If you were born anytime after 1970, Mark Evanier was a part of your childhood. His IMDB profile alone will carpet bomb you senseless with his credits and that just represents a fraction of the work he has done. Mark Evanier wrote a series of columns on the trend of creative professionals being conned, I mean, asked to work for free by the “The Unfinanced Entrepreneur”. In lieu of payment, the lure of bigger and lucrative prospects is dangled by these individuals. What Evanier has discovered, to no one’s surprise, is that working for these people is a complete a waste of time and energy.
Evanier’s series is quite relevant for we live in a world where a writer can exchange their efforts for the Double E of experience and exposure instead of getting a paycheck. Artists can also get on the action where they can work for free.
“The Unfinanced Entrepreneur” series is worth reading since it reveals the business side of the entertainment world and exposes the “getting something for nothing” trend plaguing creative professionals.
Mark Evanier wrote these columns in 1998.
No creative profession is safe from this trend. I know of a well-respected professional photographer that has posted on his Facebook wall about assignments he has lost to competitors who have waived their fees in order to get the experience of being a professional photographer. There really is no clear winner from this arrangement. Photographers may get the chance to practice their trade but there will be no compensation for their time. The clients may have saved a couple of bucks, they get what they paid for.
Webcomics are a huge hit in South Korea. In 2010 the popular webcomic Moss was made into a film. But artists are struggling with the fact that they are not being paid for their work. Even in the land of the morning calm, compensation is a problem.
Recently the Guardian published an article about the latest woes afflicting authors in England. Work is scarce for even the most prominent authors and current advances are lower than they were in the past. The comments are probably the more memorable aspects of the article, particularly the ones demanding writers should get day jobs because writing is not a real profession.
Society undervaluing the creative class is not a new trend. Of course creative types have peaks of recognition when one of them does something remarkable. But they are far and few. Not everyone can be J. K. Rowling and Andy Warhol.
Don’t get me wrong. There are people who greatly respect and value the contributions of the creative class towards property values. They are called real estate developers.
Here is the good news. There are ways for the creative professional to maximize their efforts even during these hard times.
In his 44 year career, unemployment has not been a pressing issue for Mark Evanier, even though in his line of work job security only lasts as long as the assignment. He is able to maintain a steady workload because he is a freelancer who operates like a salesperson.
Whether it is real estate, cars or women’s shoes, salespeople only eat what they kill. The more deals they make, the more they collect in commissions. The commission based sales career has a very high attrition rate because of the lack of salary in a high-pressure environment. One of the tactics of successful sales people is to make sure that after one deal closes, there are at least several more awaiting them in the pipeline.
That long list of credits on Mark Evanier’s IMDB profile is the result of stacking the deck in his favor by working on multiple projects and making the effort to find leads for upcoming assignments. When one assignment ends, Evanier has several more awaiting him. One of the benefits of conducting his career in this manner is that Mark Evanier is able to roughly estimate how many assignments he will generate from the amount of people he meets.
It is a simple process but the execution is far more challenging since it requires a huge commitment of time and energy, involving countless meetings, phone calls and tons of rejection. Which is exactly how successful sales people work. If this sounds unappealing to you, go look at Mark Evanier’s list of credits on IMDB again. The results speak for themselves.
Always be closing.
There is the famous story about Picasso where he asks for a large sum of money for a sketch that he draws on a napkin, The admirer is shocked and asks why would Picasso charge so much for something that took a minute to do? Picasso responds by saying it actually took him 40 years.
Picasso is not the first or last artist that has been put in this position. Mark Evanier recounts an incident that happened to Sergio Aragonés when a convention attendee scoffed at the 100 dollar price tag on sketches that took Aragonés a half hour to make. Aragonés took it upon himself to calmly explain to the attendee that he was not being compensated for the half hour but the years it took for him to master the skills to draw the sketches. Instead of tearing this person a new orifice, Aragonés handled himself with a great deal of grace and made the effort to educate this person. That incident just goes to show why Sergio Aragonés is such a beloved figure among fans and the comic book community.
John and Matt Yuan AKA The Yuan Twins responded to this type of behavior in a more entertaining manner. Recently a group of customers entered their comic book store the Cool Cats Comics and Cards and after looking at some original art by the Yuan Twins, one of them remarked to his friends “I could do that.”
Whether it was it was intentional or not this individual initiated what is known as a “Gong Sau” which in Chinese martial arts circles is known as a challenge match and the Yuan Twins were more than happy to accommodate him. The customer was presented with a piece of art board and a marker in order to make good on his word.
Five minutes later, the customer realized that he could not live up to his initial claim and left the store without a peep and his dignity.
There is nothing wrong with enlightening someone and being polite about it. There is also nothing wrong with handing someone a shovel when they have made it clear they want to dig themselves a hole, especially if that person has been a jerk.
Joss Whedon got a first hand look of the financial hardships of his profession from watching his father who, like a snowboarder on the half pike, had an erratic career trajectory of highs and lows. From the beginning of his career, Whedon would take his first paycheck and in his words “put it in the goddamn bank” and he did the same for the second check. He never wanted to take a job just for the money and that is the reason why Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series is the show we all know and love. The moment he sat down to pitch the series, Whedon made it known that he was willing to walk away from the deal if it did not follow his vision.
Colleen Doran, recently posted on her official Facebook page that although the last couple of years have been fruitful, she is well aware of the financial straits that she may face in the future. That awareness has motivated her in leaving nothing to chance and she is constantly seeking projects that fulfill her artistically and financially, particularly ones that include a back end deal. And she is also aware that current state of the comic book industry is not the most favorable in terms of career longevity and so she takes the necessary measures to ensure that she is not expendable which includes making her deadlines, submitting top quality work to her clients and being the “commodity not the product.”
Saving for a rainy day is not only financially sound but also mentally and spiritually stabilizing. However in order to maintain that nest egg, the right deals have to be made. And sometimes the best deal is the one you walk away from.
There is no secret sauce. There is no secret formula. Just lots of time and lots of hard work in doing what you love. How much time? According to Jay Leno if you stay in show business for 7 years, you will be in show business for life. Just to be on the safe side, give yourself an added buffer of 3 years. So you are looking at least 10 years of hard work. How hard? Well, how badly do you want it? Once you figure that out, the rest should fall into place. Just be aware that is just the first step in a long line of steps.
If you are looking for ways to circumvent this nonsense about years of hard work, all I have to say is that there are no shortcuts. Trust me. I have looked.
There is luck. But you have to recognize what luck really is which is an equation of preparation meeting opportunity. Lucky breaks are not to be trusted. Just because the stars lined up for one person does not mean it can be replicated which makes it completely unreliable. You are better off positioning yourself in taking advantage of an opportunity, which includes developing your talents and embracing the virtue of hard work instead of focusing on what may or may not happen. The opportunities will present themselves, so be ready.
People like Mark Evanier and Colleen Doran are the people you want to learn from because they will give you the knowledge to develop and manage your career. And they will do it for free. You will also spare yourself a significant amount of heartache by avoiding the pitfalls that usually befall creative professionals by researching the experiences of your betters.
Talent alone is not enough, although it helps to have it. A creative professional must stack the deck in their favor, which involve developing a strong work ethic, planning and evaluating their progress. And this is just the foundation. There are a whole other series of skillsets that need to be acquired in order to be successful.
Think I am full of it? Fine. Go see for yourself. In fact that is the point of this essay. I want you to see the reality of what you will be facing. I want you to seek the truth because whatever you learn will give you a fighting chance as a creative professional.
I do not offer any guarantees expect for this one and it is one I do not relish; If you disregard what you have just read and proceed without proper preparation, you will enter a world of hurt.
Even if you make all the right decisions, you are still going to accumulate more than your fair share of battle scars. But that is not entering a world of hurt. Entering a world of hurt is realizing that you were standing in your own way all this time.
I will see you in 10.