If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always be what you’ve always been.
*NOTE: Any and all opinions expressed are the sole opinions of Stephen M. Levinson and not Frederator Studios nor any of its affiliated companies*
Recently there’s been a spark of debate over at Cartoon Brew about the obscene pay of viacom executives. Many have commented about the improper distribution of pay, that the artists should be compensated more, get over time, etc (which I believe they should.) However, those who are taking business risks with their own capital should receive a larger profit than someone who is hired to do the work. Or should they maintain some ownership of the work they create? Don’t get me wrong I have a huge respect for talented artists and believe they should definitely be paid well. Many artists just don’t understand the concepts of business that I’ve been learning about over the past years and continue to learn, and often go right to calling any business greedy. Viacom is a huge company and it may seem almost impossible to compete with, but working for Viacom isn’t the only way to work in the animation industry. However, being that the current system set-up in place generates maximum revenue for the investors (they may believe everything is just fine) and even though the way the productions are put together and produced have been done for many many years, I still believe there’s a place for supporting the artists at a higher level, while still generating high revenue for the companies. That doesn’t necessarily mean more pay, and it doesn’t necessarily mean the less or the same, but having artists more invested into the projects and having a say in what’s being produced (opposed to just being tools to finish the project) could be ways the animation industry moves forward. Many people think I could just being idealistic and that Viacom is impossible to compete against. That’s pretty limited thinking and if you’re gonna assume you can’t compete with them, you’ve already given up. After speaking with Fred I realized re-inventing every possible process of production isn’t necessarily the way to go. But improving on how things are currently done is another story.
I have been submerging myself into the animation industry (yes, this is an industry) since I was 15 and have been learning an incredible amount of how this industry works. I’ve only been actually working at a studio in the industry for 3 weeks (been freelancing for a while though), but speaking with artists, producers, executive, producers from Frederator, Nick, Cartoon Network, Fox etc over the past years has really been opening my eyes. Listening to first hand experiences is extremely valuable to someone like me even though first hand experience is always key. And that’s why I’m here, working in an animation studio. Seeing how things are done from the inside as they happen, as deals are being made. I may only be an animator at the studio I’m working at, but any of the pitch meetings I can hear from my desk, I try to listen to as best as possible. Seeing how the producers deal with the artists/animators, how they work etc. is what I’ve been learning soo far, on top of the animation skills I am developing.
So that brings me to my reason for writing this post. How do you see the industry evolving? Do you think the internet will eventually phase out broadcast television? With companies such as Mondo Media being the largest cartoon portal on YouTube, what else do you think will happen for the industry? Should network cartoon productions be more creator driven? Is the quality of animation on TV even important? Is the production you’re working on being run by monkeys? What do you feel needs to be changed in the way productions are run? How should artists have more say in the production? Should artists retain certain rights to projects? Should they not because of the legal liability a company could face? Should more of the budget be focused on the storyboard artists, character designers, layout artists, and if you’re working as an animator in the US and your work isn’t being outsourced, should you get a larger % of the budget? If people aren’t taking risks to try and better themselves in the world, should they be compensated more because that would be “fair” ? Capitalism is based on merit, so should artists be paid more? Or should they want to become directors to receive higher pay? Is everything fine and we should just keep everything how it is?
So, what are your thoughts?
Stephen M. Levinson
-Samuel Goldwyn (origin)
-Alexander Hamilton/Peter Marshall
p.s. the reason I have decided to start posting quotes, is in hopes to inspire people with quotes that inspire me.
“Most artists would just prefer to paint, draw, play, create all day without a thought of how they are going to pay the bills. But that is not reality. The trick is to pay the bills while keeping your individual spirit as whole as possible.” -Joe Murray.
Stephen M. Levinson
Today i’m selling my popular screenwriting app Scripts Pro for only $.99! Grab em while you can, supplies in unlimited quantity!
So, today is my last day on the CalArts campus. I’ve already signed the papers and am withdrawn from the school. Today is the last day/night I can live on campus. The title of this post may seem odd as my previous post was about the animation I was doing here. The post before that was how excited I was that I got into CalArts. Sure, I’ve only been here for 4 weeks and it seems like a short amount of time to make such a big decision. Well, Jeffrey Katzenberg visited. I haven’t differed or taken the semester off, I’ve withdrawn from the school. And it was my decision.
Let’s backtrack a little bit. Alot. Ever since I was young I have always been looking to do some type of “business.” My first entrepreneurial business was teaching people how to draw. I was maybe 10 at the time and was in no position to be making a business out of it. You may call it delusional, but when I have an idea and am focused, no obstacle could come in the way of my goal.
After that “business” plan, I came up with the idea of purchasing iPod’s at wholesale and re-selling them at discounted market prices. I had lists of wholesalers, even a Sony PSP distributor who I had spoken to on the phone. Did these people have the iPods and PSP’s they said they did? Probably not. But the idea overcame me and my determination wouldn’t stop me, even when the PSP wholesaler said I was too young to purchase anything from him. I was 14 at the time. This business also went nowhere.
My next business venture was to purchase clothing, sports good etc at wholesale price and re-sell at a lower rate. See the pattern? These businesses never went anywhere, due to the lack of funding. I guess you need money to start a business, who woulda thunk?
My latest and most successful business to date is my company, Inkless Ideas LLC, which I am the President of :). I came up with the idea of a great screenwriting iPhone/iPad application called Scripts Pro. I hired a company to develop the coding and invested pretty much all my money at the time. The greatest $3,000 I have ever invested. MANY issues arose with the app. Too buggy. Didn’t work how I needed it to. Crashed ALL THE TIME. Sure I was upset but I kept going at it. I initially invested $1500 but needed to invest another $1500 to fix the mess. I was skeptical, sure. There were several people who thought it was a sign that I should just give up the app. It really wasn’t working out. I didn’t give up. I knew exactly what it needed to do and didn’t stop until the program worked correctly. It got to a point where I needed to submit the app and to generate income to continue working on it. I submitted it to Apple in December. It was rejected. I had my developers re-fix some things. Rejected again. A total of 7 rejections by the time it was approved for sale. February 5th is was live! Scripts Pro soon became and still is the best screenwriting iPhone/iPad application out there. Well, that’s what my customers tell me. Currently Scripts Pro has over 10,000 users and is growing every day. Not a day without a sale. I can grow it into something much bigger than it is now.
Back to September and I was headed to CalArts, the school I had discovered on this very blog! What a dream come true! I could afford my tuition since my app had been doing very well and now had time to focus on my animations. I’ve been here for about 4 weeks-ish. The classes are great, the talent is outstanding and the teachers are phenomenal. There’s no reason to leave CalArts. So why am I?
Last week Jeffrey Katzenberg came to our school for a Q&A and to talk about his life and how he started. While talking, I realized how much I had in common with him. His father was also in the stock market and he mentioned that he always responds to his emails, all of them, I do the same for my customers. The ideas of business have always been floating around in my head, but I thought I would do the business thing on the side. After Jeffrey came, it just clicked in my head. What do I want out of CalArts? What is the reason I’m spending $30k out of my own pocket for?
I no longer want to do the actual animation. It’s an incredible skill to have and I’ve already been doing animation for many years. The students coming out of CalArts will hands down be the best animators, but at the end of the day, I want to see my ideas come to life with the help of the most talented people I will know. I want to produce. I want to bring talent together. I want to have an idea and collaborate with the best artists to make my vision come true. I want to lead a team, a production, a studio. I want to create feature films and I’m going to re-invent 2d animation. I know how I’m going to do it. I just can’t tell you
So, where does that leave me now? I will get the majority of my tuition back and move on. I’m heading back home to New York for a few weeks until I get a car and a place in LA and drive over. I’m calling everyone I know, setting up meetings everywhere, and going to get my foot in the door. Yesterday I visited Cartoon Network, I met a ton of awesome people and also got to see Pen Ward, Eric Pringle and Adam Muto again. It was great touching base with them after all the years. And I met Phil Rynda, who is an awesome talent, who just happens to be following my blog! How awesome! This blog has been and continues to be one of my greatest outlets. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a million more times. Frederator is the best company I have ever discovered and have come close with. Now I’m going to look for internships and see how the business and production is run first-hand. There’s no better way to learn.
It will be an interesting journey as there is no direct path. If there was a school to become a CEO, everyone would be CEO’s. That’s the where it get’s a little blurry. Everyone seems unsure of how to become a “producer.” The answer is that there is no direct path. Sometimes, you have to appreciate the ordinary. Without it, there wouldn’t be room to stand out.
After his visit, I emailed Jeffrey Katzenberg and thanked him for all of his time, for coming down to CalArts and for speaking to us, telling him how he’s had a huge impact on my life. I sincerely thanked him for his visit. His response, “:-). Best of luck to you.”
Look out California, I’m ready for whatever you throw my way! Soon to be established, Inkless Animation Studios.
Stephen M. Levinson
p.s. my new nickname around campus is either Leavin Stephen, or Stephen Leavingsoon LOL I like leavingsoon its clever!
Today I’m headed off to California, with my sights set on Cal Arts on monday for move-in! I’m soooo excited and can NOT wait to start! The first weeks is going to be awesome; Meeting everyone and having a good time! Gotta get a ton of stuff this weekend for school! Gonna be one hell of an experience and I doubt I’ll have time to blog about it being that my schedule is soooo freaking busy! From the time that I began commenting like a robot on the Frederator Blog when I was only 15, I never knew what would have become of my, almost spam-like-but-real-commenting.
Frederator is probably one of the greatest companies I have become close with. Fred has been extremely generous to me, taking my pitches when I was 15 regardless of an agent, unlike any other company. I have kept improving my pitches and I still do. Learning to grow a thick skin from rejection from a very young age has absolutely been a blessing. I’ve learned alot about animation, the industry, business, and this blog is where I discovered this thing called Cal Arts.When the 39 cartoon blogs started to pile up, I was nervous that I didn’t have anything to pitch and the slots would be filled up. They did regardless, but it was fun trying to squeeze my idea in! As the blogs and posts started, Frederator Blogs grew to a large community that I became a family with. It seems as though some of these creators had attended Cal Arts. I saw the blog post for it and looked into what it was all about. That blog post changed my life.
Fast forward a couple years. I had a meeting with Fred just to catch up. I was discussing my plans of how I was going to get into Cal Arts and live happily ever after. Fred said to me, “What happens when you don’t get in?” I wasn’t sure what to make of it at the time, mainly due to my ignorance, and assured him I was going to get in. Got the rejection letter in the mail a few months later. When I first applied I had absolutely no idea what the criteria for accepted students was. I had no starting point, just submitted a bunch of black and white life drawings. The rejection didn’t discourage me one bit. I decided to take the year off, since spending a year anywhere would have just wasted my money since I knew I was going to Cal Arts.I attended the Gnomon School of Visual Effects in the fall of last year (wow, I can’t believe that was already a year ago!) more motivated and determined than ever before. I was going to be in California, what could be better? I took several classes and improved my life drawing tremendously. I had a couple meetings with Libby Hux and found out EXACTLY what they were looking for in perspective students. I returned home from Gnomon in November and began putting my all that I had learned at Gnomon to work. While there I grew as a better artist, person and gained a lot more confidence. I re-applied to Cal Arts the following January, 2010.
My family and I recalled around the time I was rejected last year, which was in March. That was last year. March 7th 2010 approached and for some reason the mail was extremely late that day. We kept searching our mail box, 12pm, 1pm, 2pm, still nothing. Then around 3pm the mail finally came. I had gotten something from Cal Arts with the back envelope reading “Congratulations.” My mom yelled down, “I THINK YOU GOT IN!”. I ripped open the letter and read “Dear Stephen, I am delighted to inform you of your acceptance to the California Institute Of The Arts.” I was soo happy! We were all jumping up and down and for some reason I started crying. It was one of the greatest moments of my life. I was headed to California, to the Walt Disney animation school that I had been dreaming about for over 3 years. Me. In Cal Arts. They actually want me there! WOW!
I’ve met a ton of awesome people from the school already and on Facebook and I can’t wait for the amazing experiences I will have at Cal Arts.
Thank you Fred Seibert, and everyone else who’s helped and motivated me to push and reach my goals. This blog and company has been and continues to be one of my greatest outlets. I don’t know where I would be had I not discovered this blog and left my first comment on the website. Regardless, I’m moving ahead and will visit Frederator whenever I can!
Stephen M. Levinson
Today I received a GREAT letter! I’ve been accepted to the Character Animation program at Cal Arts for the fall 2010 semester! I was rejected last year but I did not give up! I worked my butt off on my portfolio and it has finally paid off! I’d like to again thank Fred Seibert, Eric Homan, Kat Kosmala, Gabriel Valles, and Tom E. Van Dell for your really great letters of recommendation! This is such a happy day! And would you believe, the mail was 3 hours late today!