27
Feb

When I used to teach, I would be the first person to see the students’ final film ideas.

They would pitch me the wonders of their imaginations either with or without thumbnail drawings.

It was a fun and magical time for them filled with anxiety and anticipation.

And sometimes fear.

You see, over time I had developed a bit of a reputation of being brutally honest when needed. If I didn’t think they had a decent story idea, I would tell them.

If they were heading towards making a “Huh? What?”* film, I would say so.

(* A “Huh? What?” film is when the film finishes screening, it’s met with silence. Then with the audience looking at each other mumbling, “Huh? What the hell was THAT?” A common occurrence in student film screenings unfortunately.)

I eventually started to call these pitch sessions “The Crushing of Dreams”.

Well, *I* thought it was funny.

So did a lot of the students. It got to the point if one of their classmates had a real whopper of an idea, a group of them would gather around nearby just to see my reaction.

Which was usually a silent-stare-opened-mouth-raised-eyebrow kind of thing.

They dug it.

Until it was their turn.

Then it wasn’t so amusing.

Sometimes I was met with anger. Sometimes I was met with appreciation. Sometimes I was met with defensiveness. Oy, was I met with defensiveness!

“Yeah, but…”, “Yeah, but…”, “Yeah, but…”.

Now, when I did these “Crushing of Dreams”, it truly came from a place of sincerity and caring. Even if it didn’t look that way to the students at the time.

I didn’t want these guys to have that “Huh? What?” film. (Well OK, except maybe those folks who really didn’t give a damn. I sorta looked forward to that sweet revenge.)

I wanted them to have a kick-ass film. And to challenge themselves. And to have something to be proud of after busting their butts for five long months. Despite how it looked sometimes, I didn’t do it just to amuse myself (or the other students).

I wanted them to learn and grow and get better.

And getting constructive feedback on your work is the single best way to do that.

But I get it.

You see, I’m going to put on my big ol’ hypocrite hat now. Because I don’t deal with criticism all that well either. It stems from a “I can’t suck” kind of place.

I absolutely hate re-doing my boards and always hope there’s a revision crew. I rarely watch finished shows I’ve storyboarded because I don’t want to see what they’ve revised.

I’ll either think “Crap! They changed that! I suck!” or “Crap! They changed that! I was right! Fools!”

So I just avoid all that by living in blissful ignorance.

It’s for the best, really.

Now, I’ve been in the business long enough to know that my revisions (and, *ahem*, I usually don’t have all that many) usually have nothing to do with me. It’s just business.

And I feel I’ve been doing this long enough to have earned the blissful ignorance. Because believe me, I’ve had my work ripped apart from here to hell and back.

It was my first job.

And it was ‘challenging’ to deal with all that ‘ripping apart’ to say the least. In the blink of an eye, fifty storyboard pages could be thrown in the trash and need to be redone ASAP.

Sometimes there were even personal insults thrown in, just to make the experience that much more memorable. I still have one of the thousands of post-it notes that used to litter our boards.

It says, “Not funny.”

Mind you, that wasn’t nearly as bad as getting the one post-it note folded over 75 pages just saying, “Rethink”.

Wee!

Going through so much criticism and revising and learning was like some kind of cartoon boot camp.

Breaking away and freelancing after that experience was like walking in the park on a sunny day. I learned not all jobs are like that. Thank Gawd.

But.

I learned more in that first year of storyboarding than if everyone had been blowing smoke up my rear end the whole time.

Criticism and feedback, when coming from the right place (or sometimes the ‘wrong’ place) is the only way you learn and grow.

Smoke-blowing will keep you where you are.

Stagnant.

Sucking and not knowing it.

So the next time someone is going to evaluate your work, try to stop and listen. And see where it’s coming from.

If it’s coming from someone who has absolutely no business giving their two cents, then give it that much worth.

But if it’s coming from that place of wanting you to learn something and grow, then keep your mouth shut for a minute and listen.

Stifle the “Yeah, but…”s.

You just might learn something.

And end up with an audience that says, “That was awesome!”

Read the Storyboard Blog by RSS Feed or by email so you’d don’t suck at storyboarding.

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Category : Career Advice

Comments

Joely BlackNo Gravatar February 27, 2009

Great advice, especially at the end! Thank you.

Allison DayNo Gravatar February 27, 2009

Oof, the criticism. While I often ask for criticism from others, when it comes from my boyfriend… yeah, I’m a bit of a hypocrite. It’s a kick in the stomach when he tells me that my code isn’t good enough. But at the same time, he’s the person I can learn the most from (he’s been programming 10 times as long as I have).

I just gotta learn to suck it up and take the criticism. 😉

Great post! (And a fantastic reminder. 😀 )

BootsNo Gravatar February 27, 2009

Ah, the post-it notes… such classics as “Don’t draw with your mouth,” “Maybe you should park cars for a living,” or the less inventive “This sucks.” Each like a caring hug just before you’re smothered to death.

And if anyone is wondering, all of those were indeed real comments put on storyboards.

Ivan G.No Gravatar February 27, 2009

Awesome blog! Insightful as always.

I appreciate criticism and suggestions well; you just never know what you might miss when you’re so enthralled during the storyboarding/writing process.

Though sometimes it’s hard to deal with critics that criticizes when the story should go to a place where never gone before and should, they do not feel not comfortable because the story is out of the ordinary or atypical approach of narrative storytelling.

Or when the critics go into much into technicality such as how can the clownfish swim straight with one broken fin, shouldn’t they swim in circles??? If the story is believable, who the hell cares!

In any rate, check this out:

Senior Editor Jeff Goldsmith interviews co-writer/director Andrew Stanton about Wall-E

http://creativescreenwritingmagazine.blogspot.com/2008/12/andrew-stanton-wall-e-q.html

Karen J LloydNo Gravatar February 27, 2009

@ Joely – Thanks a lot! And for dropping by. : )

@ Allison – Nice to see you too, my dear! Yeah, it’s soooo hard to hear it from a significant other (or parent).

It’s hard to remove yourself from the “You don’t love me!!” thing in your head sometimes. Silly as it is. It’s easier to hear it from someone you don’t have that emotional attachment to. 🙂

@ Boots – Ooo! Ooo! More, more! (You dealt with it longer than I did.)

I think he single-handedly kept 3M Post-Its in business. Ahh, the memories… 😉

@ Ivan – Thanks man. Good points! Sometimes you just have to go with the flow of the story and not nit-pick those details to death.

I’ll check out that interview very soon. Thanks a bunch for the link! 🙂
K

Dan SzilagyiNo Gravatar February 27, 2009

Excellent topic Karen, i think there is not enough people willing to say the right stuff because of the fear ( if you’re a teacher that it might offend someone and you’d get in some trouble ) but really it needs to stop, the over blown ego’s due to the lack of someone putting their foot down and saying ” no you should try/do this instead etc”

I remember you telling us those stories, i kinda wish in one way more places would sort of that do that but prehaps in not such an extreme way, because as you said you can learn TONS but i don’t see it happening very often or if at all.

I think some schools touch on the subject a bit more like Emily Carr or some of the fine art schools and i think it’d be a good thing to do more of in animation schools since i haven’t heard of it much.

ElizabethNo Gravatar February 28, 2009

I really liked your column. And it’s so true: it’s better to endure a little pain in the classroom in order to learn a lesson, because it might avoid a whole LOT of pain in a professional situation down the road. I’ve had teachers like that. They were the ones who cared.

About this week’s episodes: I loved them both, especially the treehouse one. (I gotta wait until Monday to see them again because my DVR screwed up. AGHHHGG!!!) It was cool to see Kat actually contact his fellow space kitties – he sure was excited! It was brill to see him use a cookie sheet as a kid of satellite dish. You can’t blame him for wanting to use the treehouse for that purpose. He *is* stranded after all. As for the other characters, I think that Millie was a little too bratty; I hope she doesn’t overdo it, because I want to like her. Coop was lovable as always. What a great character! And he sure has a nice dad. He saved Coop from that snotty cookie-pusher (LOL!). My one worry is Kat. I like him. Maybe I’m not supposed to, but I do. He’s smart and capable and deliciously wicked. But I like him better when he retaliates against Coop instead of just being mean to him for the heck of it. And it’s a little disappointing that he was willing to hurt Millie in order to hurt Coop. I think Kat has to have some good qualities in order to make him interesting and not just another typical bad guy. It makes you wonder: if Millie were in danger, would Kat defend her? Would he defend Coop, if it meant that if he didn’t, Coop might not be around for Kat to torment anymore? I hope Kat is given more humanity (so to speak) in future episodes. Anyway this series soooo great. The best show I’ve seen in a long time. Great work, “K”. I hope the show is a success so we’ll see lots more of it!

Karen J LloydNo Gravatar February 28, 2009

@ Dan – Unfortunately the recent trend seems to be “how can we get away with having a school with hardly any teachers at ALL?”

This baffles the mind beyond belief. Just listening to a lecture without getting proper feedback will pretty much get you nowhere in this business. *sigh*

@ Elizabeth – Sounds like you ‘get it’ too. Once you get out there working, you just won’t find that many people that want to help you like that. They just was the job done!

Take it where you can find it, while you can find it!

Thanks for the weekly KvK update. Yay for one of my episodes! Will be a few weeks before another one comes along.

And thanks, but really it’s Rob and the crew that deserves all the “Great work” credit for the series. 🙂
K

Rachel BNo Gravatar March 1, 2009

I think my biggest fear when presenting stuff for critique is that people AREN’T being completely honest with me. So my teacher likes this thing I boarded. But is it good for me having done it, or good in general? He’s done (and is doing) this professionally, so he should know, right? I can also try posting stuff online for feedback, but rarely do I get anything useful. Just feel-good comments.

Directly asking “how can this be better?” has helped a lot. And luckily I’m starting to be able to read my teachers better as far as knowing when they’re truly impressed vs. when I only did “good enough.”

Karen J LloydNo Gravatar March 1, 2009

@ Rachel – Yeah, it can be difficult from the ‘giving the feedback’ side too.

On one hand, you want to be honest with them. That yeah, as far as industry standard, it may not be good enough. On the other hand, you want to have positive things to say or you could just totally demoralize someone too.

I always tried to do both. Though I can easily get caught up in “fix this, fix that, tweak this, tweak that…” and forget to give any positive stuff. A lazier reviewer will just say, “yeah, good enough” and be done with it and that just doesn’t help at all.

And sometimes the reviewee just really doesn’t want to hear it. The ONLY thing they want to hear is “that’s great!” and will block out everything else or get super defensive.

It’s hard on both ends of the feedback thing. I try to be honest (sometimes it comes out pretty blunt), but still know you have to give the good stuff too. Even if the work is still not up to industry standards, you have to know when you’re at least on the right track to getting there. 🙂
K

I try very hard to remove my ego from the equation when I’m taking critiques. Of course it’s difficult to do, but when I do I can evaluate the critique based on whether it improves the writing or not, rather than whether it flatters/soothes the ego or not.

My writing is much better for it. For sure.

Karen J LloydNo Gravatar March 2, 2009

@ Alex – Yes, that ego thing. Big part of the equation sometimes, isn’t it? 🙂

K

EyeteaguyNo Gravatar March 3, 2009

Great post! And so very true. I have 2 young children and I give them lots of freedom but if they do something wrong, I correct them, or suggest they try another way. Other parents rant at me that I am “stifling” them. Riiiiight. If we continue to praise them for doing nothing, what will happen when they get their first taste of “you did it wrong, try again” Meltdown?

Anyway, I suffer from the exact opposite problem that you write about at work. I am rarely critisized. Mostly because no one knows what I do. And it is damaging. I try to join groups and get ideas but there is nothing like a boss saying, “Nope, that is not the way.” It does stretch you and force you to learn. The ego takes a bruising but you are better for it I think.

Anyway, your post is right. How ironic, I have no citicism for you.

Eyeteaguy

Karen J LloydNo Gravatar March 3, 2009

That is ironic. Somehow I was expecting some criticism. 😉

Don’t get me started on the kid thing! This whole “everyone wins, no one loses” thing they do in schools and sports is so wrong in my opinion.

It creates unrealistic expectations when they grow up and get out in the real world. “What? I’m NOT perfect? What? I have to WORK at something? What? I don’t get everything I want all the time?”

*sigh*

By trying to ‘protect’ kids in this fashion, they are damaging them. It’s a shame.

But of course I can’t say anything because I don’t have kids. 🙂
K

FrankoNo Gravatar March 3, 2009

Hi Karen

I’m just dropping by from sticky ol’ Brisbane. Your post, this post with all the wonderful follow up comments, inspired me to make a post on my animation teacher’s blog. I hope my students drop by your blog to read your posts and not just scamper off with the templates.

Humid, frangipani scented regards

Karen J LloydNo Gravatar March 4, 2009

Hi Franko! Thanks, it’s always a pleasure when you visit. 🙂

I hope they drop by too (say “Hi” if you do!).

And pretty soon they will have many more templates to scamper off with.

@ Eyeteaguy – Great article. Leave it to the older folks to tell it like it is. Thanks. 🙂

K

t.sterlingNo Gravatar March 10, 2009

I kinda laugh at the subject of this post, “Crushing of Dreams” because that’s almost literally what happened to me in my freshman year of college when I was majoring in creative writing. I took a narrative techniques class, and for our final project we had to write a short story about whatever we wanted (I forget the length). So I chose to write about a dream I had that I *thought* made a good story. Perhaps it was how I wrote it, or a lame “twist” ending, I really don’t know but those are legit reasons.

The way the class was set up, we (as a class) critique everyone’s work. Everyone said what the liked and did not like, as well as wrote reviews that would get graded and passed back to the author. Everyone liked everyone’s story except for mine. It was the first time I had been critically panned. And man, did it hurt. I, and my dream, had been crushed. Okay, not everyone hated it, since I had one friend in that class, I included her in the story, so how could she hate it?

Anyway, I can’t recall the teacher ever telling me what exactly was wrong with my story, other than agreeing with the other students at the time. I just imagine my manuscript being marked with red ink, but I can’t remember if that was her thing. I didn’t care for the way she “taught” the class either… but all of that doesn’t matter now. I did learn to take criticism much better since then, as well as how to tell better stories. I didn’t accept bad reviews then and felt bitter about it for a long time. I was actually kicked out of the creative writing program (I had some other problems in that class), but I like to say that I was booted for being too creative.

Karen J LloydNo Gravatar March 10, 2009

Aww man! That sounds pretty brutal. At least that experience didn’t turn you off writing for good.

And if you didn’t even get told *why* it was bad, then what kind of learning is that?? I mean, give you something!

The whole class in on it didn’t help the ego any, I’m sure. Waa. It’s perfectly natural for it to hurt.

And yeah, TOO creative…that’s it. Stick with that one. 😉
K

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