Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Board Tests (again) -- How Long is Too Long?

Here's a spanking new dialogue between a veteran production board revisionist and a director on a high-profile, half-hour show at one of our fine conglomerates. (We've made both anonymous in the spirit of our comments section.)

Along with information about the practices on his show, the director offers some solid career advice ...

Artist: One studio recently issued a test with 2 1/2 pages of pretty active script; which a pal told me took him over a week to do and came to over 30 (3-panel) pages.

I think people should refuse tests of this length.. If everyone refused to take them, things would change pretty quickly IMHO. I also completely respect those who refuse to take ANY type of test... If only we could all be in the position to exercise that option ...

Director: I think tests are very important tool for hiring.

I first look at a portfolio to narrow the candidates down to a select few. But the tests are helpful in not just determining if the artist is proficient in storyboarding, but whether the artist can adapt to the specific needs of the show.

Does the artist get the humor of the show? The shooting style? Are the expressions pushed enough? Is there appropriate use of dynamic and flat staging? All these things come through in a test very quickly and obviously. A sample in a portfolio, chosen by the artist, doesn't always provide these specifics.

That said ...don't do more than 1 page of script. Anything more than that is unnecessary for you to do, and, honestly, for the employer, it's too much to go over. I would wager that most employers will not look over more than 10 to 20 pages of boards (which roughly translates to 1 page of script.)

Artist: You bring up some very valid points. The (blessedly short) revisions test I took for [X] was a perfect example of how applicants might indeed need to demonstrate their understanding of a show's style, since that was a particularly tough show to "get."

I think the main issue here is the length of these tests; I am delighted to know your opinion on this. Why on earth would a studio even ISSUE a 2 1/2 script-pager? Is it some kind of endurance thing? Some outstanding artists I know haven't worked in over a year and are stressed out enough.

It would be great if directors such as yourself could in some way approve these tests before they are handed out ...

Director: Speaking only for our show ... we do approve the tests before they go out. In fact, we had to recently change our test, because the episode it was based off of aired, and we didn't want someone's test being affected by seeing the episode, intentionally or not.

I can attest to the number of people out of work by the inundation of responses each job offering gets. However, it is a fairly narrow margin of artists that have the necessary combination of talent and skills that would make them suitable for the job.

Sometimes, an artist shows great promise with inspired acting and can mine the humor from any situation, but has difficulty with good composition and nuts and bolts filmmaking (screen direction, shot flow, camera angle.) Other times, an artist doesn't break any filmmaking "rules," but the acting is not pushed far enough or it relies on cliched poses, not to mention missing opportunities for humor.

Experience will help the first type of artist, but as for the second--you can't teach "funny." It's a tough choice. The artist with the complete package is quite rare, even among "outstanding" artists.

For those artists that find themselves falling short of what productions want, my advice would be to not give up, and to continue to sharpen your skill set. Pick a scene from a script or a favorite book, and board it out. Get feedback from peers and mentors. Don't be defensive or argue why you made your choices! Listen; stew on it for a while. Consider why that person made those suggestions. Internalize those lessons so the experience you gain with each of these lessons ultimately builds into a job offer that can't help but find its way to you.

Just remember: experience takes time. But in order to gain experience, you must constantly keep moving forward. If no one will give you experience -- MAKE it yourself. I know it doesn't pay the bills right away, but it is essential for improving as an artist and a professional ...

TAG has often registered complaints to studios about test lengths across the bargaining table (and elsewhere). The response (mostly) is "Yeah, sure, you're absolutely right. We'll cut the tests down."

And the long tests stop. For awhile. But then they start again because show runners do what they please and nobody higher up is paying close attention. But I've never gotten the point of long tests, unless it's to create an obstacle course through which an artist demonstrates his powers of endurance.

Beyond that, the damn things are counterproductive. Long tests are an agonizing chore for artists to do, and a chore for the employer to plow through. (Kind of a "lose-lose" situation all around, wouldn't you say?)


Michael Cawood said...

I'm always dubious of tests... generally I think that most people have enough work on their hands presenting a customized application to every job they can find, out of their already highly polished portfolio to then be asked to do a test for any individual opportunity. I know some employers will still justify a test but I think you should be able to ask just how many other candidates are being set the test so that you know if they are using it to filter you before they've reviewed your application at the appropriate level. Any test that takes a week to do is out of order though, an hour or two should be enough.

Anonymous said...

A long winded answer from the director to justify their damn too long tests. EVEN a one page storyboard test can take several days to do right and who has that type of time to 'work' for free?
AND if an artist has that type of time on their hands it usually indicates that they can't find work and won't be hired from this test regardless of how much time they put into it.
A GOOD director should be able to review samples from other shows to determine if artist knows cutting, staging, perspective, etc and will likely fit in. If they need to find just the right person who gets their humor then maybe there's other problems with the production and the director.
Did this overly verbose director take a test to get his job? maybe he should have...

Anonymous said...

I think what Anon 4:42 is saying is a good point. I'm sorry, but so very few shows are so damned unique and funny that only a select few can get the "humor" of said show.

It doesn't take a cinematic or comedy genius to get most shows, it usually takes a little time and patience...which the artist gets the short end of the straw on most times.

In no way am I advocating that when an artist does get hired that they don't do their best under the circumstances of whatever production they're on, but let's not fool ourselves by entertaining the idea that most of what we work on is a)unique and b)justifies a long test to justify the "perk" of working on said production.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the Production "Board Artist is going the way of the Horse-Drawn Carriage? Why not have Directors 'board their shows and have Layout artists clean them up?

Anonymous said...

I'm having fantasies of grabbing that smug windbag by the collar and slapping his face until he gets off it and joins the human race.

That's it? That's the director's "solution" to the problem of having to do an excessive load of high pressure free work for even having a chance to be bestowed with the honor of a simple pay check-MORE free work?

The sheer scarcity of work has helped create a kind of caste system in our business. The elite; directors/show runners who take their positions for granted, and the rest of us, scrambling for whatever scraps of work that we can find, having to accept whatever terms the elites dictate.

It's not that the director in the dialogue is unqualified. He makes perfectly valid general points in terms of craft. It's the premise that only the most perfectly qualified applicants deserve to be employed and the directors and show runners are entitled to put them through whatever self-selecting ordeals they deem appropriate just because they can. If you are a director, it makes perfect sense; hire the artists that will require the least amount of attention, correction or...direction!

When the volume of work goes up, the tests get shorter, then they disappear, then portfolios disappear and somehow, miraculously, the work gets done anyway. Suddenly "perfect" is no longer a prerequisite. But be warned: the directors actually have to direct.

Anonymous said...

"Does the artist get the humor of the show? The shooting style? Are the expressions pushed enough? Is there appropriate use of dynamic and flat staging?"

"but has difficulty with good composition and nuts and bolts filmmaking (screen direction, shot flow, camera angle.) Other times, an artist doesn't break any filmmaking "rules," but the acting is not pushed far enough or it relies on cliched poses, not to mention missing opportunities for humor."'

WHAT SHOWS on TV, pray tell, have ever needed any of these skills? Oh yeah....VERY FEW.

If these things ARE considered in hiring (or for that matter, producing) the usual tv cartoon (especially Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon), time for a BIG management change.

Anonymous said...

Wow, lots of angry people out there. I have worked in animation for over ten years in both layout and storyboards. Every job I have ever had, including my current one, has required the taking of a test. In some places I did know people and in others I did not. Some were in house tests and others I could take home. None of my work has ever been used in an episode. Those that I took were from episodes that had previously aired.

If a company decided to used its tests as actual episodes I can only imagine what the end result would look like. Yes, sometimes you do have to do a lot of work to get a job but this industry is not easy. It seems to get harder all the time.

I think the director is doing his/her best to provide helpful information and honest answers. You may not like those answers but that does not make them any less true. I would not be in this industry if others had not been willing to help me. Total strangers in fact, helped me because I was willing to take the time to listen and accept their help while working a full time job, not in entertainment. I know of few other fields where that would happen.

Anonymous said...

Yes, a lot of unemployable attitudes.

Anonymous said...

Look out, it's the attitude police, again!

Spare us, please! I never got a job because I had a good attitude nor lost one because I had a bad one. When I submit a portfolio, the portfolio doesn't have an attitude- just artwork.

I don't know who filled your head with that shit but don't bother us with it. Here's the word: professionalism. That's what is required and that's what you deliver. It's a job, not kindergarten.

One more thing: this is a blog. Blogs are for bitching. If not here, then where? There are many topics related to our field that are perfectly legitimate targets for anger even rage.

We don't need the thought police. Not here. Go away.

Anonymous said...

Just remember: experience takes time. But in order to gain experience, you must constantly keep moving forward. If no one will give you experience -- MAKE it yourself.

Experience does take time but MAKE it yourself doesn't matter to the directors (especially studios involved with the Union) They want experience!! Many union studios told me that. They didn't care what my portfolio looked like, "Where did you work last?".

But make your own films however.

Anonymous said...

"When I submit a portfolio, the portfolio doesn't have an attitude- just artwork. "

You seem to be really focused on what is on the page. People rarely hire solely on that. Yes, animation is a profession, but nothing in your rant gives the impression that you understand the professional world. People get hired on character first, and how you conduct yourself personally has everything to do with that. I recommend you pick up a book on interviewing and flip to the chapter 'plays well with others.'

I found the animation directors' advice to be spot on. Reading your kind of comments on this blog, I expect he wouldn't be in a hurry to rush back to TAG anytime soon. He may just prefer to rush all the way to Korea to interview.

You are blogging yourself out of a job before you even interview.

Anonymous said...

As a director myself, viewing a portfolio is a minor cursory matter. What matters most is a great film. The rest is VERY easy to teach and learn.--but a good sense of film making is not. Understanding the entire film making process counts.

if a portfolio doesn't include a film, I usually quickly gloss over and toss into the reject pile. RARELY does one grab my attention as well as a good, SHORT film (key word being "short.").

Anonymous said...

We can debate forever whether a good attitude is important or not, but wht is without a doubt important is a good batch of samples. What we're discussing here is taking test or how long a test should be and you can't tell attitude by a test. The only attitude that I can tell from a test is how desperate someone is for work if they're willing to take a test. That's one of the reasons why I don't believe in them.
I said it before and I'll continue to say it: If someone has the time to do a test and give their full attention to it then they aren't employed and that is often for a good reason. I'm talking about storyboard tests here, but I could possibly see a need for giving a revision test, but a few storyboard pages and a couple of hours should be adequate for that.
If a director can't tell from a portfolio and industry knowledge (it is a small industry after all) if someone is qualified to storyboard on your show then that director should probably have been given a test before he/she was hired.
But more often then not if I have reason to believe someone can grow into the job and if I have time I might give them a freelance assignment to see how they do and work with them.

Storyboard tests are obscene and should be banned by the union. Everyone should refuse them. They prove nothing.
And if the stories are true the overly verbose director above apparently has fired some of those who they felt 'passed' their test because they still didn't cut it...

Anonymous said...

Reading your kind of comments on this blog, I expect he wouldn't be in a hurry to rush back to TAG anytime soon. He may just prefer to rush all the way to Korea to interview.

Is this response supposed to suggest to us how well you play with others?

You sound like a first class jerk.

Anonymous said...

If a director can't tell from a portfolio and industry knowledge (it is a small industry after all) if someone is qualified to storyboard on your show then that director should probably have been given a test before he/she was hired.


I'd like to suggest that animation producers be given a damn test, too. Besides the daily tests in ass-kissing, that is.

Anonymous said...

It's too late- the cat's out of the bag! Mr. Anonymous has a bad attitude and will never work in this town again!

Anonymous said...

" if a portfolio doesn't include a film, I usually quickly gloss over and toss into the reject pile. RARELY does one grab my attention as well as a good, SHORT film (key word being "short.")."

Finally, some useful advice! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Actually, as a director and a storyboard artist, I have to say that last piece of advice about a short reel being included in your storyboard portfolio is of no use. By the time a film is finished so many people have tinkered with the boards for a variety of reasons that it might be nearly impossible to discern if an artist knows even the basics of storyboards.
I would much rather see original boards - preferably digitally.
However, if you're looking for a director a finished reel might be of some use.

Anonymous said...

Don't be bitter and cynical. That helps a shitload. And dye your hair.

Anonymous said...

All storyboard artists are directors. I'm so sick and tired of directors for animation in this town lording themselves over the storyboard artists.

If you didn't work in animation Mr Director, you would have to create every aspect of the shoot - but because you work in animation you look at the job that a board artist has done and pick and finesse it.

There has never been an easier lot in life. There is no task, you are just accepting or rejecting the work of someone else(that and spending time in the editing bay for audio).

I was recently at a party and an acquaintance(who is an accomplished WGA writer) congratulated me on a show that I boarded.
He said "So, you did everything on that show? You got a big credit there."

And I said, "Well, I didn't direct it. I did the storyboard."

And he looked at me and said "Well what the hell did 'the director' do? All the acting and camera work is yours."

I said "Yeah. Yeah it is. He hardly made any changes"

He said "Yeah, Its your show. You did it."

Its worth noting, because if someone tells you they "direct" an animated show, its a looooong drop away from directing live action. I've worked in this industry for almost twenty years and the truth of the matter is that they simply kissed up to the right person.

Anonymous said...

anon@1:36 - you're right all storyboard artists should be directors - but they're all not.

Sounds to me like you've never directed. If you've been handed some of the boards I've been handed over the course of a show than you'd understand what a director has to do. Maybe you're on of the good ones and your boards don't need much and maybe you don't know how much a director needs to do to get your boards looking like they're "just how you boarded it". BTW since when does a writer (accomplished WGA or not) hava a clue about what it takes to board or direct a show.

If you're that good introduce yourself and I'd love to have you board for me - I'd love to not have to work this hard.

Sure, there are plenty of bad directors, but there are plenty of bad boarders and (to get back on point) a test won't help you determine who they are.

Anonymous said...

my question to anonymous@1:36 is if you're so good and have been in the business for so long why haven't anyone offered you the chance to direct. Producers are always looking for a good director that knows their shit. Don't want ot earn more money for not working 9as you seem to think directors do)? Or maybe you're not nearly as good as you think - or judging by your attitude maybe you can't get along with people (a part of being a director)?

Would you like to take a test...?

ping ping said...

Has anyone ever tested for Rough Draft Studios? They do it very different than others. They bring you in for 8 hours and have you storyboard a piece of script. You're not expected to finish the whole segment. In fact they only expect you to finish 3 or 4 finished board pages, but they want more roughed pages and your thumbnails.

It's strange no other studio does this. It seems like asking a lot to have you come to the building and test, but unlike take home tests, you go in, take your test, and you're done in under a day.

yahweh said...

tests are BS...turn them down!!!

Let it be written!!!

Anonymous said...

Unemployed with no leverage or connections. Hmmm, let's see. Should I take the test or not? Hmmmm...let's see....

Anonymous said...

>>>Unemployed with no leverage or connections. Hmmm, let's see. Should I take the test or not? Hmmmm...let's see.... <<<

No samples? No talent? What am I going to learn about you in a test that your portfolio won't tell me? If you have talent then you don't need connections

Tests are given to people they dont think can do the work after they've looked at your portfolio that's why very few of these test takers get work or suceed.

Anonymous said...

I take tests when appropriate. Cattle call tests are not appropriate. I don't think a zero tolerance policy against them is helpful. It's no different than any other question an interviewer poses. If I feel like it will provide them more helpful insight about me, then let the chips fall where they may.

Anonymous said...

Recently did a test for studio x. A decent and absolutely fair page and a half. My problem with the process was after the test was completed I was told several times about how well the producers liked it but in the end couldn't land the gig because I live outside LA county. My point would be by all means give a test, but you'd better mean it.

Anonymous said...

I work for Rough Draft now. Took a test just as described.

I have made the time to take tests while still employed...thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

You're employed fulltime and you're taking tests? Masochist...?

Anonymous said...

no, just very, very smart. take nothing for granted and always prepare for the worst case scenario. for this industry, worst case scenario is ALL THE TIME.

Anonymous said...

hint: if you're being asked to take a test for every job you apply for then you're not doing something right.

Anonymous said...

Here's an idea...if studios are going to insist that tests are necessary because they're hiring incompetent directors/producers/showrunners and applicants are going to be desperate enough to agree to jump through these ridiculous hoops then maybe the union could create a small board of experts to review tests to see if they are too extreme or not. If studios don't agree to this oversight then it can be assumed that their test isn't doable.

Anonymous said...

So, just so we're clear, I'm either a masochist for taking a test while still employed, not doing something right if I am being asked to take a test or there is something wrong with me if I am unemployed and taking a test.

Do you guys really work in this industry? Do you realize how many talented people out there have been let go, struggling to find work, having to wait through long periods of unemployment between jobs? I guess they're just not up to your standards.

I have been consistently employed since I started over a decade ago. I have worked on some projects for a number of years but sometimes I have had to jump from project to project. Sometimes I am asked to take a test, sometimes not.

You do what you have to. I don't think taking a test of a reasonable length is asking too much.

Thanks for the "hint" though anon 7:54. I've gotta go now kids, off to work.

Anonymous said...

right attitude.

Anonymous said...

10 years in the industry....

Anonymous said...

What does that guy do if he actually passes a test while employed? Has that ever happened? A job during the day, (possibly overtime), and tests at night- does this guy have a life, a family?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 2:04...

you're right all storyboard artists should be directors

Wrong. I didn't say that. Maybe you should evaluate your reading comprehension. I said that all storyboard artists are directing the show. They do decide the camera shots correct? They do decide the acting correct?

Yeah, well ALL of that stuff is up to a director of live action while a task of simply editing the work of someone else is the task of an animation director.

If an animation director in this town complains about having a lot of work, he simply can't sell his ideas to his superiors. Sounds like you are having that trouble when you gripe about how hard your job is.

*Also, I have directed shows. Thanks for asking.

Anonymous said...

Since you don't seem to understand what a director does you might want to keep storyboarding for a living since it sounds like you were a pretty crappy director

Anonymous said...

I direct my own stuff now thanks.

But keep moaning how storyboard artists hare hard to deal with. Last time I checked they do what you ask them to, and if your line is that they don't, then -
You didn't evaluate their work early enough
You don't know how to measure the quality of a portfolio
You can't set up a good joke on your own.
You can't estimate the character of another person.

Do those things and you'll have a head start on getting quality from your board artists. Just a tip from one director to another.

If tests are so great, then why do you have this litany of complaints about board artists? You're probably in over your head.


Anonymous said...

Yup. Have a job and I take tests when I have to while employed. I also have a family, paint, direct my own projects and have a life(went to the Coachella Festival a few weeks back).

If ten years makes me a virgin then so be it. I am glad that the passage of time and you being older makes you feel superior. Good for you.

If you are so good at what you do, taking a test should be no problem. Studios hire people that are easy to work with. Does having a fit over something as basic as taking test seem easy to you or not?

I know, I know taking a test is giving in to the man. If you want to work for a studio, however, you are gonna want the man to pay you. You gotta do what the man wants for him to give you money. Tough breaks people.

yahweh said...

My conclusion is that those who are arguing in favor of tests are either the few that have actually been hired from a test and feel like that was the only way they would've been hired - though the fact that they don't feel better about their portfolio and their credits is beyond me - or they are not really board artists and are the ones giving these tests like the above quoted verbose director pretending to be one and trying desperately to show how everyone should buckle and allow them to test because they can't tell if you have any talent unless you draw exactly their show with their characters.

The point is there will always be bad directors and producers who can't compare a Simpsons board sample and decide if you're qualified to work on Family Guy or look at a Ben10 board and know if you can work on X-Men and so they will try and force you to take their test so they can compare Macintosh apples to Macintosh apples. It's understandable for a director to look at a Spongebob sample and have questions about whether you can do a JLA board sure, but that's up to the artist to make sure he has enough variety in his portfolio so he is giving the correct samples for the job he's applying for.
The directors I talk with (who are all A+ boarders themselves) don't believe in tests. It seems that the directors who aren't board artists are the ones who like these tests.

But even more on topic how can these lousy tests be regulated and not abused since it's clear they won't disappear. Is this something that the Guild can create a board of experts for as was suggested above?

Anonymous said...

I do not enjoy taking tests, nor do I feel that my work history or my portfolio are not strong enough on their own merit.

If the circumstance arises where I am asked to take a test, I don't piss my pants and freak, insulted about a perceived lack of respect or ignorance on the part of a producer. I man up and take the thing. Is that so hard?

It is only a couple of days work in most cases, if not less. Not that much to cry about. They're not going away any time soon so you may as well cope.

I see piles of portfolios coming in to the studio I work at every week. I bet 99% of those people would be pleased as punch to be asked to take a test.

Anonymous said...

AND it's that attitude that allow incompetent producers/directors to hand out abusive tests.

Anonymous said...

It is that attitude that has given me jobs.

Less whining, more doing.

Anonymous said...

I'm not buying that this person ^ who claims to take so many tests and get so may jobs from these tests is anything but one of those who actually is handing out the tests and would like to justify tests.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I've been caught. I don't actually work as an artist who has taken tests and received work as a result.

I am a spy who has infiltrated the TAG blog to warp you're little mind into thinking that tests are a good thing.


I tried to justify the need for tests, I just said that if you have to do one, you have to. Reality is such a pain.

Anonymous said...

Sorry bout the typo. I meant I never tried to justify the need for tests.

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