the New York Animation industry. Moderated by the lovely Linda Beck, the main contributors were Steven Conner, Howard Beckerman, David Levy, David Wachtenheim, and, via email, Linda Simensky. All of which are pretty heavy names in New York animation so going into this discussion I expected some deep and meaningful words of advice and perhaps some reassurance for the Big Apple. I wasn’t disappointed, though I can’t say that the main topics were surprising or new. Perhaps my own paranoia for my immediate job future has made this entire topic the forefront of too many of my own industry related conversations.
I just wanted to sum up some main points covered Wednesday that should be kept in mind here. All four main panelists made it clear that the New York animation scene has been geared towards mostly preschool/young children’s television and commercial work. Even as we dip into what could be considered a “depression”, larger productions in New York will still be working in this demographic. Beckerman made it a point to remind the audience that it is “not as bad as you think”. That in due time things will come back to New York or someone will pitch something and as the economy slowly comes back up from this ditch we will see a larger variety in the type of TV shows being produced in Gotham. Linda Simensky then adds via email that the animation industry is very cyclical and given enough time will come back to where it was say 15-20 months ago.
Going to the topic of pitching, Steven Conner and Dave Levy had a bit to touch on. Conner reminded the audience that as you are making a pitch for a new series or web project try to keep in mind the way in which the whole project will be executed. As you’re planning your strategy think to yourself “How can I keep this on budget, keep it here[new york], and how many of my friends would it take to do this?”. David Wachtenheim mentions also that there is no telling for sure what companies want or are looking for, they hear so many pitches with so many similarities that standing out in the crowd is a tiring effort. Levy then made a point that if you’re investing yourself into a project that it doesn’t hurt to do a little more to get your idea across. His example was just doing a quick walk cycle in Flash of a character he was interested in working with – the reaction he got was such overwhelming praise and positivity that it helped sell his concept or just get the job. Making yourself available to go to pitch meetings is important. Even if they say ‘thanks but not thanks’ at least you’re making a new connection and as some point someone will bite. In the very least they will keep you in mind for other projects down the line.
Howard Beckerman indulged the room with several tales of New York animated yore to make the point that animators in this city need to wear many hats. Even if you enjoy making films and want to make a living doing what you love, it occasionally doesn’t work out that way. Sometimes you have to make greeting cards (in Beckerman’s case). Beckerman also mentions that the internet is a sure thing in terms of where to look for the future of animation. I would like to add that there is a growing demand for web based work, viral advertisement, and design. The whole problem with the web is that there is no clear formula for making money creating content for the web. I can’t say the animation industry is alone on this one. The television and music industry have been searching high and low to figure this one out and when they do I’m sure we will all have some emptier pockets or perhaps better paying freelance web work.
This all can be summed up by keeping your ear to the ground and keeping an open mind in terms of where to look for the next job. Keep your skills fresh and even if you aren’t currently at work you should still keep working. There is no telling where the next big break will come from for each individual artist. Creating personal films in your own home is the best part of the digital revolution so its best to just keep swimming till the next wave gives you a little ride. – Or you can just take the advice of Howard Beckerman and..