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!