What Tex Avery And Frank Zappa Both Knew About Making Great Entertainment

Want to understand why entertaining cartoons are all but impossible to produce nowadays? You can have the answer in just two short minutes by watching the first part of this interview with Frank Zappa. Though Zappa is explaining the decline of the music business, everything he says is applicable to the animation world as well.

I made a transcript for my own reference. Here is what Frank says:

“One thing that did happen during the Sixties was some music of an unusual or experimental nature did get recorded or did get released. Now look at who the executives were in those companies at those times. Not hip young guys. These were cigar-chomping old guys who looked at the product that came and said, ‘I don’t know. Who knows what it is. Record it. Stick it out. If it sells, alright.’ We were better off with those guys than we are now with the supposedly hip young executives who are making the decisions of what people should see and hear in the marketplace. The young guys are more conservative and more dangerous to the art form than the old guys with the cigars ever were. …Next thing you know [the hip young executive has] got his feet on the desk and he’s saying, ‘Well we can’t take a chance on this because that’s not what the kids really want and I know.’ And they got that attitude. And the day you get rid of that attitude and get back to ‘Who knows. Take a chance.’ That entrepreneurial spirit where even if you don’t like or understand what the record is that’s coming in the door, the person who is in the executive chair may not be the final arbiter of taste of the entire population.”

His ideas about how old-school execs were better for the music industry than younger “hip” execs mirror my own ideas about why the animation industry’s output nowadays is creatively spineless and lacking in point of view. Back in 2005, I wrote a piece called “Animation’s Greatest Executives” in which I sung the praises of the Golden Age animation execs like Leon Schlesinger, Eddie Selzer and Fred Quimby. These guys don’t receive much praise in history books, but it’s no accident that the most entertaining industry cartoons were produced under their watch.

In that earlier post, I offered the following quote in which director Tex Avery discussed his relationship with executive Leon Schlesinger at Warners:

“We worked every night – [Chuck] Jones, [Bob] Clampett, and I were all young and full of ambition. My gosh, nothing stopped us! We encouraged each other, and we really had a good ball rolling. I guess Schlesinger saw the light; he said, ‘Well, I’ll take you boys away from the main plant.’ He put us in our own little shack over on the [Warner Bros.] Sunset lot, completely separated from the Schlesinger studio, in some old dressing room or toilet or something, a little cottage sort of thing. We called it Termite Terrace. And he was smart; he didn’t disturb us. We were all alone out there, and he knew nothing of what went on.”

It should come as little surprise that Avery’s endorsement of Schlesinger so closely mirrors Zappa’s praise for the “cigar-chomping old” music execs. Leaving great artists alone to create great work is common sense. Execs in animation’s earlier days understood their roles; they provided the money and then they stepped back. It was their job to facilitate an environment where cartoons could be created most efficiently, not to dictate the content of the animation.

Today, execs want to noodle with every aspect of the process, even those aspects about which they are often clueless like entertainment and humor. They have gone so far as to give themselves oxymoronic job titles like “creative exec” and “development exec” to justify their interference in the creative process. There are obviously rare exceptions when a quality cartoon makes it to air, but look at the history of those projects and in most cases, it is in spite of the system in which the cartoon was produced.

The secret to creating memorable cartoon characters and successful series is not so much a secret as it is common sense. If any studio ever figures it out, they’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.

Tex Avery and Fred QuimbyDirector Tex Avery and exec Fred Quimby at MGM

UPDATE: See also What Frank Zappa, Tex Avery and Monty Python have in common

(Thanks, Seamus Walsh, for the Zappa link)


  • http://mayersononanimation.blogspot.com Mark Mayerson

    Bravo, Amid.

  • Marc Baker

    Very interesting find! Frank Zappa’s view on music execs was very insightful, and explains why i don’t listen to listen to music anymore because of all these young, hip ‘Ryan Seacrest’ clones dictating what we can, and can’t hear. I also like the comparisons made with the animation industry. Which also explains why i don’t watch much animation anymore, and i like animation. This really makes me sad because I’m influenced by alot of the great legends of animation. With the current execs running the studios right now, when will we ever see the next Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones, or Tex Avery? After reading this article, i really have to give Schlesinger, Selzer, and Quimby some credit for giving these legends their chance to shine as artists. Heck, even Lou Scheimer of Filmation should get some credit for giving Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, and John Kricfalusi entry level jobs before they made it big.

  • http://carrolhach.com/graticule Josh Carrollhach

    There is truth here, certainly, but the obvious exceptions of Walt Disney’s active participation in every aspect of his productions and of John Lasseter and John Walker’s engagement in Pixar animations poke some holes in this argument. I think Frank is talking about the wannabe hipsters, the non-musician (and non-animator) with no grasp of real value or quality. “I’m hip and young so I know” is lame, but “Say, let’s make this better” is great.

    Were the executives to leave you alone and you sucked then everyone would lose money. I can see leaving Chuck Jones and Ken Harris to their own devices, but if there was a really good story-focused executive it might be even better.

    • http://4eyedanimation.com Joe Corrao

      Frank is talking about growing and doing stuff outside the “Norm”..EVERYDAY out here (Hollywood) EVERYONE talks to me about what they saw and how we can redo it cause its successful. Experimentation keeps us moving forward.

  • Chuck R.

    Great points, Josh. A firm directing hand by an enlightened despot isn’t always a bad thing. Conversely, creative freedom doesn’t guarantee success either. Most of us will agree that Ren and Stimpy was at its best during the first season at Nickelodeon. John K. got more creative latitude when the show was produced for Spike, but (I’m sorry to say) all that freedom didn’t make a more entertaining show.

    Zappa is absolutely right that it’s bad business to try to second-guess an audience too much. Sometimes you just have to go out on a limb, prepared to try wacky concept B if goofy concept A falls flat. Of course, this is easier done when you’re cranking out hundreds of 6-minute shorts a year.

  • amid

    Josh – You’re bringing up a different scenario that conflates the issue. This post is about traditional studio set-ups where directors are hired.

    Disney was an artist who ran his own studio. Same with Lasseter; the guy built Pixar from scratch artistically. Artists who start a studio (or help establish it) and take on executive positions within that studio are quite common (Chris Wedge at Blue Sky, Bill and Joe at Hanna-Barbera, and John Hubley at UPA are just a few examples). But it really has very little to do with the topic of this post.

  • J Hobart B

    Frank was always right about everything.

  • Barx

    The vast amount of people that need to be appeased throughout the process of making a cartoon series is staggering.
    Perhaps in feature film things run differently, but with TV series production every single facet is scrutinzed by dozens of executives.
    I can barely imagine the freedom of making a cartoon with fellow aritsts with little or no interference.
    Damn, that musta been fun.

  • http://www.andylyon.com lyon

    Frank Zappa is a total bad-ass (and my all-time favorite musician/composer) He’s actually made several contributions to the animation world too. He worked extensively with morphing-stop-motion madman Bruce Bickford. Mind-blowing.

    As far as his music industry comment (with animation studio parallels), I’m gonna have to agree with Amid that artist driven studios aren’t really what he’s talking about here. He would often rant about his disastrous stint with major labels (Waner Bros. and others) and about lawsuits with them over ownership rights etc. He eventually ran his own record label. Which seems to be the only avenue to bypass the MBA-types that wanna get their grubby hands on the creative process.

    Bottom line for those fools is the “bottom line”. They need safe bets. Thats why (at least in Hollywood and TV animation) we haven’t seen anything new. The biggest problem is that the public still shows up in throngs to buy it. Only proving the execs right.

    Pardon my cynicism. I must say though, I’m very hopeful that indie produced work will soon gain traction (perhaps we’re due for a complete paradigm shift in the studio model?). We’ve seen more and more artist-produced work successfully released over the past few years. Here’s to more (clink). Now we just have to ween the public off of the shiny crap they’ve grown accustomed too. I think the best way to do that is to offer them options.

  • http://www.frankrause.com Fran Krause

    Here here!

  • Aleksandar Vujovic

    Excellent article Amid!

    I’ve seen it this way since I got blacklisted from some of the major animation houses after leaving a comment here. Just whoa.

  • jordan reichek

    ahhhhhhhh……….cigar chompin’ old guys………

    i miss ‘em too, frank!

  • Thad

    …or maybe classic cartoons have just gone the way of the Hollywood movie musical. How often do you see one of those that are any good? Just a relic of a bygone era that isn’t going to happen on such a wide scale ever again.

    • Steve

      Intreresting. One of the reasons Hollywood musicals began to suck is that they became over directed (Moulin Rouge). We never see anyone actually dance. We get a fleeting glimpse of a foot, then a ‘tuded’ up face then some random object then a butt etc..of some new teen non- dancer starlet. The takes are often micro seconds long. Far different from Gene Kelly who showed us that he can dance, sing, act, direct.He showed us how great takes for minutes can be with creative camera use. See Bobby Van ‘Take Me to Broadway’ from Small Town Girl to see how much better it was done then. Musicals would still be alright if they put good real dancers and singers in a show that had a substantial story and filmed them singing and dancing.

      • Mr. Levi

        your “no dancing” comment extends exactly to “no acting” as well. We see dozens upon dozens of edits in short scenes of dialog, with lots of new camera positions. My god, it must take weeks to film a two minute dialog scene now. I swear, none of today’s film stars could do live theater!! The thought of any of them remembering lines longer than 4 or 5 words is hilarious!

        I recall hearing comedian/actor David Cross diss on film acting once… he said just that: it’s all quick edits. A few words and CUT, move camera, take a break, go to a party, come back, say a few more words, repeat.

        Hard NOT to be cynical about new film and music these days!!

  • Brad Constantine

    I’m in the gaming business and it’s the same all around. If a company is gonna spend millions and millions of dollars on a project, then they are gonna do what ever it takes to make sure that there is an audience for that product. In the Old days before tv and children’s programming, there was one audience at the movies. Now everything is focus tested to death and then the creative decisions are being made by marketing people, and not the production folks.
    And in some extreme cases, the children of marketing people.
    I felt the same this year about the Christmas Specials on network TV…rather than take a chance on playing some new, or original holiday shows, (Opus’ wish for wings that work, for example)the network ran the Grinch 3 times in primetime and Charlie Brown Christmas Ran Twice in the same week . Frosty ran twice as well. That’s 4 slots that could have been filled by something new or different. These shows are indeed classics but there should be room for others.

  • http://Mr.FunsBlog Floyd Norman

    I find it ironic that the studios that have the deepest pockets are often the ones afraid to “throw it out there.” To take a risk.

    These studios want guaranteed success — so they end up being risk averse — and that’s why they produce watered down crap.

    Hell, even Walt Disney took chances and fell on his face on occasion. Today’s studios are run by wimps. All they really want is not losing their cushy jobs.

  • I like to draw

    “The biggest problem is that the public still shows up in throngs to buy it. Only proving the execs right.”

    This is because they aren’t being OFFERED anything else or anything different.. the public as a whole will buy into “almost” anything you put in front of them with the right marketing, and that is evident anytime you sit and watch the garbage they call cartoons on most of the channels with a few exceptions.

  • Arlo

    The fact that great executives that don’t interfere with the creative talent “don’t receive much praise in history books” is why we have the glut of fame seeking jackholes in the studios today. Fact of the matter: Katzenberg isn’t that talented, but he is famous. Damn straight he is!
    And thats what producers want to be. Its sad.

  • http://dailygrail.com/blog/8389 red pill junkie

    It all gets boiled down to ego, I guess… and balls.

    The moguls of the Golden Age didn’t care much about recognition and fame. They just wanted to make money. But nowadays everybody wants to be the next Walt Disney; and as Amid mentioned, he was the exception to the rule—an artist in his own right, AND an incredible businessman.

    And with more players in the game, everybody wants to play it safe; they want people with graphs and formulas that show them what is hot and what’s not, and those people—the marketing ‘experts’—merely come up with regurgitated memes: they watch what’s trendy of the current youth culture and try to make sense of it, even though they don’t feel related to it. Hence they’re always 2 steps behind of everything; they don’t lead, they merely copy.

  • Sean

    I would say John Lasseter is part of the problem, not some exception.

    Lassater doesn’t take risks. Pixar sticks to a very tried and true formula. Wall-E took a risk within the first 30 minutes and then became the regular old shtick.

    Also thanks Lassater for saturating our market with the new 3D Tinkerbell movies, the next Disney Princess money maker.

    People trust him because he’s an animator, but I say bring back the cigar smoking suit who doesn’t know shit.

    • Ryoku

      Gutsy words that I can agree with, I’ve enjoyed most of the Pixar films I’ve seen but cannot deny their formulas.

  • Craig

    All the wimp studio runners absolutely fear losing their cushy jobs. That’s why all their energy goes into spinning.

  • http://pupick.blogspot.com/ Rick Roberts

    Another thing was the producers of yore actually HAD EXPERIENCE IN ENTERTAINMENT ! Leon Schlesinger’s early career included being an usher as well as a stage actor. Famed Co-producer of the James Bond films Harry Saltzman joined a traveling circus when he was 17. Alot of today’s producers are former bean counters who know nothing of entertaining people.

  • Paul N

    There’s a bit of apples and oranges at work here. Keep in mind that the bulk of the work we admire from producers like Schlesinger, Quimby, et al, were produced during the era of the studio system, where block booking and studio ownership of theaters was the norm. Risks could be taken, because they knew they had an outlet for their product. The cartoons were also stand-alone. If one didn’t work (and many didn’t), there was a new one right behind it that might. That’s a much lower exposure risk than producing multiple episodes of a new series.

    Zappa does make good points, but ignores the flip side – sometimes, those cigar-chomping execs released things that didn’t work, and I’m sure more than a few of them lost their jobs over it. It wasn’t all risk=reward.

  • GameOverGirl

    Zappa is god.

  • Robert Schaad

    Frank was correct…still applies to music, animation, etc. Luckily, I got to meet and speak with Frank on a few occasions (at clubs in NYC).

  • Brad Constantine

    Walt Disney was one of the biggest risk takers in Hollywood history. Everybody, including his own staff, second guessed him on just about everything he did. It’s also a fact that his risk taking didn’t really pay off until he opened the parks in the 50′s. (that’s almost 15 years of little or no profits from films) It’s more of a testament to his brother Roy’s talents as a businessman than Walts. I doubt any young Hollywood producers today would mortgage their own house to get a film out.

  • http://toonamir.blogspot.com/ Amir Avni

    Amid,

    This post is solid GOLD!

    Amir

  • http://www.candlelightstories.com Alessandro Cima

    The cigar-chompers are all running web services now, not studios. They make web sites like YouTube and say, “Well let’s just see what happens.” Then the artists are free to fill it up with their stuff.

    Actually, Frank Zappa’s dream is here.

    There’s no such thing as television animation anymore. I have not seen a single good animation on television in over 5 years. I don’t mean to offend anyone, but some of the best animations I find on the web are made people slapping things up on Newgrounds. Unbelievable natural talent that seems fearless.

    I kind of think that Google is a giant cigar-chomper.

  • http://www.jessica-plummer.com Jessica Plummer

    Great post Amid, and everyone’s comments are awesome on this subject. Really…if it’s Disney-perfect that today’s exec’s are trying to be, maybe they should learn to mortgage their own home just to keep their studio in business. If you care more for yourself than what you do then it really shows.

  • http://pupick.blogspot.com/ Rick Roberts

    “, but some of the best animations I find on the web are made people slapping things up on Newgrounds.”

    Lord in heaven, I hope you are joking. That website is the definition of amateur hour, even TV animation has a higher standard then that site.

  • David Levy

    Great post, Amid..

    Paul N, I’m in total agreement with you on the “apples and oranges” argument.

    As always with this type of discussion, it provides an ample opportunity for many people to talk themselves out of trying to make their own contributions. The conclusion is, “why bother?”

    No matter how flawed the world of development is today (or tomorrow), sincere and talented creators will find a way to get their cartoons on the web, the TV, on cellphones, or what have you. That’s the lesson to take out of this discussion.

  • Autumn

    I could not agree more Amid. That was pretty much spot on.

  • http://lovehatecartoons.blogspot.com Ted

    So… why did cartoons suck in the past when unhip executives were in charge? You know, the way the quality of HB cartoons kept dropping in the ’60s and ’70s, when H and B were in charge, claiming they knew the cartoons weren’t what was good but were what made business sense?

    • Ryoku

      Budgets were dropping too.

  • Bobby D.

    You betcha! World class post, Amid!

  • http://outoftheinkwell.blogspot.com Mike Dobbs

    Interesting post Amid and I certainly agree with Zappa. You didn’t mention Max Fleischer, but I think he should be added into this conversation. A former artist, cartoonist and animator, none the less I doubt that Max “got” some of the wild imagery or the popular music that were in his early sound cartoons. Not a single person I interviewed ever spoke about Max interfering with the creative process– granted that was Dave’s responsibility. Dave, though, seemed much more interested in adding gags to a sequence than worrying about the issues Zappa brought up.

  • Mark

    Speaking from experience, it is near impossible to pitch something entertaining without being told “kids won’t watch that”, the truth is it’s executives who think that they’ll be sued if they show something funny that rocks the boat or lose their jobs if the thing is daring.

    Old Hollywood must have been great, because all the moguls started the studios by flying by the seat of their pants. Walt was no exception to that, only he cared more about what he produced. I believe the future of animation lies with independent producers, after all Walt was an independent long before the studio gained ‘major’ status.

    There is so much room for animation to grow, with different genres to explore like live action has done long ago.

  • Mark McD

    May not be as simple as that. The major labels only got into rock’n’roll once the genre proved it could sell records; then they could sweep in and pick off a recording star like Elvis because Sun Records was still jobbing racks from Sam Phillips’ car, or even just buy national distribution to the master of a single regional hit. They weren’t taking a chance, they were widening a trail blazed by others.
    The case of Columbia Records could fall to either side of the argument. In the late 50′s, they stayed strictly in Mom and Pop territory, evidenced by their very successful “Sing along With Mitch” albums. Mitch Miller happened to be Columbia’s Artists & Repertoire director, and made darn sure none of the rock’n’roll crap had a Columbia “eye” on it (perhaps to be fair, Rock was largely a “singles” genre, while Columbia was more heavily invested in LPs). John Hammond brought him Aretha Franklin, Mitch had her singing Broadway standards. Mitch allowed Hammond to sign Bob Dylan because folk music at the time was still safe, “singalong” traditional songs. Only after he retired from A&R was Columbia able to swoop into San Francisco and sign up almost everyone on the Haight scene. So was Mitch the cigar-chomper or the “expert” who knows too much?

    Sidenote: The “Sing along with Mitch” TV show pilfered Max’ “follow the bouncing ball” gimmick. I had to mention before someone else did.

  • http://niffiwan.livejournal.com/ Niffiwan

    Rick Roberts:
    “Lord in heaven, I hope you are joking. That website is the definition of amateur hour, even TV animation has a higher standard then that site.”

    Yes, 99% of the stuff that’s there is terrible. But their rating and awards systems typically allow the best submissions to rise to the top, and so you also find some absolutely ASTOUNDING films there that you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. As an artist, your work if submitted there simply reaches more people than anywhere else, it’s as simple as that. It seems to me that Newgrounds needs to get a lot more respect than it has gotten, because it has meant more for indie animation this decade – in connecting artists with audiences – than just about anything else I can think of.

    Where else, for example, can a brilliant mature animation about the suicide of a 19th century poet get over 200,000 views and nearly 1000 reviews? (See “Hanged Man’s Elegy”:)
    http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/303968

    Not on Youtube (where it has 8000 views) or Atomfilms (20,000).

    Where else can a dark, experimental animation such as Kol Belov’s “PUSTOTA” get nearly 120,000 views?
    http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/135621

    Other great NG animations: “Mr. Coo”, “Nim’s Winter Tale”, “the YuYu”, “Angry Dog” – just mentioning a few of my favourites.

  • http://www.stephenneary.blogspot.com pizzaforeveryone

    this is a really great post. Thanks much.

    On a frank zappa side note, any chance to highlight some swell bruce bickford animation ala city of tiny lights?

  • Eddie Estes

    The problem is that everyone wants to be an artist.
    Nobody wants to just entertain.

  • mark cee

    Hopefully, a few of those Hippie execs will be checking this post out! A very cool find, thanks Amid and Seamus.

  • Michael J. Hayde

    Mark McD: I’d say Goddard Lieberson (Columbia’s Exec VP from ’50-56, then President until ’67) was the “cigar-chomper.” Sure, he put Miller in charge of pop and folk, but he also had Hammond for jazz and Don Law for C&W, and they were both kicking artistic butt with their signings. Plus, let’s face it, Miller made tons of money for the label and when that dried up, he was gone. My grandparents were buying his “sing-along” albums in the sixties. Does anyone see any seniors in the local CD store these days? Of course not; the “hip” execs have thoroughly scrubbed that market share. Based on the number of “Sing Along” albums you see in the thrift stores, it wasn’t a meaningless demographic back in the day. “Hipness” made it meaningless. I’d better stop now before this gets TOO off-topic.

  • http://www.candlelightstories.com Alessandro Cima

    Rick Roberts:
    “Lord in heaven, I hope you are joking. That website is the definition of amateur hour, even TV animation has a higher standard then that site.”

    No, I am not joking. Newgrounds has been the high-water mark of animation on the web for years. iFilm and Atom films were utterly pretentious and I recall infuriating an executive at Atom films when I red-penciled his stupid contract on every single sentence of it. Newgrounds shows animations. Period. From anyone who wants to put one up. The talent spills out of the pile every day. It’s magnificent.

    I don’t need to make friends anywhere so I’ll say Pixar is a crashing bore and not worth discussing. ‘Pasty’ is the word that springs to mind. And most animation studios specialize in making commercials. There’s your problem. The kids on the web though, they are a different story. They are telling their stories. They are animating with bravado.

    I have seen animations done by 16 year old animators that tear the hair off the heads of many professional animators. These kids when they grow up and if they continue this work will make Pixar look like a flip book. This is a natural progression and a healthy one. I went to a film festival and listened to Bill Plympton give an auditorium full of animators the worst advice I’ve ever heard: ‘Keep it funny,’ he said. That is precisely what’s wrong with animation. It’s not the executives. It’s the overarching effort to keep it funny and catchy and popular.

    The Russians figured this out long ago.

  • Garret

    Mitch Miller was the guy who made Frank Sinatra record “Mama Will Bark”, because in the very early 1950′s Frank’s straight romantic ballads arranged by Axel Stordahl weren’t selling and novelty crap was hot. “Mama Will Bark” featured Frank crooning along with tone-deaf actress Dagmar and a guy barking like a rabid dog. The record proved a supreme embarrassment over the long haul and Sinatra didn’t speak to Miller for thirty years. Mitch Miller was a cigar chomper with a certain kind of experience, but it wasn’t a good fit for everyone. Cornball he did well.

  • messy

    Please note that Frank Zappa died in 1993, and since then, 16 years have passed. Since he doesn’t look nearly as bad as he did at the end, I expect that the video was made sometime in the early to middle ’80s.

    Hence it doesn’t explain anything.

  • Hip Exec

    Ok someone had to speak on our behalf. Man, I can’t believe how bitter so many animators are. You have jobs that people would kill for – as do I – and all you do is complain. As an exec, my job is to champion YOUR project, represent it to the rest of the company in the best light possible and fight for YOU all day every day so you don’t have to.

    Sure, there are crappy execs who give crappy notes, but there are also plenty of crappy writers and artists who make crappy shows. If you are talented and your show/movie is good, you won’t get as much exec interference. Fact.

    • Ryoku

      “You have jobs that people would kill for – as do I – and all you do is complain”

      Thats precisely what you’re doing too.

  • http://www.coffeeroll.com JPDJ

    This is an awesome post.

    Allessandro, while I don’t 100% agree with you, I have to say that yours are the most refreshing comments posted all day.

    I’d also like to say that I don’t believe cartoons today suck. “Mighty B” on Nick and “Chowder” on CN are absolutely killer. Remember that the bulk of these shows are aimed at kids and as kids’ entertainment they are top-notch.

    On the adult side, “Robot Chicken,” “Venture Bros.” and “Superjail” continue to impress.

    Yeah, the industry produces a lot of crap (that’s the case for a lot of things) but there’s plenty to like too.

  • Isaac

    Fact: All sentences beginning or ending with “fact” are facts.

    Or not. Hip Exec is right, there are a lot of crappy artists and crappy execs. But Zappa is talking about execs that don’t take any risks anymore because they “know” what the audience wants.

  • yoob

    “If you are talented and your show/movie is good, you won’t get as much exec interference. Fact.”

    Hilarity.

  • Barx

    Hip Exec, I worked with a fantastic guy who had exactly your position and unfortunately it was quite a thankless job. He was constantly fighting for ideas, trying to get as much ‘funny’ into the show as possible. On the fence trying to appease all sides and in the end, ended up with a lot of compromise.
    This is exactly the problem…it shouldn’t need to be such a ‘fight’ to get wild,weird and wonderful ideas through the system because of a preconcieved idea of ‘what the audience will want’.
    I also agree with JPDJ, there is still some great stuff squeezing through the system, just not as much as there could/should be.

  • http://pixeltoon.com Gina Kamentsky

    If Zappa were alive today he’d be by passing the record labels entirely and offering his work directly to his audience. Now that we have the means of independent production and distribution why should we care about crappy execs?

  • http://www.scuzzbopper.blogspot.com Ken Priebe

    Ah yes, good ol’ Frank.

    Funnily enough, I just read in Harryhausen’s “Century of Stop Motion” book today that it was the exact same mentality that made “Son of Kong” a disaster of a film and an insult to the genius of Willis O’Brien who made the first film great. Schoedsack and Cooper left him alone to do his thing and he created a landmark in film animation effects….then they got more involved thinking they could create a follow-up sequel on their own, and the results were very different.

  • Pedro Nakama

    He talks about sex at the end and how does that relate to animation. If an animator today gets carpal tunnel his sex life is over!

  • http://www.elliotelliotelliot.com Elliot Cowan

    You should post a link to the article “Why executives think that Frank Zappa sucks”.

  • http://rockitpack.blogspot.com :: smo ::

    fantastic!

  • ZAR

    That’s the difference between an entrepreneur and a manager.

    The old guys all were willing to risk something, to try out something new and to give new talent a chance. Sure, they wanted to make money too. But that was only a PART of the game to them.

    The new guys are mostly pencil pushers and hired mercenaries. They don’t care about WHAT they do as long as they get to the money – quick. Why give a damn about your company still existing in two years if you can make the quick buck now – even by ruining it all the way?

    This reckless thinking has spread into almost any kind of business and the worst (or best?) thing about is that they JUST DON’T LEARN.

    See how much dumb money is pumped into stupid movie remakes, mindless rip-offs and idiotic music bands that will be down the drain and completely forgotten in two years!
    See how much money is invested in (faulty copy) protection – whereas the customers just won’t buy it (the video game SPORE is a good example). No learning curve there.

    See on the other hand how really creative art (e.g. Sita Sings the Blues) is hindered and in the end ruined by a degenerated and perverted set of laws that allows the CONTENT industry to cash money decades after the death of an artist – whereas new talent must basically check every detail of their creativity by a lawyer – with lots of cash in the background to finance the legal aspect in the first place.

    And it won’t get any better I’m afraid! (Obama having pro-DRM-Ogden and anti-consumer-Biden in his team is not a good sign).

  • http://www.davemackey.com Dave Mackey

    Zappa was the man. Prostate cancer sucks. Amid, excellent correlation. Thank you.

  • Marc Baker

    I’ve said this on another forum, and i’ll say it again. If any ‘young. hip’ executive should ever get involved in animation, he, or she should be required to take animation, or film classes. Not so they can become animators, or film makers per say, but to understand the process more, and how animation is more than just a ‘kids’ medium. As well as how to think outside the ‘demographic’ box, and how it’s better to leave some artists alone. Maybe then these ‘young, hip’ execs could get on John K’s ‘good side’.

    • Funkybat

      I think it would take a lot more than a basic understanding & appreciation of the animation process for executives to get on John K.’s “good side.” Still, it would probably be useful in bridging the gap between artists and producers & their lieutenants. I am often amazed at how little “laypeople” understand, even in the Information Age, what is involved in creating animation. Lot of people out there view digital animation as being as “easy” at the Jetsons’ pushing buttons to make dinner.

  • Mark McD

    Garret and Michael are more detailed than I was about the Mitch Miller scenario (yes, I love dragging threads off-topic, but I also wanted to post something in harmony with other posters instead of perpetuating flame wars).
    Just to offer an example more in accord with the thesis of this thread, I once worked a temp job with Calvin Carter, Jr., whose father had been A&R head for Chicago’s VeeJay Records. They never had a distinct “sound” like Motown or Chess did, because Cal Sr.’s policy was to let just about anybody come in and make a record, and see what sticks (like the Impressions) and what stinks (Jimmy Cross, “I Want My Baby Back” — just Google it). Having had some success in expanding VeeJay’s geographic reach to sign the Four Seasons, Cal went to England to try and secure American rights to the UK’s yodelling hitmaker Frank Ifield. EMI Records told him they’d let VeeJay release Ifield’s records, but only if they also take on another act that the suits at Capitol (EMI’s US subsidiary) had passed on. Four guys from Liverpool named after an insect.
    And now you know … the rest of the story!

  • Marc Baker

    ‘No, I am not joking. Newgrounds has been the high-water mark of animation on the web for years.’

    Speaking of which, I’ve made some animated cartoons that i posted on Newgrounds, as well as on Youtube.

    http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/151830

    http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/284719

    http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/403213

    Also, ZAR makes a very good point about how the current people in charge of these entertainment companies only care about money, and nothing more. These schmucks couldn’t give a crap about the reputation, of quality of their company, or their products just as long as they get quick cash. People like that should not be running the entertainment business, they should be flipping burgers instead!

  • pappy d

    I’ve been out of TV animation for 20 years, so I expect I’m out of the loop. If Hip Exec can’t greenlight a show, why would I pitch to him? Who is it you’re fighting? Maybe you need me to pin his arms back for you.

    You make it sound as though your job function is to take the blame for someone important if a show flops. Wouldn’t you rather get fired for being uppity?

    “If you are talented and your show/movie is good, you won’t get as much exec interference. Fact.”

    In my experience, if execs smell a success, they’ll swarm all over it trying to inject their own ‘creative’ DNA into it.

  • http://www.candlelightstories.com Alessandro Cima

    Hip Exec said:
    ‘You have jobs that people would kill for – as do I – and all you do is complain.’

    Well, I don’t know but I love complainers. I try to hang out with complainers as much as possible. When they get on a good bitch roll I’m happiest. I like a good fight with a nasty complainer. Because most of would actually kill for their jobs.

    What I have little time for is a ‘champion,’ champ.

    Zappa missed a certain type of old fellow who simply knew his business and didn’t run around championing people, I guess. But of course let’s remember that some of these guys, like Dylan for example, lied cheated and manipulated these businessmen into doing what they wanted them to do. Dylan told stories that were completely fabricated in order to get his business done. That’s what good artists do. But I think the secret is that, all along, the business guys knew Dylan was lying and liked him the better for it. Artists complain and lie and cheat and sneak and fight until they get what they want. I would expect nothing less.

  • http://ryuuseipro.deviantart.com/ John Paul Cassidy

    Sean wrote:

    I would say John Lasseter is part of the problem, not some exception.

    Lassater doesn’t take risks. Pixar sticks to a very tried and true formula. Wall-E took a risk within the first 30 minutes and then became the regular old shtick.

    Also thanks Lassater for saturating our market with the new 3D Tinkerbell movies, the next Disney Princess money maker.

    People trust him because he’s an animator, but I say bring back the cigar smoking suit who doesn’t know shit.

    If we’re going to have a “cigar smoking suit who doesn’t know shit,” then it’d better not be Michael Eisner. Disney became a hopeless sinking ship, mostly because of him, and Pixar was the studio’s only hope.

    I personally respect Lasseter, because he may not “take risks” in a big way, like some people would expect from him, but he knows what he wants.

    I know some people can’t get over the AMERICAN DOG/BOLT fiasco, but you have to keep it in perspective. If you want to do something personal that you want to express to the world, and you’re doing it at Disney/Pixar, play it cool and LISTEN TO JOHN LASSETER. The guy knows what he’s talking about, especially as both an animator and storyteller. He didn’t come all this way overnight. If Lasseter fires a major player like Chris Sanders, then it was not an easy decision, and he hated to do it. He was under a lot of pressure as it was. And as far as I know, Brad Bird is not complaining about the major changes Lasseter made to THE INCREDIBLES (like changing the main villain from the intended Xerek to Syndrome, originally a minor character). If you want to do something you want to express, to the point of self-indulgence (nothing personal), don’t bother working at Disney/Pixar. Just move to some other company you feel understands you better, or at best, be independent and do it yourself (like Teddy Newton and Bert Klein did for BOYS NIGHT OUT)!

    With Disney Animation, I can understand why Lasseter was tightening up. Disney’s first 3D film without Pixar (for a while), CHICKEN LITTLE, was a total failure. The designs were cute and the animation impressive, but the story was a smashing bore. Mom’s reaction to the film (in the climactic 30 minutes) was better than the film itself! If *that* was how Disney was going to do 3D films without Pixar’s assistance, then I’m glad Lasseter stepped in.

    But the good thing is that Sanders survived the ordeal, and moved over to DreamWorks, which has surprisingly improved (thanks to KUNG FU PANDA and the upcoming MONSTERS VS. ALIENS), so I think he’ll do fine. I don’t know how, but magic is beginning to blossom over there. Perhaps Jeffrey Katzenberg is wising up?

    • Erik

      While I understand where you’re coming from, wouldn’t it be rather foolish to just let Disney operate the way it does? Sure, if you can’t find fulfillment at a company, leaving seems logical, but how does the company itself change?

  • http://www.johnpannozzi.blogspot.com John Pannozzi

    There are some decent animation execs out there today, like Fred Seibert and Jean MacCurdy, and Tad Stones has said that Gary Kristel (head of Disney TV) left him alone pretty much when they made Darkwing Duck. And one “creative exec” who actually is creative is Greg Weisman, who was a development exec on shows like Darkwing, and when on to prove himself a great storyteller with Gargoyles.

    I agree with Ted: nearly all of the American animated TV shows from the ’70s (and to a slightly lesser extent, the ’80s) were worlds worse than most shows produced this past decade (pardon me, but I’d frankly rather be raped in my behind than watch Josie and the Pussycats) , and those were generally produced by “cigar-chompers” and animators.

    But I do agree that ideally execs should not meddle in areas thay know little about.

  • MJ

    Thank you so much for posting that.

    I agree, Bravo!

  • Masked Stinker

    I have nothing to add.

    But the general sentiments being expressed here are ones I’ve felt for a long time.

    The current way of trying to create with a bunch of executives butting in just isn’t conducive to doing great work.

    Business people understand the money end but that’s about it – with a few exceptions. If the suits stuck to what they do well and let the creative people do what they do well everything would be better all around.

    But the suits don’t trust the creatives and vice-versa.
    So there isn’t much mutual respect.

  • http://www.andyupdates.blogspot.com/ Andy S.

    Amen!

    …THANK YOU.

  • http://blog.ninapaley.com Nina Paley

    Alessandro Cima, I think I love you.

  • http://www.orphantoons.wordpress.com Kevin Wollenweber

    Ted says: <So… why did cartoons suck in the past when unhip executives were in charge? You know, the way the quality of HB cartoons kept dropping in the ’60s and ’70s, when H and B were in charge, claiming they knew the cartoons weren’t what was good but were what made business sense?>

    Well, there is a contradiction going on here in this thought; remember, while Hanna-Barbera got to where they got due to cluelessness, they soon imposed *THEIR* cluelessness on their animators, like the smarmy hip execs who “know” what’s happenin’! Hanna-Barbera’s cartoon output was not the fault of clueless executives; it was the fault of the “hip” execs who claim that “if they liked it once, they’ll love it twice!” I have to say that it is nice that Hanna-Barbera had the clout that they had. Imagine if some of the more truly creative forces had that kind of control.

    Today, more than ever before, an up-and-coming artist has to be a business person, and that’s not always easy since the climate of popular media acceptance in this country changes almost monthly! Even public opinion cannot be counted on. Most people that I encounter are far too complacent, too content with what is out there, like the “hip exec”, who tells us all to stop complaining! How can you, as a thinking, feeling person, even concerned about your kids, tell us to stop complaining? Look at the stuff that now passes as “quality”.

    There is enough room on that very large cable dial for channels devoted to just about every small notion in the minds of us all, but the unfortunate thing is that we all have to be incredibly business savvy, a term that, in and of itself, is vague, because just what *IS* savvy today?

    To an extent, I, like Frank Zappa, sometimes think of the viewing and listening public as vacant channels that will accept anything that it is fed. They’ve got their own miserable lives, as do I, and they can’t be bothered having to really search for the good stuff, but it is getting less and less easy to find on major channels, unfortunately, due to reasons already discussed here. So it takes the truly “hip” (not to be confused with “hippie”) business person who can really convince those who are equal parts clueless and snotty about it at the top of the major companies that what they’re doing will effect major populations at all, and there are few artists, as someone pointed out with the comments doled out by Bill Plimpton) who are willing to do it all. Many otherwise talented people sooner or later rely on the bigger company to determine what works and they fall into the regime just to keep food on their tables. It isn’t right, but I kind of understand why they do it.

    The most unfortunate thing is that eclectic just isn’t the mass norm today. I’d love to imagine, once in a while, a world where anything really *CAN* happen, as our President-elect likes to say, but I unfortunately know the reality. I guess that my living with a disability that had hampered any real creativity had alerted me to how much decision-makers really want to hear what the individual has to say. It is that mental block that we should be discussing here.

    But thanks, Amid, for posting that incredibly insightful talk by Frank Zappa, someone I’ve admired for years, even though he just might just consider me an “over-educated shithead”.

  • h park

    The whole “hip executive” is just a good example of micro management gone wrong. From reading the posts, I think today’s executives are so bent on perfect success that they can’t trust creative individuals and can’t take chance with innovations. No matter how smart and how well-educated the person is, he or she still can’t predict the future. Sometimes, failure is a part of the life and they have to accept it.

    The blame doesn’t stop at executives alone. Artists themselves have to work hard to make something meaningful and has to take responsibility for possible failures. Artists can’t be like irresponsible child who takes his/her experimentation for granted and wind up with a mediocre result or product.

    Again it’s all about the trust. The Golden Age WB animations were successful because trust between artists and executives kept the golden age animations to be good to this day. I think the executives understood the shortcomings of running creative business and found satisfaction in taking risks from someone he can trust.

  • Flashhhback

    I liked the points you made in your article. You were right on the money too! All too often studio heads THINK they know what kids want to see, or try & follow the latest craze. This, of course, causes the shows to become bland & kids quickly grow bored w/them (for all their “savvy,” they don’t always research the market well). An example of this would be the Pokemon craze. Since ’97, everyone has tried to come up w/a show that mimics/borrows heavily from Poke’mon or similar card-inspired series. This has gone on for so long (over 11 years now) that it has tapped the creativity well dry. This is commercialism at it’s worst.

    While similar things did occur in the 80′s (mostly centered in Japan) w/ Go bots, Transformers etc. That craze only really lasted from about ’84-89/90 (it would continue-here & there w/various incarnations of Transformers, but wasn’t as strong, and most robot-geared toons had died in the U.S.).Cartoon studios (of course,also having ties to toy companies) realized quickly, that kids would begin to move into other phases & enjoy different shows.

    One of the biggest things that has influenced the direction of animation (and children’s shows in general..having especially to do with the scripting/stories/plot of the show), is the pressure put upon the industry by congress & the politically correct watchdog groups that made it their mission to scrutinize & patrol the idiot box. Many of these groups exaggerated the amount of violence that was actually in your average cartoon. One of these “crusaders,” was Dr. Thomas Radecki of National Coalition for Television Violence (NCTV). Radecki would often drag out his soapbox, but forgot to nail it tightly. More than once did he fall from that rickety perch. On one occasion, back in ’83 I believe, He called Masters of the Universe “a murderous Cartoon” where “a barbarian roamed around killing his enemies.” He later admitted that he had never actually seen a single episode of the show. Radecki was not the only one either. Several people/organizations (though most of them not quite as ridiculous as Radecki) made similar statements. This was important, of course, because these groups appealed directly to congress, who pressured both TV networks & studios to “tighten up” Children’s programming. In reality, many of these groups wanted nothing but educational programming. This was also evident, when laws like “The Children’s television act of 1990,” was established. This law was meant to A) not only get more “educational” programming on the air during prime times when children would see it, but also B) restrict “fantasy” and “alien based” cartoons that children enjoyed. This was basically the nail in the coffin for cartoons. Around ’91 or so, you started to see a ton of eco-friendly/morality cartoons on the air. By the mid 90′s they were nearly sanitized of anything resembling fun._the ose

    John Panazzi: “I agree with Ted: nearly all of the American animated TV shows from the ’70s (and to a slightly lesser extent, the ’80s) were worlds worse than most shows produced this past decade (pardon me, but I’d frankly rather be raped in my behind than watch Josie and the Pussycats) , and those were generally produced by “cigar-chompers” and animators.”

    I disagree here. While their has been somewhat of a return to action/adventure in cartoons, most of them are still so P.C. that they lack any excitement. Some of the animation is good, but much of it is a cheap knock-off of anime (especially the “cutsie” style…think the characters on Poke’mon or the characters on the old “Unico” movie) rather than the more detailed anime that combined with or inspired American animation in the 80′s. Before the early-mid 80′s, there had not been much detail in animated Children’s programming since the mid 50′s. In fact, the old Fleisher “Superman” cartoons (of the 30′s) looked more modern than the Hanna Barbera-inspired limited animation that dominated from the late 50′s-early 80′s. I know that sending animation overseas also left some studios w/a bad taste in their mouths, but those that combined anime’s attention to detail (especially w/machines & background) and AMerican animations attention to character facial/body expression (through Disney, old Fleisher toons, Don Bluth & even American comic books) turned out great shows. Even having toy tie-ins didn’t hurt animation (there’s the whole debate over whether it was “good” for children..but that’s a different story) because the toy industry was willing to put anything out there to see if it would sale (w/some input from little Johnny of course). Animation studios (influenced by the toy companies that waved the greenbacks in front of them) were willing to animate them. Like the old cigar chomper, they were willing to put these shows out there to see if they would make money. The fact that these shows are still popular among younger people today (even with the watchdog groups having seriously limited the amount of violence/conflict that can be in them) is a testament to that. The stories themselves were new, unique and at times could be complex.

    Mark: “Speaking from experience, it is near impossible to pitch something entertaining without being told “kids won’t watch that”, the truth is it’s executives who think that they’ll be sued if they show something funny that rocks the boat or lose their jobs if the thing is daring.”

    True. Once again, the almighty dollar trumps common sense (when it comes to animation execs). Of course, as I pointed out earlier, political correctness has burrowed in to animation as well. Disney is supposed to be releasing the old Pecos Bill cartoons..but, they are going to edit out the cigar that Bill smokes, because it might be a “bad influence” on children. If they are willing to go back and edit a 50-something year old cartoon, then I have no doubt that they (and other studios) will severely neuter future projects before they even leave the page.

  • http://www.thepra.com.au Hugh

    Some of the most innovative animation came out under these execs, but it’s interesting that Chuck Jones wasn’t too kind to either Schlesinger, Quimby or Selzer in his Autobiography.

    “Many of the producers of animated cartoons were just as ignorant, foolish, and dangerous as their counterparts in the feature division. From Freed Quimby at MGM, who adminished Tex Avery in the midst of the war to be circumspectin his caricature of Adolf Hitler in the Blitz Wolf (“After all Tex, we don’t know who’s going to win the war”)…”

    …”Leon’s sole method of determining the quality of a cartoon was how far it came under budget”

    It’s a lot easier to be risky selling 7-minute shorts than 90 minute features that will cost $100M+ to make and $20M+ to market and distribute. When you’re dealing with that much of other people’s money leaving it to the creatives alone isn’t enough. If you want to make features, you have to get with the inevitability that it’s a marriage between the aesthetic, technical and economic. If you want to make innovative animations, it’s shorts and the lo-fi Bill Plympton pics with limited distribution.

    Just like in the Golden age, the best animation to watch now is probably less than 7 minutes.

  • http://www.thepra.com.au Hugh

    would Schlesinger have let his creatives run amuck if they were making a feature?

    According to Tedd Pierce (who wrote many of the golden age warners shorts), “Schlesinger’s initial response on seeing Snow White was delivered with his usual amazing grace: ‘I need a feature cartoon like i need two assholes.’”

    was he really more enlightened than the folks we have now?

  • http://eikinkloster.blogspot.com Eikin Kloster

    I don’t see how we can talk about American animation without referencing Craig McCracken (The Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends), Genndy Tartakovsky (Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack and Star Wars: Clone Wars) and (yes) Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy) . These are great cartoons from this decade. Last decade had Peter Chung (Aeon Flux), Sam Kieth (The Maxx) and Mike Judge (Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill).

    I also believe Japanese Animation should be drawn into the discussion. How does it compare to American animation (IMHO, it pwns)? How can American Animation gain from a Japanese influence?

  • Josh R.

    Very interesting article. I totally agree. I think what Frank says in that video explains all or most of entertainment in general nowadays.

  • Josh R.

    Comicbooks and videogames have pretty much only gotten better if anything, so it must not apply to those. Although comics seem to have too many big events going on. But like I said, Frank Zappa’s comments apply to all or most of entertainment in general nowadays.

    • Ryoku

      I picked up a few recent comics and neither topped my 1960′s Beany and Cecil comic book.

  • Marvel Zombie

    There has to be a smaller and limited form of regulation/control to exist in order to strike a balance between art and business. Artists should not have to be directly involved in sales, and vice-versa. Prior to YouTube and similar viral video sites, studios and artists could maintain their artists’ and materials’ privacy. Video on the web changed everything, and not in a good way.

    Now that everyone and anyone has the ability to upload their “work” for FREE, the necessary competition and drive to create quality– as it was previously defined– no longer exists. Sadly, modern artists have adopted the “if it doesn’t sell, I won’t do it” attitude, and studios have become COMPLETELY out of touch with their audience/demographic. Creativity in its traditional form is dead. Fortunately, there are still a few people out there willing to innovate, even it means they make little to no profit as a result.

  • http://sjcarrasblog.blogpsot.com Pokey the Horse

    Interesting that the comments largely were made on January 8, the birthday of a couple of other artists who were largely controversial, namely: Evlis Presley [another who Mitch Miller hated..] & Soupy Sales..:)

  • http://fbeifus.ning.com/ frank

    we are a programed country just like frank talked about ,but much of our programing comes from the tv,news and movies…its all in the zeitgeist movie. if they tell you its good you will belive it becaus how could they be rong..THEY! at least the cigar chomping white shirts let the markit/people basicly decide what they liked rather then the media or they pushing it down our throats.

  • Super Trooper 11

    If you watch cartoons notice how some ideas are completely original but some how there turned around so that they suck when they are aired. i always wondered what happened between ideas and the actual production maybe the whole system needs an overhaul

  • http://kicreativestudio.blogspot.com/ Ki Innis

    This reminds me a lot of some of the recollections from Chuck Jones in “Chuck Amuck”. Chuck Jones almost literally accused Leon Schlesinger of not understanding the animation process at all,but was mainly concerned about turning a profit.

    For the most part he stayed out of their hair, but I got the impression he didn’t really know what was going on. So long as they were meeting their quotas of feet on time—the ship was functioning.

    One funny anecdote from Chuck that seems to sum this up was was when the animators at Termite Terrace were laughing their heads off over an animation idea they were developing, Schlesinger barged in the room yelling, “I don’t see what’s SO FUNNY around here! This is a serious business! Get back to work!”

  • BASH2003

    [Comment removed by editors. Per our commenting guidelines, "It is OK to post with a nickname or alias, but your email address (which we will NEVER share publicly), must be a real, permanent email address. Comments with fake or non-permanent emails will be deleted."]

    • iseewhatyoudidthere

      ^ Gee….I wonder if someone with a name like “BASH” who makes sweeping generalizations of people based on their names is by any chance a troll who is blindly using a copypasta segment on Frank Zappa right now as we speak……especially since Zappa was extremely critical of drug users so….

      Unsuccessful troll is unsuccessful.

    • The Brewmasters

      Sorry for approving the above comment folks. We weren’t paying attention but the commenter was using a fake email address. And spewing nonsense on top of it.

  • http://drgrantz.deviantart.com/ revned

    Hey BASH… Frank Zappa died of prostate cancer in 1993, probaby long before you were born. And even in death, Zappa is far more important and influential than you will ever be. Feel free to return to the grown-up table after you actually learn something.

  • http://www.disneyshorts.org Patrick Malone

    Ironically, while the cigar-chompers may have given Zappa the freedom to produce albums like “Freak-Out” or “We’re Only In It For the Money” they also did not sell (at least not in their own time.) That’s what led Zappa to leave MGM/Verve (or MGM/Verve to drop him, depending on who you believe.) It’s only when Zappa went with Warners, which was then run by the “young hip guys” like Joe Smith that his music started to sell.

    It was the “cool hip guys” that really did it for him. When the “cool hip guys” were able to break “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” into the top ten, Zappa hired a marching band to march in front of the Warners offices with a banner that read “Anyone who can get Frank Zappa into even the bottom of the top ten is okay in my booklet.”

    So, there’s maybe a little hypocrisy on Zappa’s part here. I’m not saying that the studios execs shouldn’t let their artists more freedom to create but the bottom line is that their responsibility is to release a commercially viable product, not one with, in Zappa’s terms, “no commercial potential”, a phrase he often applied to his own work. There has to be a balance.

  • Josh Z

    To extend the metaphor Amid, between music and animation, and apply it to my own personal observations I believe the solution to the lack of quality mainstream media are the “independent artists”.

    I used to hate all hip-hop music until I found some groups recently on independent labels. After searching for their music videos I was amazed by the strong fan base these artists had and how surprised all the fans seemed to be to find such quality music.

    I may be a cynic but the mainstream audience are morons. They listen to terrible music and watch terrible films (ie. G-force and Michael Bay films).

    I think the best work I’ve seen comes from artists who are sincere and it’s not a surprise when they actually find a wide audience or develop a cult following.

    In short I don’t think the problem of low quality cartoons are entirely the fault of meddling execs. I think the problem comes from trying to tailor to an audience that doesn’t know what it wants (or needs). I think independent animators need a wider outlet or one more efficient than the internet. I think it’s a shame that not enough people have seen a Ryan Larkin film or a plethora of other films that are only seen by animation professionals.

  • Roger Evans

    As someone noted, the studio system which produced the classic cartoons we all love is gone. It has been replaced by monolithic film companies that incorporate on a per-project basis to avoid liabilities and have no resources to start up an animation division each time, much less keep one going to produce product on spec. So while it is true that the animators at Warner Brothers were left alone to do their thing, it is also true that those cartoons were never meant to turn a profit on their own so risks were more or less irrelevant. They were merely opening acts for the studios’ feature films. In fact, these cartoons never turned a profit until syndicated for television; something the studio never anticipated during the hey day of Looney Tunes or Tom and Jerry. So, while I agree with the essence of what Zappa says and the spirit of Amid’s post, the biggest difference is that music production in the 50′s and 60′s was (and still is) dirt cheap compared to commercial animation of any calibre today, where profit and loss is in the millions per project; not thousands. It is hard to tell investors that a “hands off” approach is best when their money is on the line. It may be true, but that doesn’t mean they’ll agree and that’s when you end up with “Creative Executives” running the show and trying to justify their inflated salaries. Why? Well, if they micromanage and it wins, they’ll be heroes. If they micromanage and it fails, they can always blame a fickle market. But if they take a “hands off” approach and it succeeds, they’re afraid they’ll be seen as redundant because they didn’t do anything.

  • RupanIII

    Great post. I think that it’s applicable to many other creative fields too – film, video games, etc. – executives focus-group-testing everything into banality, injecting their own views because ‘they know what people want.’ Everything’s slick/hip nowadays, but it’s just a pretentious commodified veneer that stifles creativity rather than encouraging it.

  • http://deleted OtherDan

    Interesting correlation Amid. Hopefully, your transcript includes the part where he explains how young hipsters come in and get in to those positions of power. That bit was illuminating to me. I do see many waves of young interns who seem to follow that exact tract. It makes sense now the way he explained it. There is a rationale for a company to want to remain relevant and try to tap in to young sensibilities; also a reason those young people feel empowered when they do move up the ladder. I think the solution for any company-whether it’s music, animation, product design, etc is to try both methods: have an arm that is risk oriented and pit it against the group who thinks they know what the pulse is. Let the product determine the winner. A free market approach-imagine that!! That’s kind of what those Independent film labels were before they got corrupted. And, the result has been interesting little films putting blockbusters to the test.

  • Ryoku

    For the most part I was never a fan of carelessness, but now I see a few areas where carelessness would be beneficial.

    Exec-catering explains why they’re bits in the new Looney Tunes Show that feel out of place, though the whole shows simply no-good.

  • YOUR NEIGHBOUR

    love message to cartoon brew: please repost as many time as you can this great stimulating article and interview, at least yet you made me relisten to FZ’s genius album “overnight sensation” while watching an old popeye short and sipping a mojito…Something great came out from my head… so CHEERS!!

  • http://www.bigdaddyanimation.com Big Daddy

    Well, I know this article has been around for a while, but I’m glad I got pointed to it because it hits on something that I’ve wondered if the animation community has even considered. Zappa’s interview reflects exactly how the animators of old got the job done. But the real issue here is why do we artists continue to rely on financiers to hire and protect us. We put OURSELVES willingly into the hands of others, who could probably care less about what we do or why we do it. Thank God for the day we live in NOW. Social media, the Internet, and new technology has made it possible for US the ARTISTS to produce our own brand. I say we do it, NOW!

  • Anonymous

    I would add to what Zappa said that sometimes you get these clueless hip young execs trying to emulate what those old Cigar Chomping bosses did and failing at it. They try by giving creative Carte Blanche to someone but it’s usually the wrong person and the project fails. Case in point: ‘Allen Gregory’. That show was Jonah Hill’s brain child from start to finish and in his words looked “Exactly” the way he wanted it to. I fear that the exec who green lit that show probably learned the wrong lesson from it. In stead of “Don’t give creative carte blanche to a non-animator on an animated project” They probably thought “don’t give creative carte blanche to anyone”. Oh well. We live to fight another day. One day we’ll get it right.

    • Julian

      If this Jonah Hill Guy wants to do that sh*t on his own time, I’m sure he’s got plenty of fans to enjoy it. When you’re talking tv, you got to have something from the heart. In other words, give it that cartoony charm and make it relatable to other humans. Make it for the art of animation, not a vector to more publicity. A little d bag being a d bag for 5 minutes might make you and your friends laugh, but in the long run, people are going to get pissed off by the nerve of it and rightfully so. I think the point of what Zappa was saying is let people who want to be musicians for the sake of music have their go. Not every Joe and Jane who just wants to do it to be famous or Joseph and Janette who just wants to do it to boost their ego or widen their vanity.

      • Ryoku75

        Back then everyone just wanted to have fun while they worked, now they want to impress everyone by copying Star Wars.

  • Josh

    Right on Amid, I can understand the need for executives but it seems that having litters of them interfering with shows, despite not having any background in any sort of entertainment field, seems disruptive.

    • Ryoku75

      Theres that and on average cartoons have 3 writers per an episode, back in the day you had one.

  • Ryoku75

    Its funny how when I come back to re-read this article its on the front page.

    Anyway, I think that another issue could be our motives. Back in the day you caused a few laughs and got your pay. Now everyone wants to impress one another with poor attempts at clever written gags, unique/bizzarre and tasteless characters, and constant yacking. Apparently kids enjoy constant talking.

    I know that I sure didn’t when I was young.

  • philippe

    Wouldn’it be a good start to have a historical culture on who these executive were and their role in the process. It’s very difficult to find relevant and reliable informations on Leon Schlesinger or Fred Quimby. I think it would help to know much more and would avoid wide speculation on them. Cinema is art and is also (and formost?) a commercial venture. We crumble under informations on a star’s diet or personal life but lack the minimum informations on script writers, producers, distributers, financers etc. I’d enjoy beter journalism on these subjects to get the whole story, not just artist’s rant or the usual “success” story books/articles.

  • Lewis Carroll

    Apparently, some execs once hired a child psychologist to check out Ghostbusters. She told them the pointy glasses would scare children. Then, a token team was introduced, composed of kids… things like that. Executive Meddling…

  • Chris W

    Heh…I searched “cigar chomping cartoonist” trying to find a particular cartoonist, and stumbed across my own upload! Thanks for the transcription, and I’ll add it to the video.