Thursday, January 19, 2006

These "Suits" Are Diving Me Nuts

I think one of the all time funniest cartoons was The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. And thanks to the re-mastering of these classic cartoons on DVD they are readily available to enjoy again. They were never great art from a quality of the drawings or the animation, but they certainly proved that great content trumps style every time.

It was more by accident than by design that these cartoons ended up with their almost amateur art style. In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, TV cartoons were still very new and totally sponsor driven. Advertising agencies and Cereal companies controlled the market, and being a producer meant following their rules or not getting into the game. Things have changed significantly today, now the big media companies make the rules, different masters, same game.

When Jay Ward was trying to pitch his new ideas, he was often frustrated by the “suits” from Madison Avenue. Eventually, he sold Rocky and His Friends, but he had to pay a dear price. His price per episode was way too cheap, and when he tried to make adjustments he was forced to move his production to a new studio located in Mexico and backed by the sponsors. Gamma Studios was made up of mostly inexperienced and low paid local artists who were managed by an ever changing guard of imported Hollywood trained supervisors. And this was not in today’s virtual world of the Internet and video conferencing and easy global collaboration, so it is no wonder the results were less than great, art wise.

But in retrospect there was probably a silver lining to that cloud. They had the handicap of their production constraints and their low price per episode so they had to sacrifice their desire for high production values and that inspired them to make sure the scripts where really great as a means of artistic compensation. Additionally, the frustration of their situation as peasants in a “suit” driven hierarchy made them all the more irreverent in their desire to push the envelope of subjects to satirize. The results are history. Long before the Simpsons or South Park, Ward Productions was blazing the trail for smart multi-generational humor that was really funny on many different levels.

There are many lessons to be learned from their experiences. But perhaps the most important lesson is that limitations and constraints aren’t to be feared or avoided, but rather they become the catalysts for better work. So the next time you are feeling frustrated at how difficult it is to create with all the outside interferences that are inevitable in media production, just remember that those frustrations can be turned into increased creativity.


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