Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Animation and Women

I post about the above from time to time. And a couple of days ago I got this:

I'm an animation guild member and I wanted to comment on the your piece in the nov 2012 pegboard.

Your piece, as well as the piece that you cite from slate magazine are kinda all over the place and just throwing (well meaning) fists blindly;

"Chapman's story is a striking counterpoint to the conventional hollywood wisdom that a raunchy environment is a necessary condition for strong creative work."

That's a rather bizarre assertion by the slate writer. Does she imagine that the writing staff of "dora the explorer" or "beauty and the beast" is constantly riding the very cutting edge of blue, hard core sexual humor? and that hollywood thinks that the only way to get out a profitable "harry potter" pic out is to have the writers religiously attend the lunch buffet at the local strip club? she's extracting a broad sentiment from a very specific instance - the writing environment at "friends", a show that is about the lives of young adults and their views on the opposite sex, sex, sexual activities, body parts, etc. that kind of "vulgar" talk and "headspace" amidst the writers is RELEVANT to the kind of material actually in the show.

Chapman's story is not a counterpoint to "the conventional hollywood wisdom" because THAT'S NOT CONVENTIONAL HOLLYWOOD WISDOM! If you're writing kids' stuff, you're going to be in a pretty tame envioronment compared to if you're writing an episode of "Sex in the City". the lawsuit in which the slate writer refers to probably would have gone very differently if the plaintiff was a writer's assistant on sesame street.

And you bring up the fact that chapman was replaced and also that somebody at pixar said that the movie turned out pretty much as chapman envisioned. You kind of let it go at that but considering the context, it's as if you are saying that she was replaced BECAUSE she was a woman.

Is that so?

Do you know why she was replaced?

I do not.

But considering the extremely inclusive stories that pixar tells, along with such things as the participation of their members in the youtube campaign "it gets better", i dunno, i kind of feel like they deserve the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she was replaced because she kept bringing in a rabid resus monkey that flung feces at the animators' heads (just a hypothetical example that has no source in reality). would that still serve to support your point?

So like with the Slate piece, you kind of try to shoehorn an oblique example to make a point but that oblique example in no way ACTUALLY backs up your point. or if you know of information that would make the example actually support your thesis (that she was in fact replaced because she was a woman), it's not present in your piece.

And that's simply not fair to pixar or perhaps even to chapman.

Finally, you say that "women make up 17% of the animation guild. however, they make up 50% of the animation department at cal arts. draw your own conclusions."



What percentage of the guild comes from Cal Arts? What is the percentage of women in other animation schools? Women in the guild 17% in 2012, when was the Cal Arts women enrollment 50%? Slso in 2012??? It would actually be kinda absurd to draw my own conclusions just from those data points that you throw out. ...

The "Peg-board article" the member refers to is actually this.

(It's probably wrong to have blog posts perform double duty as newsletter articles, but I get cramped for time, you know? So I take shortcuts.)

I answered the member thusly:

... I won’t defend the Slate writer’s paragraphs. I linked to the piece; Slate can defend itself. (Personally, I see no reason women can’t write “raunch,” or “kid’s entertainment,” or whatever. But they’ve got to get themselves hired to do it.)

As to why Chapman was let go, I haven’t talked to her. But I’ve read her pieces about the departure, and she seems ... miffed. Here’s the first-hand info I’ve got:

Brenda said in a panel discussion TAG sponsored that she was “the token female” at Pixar. Was she joking? Half joking? I donno. They have women in administration up there, but not any (so far as I know) in the “brain trust.” SO yeah, they don’t (didn’t) have many women in creative positions. What the percentage is up there today, I know not. (Second hand, I know that she was recruited by Pixar’s Joe Ranft. I was told that he kind of ran interference for her at the studio, and that when he died, that “protection” went away.)

I talked to one of Brenda’s board artists on “Brave” (I ran across him at Disney Feature) and tried to find out if “Brave’s” story changed substantially after Ms. Chapman got the axe. He said there were changes, but they were in tone and some continuity points. He said “basic story stayed the same after Brenda left.” Maybe some other artists who worked on it disagree, but that’s the story I got.

You’re right about my end sentence. I needed more context to it. Since I didn’t provide any, let me provide some now.

I’ve written the same kind of tub-thumping “There’s not enough women!” pieces before, and gotten push-back from men in blog comments, also a few e-mails. One man asserted that he was a director and there just weren’t many women out there applying for animation work (maybe true, maybe not, but I have no way of verifying, since he posted anonymously); that women weren’t that interested in cartoons, etc. He offered as part of his proof of this lack of interest that few women were enrolled in Cal Arts Animation program, compared to men.

Aha. Something I could verify.

So I called Cal Arts. And they told me when I asked that half the students in the animation program were women.

My conclusion? That the anonymous-commenter-who-claimed-to-be-a-veteran-animation-director was wrong. And if he was wrong about the enrollment at Cal Arts, there’s at least a bit of a possibility that he was wrong about the other stuff he was throwing at me. Of course, the “director” might be some chubby 20-year-old in a Des Moines basement, claiming to be an animation director. When folks post anonymously, there is no way of knowing.

Enough. The reason I write about the lack of women in creative positions is because I think there should be more of them. There’s many females on the corporate/executive side, so why not in creative slots? I have never bought the “lack of qualified applicants” argument, because it’s bunk. In any case, you don’t NEED a high percentage of women relative to men, you only need enough qualified women to fill the available slots. Brenda got HER first job because the studio was “looking for women,” after all.

(You should know that I exempt Jeffrey Katzenberg from my complaints about the lack of women in the animation biz. He has consistently pushed policies to hire and promote women. Ms. Chapman was hired by the House of Mouse while Jeffrey was there, she got her first story director’s job on “Beauty and the Beast,” first director’s gig at DreamWorks Animation. Katzenberg has boosted many women since -- Vicki Jenson, Jennifer Yuh Nelson, etc.)

It’s good that Disney Feature has its first woman director on “Frozen.” I hope there are more.

Mr. Katzenberg, whether you love him and DreamWorks Animation or not, has been noted as one of the few studio chieftans who actually installs and women in key positions. To wit:

... Dreamworks Animation may be the only big Hollywood company out there to have more women in significant positions of power than men. Which makes some amount of sense for the company that backed the only big-budget animated film in history so far to be directed by a lone woman, Jennifer Yuh Nelson‘s Kung Fu Panda 2.

Of the five people in the company’s “top-tier management,” three are women: COO Ann Daly, chief accounting officer Heather O’Connor and worldwide marketing chief Anne Globe. Founder and CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg says their pool of producers is a staggering 85% female (including those producers involved with Madagascar and Rise of the Guardians) and says he “couldn’t be prouder of their accomplishments.” ...

Please don't get the idea that I'm a DWA rah-rah. DreamWorks is always a strong challenge for TAG at contract negotiation time. But the company deals with employee issues when we raise them, and I know from first-hand experience that the company employs a lot of women in various positions.

For that reality, I tip my hat. And hope that more Hollywood studios someday follow DWA's example.


Unknown said...

Savannah College of Art and Design, at least for the 8 years I've taught at the Savannah and Atlanta campuses, have had a 50-50 split between men and women. For longer than that, the works of independent women animators have been heavily represented at the major international animation festivals such as Annecy and Ottawa. Women animators have been around for a long time, most famously with Lotte Reiniger (whose made the oldest surving animated feature, THE ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED, in 1926)as well as Golden Award winner LILLIAN FRIEDMAN (who animated at Fleischer during the 1930s). It's not a matter of whether or not there are enough women animators, it's a matter of opportunity.

Steve Hulett said...

That's certainly been my observation.

Ms. Friedman was one of the few who was able to break through back in the day. Other women? Not so much.

Unknown said...

Slate is obviously commenting on the free working environment creativity commands--that touchy-feely--h.r. related b.s. is secondary to a great idea no matter where it comes from, even if it's couched in terms that might offend a Sunday School teacher. That doesn't mean the END RESULT are films titled "Slow Pimp and the Seven Crack Whores.". Yes, most of Hollywood is that way. It's certainly that way in most animation story departments And it's plain to see it's not on strictly kid's stuff like dora the explorer--it's not very good.

Pixar apparently has a LOT of women in key creative positions at Pixar, and has for a long time. Any look at their credits shows that. Anyone who thinks otherwise is ignorant and easily disproved.

Maybe, JUST maybe, Chapman was replaced because it just wasn't working out! It happens. A LOT.

Celshader said...

Pixar apparently has a LOT of women in key creative positions at Pixar, and has for a long time.

...but only one female director, who Pixar removed from the one project they gave her.

Unknown said...

SO WHAT? That's insulting to the many women who help make these films, at Pixar and otherwise, happen.

Unknown said...

@F. Kousac

Why is it insulting to women? Seems to me that Chapman, whose credits include Prince of Egypt and Beauty and the Beast, would have more than enough superiority to be commander in chief to her own film/idea. But instead, they handed the reins to a less-experienced guy, and it "worked" because he was a Yes-Man to John Lasseter.

If you still don't get my point, take a second and imagine a hypothetical Animation industry dominated by the ladies; now imagine the one and only Man director representing Pixar animation Studios..... Who gets chopped down. Unfair, isn't it?

Unknown said...

Because it's not as if "directing" is necessarily the pinnacle of creative anything. Important? One of many important roles. Pixar has many women producers, scientists, designers, and story artists.--all of whom contribute, as with many other studios, to the creation and success of their films. None of whom, including the director, is more important than the film. If the film isn't working, changes are made. It's the norm everywhere. Woman or not.

Alice Marie said...

I'd actually be curious to see what the percentages break down to according to gender/job title at Pixar, and whether or not it's higher (or lower) then that 17% in the guild.

Olivier Ladeuix said...

I attended Animation Mentor between 2006 and 2008.

There was an average of 1 to 2 women in a class of 15 students. Those figures are still true those days.

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