Friday, October 10, 2014

From the Mail Bag: The Testing Plague

Okay, actually from the e-mail INBOX, but anyway.

It's a plan to solve the scourge of testing, and goes like this ...

I am a 23 year veteran director, board artist, animator and character designer with a long line of great resume credits and plenty of highly-regarded industry names who I can call on as references.

This does not matter in the least these days when it comes to looking for most jobs in our industry. Most studios hand out tests like a bowl of cheap candy and the only one biting are the kids. More and more veterans I talk to are fed up with testing and for good reason. Often times the studios are testing 20 people for one job opening and they might even hire someone before you are done with your test. Some times they want you to test for a new show that hasn't even defined it's own style yet. They can't even give you reference material to follow other than character designs leaving you blindfolded. Do they not believe in any of your previous work experience?

You can't trust a test for everything the job is anyway. I just directed on a show where everyone was tested, but only half of the artists were truly strong enough to be there and hardly any of them were meeting their deadlines. We don't know if people are taking their tests at home, if they had help, or if a friend gave them notes. Even the production staff is starting to agree that tests don't tell the whole story of whether a person can do the job.

So why are we still insulting the artists by ignoring all of the years of work they have done on their reels and resumes? I equate the artist to a pro athlete: We have all of the fundamentals and the coach brings in a new play that they scouted from another team. We study the tape and then execute.

I have a simple solution that I believe will benefit both the artist and the studios. I once did a test in-house and the producer paid me $500 for the week I was there. The studio was able to see me at work and get to know me a little, I was able to shake hands with lots of people on the show I had worked with before and show them I fit right in. I was also able to show my roughs and get some direction and to follow that direction before my time was up. I could ask a question if I needed to. This is essential for the studio to know how well I followed direction and how good my attitude was. Did I ask too many questions? Or did I seem capable with very little handholding? It worked out great and I got hired.

I've thought about this process for a long time since. If the studios have to pay a small amount to testers then they have to take your resume seriously and whittle it down to only the best candidates. They can't hand out 30 tests for one job. And they have to have a job opening in order to justify paying for you to come in. This also benefits them because they have paid for the work and can use your work if they want and the directors who review the work are not besieged with tests to review.

And lastly, strong veterans will not walk away but will prosper in an environment that they know. The artist will be able to access the style better, see the tools that others are using, and quickly adapt so he/she can be reviewed fairly instead of eliminated on a technicality like not knowing the studio likes to use brushes to stamp in the characters clean and then just move around the model sheets instead of drawing everything out.

We can do that, if we know that is how the studio does it. A test doesn't tell these things. Many vets are refusing tests and going through friends at other places, leaving the studios to use lots of new recruits. The directors carry these inexperienced artists on their backs through the whole production and get burned out fast.

A short, paid in-house test solves a lot of the problems we face in tests. They can call it a temporary job or probationary week if they have to. I think we as artists need to stand together and fight for a solution that has unfairly hurt artists for a long time. I would also encourage studios to use this process by favoring current employees first and rolling them onto other projects within the same studio. There is nothing more insulting than hitting home runs for your studio on a project then being asked to take a test in order to move to the next project your studio is doing.

Please help me spread the word that there is a better solution.

All my best,

An anonymous veteran artist

Lots of truth up above.

The industry is roaring right now and lots of artists and directors with production experience feel insulted and demeaned by tests. Most tests are handed out on-line, and are as impersonal as glass bricks. And many of the victims artists who take them never hear much of anything from the studio after the things are turned in.

So the current reality is: Many skilled veterans avoid tests like a contagious virus, and studios who deploy tests willy nilly to weed out the riff raff end up with a less-experienced, lower-quality employee because the industry performers have given the company's on-line hoop jumping contest a wide berth.

I've long advocated a four-hour test performed in-house. This gives applicants enough time to demonstrate what they can do, and doesn't waste a director's or storyboard supervisor's workday looking at pages and pages of storyboard tests. As one Disney supervisor said to me:

"I can tell if an artist has what we need in three or four story panels. I don't need to look at more."

If only management was as smart regarding tests as the artists who create their profits, we wouldn't have this on-going problem.


Tim said...

Sounds fair to me. A couple of years ago, I "tested" for a storyboard position (at a non-union shop). It was more of a probationary period, than a true test. They gave me an 11 minute script, but said to turn in what I had completed after 2 or 3 days. That way they could see if I was a goof fit for the show. If they dropped me, they agreed to pay me for my time and we would part ways amicably.
They didn't drop me, and I went on to board several episodes over the next year.

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