Monday, May 14, 2007

"Needs More Baby"

A few decades ago, I was sitting in a story meeting at Disney Feature Animation on Flower Street. Jeffrey Katzenberg and a few other people from his management staff were being shown a sequence of "Oliver & Co.," and a story artist (I forget which one) was putting his all into the presentation.

When it concluded, one of the execs who'd come in with Mr. Katzenberg began to expound on things that bothered him about the storyboards. He went on for awhile, and then, as he paused for breath, Jeffrey said: "It seems fine to me."

End sentence. End paragraph. Close quotes.

The executive who'd been nattering on about the boards' shortcomings swallowed and shrank about three inches in his chair. And made the tactical decision -- a smart one, it seemed to me -- to say nothing more.

It was kind of clear who had the final word in the meeting. And who wasn't afraid to use it.

Of course, things don't always turn out that way.

Late this afternoon I was sitting in the cubicle of a story artist who regaled me with the following tale:

"I was working on the story development crew at [a large animation studio], and we were finally getting a handle on a feature we'd been working on. There was a writer who the studio had just hired who turned out to be really good. And he'd written a great new outline and we had fleshed it out. And we pitched the new approach to a high-level studio exec and one of the managers.

"The high-level exec wasn't crazy about the writer who's work we liked, and wanted to put in two of his favorites -- neither of whom the story crew thought were any good.

"So we're in the conference room, doing the story pitch. And when we get to the end, everybody sits there waiting for a reaction. Finally the manager says: 'Needs more baby.'

"Except there was no baby. None. And the story would have been wrecked with a baby. It didn't fit. But the high exec says: 'Yeah! Needs more baby.'

"So naturally we put in a baby. And the good writer got replaced by the two favorites of the executive, and the project went downhill from there.

"After awhile it was canceled. And now, years later, all I remember from that meeting where it started not to work is 'Needs more baby.'"

Sometimes executives make right decisions. Sometimes the decisions are something other than right.


Anonymous said...

I once worked on an animated feature about felines who could not dance - great project with a great director whom we all loved. The project spent a bit of time in Story Hell as they often do and during this time a senior exec decided that cats were no longer the Flavor of the Week and wanted the film reworked with ducks in their place. Was this change driven by marketing research, by studies where execs with huge pink swelling brains (like those aliens on Star-Trek that Commander Pike so happy)? Nope, the request for ducks was driven by the senior exec's daughters comment that she liked ducks more than cats.

Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and the film remained feline in theme...

Anonymous said...

"Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and the film remained feline in theme..."

If it hadn't remained about cats it wouldn't have found the huge audience it did...;)

C'mon, you know you were all thinking it!!

Anonymous said...

Oh hell, the short english shmo that ran WB feature animation from quest for camelot until the studio folded under his mis-management. His childish imitation of a bad Disney executive was, in all honestly, far worse and damaging than the real thing. No wonder he wasn't well liked. Talk about someone who knew how to waste others talents!

Anonymous said...

oops.... that first sentence should read:

Oh hell, the short english shmo that ran WB feature animation from quest for camelot until the studio folded under his mis-management could give the "Cat's Don't Dance" woman executive some lessons in stupidity.

Anonymous said...

LOVE "needs more baby" - how many times have we heard some version of this?

Site Meter