Category Archives: Prehistory
In our last exciting episode ([Part 1]        ), Tim described the metal filing cabinets at Sunbow with their thousands of photocopies of Brothers Flub and Salty’s Lighthouse production documents, and their dearth of same for important shows like G.I. Joe.
I combed through the G.I. Joe and Transformers folders and found just a few episode synopses, and lists of episode titles, air dates, and writers’ names. No artwork. But I did find two documents that made my brain buzz, the first of which I did not make a copy of – for which I still kick myself. It was a memo from someone dated 1987 asking if the font size in the end credit crawl of G.I. Joe: The Movie could be increased. Actually, the photocopy was of the response memo, which included the original question, and the responder said no, the font was as big as it could get. (I guess making it larger would have meant speeding up the crawl to match the music, either making the scroll too fast or requiring a music edit?) I was three years from realizing I needed to write a book about G.I. Joe, but in the back of my mind I knew this was the kind of ephemera that I wanted to keep, and that I wanted more of. And for no good reason I did not keep a copy. The second document, which I’d like to find space for in Chapter 6 of my book, is from an outside consultant to Sunbow listing the episodes of G.I. Joe that have less fighting and property damage, and are therefore better candidates for selling overseas. Fascinating stuff! (If it doesn’t make the book I will certainly post it here.) G.I. Joe had a reputation for being a “violent” show (an epic topic for another day), and had trouble getting on the air internationally after the initial run.
Although there was no art for the older shows, at least there was some for a more recent show of which I was an avid fan. One of the higher ups mentioned, perhaps one day when she saw me glued to some Tick storyboard photocopies, that Ben Edlund had storyboarded the first episode entirely himself. I recall that someone told me that Edlund storyboarded the first few by himself. This was revelatory, as well as shocking. My friend Andrew and I had long been fans of The Tick comic. Old school Tick fans know the frustration of waiting for a new issue. It had taken writer/artist Ben Edlund seven years to create 12 issues of the black and white series. (And one issue he didn’t draw!) I don’t say this out of criticism. The Tick was the funniest comic I had ever read, and after it I have no need for any other super-hero parody (including my own – yikes!)
It was amazing to think that after drawing a small quantity of panels for the comic series, Edlund had then gone on to quadruple that amount for animation storyboard panels! And his boards here not rough! They were on-model, and crisply delineated like his comics work. Photocopying the entire first episode board might have been too obvious, or such an amount of paper could have crossed the bounds of what is reasonable to remove from an office job, so I contented myself with just the first few pages, and two later ones with sharp art. Which are here for your perusal, and as far as I know never online until now. (Tell your friends!)
But the oversized beige metal filing cabinets were just the tip of the iceberg.
What else did Tim find? Tune in next time to find out!
The real work for production interns was filing paper and dubbing tapes. Let’s start with the former.
Every morning from the Los Angeles office we received a large FedEx box, the size that holds 10 reams of copy paper. In it were photocopies of scripts, storyboards, character designs, background designs, and prop designs for Brother Flub. This was before e-mail attachments of any reasonable size, and FTP sites, so this remarkably inefficient method was the most efficient way to get these materials across the country. And they needed to be filed. Ostensibly producers Randy and Tammy were reviewing them all, but either they had already seen earlier versions, or that’s one of those jobs that no one does even though on paper it’s part of the job. Again, this was thousands of sheets of paper per day.
So I or one of the other interns would slide this very heavy box (sometimes there were two) over to the oversized beige metal filing drawers, pull open the Brothers Flub folders, and file away all this paper. There were folders for each category, for each episode. And much of the paper – storyboards and models particularly – was 8.5 x 14 inches, bigger than standard letter-sized paper. It was brainless, but exactly the kind of task someone is obliquely referring to when he or she says to you that your internship or production assistant (read: gopher) job will be a learning experience even if you don’t do anything important. Because you will observe things, overhear things, and become familiar with processes that make up the everyday at a company. And you will see physical objects up close you would not have otherwise.
So it was for me. Model sheets for costume changes of the main characters. Model sheets for props or anything that moved in the episode, like the shape of the tear a finger made poking through a newspaper. And teleplay scripts, with minimal stage direction, and names and dialogue centered on each page.
And of course there were folders for shows besides Brothers Flub. There were many for Salty’s Lighthouse, the other show in-production (and on-air at that time, I think), and there were many for The Tick, one of the last shows Sunbow had worked on prior. But the real teases were the folders for the older shows: G.I. Joe, Transformers, Visionaries, My Little Pony. (Also, shows I didn’t care about, like Conan the Adventurer.)
Sadly, those folders had very little of interest. At one point, years earlier, they would have had everything. Every script, every design. Not color cels and backgrounds, of course – those (mostly) stayed in the Orient, but many contour images on white paper. And a single half-hour of animation generates of lot of that over its six months of production. By the time I got to Sunbow, the show folders mostly consisted of episode lists, writer lists, episode summaries, and the like. I recall a box under the desk in the dubbing room had transcripts of dozens of G.I. Joe episodes – transcripts, not scripts. In the UK, G.I. Joe aired as Action Force, so here I suppose British actors could redub the parts where the Joes yelled their “Yo, Joe!” battle cry with “Full Force!” I’ve never seen Action Force, so if there are any international readers out there, please leave a comment if this rings true.
I did find two fascinating G.I. Joe documents in those files, however.
What were they? Tune in next time to find out! [Click here for Part 10]
In the first week, there were two art-related tasks given to the interns. The first was for MIP or MIPCOM, annual markets where networks, producers, and studios meet to buy, hype, and sell programming for television. Much as ToysRUS’s year revolves around Christmas, Sunbow’s year revolved around these. I don’t know who attended, but presumably our top Sales, Production, and Development people from the New York office. I think they were in different cities each year, and the two different conferences were six months apart. And one was exclusively for kids shows? Notably, these weren’t just about American studios and English-language programming. These were global, where a small network in Chile might plan its broadcast year, or a French studio might sell its first package of 52 half-hours and finally get on the map. Both names you have heard of and lots you haven’t are in attendance.
My boss Randy explained what needed doing. Some large color artwork for Brothers Flub was to be mount spray mounted on foam core. Presumably at a Sunbow table at one of the conventions there would be an easel to display it. Thinking back, studios probably brought (or rented?) TV/VCRs, and certainly brought VHS tapes, but I doubt they had portable video projectors. So besides small printed ad slicks and press kits, an old-fashioned sign might be the best way to attract eyeballs. Two other interns handled this, and I think they did the work in the back stairwell that no one ever used, probably not known for its proper ventilation.
I don’t recall what the other task was for, but it may have been a network or the Los Angeles office. But I got to do it, and I was thrilled to be working with Sunbow assets, even if Randy said something like “It’s not a big deal/it doesn’t have to be perfect,” meaning the stakes were not high and no one was actually relying on my ability to color match. It had something to do with communicating what colors the main characters in Brothers Flub were, and the client/end user/mystery person was then going to… print out their own version? Better know what the paint colors would look like as a broadcast signal? I don’t remember. But for some reason, it wasn’t being done with actual paint or the code numbers for animation cel vinyl paint. I had some oversized Brothers Flub printout, and was matching the colors as best I could to Pantone colors. But instead of comparing to a Pantone chart and writing down the color codes, I had a Pantone swatch keychain with plastic chips for each color, and Randy had encouraged me to cut a small piece from each and glue it into the poster next to its analog. I think the New York office lacked some prop for doing this the correct way. I didn’t understand why it was okay to ruin this presumably expensive item, but Randy was unphased.
And so I did, a little distressed that I was chopping up a fancy Pantone tool because we were missing some other tool, and disappointed that this job was not important. On the other hand, I was happy to be doing something rather that sitting in the intern room, and I could somewhat put to use the small bit of color theory I had taken two years prior. I mean, not just anyone could match color swatches, right?
There were two other main tasks for production interns, one which led me to treasure I had seen on my tour, and the other that led to buried treasure the likes of which I could not imagine.
What were they? Tune in next time to find out! [Next Part]
I remember very little of my first day. On my dad’s advice, Nick and I had taken the subway from our apartment on Roosevelt Island into Union Square the day prior. A practice run. I was nervous about being late, nervous about getting lost on the subway, and nervous about sweating too much. New York was hot that summer. So were the subway platforms. The office was suitably air-conditioned, though.
I didn’t wear a tie, and probably did not wear a button-up. Everyone dressed casually – no jackets, no ties – but nicely. A few people wore blue jeans. My t-shirt was probably a solid color, and I was two years into growing my Jesus hair, which is to say that that June I looked like “Vs.”-era Eddie Vedder. With a beard, but no moustache, my preference for three years of college.
In addition to meeting everyone who was paid to be at Sunbow, I also met those who weren’t – the other interns. Whom I hated. But not for any good reason. That was just an unfortunate chip on my shoulder. I was a RISD Animation student. I went to a fancy art school, I was a decent animator, I was working four days a week, and I knew much about Sunbow’s past product – I was a fan. I was going to be the best intern of all that summer, and the best intern Sunbow had ever had. The other interns, three gals and a guy, were… just… somebodies. They were probably Communications majors, or Business students, or they knew someone who knew someone who had casually said “Oh, you should work at that company where so-and-so works.” They weren’t art students (actually, one was), and they weren’t fans. They couldn’t care as much as me. So I didn’t get too close, didn’t make conversation, and didn’t make friends.
I was jealous that they were there, that they might perform a task better, or that they would be asked to do something first. Fortunately, there was very little for us to do. Sunbow had, in fact, too many interns that summer. One or two days a week I was the only one there, so I would always at least look busy, but sometimes an intern or two would hang out in the intern room waiting for something to do. I did that a little on my first day.
Then producers Randy and Tammy gave me the bible for The Brothers Flub, a tape of an episode, a script, and a suggestion to familiarize myself with the property. I was thrilled. This was an easy task, a nice way of easing into my two months as a Production Intern, and a peek behind the curtain that was both fun and informative. Even though I knew how animation was made, there were still loads of details to absorb from an actual show on actual television in an actual studio. The sample dialogue on each character’s bible page, the episode summaries – paragraphs outlining potential half-hours should a network approve the bible, model designs for one-off props that would only appear in a single episode, or a background packet of interiors for the main locations.
Brothers Flub was a lot like Futurama, although it predates the latter by two years. Since it was airing on Nickelodeon, and I had no affinity for that network and wasn’t 8-years old, Brothers Flub wasn’t my speed. But it was cute, harmless, mildly distracting, and crafted by talented hands. In the show, two cartoonish couriers (Fraz and Guapo) deliver packages to differently themed planets, getting into trouble and learning lessons. One is organized and worries, while the other is a messy buffoon. Characters and attitudes are cartoony and silly as if made by Klasky Csupo.
In watching a tape, I was hoping to hear G.I. Joe alumni – voice talent like Bill Ratner, Michael Bell, and Mary McDonald-Lewis. No such luck, although Charlotte Rae (The Facts of Life) was Fraz and Guapo’s boss, a fun surprise. I didn’t watch any whole episodes after that, and only saw bits throughout the summer, but Michael Bell does contribute to at least episode 5A, “Flub, Flub, & Away,” as Very Evil Man on a super-hero themed planet, his raspy delivery unmistakable.
If Production Intern Tim didn’t draw anything, what did he do? Tune in next time to find out!
On the Sunbow front, I remember some confusion or missed connections regarding my start date. In the final week of school I called Tammy or Randy, nervous that after several months of not talking my internship had shriveled up through attrition or that they had given it to someone else closer. But it was safe and still available, and we hammered out my schedule and that I’d start in late June. I wanted full time, but there was some kind of rule barring it. When I heard that other interns were working between one and four days a week, I knew that I had to at least tie for that maximum. So I would work Mondays through Thursdays. Fridays I would draw at the zoo, something hammered into me by fellow RISD student Brandon Strathmann. (Hi, Brandon.) Saturdays Nick and I would go to museums and movie theatres. That was the idea, anyway.
On my first day I was given a tour. Entering from the elevator, the 5th floor of 100 Fifth Avenue had three rows of offices split by two corridors. The offices in the middle row were low-walled cubicles, so there was an openness to the floor plan. To the right were the President’s office, a closet with old Sunbow summer outing t-shirts and office supplies, a kitchenette and lunch room, the photocopy and fax room, and the archive. In the center were the conference room, those cubicles for Sales, and several oversize filing cabinets. On the left (facing Fifth Ave) were offices and the intern room, and against the far wall (looking out over West 15th Street) were a few more offices for the higher ups, small, but private rooms with doors and window views of Manhattan.) Though Sunbow had about 30 employees, and never felt overcrowded or even bustling, it was active, people moved around, and there was much work to be done. Air conditioning and carpets kept noise to a minimum, though.
The intern room was in the corner where that left wall met the far wall, a glassed-in room with a desk, a couch, a TV/VCR, and a glass door. I expected my two months would be spent there, but it quickly turned out that all I did was stow my backpack there each morning. I never took my lunch there, and only watched a tape there once.
Along the tour I was introduced to everyone and the company was broken down for me. Sunbow had three departments. Development created new shows and got deals with networks, Production worked on current shows, and Sales sold the shows to stations and networks. I don’t recall anything that Development was working on, and I had almost no interaction with those people. But since the company was more than 20 years old and owned most of what it had produced (rather than the networks or the toy companies it had produced that content for or with), Sunbow’s library consisted of over 1000 half-hours, and much of its revenue came from selling the older shows overseas. (Each time Sunbow was sold in the ‘90s and ‘00s, those thousand half-hours were part of the press release. The library was the company’s greatest asset, even if many of the shows were ho-hum. Networks all over the world need to fill timeslots, and even moderately compelling content will get a shake somewhere.) So, yes, My Little Pony or Transformers might air in Chile or Venezuela even though there was no current Hasbro toy line to support it and those shows were twenty years old. Sunbow also had distribution rights to a few shows it hadn’t fully developed, like The Mask. (The Jim Carrey-ish one, not MASK, the Kenner one.)
Since no artwork was produced by anyone in the NY office, there was no chance for the interns to contribute in that way. I hadn’t expected to be asked to storyboard or design props when I got the internship – I was a stupid sophomore who couldn’t draw too well — but I had a vague notion that if someone in the art department was shorthanded, an intern might be asked to clean up a sketch or finish the details on a drawing of a brick wall, even if only a single time on a single piece of paper. But again, art for Salty’s Lighthouse and Brothers Flub was handled at Sunbow West in Los Angeles. (A few freelance storyboard artists were spread out, though – I recall a higher up told me later than one was in Australia, another was in Canada, and when Ben Edlund had been working on The Tick, he storyboarded the earliest episodes at the New York office – in the intern’s room, in fact.) So I did nothing creative. It was gopher work, but I have no complaints.
Sunbow West was a strange abstraction. Everything I knew about animation production, how a show is made – scripts, character designs, prop designs, backgrounds, storyboards – was done out of sight in some office I could not imagine. My three bosses in the Production department were on the phone with LA every day, and we received mail from LA every morning. But at Sunbow East, in this somewhat starched environment where shows were made (but not), my only connection to the raw art production was the fax machine in the back room. It was connected to a black telephone, the kind with ten auto-dial buttons. One was marked “Sunbow West,” and a few times that summer someone asked me to fax a bit of paperwork there. Other numbers included the President of the company at her home, someone on maternity leave, and maybe even a studio in Korea, which now that I think about it, was probably AKOM.
Who did Tim fax and what did he scribble on that piece of paper? Tune in next time to find out!
That effect was accentuated because Nick and I had too-different schedules. Our plan had been to work our respective jobs during the day, and then see movies, write and draw comics, go to museums, and walk around the city at night and on weekends. Sunbow interns worked between one and four days per week. On the advice of my dad, and wanting to make a good impression, I volunteered to work the maximum, so I was there Monday through Thursday 10 to 6. (It seems that people in the entertainment industry are an hour shifted past traditional 9 to 5. Or perhaps East Coast offices do so to have more overlap with their West Coast counterparts.) But Nick worked at a video store, and his hours were more like noon to 8 six days a week. Best friends since 7th grade, and with plans to both work hard and play hard all summer, we barely saw each other. It was disappointing, and I resented Nick for being so busy, even though he was the one with the real, paying job, while I was the couch surfer with the unpaid internship. But our mismatch allowed me a lot of time to myself, which meant reading outside and the occasional afternoon drawing at the zoo (both the Bronx and Central Park), a habit I had picked up the previous year in school.
Late Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons were the only time we both had off. This was probably a good thing, since I had a habit of getting snippy if we spent too much time together, but for good friends with everything in common it put a serious damper on our plans for summer fun. A few nights in the apartment we watched movies Nick was appalled that I’d never seen, like The Wild Bunch, Heavenly Creatures, and Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control. Since the TV was 13 inches, I wasn’t too thrilled. Moreso, I was at the peak of my unreasonable Transformers fandom that year, and had brought the entire run of Beast Wars on VHS for Nick to catch up. He politely declined, citing the show as ugly, or silly, or boring, or not enough like the original Transformers. Did I mention we were writing and drawing an annual Transformers fan comic? Nick’s resistance to Beast Wars puzzled and bothered me. Worse, the living arrangement did not work out as planned.
Nick’s sneaky idea for me to crash was a good one. Amazingly and unfortunately, Nick’s three roommates also had the same idea. And no one thought to tell anyone else until we had all shown up. So in a two bedroom/four bed apartment with a kitchen, common room, and bathroom, there were eight of us. Or maybe just seven. I guess one of the roommates’ friends was actually his girlfriend, and rather than her moving in, she was just staying over there every night as boyfriends or girlfriends sometimes do. But they were asleep in the common room on the fold-out couch every morning at 8am, my plans to eat sugar cereal and watch Transformers each morning foiled by the unconscious, spooning couple splayed just in front of the TV. This also meant I couldn’t even eat “normal” breakfast. I had to eat “quiet” breakfast, so every morning I woke up, left all the lights off, spoke to no one, made my meal with as few clinks and slams as possible, and chewed in darkness, standing in silence, slightly miserable. Is it any wonder I resented Nick for our reverse schedules? I didn’t have any friends at the internship, and I kind of avoided the other interns, so it was a somewhat lonely summer, even in a packed apartment and a full office in the busiest city in America.
The only thing that made the living situation bearable was that everyone had different schedules. Two of the three roommates were bouncers, another worked the late shift at a restaurant. So generally half of the apartment was nocturnal, leaving for work when the other half got home from it. Again, which made the whole social aspect odd. I didn’t get to know the other roommates at all. And there was also a little tension in the air. Everyone was angry at everyone else for bringing in a squatter, for taking up space, for using the bathroom, for just being there.
Additionally, halfway through the summer that empty bed got filled when Nick’s school placed a transfer student from Europe in our apartment. Nick was nervous. This transfer student might blow the whistle on our free ride. And reasonably so. He wasn’t supposed to have 7 roommates. Us squatters hadn’t signed any paperwork. We had no right to stay, and a simple phone call would have cast us all out, and gotten Nick and the actual roommate in serious trouble. To the transfer student’s credit, and our relief, he never did tell on us, although three times he threatened to. Each time Nick or one of the actual tenants talked to him and calmed him down. I think ultimately he just went with it because he didn’t want to be the heavy, and maybe part of him realized all us hangers-on could use a break. Also, it meant his rent was significantly cheaper. I’m surprised we didn’t bribe him.
Now I had to make sure I didn’t put my foot in my mouth at work.
What idiotic thing did Tim say that should have gotten him fired? Tune in next time to find out!
Nick’s school had had a housing shortage that year (emergency housing not usually associated with that institution), and he was possibly being kicked out of his apartment at the end of the spring. So perhaps I could stay with him, but we shouldn’t count on it. Between his classes and his job, Nick had little time to look for summer housing, whether that meant some kind of apartment with a month-to-month lease (I’m not sure if that really exists in New York) or a sublet. One idea that emerged was staying in the NYU dorms, which people seem to do in the summers, although we didn’t actually investigate it. So come June I must have run home to Maryland for a week or two, and then jaunted back up to New York, a plan having unfolded through no effort on our parts.
In short, we got lucky. It turns out Nick was not being kicked out of his apartment/emergency dorm for the summer, and one of his roommates was moving out, and their school was slow to fill that slot with another student, so Nick’s sneaky idea was for me to squat. I was a squeaky clean suburbanite, so this appealed to me: Living in New York in an apartment I had already visited and was therefore familiar with, rather than leaving it up to Nick to find something on his own, something that could have been a living situation-nightmare the likes of which I’d only seen on TV and in film. And it was a nice neighborhood, if you could call it that. (More in a paragraph.) And further, as much as it was an apartment, it was also a dorm room. Again: safe.
But then there was an element of danger: What if the school found out I was there? Would I be kicked out? Would Nick? Would I have to couch surf all summer, bouncing from apartment to apartment, using up any goodwill I might have had with the cousins and friends-of-family who lived in the Big Apple? But since I didn’t know anyone in New York, this scenario was tantalizingly worrisome and romantic at the same time. (I actually did know a friend-of-the-family in NY, so it probably would have fine, but that option was off my radar since this was to a be a summer with Nick, another 18-year old very much in my boat, doing what college sophomores did in the summer: work.) Plus it would be cheap, and meant I had to do no legwork. All I had to do was to move into Nick’s apartment.
I should note here that Nick’s apartment was unusual. It wasn’t in Manhattan, even though his school was. And it wasn’t in Brooklyn, even though that’s where a lot of cool, artsy people that couldn’t afford Manhattan were moving. It was on Roosevelt Island, a no man’s land that even native New Yorkers don’t know much about. It’s a little sliver in the East River, between Manhattan and Brooklyn. My knowledge of it is limited, but almost no one actually lives there. And with so few residents, hardly anyone is ever outside. From my limited view in 1998 Roosevelt Island boasted two apartment buildings, a mental hospital, a grocery store, a video rental store, a beautiful view of Manhattan, and nothing else. It was isolated.
A single subway stop allowed access to the two neighboring boroughs, (although long term MBTA construction meant that the F train acted only as a shuttle all summer, moving between two stops and requiring an additional transfer). Barely anyone drove cars. No traffic lights. Just one or two roads. You couldn’t even drive to Manhattan, despite the fact that the island itself is directly under the Queensboro Bridge! The lone road off the island takes you to Brooklyn, and then you can turn around and take the Queensboro back to Manhattan. A giant trolley car does ferry people directly from Roosevelt Island over the river and into the city, but this felt more like a novelty ride than an actual mode of transport, like taking a Duck Tour in Boston to get from your hotel to Fenway Park.
Plus the southern tip of Roosevelt Island is abandoned. Maybe there was a power substation there? Much of the island was green, with grass and trees. The two apartment buildings seemed to be mostly students from Nick’s school. The total effect was that of a ghost town. People were there, but we didn’t see them, and everyone left for the workday. It was strange, and I noted while reading books in the park looking out on Manhattan, oddly beautiful. So, yes! What a thrill! I lived in New York City for a summer in college! But no, I didn’t really live in New York. I lived in The Twilight Zone.
What scenario threatened the peace in Nick’s apartment? Tune in next time to find out!
In February or March, I called back, and Randy asked about an interview. Hopping on the Greyhound from Providence to NYC was no big deal, so soon I was in the tiny lobby of 100 Fifth Avenue. It was grey with dark walls, and just big enough for one black desk with a security guard and a company directory of white letters and floor numbers behind him, and two elevators. It was not grand, but it was a tall building in Manhattan on a busy street a block from Union Square and a subway station, so much of that New York mystique was intact.
The elevator opened onto the fifth floor, a tiny annex with a glass wall that separated the elevator foyer from the office itself. On that glass was the Sunbow logo (I grew up with Sunbow Productions, the company was now called Sunbow Entertainment), and through it was visible the receptionist’s desk in front of two orange walls that blocked the rest of the office, a load-bearing column (also orange or perhaps magenta) and two hallways. One went right and the other straight. This was the corner of the entire floor, and the rest of Sunbow stretched out unseen behind the receptionist’s desk, behind her orange walls. Sunbow had moved a few times since its founding, and as of 1998, took up just one floor, though the entire floor, here. The receptionist was nice. I was nervous. Private offices with views of Manhattan lined the edges of the whole space, while cubicles with half walls took up most of the middle and rear. Walls had enlarged, framed stills from Sunbow’s TV shows – My Little Pony, The Tick, Salty’s Lighthouse. No G.I. Joe or Transformers, though. A glass-walled conference room took up the center.
Randy was busy, so Tamara Shear (Hi, Tammy), who I hadn’t spoken to yet, handled the interview. She was number three in Production, and shared an office with Randy. We sat in the conference room, which was nice since it offered some privacy – I would have been nervous if in Tammy’s office the phone had interrupted us – but it also added a level of severity to the proceeding.
It was also informal and pleasant. I probably told Tammy about Animation at RISD, and she talked about the two shows Sunbow was making at the time – Salty’s Lighthouse, an educational show for The Learning Channel, and The Brothers Flub, a comedy for Nickelodeon. And that the company had three departments – Development, Production, and Sales. Plus an office on the West Coast where artwork was made. This office, Sunbow East, generated no artwork, and the artists who worked for the company were not in New York. This was disappointing to hear, but I probably also had the good sense to know that even being a traditional gopher would yield valuable experience, networking, and a resume entry. Tammy asked to see my portfolio, which was… I dunno… good-not-great? I think my drawings were fine for a sophomore, and the animation was probably cute enough to be memorable, but a CalArts character animator I was not. Having issue #5 of my Transformers parody comic might have helped – it showed follow-through, even if fan-art was a kind of black mark. I don’t recall my “Little Timmy Meets Tracks” film getting a reaction one way or the other, but I suspect that my resume looked good, and I was probably wearing a tie. Those combined with the RISD name and a positive experience with That Other RISD Student who had interned (a note to students: Don’t mess around with jobs and internships. You’ll make it harder for the next person) must have left a good enough impression.
Tammy ended the interview by asking about my availability for the summer. I wasn’t sure since I lived in Rhode Island and would have to figure out housing in NYC, but we agreed that I would call at the end of the spring and fine tune my schedule. But here two conflicting memories muddy the narrative, and I don’t know how to reconcile them. On the one hand, I was actually being offered an internship, but it was in such a casual way that I didn’t fully comprehend it. “When would you be able to start?” is different than “You’re hired. When would you be able to start?” The first one, which is what I recollect, implies they’re not decided, so I was nervous I didn’t get the internship, and worried about it until I did call back in May and was certain the position was still waiting for me. On the other hand, the interview had been a breeze, and rather than making me feel like I had to prove my worth or pass some test, Tammy and I had just chatted, and getting the internship felt obvious after such a great interview, like it was a foregone conclusion after the first minute. So whether I walked out feeling anxious or cocky is lost to memory, but it was probably both.
Either way, I now had a plan for the summer. As the end of the school year approached, I started talking with my friend Nick, who lived in New York City, about apartments. If visiting New York made me nervous, finding a place and living there for three months was much worse.
Where would Tim live? Tune in next time to find out!
In our last episode, Tim heard about Sunbow Entertainment’s summer internship!
New York still intimidated me when I visited, but I had been there several times recently, and part of the culture at RISD was that You Went To New York. I don’t necessarily mean professionally after graduation, but at some point you would visit because that’s the center of the art world, and it’s only 3 hours away, and the inertia began with the Freshman Foundation bus trip there a year prior. Every freshman goes there for a day. And I’d visit Nick there (Hi, Nick), friend and now G.I. Joe book editor, each year for his birthday. (And have ever since.) So being in the Big City was a little scary: it’s dirty, it has a reputation for crime, and if goes on forever — sidewalks horizontally, buildings vertically. But it had some appeal as well. Though I’ve always taken art and history museums for granted, even then I knew New York was THE PLACE for that. And though I wasn’t yet thinking about life after college, I must have had some abstract notion of going to New York or Los Angeles when the time came. Before Flash and the internet decentralized the animation production process, those were the two cities where you’d go if you wanted a job in the industry. (Not entirely true, but I didn’t know anything as a college sophomore.)
I got a number for Sunbow from Dee or Mystery Person, and in the late fall or early winter of sophomore year, called. I should take a moment here to point out that this very act is a nerve wracking one. I don’t know what everyone’s relationships to telephones are anymore since cell phones are also HD video cameras and internet hubs in your pocket, and famous people are easy to find through e-mail and Facebook. But before I was using these much, there was the paper letter and the cold call. And telephoning an office filled with busy and important people, people who can easily say “No” and hang up on you in the fulfillment of a filmic cliché, was intimidating. Plus it was long distance (*sigh,* I’m dating myself), so each attempt would cost ten cents or something. Again, paying a dime for a call isn’t a big deal by itself, but it adds to the heaviness of the act.
I had been good at public speaking (thank you, grade school), and had made a few important phone calls before, so this was doable. Randy Koshinskie, #2 in the Production department took the call. Randy was warm and kind (Hi, Randy), and while I didn’t know it at the time, in 8 months he’d be my boss.
The trick was to get in and out quickly. Introduction, say something nice about the company, or at least prove I knew something about it, express an interest, and then shut up. So it probably went something like this:
“Hi, my name is Tim Finn. I’m an animation sophomore at the Rhode Island School of Design. Dee Boyd or Someone interned with you last summer and gave me this number. I’m looking for internships this coming summer and would be interested if you have any available.”
Without nerding out or sucking up I demonstrated some knowledge of Sunbow’s library, and that I was a big fan of Sunbow’s Transformers and G.I. Joe cartoons. Randy seemed pleased with that, but in telling me a little about the company explained that Sunbow was very different than it had been in 1985, now making only a few shows and recently focusing on educational programming. He asked if I had a portfolio. I did. At that point it consisted of a few figure drawings, some zoo animation drawings, a background or two, and a VHS (or U-Matic!) tape of my three Animation I projects. (One of which depicted the Autobot Tracks transforming from Corvette mode to a robot and rescuing me from being lost in the barren wasteland of Washington state. Which is either the cutest portfolio piece ever for a Sunbow internship application, or the most embarrassing.) Also, the then-newest issue of Nick’s and my hilarious and now slightly embarrassing Transformers parody comic book. My timeline is fuzzy, but I think this was before Christmas and Randy said I should call back in a few months when the Production department would start working out its summer internships.
Did Tim make that fateful call? Tune in next time to find out!