Development is not really a job

If you feel strongly about doing work for free than developing a show for broadcast is probably not the best path. I’m not an expert I haven’t been involved with a lot of development. If producer or creators say different go with their recommendations. I’m still learning.

From what I’ve gleaned much of development falls to the creator. You work on your own time on pitches. You might get a bit of development funding. That funding is better used to commission new work than pay your salary. Many producers defer payment on the productions they work on. The idea being when the show gets made when it’s a hit then you make back the hard work you put in.

This kind of system favours the well off the people with resources. Only some people can afford to spend months out of the year not making a paycheque. Fortunate people have the space to work evenings and weekends on creative projects.

I’m probably wrong about a lot of this. I’m not calling for a big change in the system. I want to talk with you the creators and animators. If you knew that the process would take years and you wouldn’t paid out for it would you still do it?


I do a post every Friday morning about trying to make indie animation

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Making the first version

I was reading this post by Derek Sivers That’s version ∞. First launch version 0.1. I was thinking about software development, but I think these concepts can apply to most projects. It’s about how many business plans are too complex they focus on every little feature they want to have.

“I have to say, “OK. You know software version numbers? Mac OS version 10.4? 10.5? What you just described is version infinity. That’s everything it will ever do in the future. First focus on launching version 0.1.”’

We need to start with the first version, the simplest, stripped down version. Too many projects get bogged down in the details of what they want to become.

“What’s the one crucial part of that giant plan? What’s the one killer feature that nobody else is doing? Get it launched with just that. Then add the rest later.”

If you think back to when you were a student and studying animation. You wanted to be good at everything. When we were making our thesis films we tried to make everything as good as it can be. Everyone wants a film that has a good story, great animation, cool designs and beautiful art direction. As animators we’re obsessed with craft.

When starting out we can’t make everything perfect. We have to make choices about what where to cut corners. What’s often more important is where your strengths are, what you can uniquely bring to the project.

“The book “Good to Great” studied hundreds of companies that started out as good, then at some point in their history became great.

They found that all of these companies had the “Hedgehog Concept.” They focused on the one thing they do best, and let go of the rest.”

If you have a complex story idea, or series pitch, break it down into something simple. Into the shortfilm or storybook version. Figure out what’s important or cool about your big ideas and figure out a way to highlight those. What you focus on will be what makes your work special amongst the other work that’s out there.

Opportunity cost

Yesterday I talked about sunk cost. On the other side of sunk costs is opportunity costs. What you choose today reduces what new opportunities you can follow. This can be the big project that isn’t going well that you’ve been working on for three months. By continuing to work on it you might miss the chance of a new interesting project.

What’s important is tou anticipate the sunk costs and opportunity costs of every project. Every project has a difficult part where it seems endless. If we know that going in we can anticipate it. Figure out early if the project is worth pursuing before you’re three months in. When you make the choice to commit to a project really commit. Be prepared to weather the opportunity costs and the hard part when they come around.

This is another useful note to myself. I’m in the middle stretch of a project that’s lasted a long time. Every now and then I think about quitting. There’s a part of me that really wants too. But we’ve committed to seeing it through. So I’m going to buckle down and do it.


I do a post every Friday morning about trying to make indie animation

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Don’t wait for good ideas

This is a note for myself. I’ve been writing more, what I know is that if I sit down to write ideas will come. Every time I get in my head whether it’s a script or blog post if I sit and write the work gets done. If I wait it doesn’t work. Still I convince myself that I’ll just let a good idea come to me.

We’ve all had the experience of being in the shower or washing the dishes, just before bed when a groundbreaking idea pops into our head. It’s wonderful. I think I’ve made myself believe I can manufacture that moment. If I just make tea, the boiling water will loosen the good ideas. It just never works. So I have to sit here at the keyboard madly trying to type the newsletter.

This is a note to myself to remind me to write early and often. Write even more because it’s only doing the work that loosens the block. We wait for a lot of things. We wait to be better at what we’re doing. We wait for a better opportunity. We wait for a raise, for a new role, for a new city. Those things aren’t waiting for us. Putting in the work breaks the dam. We all have projects that we’re trying to get off the ground.

Waiting is a kind of self sabotage that we create. It’s based on the fear of failing, of not being ready. Being ready doesn’t matter so much, because we can recover from most missteps. The people I know who read this are smart and engaged. They know how to do great work. Start by just sitting down and putting in the work.


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The burden of craft

I was talking with a friend the other day. We were having the conversation if we should make comics in colour vs black and white.More and more webcomics are in colour. But does this really help your work spread.

This kind of making and positioning is mostly a distraction. It’s the stuff that you think you have to do to meet spec. To fit in with the crowd. When what’s really important is standing out. Making something a little different for a specific group of people. When we compare ourselves to others and to everything that’s out there we’ll never match up. We will work on our master work forever and it will never be released.

This is why I love bring up One Punch Man. One Punch Man started as a webcomic. A badly drawn webcomic. Then it got so popular it got released as beautifully drawn manga. Then the manga got made into an anime.

Many of us want to skip the steps and go straight to the anime or the manga. But what those show us is that it’s that first webcomic that matters. Would the One Punch Man anime exist if One hadn’t done those bad drawings. What the stages of One Punch Man illustrates is how to grow a property. Some people judge a book by its cover. They never would have read the story with One’s original artwork. Some other don’t want to read the manga at all and will only watch the Anime.

In some cases our sense of craft is what gets in our way. We want things to be good from the beginning. Fully formed and fleshed out. But it doesn’t matter if it’s in colour. If it’s fully animated. What matters is that you get it done. It matters that your making something that connects with people.

The Out Sourced Method

Every once in awhile I get an interesting idea for an experiment. Since I don’t have the time to try it out I thought I would share them and see if anyone gets inspired.

This method was based on the ideas from the book the 4 hour work week by Tim Ferriss. One of the ideas from that book is that outsourcing and delegation are available to many more people than ever before. Here’s the rough sketch of how this could work for say a short film. Let’s say you have a cool idea for a short film. But you don’t have a lot of time, but you have a little bit of money. Using sites like Freelancer.com or something similar you should be able to post a job and find talented animators, inbetweeners, or audio engineers from around the world. So spend a few weeks doing your end of the work. Make a good animatic or other preproduction. You can hire a bunch of freelancers to help make a short film in probably a very short amount of time.

The reason most people won’t do this is this isn’t what they signed up for. They want to make animation. We also have a low opinion of their own value. We will always pick the person who will work the cheapest, and most of the time that’s us. There is a sticky question about how the same work in different locations is a different rate. If you feel strongly about this, this method isn’t for you. Not that this isn’t an important topic.

This process is by no means easy. It requires different skills. You need to figure out how to organize freelancers. You’re work needs to be clear, and expectations have to be laid out. Communication will be very important. And things will likely go wrong. You’ll find a freelancer who isn’t able to get the work done. Or they misrepresented what they were capable of.

Here it is anyway. It’s an interesting experiment for anyone who wants to make something.

Zipf’s Law and long tails

Zipf’s law states that given some corpus of natural language utterances, the frequency of any word is inversely proportional to its rank in the frequency table. Thus the most frequent word will occur approximately twice as often as the second most frequent word, three times as often as the third most frequent word, etc.:

Wikipedia

I was just reading an article about Patreon and how most of the people on Patreon don’t earn very much money. This is also true about Youtube, that most videos uploaded to youtube get almost no views. That most things sold on Amazon sell very few units. From what I understand this is partly Zipf’s law or something like it.

I can’t see away out of this. We can try and make these platforms more accessible and equal, and we should. But it might be the case by making them more accessible new people will join and the bottom will fill up again.

Patreon is enterprise and business software for artists and creators. It’s not a utopia, it’s not a rebellion. It’s still an amazing idea that will give money to people who never would have got that money before. But in their own words it’s software for artists. The hard part of being an artist is still building an audience and making consistent work. Patreon, Youtube, Amazon, and what ever are just tools to get in front of that audience and monetize it.