Leave out the “I” and you’ll have a winning TEAM
by Anthony Reece, Director, Voice Toons (USA)
Colloborating creatively with International partners? Please note…
Working together with International partners is a characteristic of the animation business.In this direct point by point Guest Column, Anthony Reece, Director of the LA based Voice Toons shares some advice for new budding studios that are collaborating with International Creative Talent.
Rule #1 – Honesty is the Best Policy:
Today more than ever, it is extremely difficult to find private investors for funding, let alone creative partners willing to defer payments for services to be rendered with a scheduled timeline. However once you find such angels, one should cherish the relationship and treat them with respect.
You see animation is like any other business venture regarding the risk one must be willing to take in exchange for a return on their vested interest. Private investors as well as creative vested partners deserve the ability to gage their risks when investing in a animation project. Therefore it is dire to supply a honest full-disclosure of pre-production loans, bank notes, music and script license rights, points issued to others, pending pre-sales, project budgets, storyboards and a complete bible. This should all be supplied by the studio prior to embarking into any long-term relationship with investors and/or creative partners. This is the single most important requirement to start off on the right foot, building a healthy, long-term “partnership”. Over selling, misleading, or exaggerating the pre-production status of a project only to secure funds, or creative services from partners to be is not only unethical, but can also find a small studio executive facing criminal action in some countries and will likely result in the loss of a title in court. More so, it can ruin ones most valuable asset, their reputation in a small industry.
Misrepresentation of the pending project, time-lines, distribution deals, pre-sale interests, payment dates and such in the long-run will destroy a relationship built entirely on faith in the beginning. The faith placed in you and your word.
So rule #1 – Honesty from the start is the best policy.
Rule #2 – Communication is Key:
While being totally “honest” about pre-sales, funds and budgets is important, the need for ongoing communication with investors and creative partners with a vested interest is even more vital to help retain the foundation of the new relationship. More so it is likely the investors and/or creative partners are based outside your local market. Therefore, it is your professional and ethical responsibility as the project head to communicate and supply regular updates on the production process, deadlines, payment schedules, financial reports, episode costs, budgets and any distribution deals, pre-sales, etc each month.
Partners and investors have the same legal rights to be informed with open communication and reports as to gage their own respective investments. Not to mention the creative work supplied by vested by partners likely has a copyright clause until the contract is paid in full.
At the end of the day, the reputation of all involved is on the line, not to mention the health of a vital partnership.
So rule #2 – ongoing communication is key to sustain and evolve a healthy creative partnership.
Rule #3 – Welcome Their Constructive Input:
There is nothing worse than a studio head, who can not take creative input from investors and partners. After all their money is financing the project and/or their creative work is part of the success of the project. Thus are they not owners too?
Of course and anyone who thinks otherwise should find a new line of work, where one need not rely on other talent. Once you have sold a piece of the pie as we say, you must begin thinking with a different mindset. You are no longer flying solo as you are now a “partner” in the project. We tend to get so close to our creative work, that we almost forget to open our minds to objective and constructive input, creative feedback and quality control errors from our own partners.
Taking input and feedback as negative insults offering responses such as “your beginning to bring down the staff’s confidence” and “please no more mean remarks”, or most times no reply at all is not the done thing. It is funny to see how one would be willing to seek a professionals advise and investment funds, yet feel their opinion therein is not important and disregard the most important and honest focus group available to the studio, their own partners and investors. Take advantage of the expertise, knowledge and feedback offered by your partners and investors. After all everyone has something to lose.
So rule #3 -When hard love is offered from vested partners, one should welcome constructive input.
Rule #4 – Don’t Compete with Partners and Distributors
It is hard enough for a young studio with a new offering fresh out of production to locate and secure good, aggressive distribution in the way over saturated marketplace today. Not to mention finding a source willing to promote a first time offering from a new and young studio is almost impossible. However it can be suicide to sign a distribution agreement and then actually compete with your distributors selling the product direct.
Prior to signing any legal agreement with a distributor, understand what the terms are of the agreement, the rights your signing over, the length of time, or term of the agreement, which markets do they have, how much capital will the distributor invest if any, or advance in the development and/or marketing of the title, along with a clear understanding of what your exit plan is if the distributor fails to perform. However you must also be willing to offer something back and give the title in good faith and agree to not compete with the distributor pitching the title behind their backs.
One has to also supply a competitive marketing package complete with bibles, sample episodes, trailers and a unique marketing gadget to support the distribution effort. These too can be negotiated prior to creation of any agreement. Rewriting the rules, or terms as you go along, is unfair, unethical, in breach of contract and once again dishonest and will only tarnish your name and your studios name with other distributors and industry professionals. Word gets out fast.
Leave sales to the professionals and give up a slice of the apple. If not you’ll have a distributor who has not only legally locked up your title in many markets, but may not be as willing to mention the title in their next network meeting, or event.
So rule #4 – don’t compete with your own distributors in an effort to save on commissions.
Rule #5 – There is no “I” in TEAM
We’ve all heard this saying before and it holds true even in small animation partnerships. While many who read this article will feel it is merely common sense, it never ceases to amaze me just how many times I hear from fellow associates their frustration with project heads and young animators they’re in partnerships with.
Many eager studio heads can not see past their own ego and desire to have complete creative control, so they don’t take time to fully understand, or see the importance of partnership ethics. So with this said, I offer this little insight from personal experience to help one person see just how easy it really can be to secure a healthy and prosperous animation partnership.
Good partners will go to the bottom of the sea with you IF treated with respect. They as you deserve nothing less. There is no amount of money, to buy a team of associates and/or partners whom have been treated with respect, solicited with honesty, offered ongoing communication, supplied regular financial reports good or bad, and who feel truly welcome as part of the TEAM. One must be willing to see there is greater value in a solid partner and investor, verses merely free service and money for the short term.
So our final rule #5 says it all – leave out the “I” and you’ll have a winning TEAM.