I’d worked at Hanna-Barbera Cartoons for less than a year when I passed the first big hurdle to getting my shorts idea going. But once I’d been able to convince the woman who ran Cartoon Network that doing 48 shorts was actually her idea, there were still quite a few obstacles remaining. In no particular order:
Ted Turner wanted to make stuff –TV movies, feature films, news shows, cartoons, whatever– he just wanted to make the stuff on his own terms. Meaning without unions, residuals, and royalties. His thinking, actually prevalent in old Hollywood, was that if he paid your salary he’d taken all the risk and he should own all your ideas lock, stock, and barrel. Theoretically, I didn’t blame him; they’re a nightmare costing millions over the years of people administering them and all that, but hey! that’s the way of the world, right? Eventually, Ted relented and approved sharing success with talent, but it took a year and a half.
A lot of other folks at Turner were confused by the whole thing. Not cartoons, per se –they didn’t care a whit if something was a cartoon, a movie, or a steel factory it seemed– it was just that the company was in the TV network business, and up until that time they’d only licensed shows and movies to run, never made them. So when we were suggesting spending a lot of money on completely risky productions (when you license a movie already made, you know whether it’s successful or not) and couldn’t accurately predict how much money would be made in advance, well, they stay confused. Somehow, over a two year period we wore them down with financial analysis and they eventually, grudgingly capitulated.
Then there were the folks in the TV animation industry, our competitors and friends. They completely thought I was nuts. It just wasn’t the way things were done. Shorts were so …uh, yesterday. It was the way the old guys did things in the old days. Well, duh, yeah. The way they did them when they made the greatest cartoons of all time, you jerks. (To be fair, there were a couple of people who were amazingly supportive. Particularly, Warner Bros. Animation President and former Hanna-Barbera executive Jean MacCurdy, and director/producer Phil Roman. Both of them made me feel emboldened and confident to go on.)
Probably the most disheartening were some of the creative people in the industry, both in and out of Hanna-Barbera. Some of them were folks who’d been entrenched in the way the system had operated for the 20 years before. Efficiency was all that mattered, and the only management worth listening to was the most senior person in the room, be they from the studio or, better, from the network. Development executives were committed to the status quo; after all, cartoon production had morphed into an aping of live action television, the place all of the D-execs aspired. The others who thought I was an idiot were the ones who already had ‘good’ jobs on shows like The Simpsons, Animaniacs, or Batman (we weren’t even a tiny blip on the feature films radar; they could care less about anything in TV); why should they care about what their inferiors were up to, they were being paid well for a long period of time? Well, the only way this thing was going to work was to ignore them all, so, I did.
So where’d our continuing faith and confidence come from? It was all the cartoonists who flocked to our doors with their ideas.
(More next time.)