One bite at a time / by Everett Downing

Disclaimer: Warning, these blog posts have are not intended to be an example of how you should run the production of an animated short. If nothing else, my hope is that you learn from my mistakes.

So I managed to gather a bunch of super talented people to help me make this short. We had a story reel (our road map), and a plan. It should have been easy sailing from here, right? 

Wrong. So wrong. Oh so wrong! Let me set the record straight for everyone out there. Producing a short is a feat of sheer willpower, that and a lot hard work. In the beginning, there is a lot of excitement and you can get quite a bit of momentum from that. But the key to completion is maintaining that momentum. There are so many places along the way that conspired to steal that momentum away. Work schedule. Home schedule. Technical issues. Personal issues. Random Acts of God. All of these things can chip away at your goals. And once that forward movement is eroded, it's very difficult to get back. 

So what do you do? Honestly, I'm not 100 percent sure, but here are a few things that. I learned;

1) Don't force it.  This is a rule not only for production, but life in general. Things come in waves. If something isn't working the way you want, figure out a way around it. Sometimes you have to make concessions. Sometimes you have to get creative, and sometimes, you really just have to wait. 

2) Keep the lines of communication open. This was something I needed to work on. When you're coordinating with a group of people and you're the point-man, you have to be very clear with the crew. Let people know the plan.  Be clear about your expectations for them, and keep everyone in the loop. When obstacles or issues pop up, let people know, and where applicable, refer to point #1.

3) Set realistic goals. I was oh so foolish in the beginning. I thought  "The short is a minute and a half, we should be able to bang this out in the few months, easy!" That might have been true... if we were all working on it full time instead of in our spare time. You have to respect the process, and you have to respect the crew. Life is complicated.  People have lives, jobs, families. That's a lot of moving parts any one of which can blip and send the best laid plains off course and out of control. Always giving yourself padding when planning deadlines. Hope for the best, plan for the worse. 

4) One bite at a time. Any movement forward is good movement. Keeping your goals clear, simple and open to the crew not only keeps everyone in the know, but it communicates a sense of accomplishment. We creatives like to know that our work is being utilized and that things are progressing. Every task completed is a victory, no matter how small. 

 "Q: How do you eat an elephant? A: One bite at a time". 

 "Q: How do you eat an elephant? A: One bite at a time". 

5) Compartmentalize. I've worked in feature film production for many many years so it's fair to say I'm pretty familiar with how the process works (generally). My mistake was treating my short film production like a feature film production. It just didn't work. I tried to coordinate several different departments simultaneously, projecting deadlines, and handing out multiple assignments... It was a debacle. It was fixed when the second producer, Tim Hahn came on to help out on the short. He proposed that we break the production into shorter milestones. We would only recruit from a new department when previous milestone were completed. For instance, with the story reel complete, we could focus on layout and modeling. Animation would not be recruited until the characters were finished, and the layout reel was complete. Unfortunately we couldn't fully implement this idea, but where we did, it worked to great effect!

These are some of the biggest lessons learned that I'll be carrying forward with me on my next venture (whatever that will be).