Weekend Reading: Mark Mayerson

By Mike Valiquette

If you’re not reading Mark Mayerson’s blog, you should be.  Mark is a smart guy.  He writes smart things.  I don’t necessarily think he’s always right, but I like what he has to say.  He posts a wide variety of animation-related topics on his blog, Mayerson on Animation, and has some very pertinent observations of our industry.

There’s some commentary that’s been running through his posts lately that would be well served to be presented en masse.  In reaction to some of the bigger news of recent months: Pixar/Vancouver and Ubisoft opening in Toronto, Mark has shared his impressions of animation in Canada and industry in general, including our “small national market and the branch plant mentality that is satisfied to make things that are created elsewhere, as the forthcoming Vancouver Pixar shorts will be.”  We’re a nation of  branch plants, servicing the parent companies of our southern neighbour.  This is certainly true of animation (yes, yes, I know we have Nelvana).  But it’s true of our industries in general.  Mark draws a paralell to the auto industry: “For instance, many countries have their own car companies. The U.S., Japan, Korea, England, Germany, Italy, etc. all have cars identified with their countries. Canada has many auto manufacturing plants, but there is no Canadian car.

Mark then offers a challenge: “Name a Canadian animated character who is a worldwide success. If you managed to name one (and I’d be surprised if you could), I’ll bet that it was based on a children’s book and was not an original character. The branch plant mentality combined with government protectionism has killed risk-taking in Canada and creative Canadians know this. That’s why so many of them head to the U.S.”

Outside of Franklin the Turtle, who falls squarely into Mark’s caveat, I came up empty.  So what’s the problem?

Why can’t we, with all our talent, our multitude of studios, our own animation broadcaster, why can’t we hit?

Yes, Total Drama Island scored big ratings with it’s finale down south.  But that’s a high concept one-off.  I’m talking about a Spongebob, a Bugs, a Mickey.  Our industry just doesn’t seem geared to it.

Mark’s got some ideas.

He points the finger at management.  “There are no Canadian animation managements with the guts, brains and resources to create original material that entertains a worldwide audience.

Great sound-bite.

In his comments section he continues: “I can think of studios with guts and brains but no resources. I can think of studios with brains and resources, but no guts. There is no shortage of studios without brains.  If anyone can suggest a studio that has all three, I’d love to know who it is.” and ” There are many studios with guts, brains and talent who have been unable to find money or who find money with too many strings attached. Guts and brains are not over-rated, they are under-appreciated by money people who are either too protective of their money or who feel that their money somehow makes them smarter than the people they’re financing. In either case, they get in the way of people with guts and brains.

We’re lauding Pixar’s arrival in Vancouver, but let’s call it what it is, outsourcing.  Wonderful that it’s coming at a time when Vancouver really needs the work, and it will be great for the working animators in Vancouver, but it’s striclty B Team.  Will it disappear when the provincial incentives dry up?  Time will tell.

We’re a service country.  And if we want to stand on our own two feet, we have to change that.  I’m not saying we need a Canadian Disney, that’s unrealistic.  But is it too much to hope for a Canadian Aardman or Ghibli?  I’m with Mark there.

Have a good weekend.

m

Mark on Pixar/Vancoouver, here and here

Mark on Ubisoft/Toronto, here

Mark on Industry, here and here

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