Being an indie is not unlike having a dentist appointment every day of your life. There are the niceties that must be exchanged when you arrive at the office. There are the various bills that must be paid. And, regardless of whether you’re a large indie with a slate of shows or a small indie putting together your first project, you can be certain that, before the day is over, there will be pain.
The pain comes in a variety of forms. Your show didn’t get picked up. Your show’s toys didn’t sell. Your show’s budget deficit is greater than the operating budget of a small southern state. I could go on. And I will. Your broadcaster is acting like a toy company. Your toy company is acting like a broadcaster. Your nation’s currency is so weak that it’s being used to line the cages of bunny rabbits. Your new copier is broken. Your mother keeps calling you at the office. And, much to your dismay, you finally realized that teamwork does not actually work.
Often when we have groups in for studio tours at Little Airplane, someone will come up to me and say, “You must have the best job in the whole world! You get to spend your whole day thinking about cute little characters who sing and dance!” I always just smile politely and say, “Yes, I guess I’m a lucky man,” but inside I am always thinking, “IF ONLY YOU KNEW THE CRUCIBLE OF MONEY AND CRAZY PEOPLE THAT I HAVE TO GO THROUGH TO GET EVEN ONE OF THOSE CUTE LITTLE CHARACTERS TO SING OR DANCE! I AM NOT WILLY WONKA, MADAM, I AM SISYPHUS AND THESE SHOWS ARE ROCKS!”
Now, there are a few small indies out there who are still surprised by the pain. These are typically the newcomers who arrive all bushy-tailed at KidScreen Summit with their educational show bibles and then leave three days later looking as if they were just mauled by a family of bears. These are the folks who feel the pain the most acutely, the ones who were not cc’d on the memo that our industry, which used to help prepare preschoolers for kindergarten, is now more interested in preparing them for a trip to the mall.
I, too, was once an idealistic young indie who felt the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but no more. These days, due to my age or perhaps a general numbing of my body that comes with my profession, I no longer fear the dentist chair nor do I get very upset when people start to drill away at my nerves. I think I have finally learned to accept my indie angst and welcome it into my life the way Buddhists accepts suffering. I am now at peace with all that sucks about being an indie, and my complete lack of resistance, my surrender to the myriad misfortunes, allows me to not only survive it but even to enjoy it.
And despite the challenges, I remain convinced that being an indie is, in fact, the best job on earth. Why? Because if you do persist, if you haul your bruised body and spirit to work every day and you make something: A clever lyric, a cute design, a piece of animation that people enjoy watching, then your efforts will not have been in vain. You will have contributed something unique to the world. And whether five people see it or fifty million people see it, the gesture itself is still something quite amazing. To make your own shows in your own way is well worth all the discomfort. And that, my friends, is why we indies still show up for work: Because we like to make things.
Now open wide.