We’re in the middle of dubbing “Small Potatoes” into French for our friends at Canal+. We have a French voice director and an entire cast of adorable French kids to sing our “Small Potatoes” songs. But here’s the interesting part: We’re doing the whole job in our studio in New York.
As I stand beside Jeffrey Lesser, our Music Director, I notice that the “talk back” button on his mixing board is so worn down from being pressed that I can barely see the words anymore. I find myself thinking about the hundreds of songs we’ve recorded together in this very room, from the late Jerry Bock’s Emmy-Award winning, “Fiddler Crab on the Roof,” to the now classic (and unrelenting) “What’s Gonna Work? Teamwork!”
Yesterday we had a visit from a group of happy Macedonian producers and, after taking the tour of our studio, they asked me why we still do everything under one roof at Little Airplane. “Isn’t it more expensive to work that way?” one guy asked. I told him that it is more expensive in some ways and it’s a lot cheaper in others. “But, since our goal here is to make our own shows our own way,” I explained, “we really have no other choice. In order to control our product we have to control our process.”
And so, at Little Airplane, we still write our own scripts, record and mix our own music, animate our own shots, output our own shows to digibeta, and deliver our own tapes to the broadcasters. Our approach may be rare in this age of international co-productions, but we’re certainly not alone. My two favorite studios, Pixar and Sinking Ship Entertainment, take a similar approach. Both companies are led by strong creatives and both do everything in-house.
Last week I was watching a great documentary on Netflix called “Fog City Mavericks” about San Franciso-area filmmakers including Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Clint Eastwood. The film’s position was that the best films come from filmmakers who insist on making their own films on their own terms. For this reason, this group of filmmakers have stayed in Northern California, an arm’s length away from Hollywood where the director’s voice is often subsumed by a corrosive system. And, in the case of George Lucas, he even built his own recording and effects studios so he could control every aspect of his production.
If our goal is to make great shows, then I believe the same type of independent spirit is necessary in our corner of the industry. In my opinion, a few scrappy, self-contained indies scattered around the globe are responsible for all of the best kids’ shows on television these days. Not one of them has it easy, but then no one said it would be easy.
So, it may sound crazy to some of you that a New York-based studio would insist on dubbing their own animated series into French, but if you care about music and voices as much as we do, as much as Jeffrey Lesser does, then you really have no other choice. Because, for us, our process is our result. And we believe the proof is in the potatoes.