How to Not Suck As a Manager of Video & Animation Production Artists, Vol 1
Much to their dismay, I do manage a few amazing creative artists.
I’ve been under some real shitty management at different studios, vfx houses, ad agencies, and I’ve learned a lot of what not to do from them. (to be fair there are some lifelong friends I’ve made too)
My guys are the most loyal employees one can imagine, they respect me & support me when outside pressure is put on the department by the suits. Our studio has the lowest turnaround out of anywhere I’ve worked in my entire career, and I wanted to kickoff a series of what I believe has given me great success.
Never Forget That Good Art Takes Time.
I think this is a trap that a lot of veteran managers let themselves fall into. Not that they have forgotten the hard work, mental challenges, and time that it takes to complete a creative task, but that due to our human nature we think we would have gotten it done quicker.
“Creative Block” is a legit thing. Sometimes you spend hours and hours on an idea and once you take a step back to look at it, you realize it is garbage. It is part of the creative process and thinking that every artist on your team will be able to come in 5 to 6 days a week, everyday, and be 100% perfect with no hesitations regarding their work is just ridiculous.
I have found the more the confident the artist is, the more shit they are at their actual profession. The employees who are in a perpetual state of learning and exploration, trying to push boundaries, are the ones who will second guess each step. They are so critical of their own work because they care and they will make mistakes. Mistakes are an important part of the creative process. As a manager it is our job to monitor the balance between creative mistakes and professional mistakes.
One easy thing to implement, which is common across all professional management is a soft deadline. Tell the artist the project is due a % of time before the hard date, and if they run over the deadline just tell them you pulled some strings and got a few more days. They will give you better work and you will build trust between yourself and the employee.
Let Your Artists Speak, and be Mindful of Candor
I’ve had too many art & creative directors who conducted their critique of my shots in a completely rage inducing matter. They discuss a point of contention, and instead of allowing me to explain why I made the decision I did, they steamroll over my points to arrive at “Just do it, I’m the boss.”
Now as a manager of artists I can see the picture from the other side. It’s not that we don’t care about the Artists’ opinion, it’s that after years we are conditioned to care solely about the needs of the client and making sure they are fulfilled. The majority of the time the client doesn’t even know what their needs are, so as managers it is our job to interpret what we think they could be. Your team can be a critical part of the process in doing that.
When I disagree with an artist’s decision I now instead ask them to explain why they made the decision. Letting them speak freely allows me to get inside their head. I can learn their thought process and it gives me more time to ponder my critical decision on whether to ask for my changes or not. There are plenty of times where I’ve changed my mind due to seeing a new angle on a shot which would fit the needs of the client better.
For the times where I truly disagree with a creative decision, or when there is a technical reason something cannot be done, it is critical to be self aware of candor when speaking to your employees. My basic mentality is;
- Do not demand “Change this or Else”
- Simply say what is wrong, what is missing, or what doesn’t make sense. Keep it short and simple.
Open communication is a key part of being a creative community. Most places strive for this but some fall short. As a manager/director it is up to us to foster this kind of welcoming nurturing environment in our own studios and make it a priority for the business.
One last key thing to remember: Sometimes, just sometimes people have shit ideas. And if they fight you too many times, you stomp them out like saliva soaked cigarette butts in the alley behind the bar and send them packing.
Vol 2 Coming Soon.