By Frank Falcone, Guest Blogger
Being told you’re known for your work is fantastic. It’s humbling. I guess it means you’ve made enough of a mark out there that someone has taken notice. I don’t tire of the chance to inspire. I don’t imagine anyone tires of that. It’s like applause to a performing musician. It means people have been paying attention.
So when Josh asked me to write a guest blog for Planet Preschool about how my animation company, guru studio, managed to “make the leap” from pure service work to original content… well of course, I leaped at the opportunity!
I hope this might inspire your readers, Josh.
After starting my own studio in 2000, the decision to develop original content was probably the biggest risk I’d ever (willfully) taken. Maybe THE biggest, since I did it at a time when I had so much at stake. It wasn’t at all a decision born of necessity. It was born of creative curiosity. By 2007, guru had become an internationally successful commercial animation studio at the top of its game in the lucrative world of commercial advertising. Our revenues had never been higher, our market was expanding and our reputation had solidified. With the business of TV spot work in full swing and a newly minted crew doing the second and then third season of animation on the amazing Janice Burgess series “The Backyardigans” for Nick Jr. and Nelvana approaching us with new series like “Guess With Jess and Babar,” I probably didn’t really need to do much at all apart from hire more animators, buy more computers and rent more space.
But I did. I hired a former Disney TV executive.
I highly recommend it. You have to understand, my unusual Italian-Australian-Canadian heritage makes me a very odd beast. I take ferocious pride in seeking out the very best. It’s in my blood. But like any well-trained risk-averse Canadian – I move a little slower and I think a little longer before I make “a leap” of any sort.
It’s a grouping of traits that seem to want to negate each other – taking a risk and moving slowly – yet somehow I’ve managed to make them work in my favour.
With a bustling studio full of top creative talent and a world-class exec named Mary Bredin as our VP in charge of development, I was pretty sure I had all the risk factors under control. So we set out to make our own show.
Remarkably, within 7 months we had our first development deal. Within a year, Family Channel had green lit our very first preschool TV series, “Justin Time.” No one – least of all, me – had expected things to take off that quickly and I’d often joke that the horses were in danger of breaking away from the cart! You couldn’t script a better success story for “making the leap to content” than guru’s.
But 3 years after the decision, has guru truly “made the leap?” Does “the leap” even exist?
Without a doubt, our studio is thriving now as we create our own stories. I can’t deny that. It is a huge undertaking. It’s emotionally draining. It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done. And it is incredibly rewarding.
But we also continue to help others create their stories, too.
Over the past few years we’ve worked with Classic Media, Nelvana, Disney and Cookie Jar and we continue to get calls from traditional and new media advertising agencies asking to work on their stories. Should I be turning them down now? Should I tell them, “Sorry. We made the leap.”
It seems wrong. I’ve always guided myself by finding kindred spirits. If we like a project and the people are nice, why shouldn’t we work together? In the end all we really have is our sense of taste to guide us.
Is it better to work on your own material than it is to work on that of others? Is “making the leap to original content” a rite of passage on the path toward true creative expression? Does it liberate you from some prison? Once you’re hooked is it impossible to go back? Very interesting questions that Josh and I discussed over drinks in Toronto. I struggled with them.
My first impulse was to begin to impart the many struggles we overcame to “make the leap” and talk of the great freedom that “making the leap” brings you. It just seemed natural. But as I thought more about this, I realized that none of this was true. I never took a leap. It was just a step.
I love being a part of making great stories. I don’t really care where that story originated or who owns it. I want to participate in the most honest creative process with the most committed and passionate people I can find. I’ll gladly own all, some or none of an idea – and if I deserve to I will. If I can continue to nurture and grow that idea by bringing creative value to it, then by the very nature, I truly do own a part of it. But ownership does not define my process. Nor does authorship. Try as I may, I’m just not capable of being that single minded. I didn’t say I’m not a control freak – ask anyone – but I do love intelligent pushback. Especially when I can feel it making the project better. It’s good fun. And the process makes me better.
The “leap to content” does exist. But it was nothing more than a financial leap. A commitment of funds. An investment in time, in people, in the constant redoing and reworking of ideas that help give birth to a concept. Perhaps even greater, was the risk to my personal reputation. The potential leap into anonymity…
But I truly believe that we gradually become the work we do. And so, in the end, all that matters is that we all choose to do the best work we can with the best people we can.
Once you’ve made that leap, you might learn what I learned: that there really is no such thing as “pure service work.” There never was to us. Maybe we were impure!
Purity aside, we all serve someone, don’t we?
18 years ago I served a kind boss at a scrappy little upstart in Sydney, Australia, then a brilliant one at a post production company in Toronto, a creative genius at a studio in New York, then a bank that believed in me and a handful of advertising agencies and producers who sought me for my work.
Now I continue to serve.
I serve a staff of 80, a loyal and committed broadcaster, a few development partners, a few outside producers and soon (we hope!) a whole world of potential buyers, new writers, new creators, new musicians, new actors and new animators. It’s an exciting time.
Ultimately, I try to serve my instincts and my audience: A teenager. A mother. A father. A child. A kindred spirit that may someday in turn, inspire me.