I just finished up a big gig that encompassed all my virtual animation studio phillosphies in one. The job was directing an eleven minute film for a Southwestern state’s conservation division. Now, bear in mind that I have no agent or rep, nor do I look for work in a conventional sense. So, how do I find jobs? Like most animation artists, word of mouth is the main method. But, in my case, I add a healthy does of networking through coffee meetings and lunches, and also by pitching and promoting personal projects and attending animation related events.
A year ago a producer friend introduced me to a designer/creator who was assembling a pitch property which required a minute of animation. The budget was super low and the work required about 3 solid weeks of my time, but because of the good credentials of the people involved, I jumped in. The animation turned out very well and a few months later its creator engaged me to animate another snippet for an additional pitch project, again with a tiny budget.
The creator/client tried to hire me a third time but I confessed that I wasn’t the best fit for her new job and was able to recommend two friends who snatched it up. Now its a year later from our original work together and she’s about to throw more animation my way, a continuation of the first project we collaborated on.
But, best of all, a few months ago, she recommended me for the major gig I mentioned at the top of this post. Purely on her word, her contacts at a state agency asked me to bid on their animation project. My bid, which only took a day or two to prepare, involved creating redesigns of three characters as well as a letter/production plan itemizing the steps, costs, time, and money associated with each stage of production. After three weeks of waiting I was awarded the job, which allowed me to enlist some of my favorite workers/friends: Jason McDonald (Design), Hilda Karadsheh (animator), and Dale Clowdis (Animator). The 11 minute production went incredibly smooth and took about 2 months.
So to sum up, using this gig as a case study, here’s the method I’m using to round up work for my happy little virtual studio:
1-No need for agents or reps.
I’m of the mind that a small studio owner attracts a lot of work through his/her own reputation and personal relationships and business dealings. I don’t need a slick agent or rep to muck that up. Not that I’m anti rep/agent. It’s just that I’m perfectly capable of mucking up my own relationships, and if its me doing it, at least I know the mistakes I’ve made and therefore have a chance to fix them and learn from them. And, as for reps/agents, I’d gladly employ one in the right area if needed. But, for now, I look for work organically just by making casual lunch and coffee meetings, keeping in touch with contacts, developing and promoting my personal projects, etc. None of that ever feels like work to me, it’s just plain fun!
2-Small jobs lead to big jobs, or, at least, repeat business.
I’m more than willing to squeeze in the time to tackle small jobs with low budgets, even if they make short-term big demands on my time. I consider it planting seeds for a relationship, so why not start with a small project? It’s a great way to see if the client and I are on the same page. I did the same thing with Sesame in 2008, when they hired me to create a small web animation. After that humble beginning I was awarded dozens of additional contracts at Sesame, spread across three divisions of the company. All this adds up to: Don’t automatically poo-poo the smaller jobs, and DON’T ever get hung up only taking work if it lives up to your so-called “day rate.” I’ve never had a day-rate because I know that each project has its own budget. Day-rates are starting points at best, but never a means to reject a project outright.
3-Expand your horizons by working for clients outside of New York.
And, I’m saying this as a booster of the New York scene. The fact is, local work can dry up, no matter how well you are connected to the workstream. So, I’m more than willing to work for clients spread out across the country. Since 2007 (the start of my virtual studio business) I’ve worked for clients in Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, and, most recently, the south western state profiled in the job above. By being the “face” of my own studio, all the networking I do ensures that I am my own studio brand, one that can attract work in faraway states without needing a rep/agent.