Insights for Non Artists:
Monique Beatty Interview -
Associate Versus Line Producers
are confused by the large number of Producer credits on shows,
be they animated or live-action. I sat down with someone who has
held two of those titles -- Associate and Line Producer -- and
delved for insight and comparison. At the time we sat down for
this interview, Monique Beatty served as Line Producer for Invader
Zim. Her prior credits include being the Line Producer of Mike,
Lu, & Og (as seen on Cartoon Network), Associate Producer
of Toonyslvania for now-closed DreamWorks Television Animation,
and Associate Producer of Extreme Ghostbusters for Columbia-Tristar
First I asked
her if she could clarify what an Associate Producer's job entails
to give us a starting point. "The associate producer is directly
responsible for the day-to-day aspects of the production but does
not -- at least in my experience -- set the budget or schedule,"
she replied. "It was a little more compartmentalized at Columbia
TriStar; for instance, I didn't deal directly with the writing
staff whereas at DreamWorks, I did."
how her responsibilities changed once she became a Line Producer.
Monique explained that she "had a more direct involvement
with budget and schedule and a greater
overall responsibility on the production." She went on to
say that "at Nickelodeon we jokingly say we're responsible
for everything, which is true to some extent. In addition to creating
a budget and schedule -- which then goes through the usual layered
approval process and plenty of revisions -- I helped to staff
the show by gathering artists' portfolios for the executive producers
to review, I hired production crew. I was also responsible for
all the start paperwork (the exciting I-9, W-4, etc. stuff); I
wasn't responsible for that at Sony or DreamWorks. And back to
the financial side for a moment, as a Line Producer at Nick I
attend regular cost report meetings with our accountant and the
Vice President of Production. I also met regularly with the production
controller at Kinofilm, but because we were such a small company
these meetings were informal."
that becomes apparent with everyone I talk to is that each has
their own unique road to their current place in the animation
industry. I asked Monique to map out the path to her current position
as a Line Producer. She started in Disney Television Animation
as an assistant to Greg Weisman, who was a production executive
in development at the time. "I'd planned to work in live
action but ended up at Disney Corporate Legal just to pay the
bills," she began.
day I heard of an open position at Disney TV Animation and I decided
to apply for it. Greg hired me and when he began producing Gargoyles,
he took me with him as his assistant. Greg and Lisa Salamone,
the Associate Producer, encouraged me to learn about production
assisting and coordinating, and let me take on responsibilities
outside my job description. From there I went to Columbia-Tristar
Children's Entertainment as a Production Coordinator on Project
GeeKeR, and by the time that production wrapped I was a Production
Manager. CTCE was young then; I think I was the fifteenth or so
person hired in that division. In a very short amount of time
I was Associate Producing Extreme Ghostbusters - there were a
lot of 'battlefield promotions' (as producer Audu Paden liked
to call them) because spaces needed to be filled. I got lucky
in that I was in the right place at the right time and was able
to do the job."
Ghostbusters, she "went to DreamWorks as an associate producer
on Toonsylvania, and then to the Line producer position on Mike,
Lu & Og at Kinofilm. Kinofilm was a big change for me - it
was the first independent -- and very small -- studio I'd worked
for." From there Monique moved on to her Line Producer position
on Invader Zim at Nickelodeon Animation.
to the challenges of budgeting and scheduling an animated series
as a Line Producer, Monique offered her own personal observations.
"In the past year or so budgets have been shrinking. The
biggest challenge is to find a happy medium between reality and
creativity. In a perfect world, budgets would be endless and every
show would be an Emmy-winning work of art. I always want the show
to look as gorgeous as it possibly can; it reflects well on everyone
involved. No matter what size the budget, I always try to pad
it within reason. Murphy's Law applies to every production I've
ever worked on, and paring a budget down to bare bones isn't
the best idea. If you have a show with complex backgrounds, lots
of characters, heavy special effects and huge storyboards but
you have only $325,000 an episode, you're setting yourself up
for failure. The best thing to do is find a style that fits your
budget and do that style with the
amount of money you have."
As to the
differences between working for a small studio (such as Kinofilm),
versus larger studios like Nickelodeon or Columbia-Tristar, "there
was definitely more hat-wearing at Kinofilm. In addition to being
responsible for the daily production, I dealt with human resource
issues, studio manager issues, etc. On one hand, there are larger
support systems at large studios but it compartmentalizes people.
At Kinofilm, our post supervisor was also our I.S. person and
one of the animatic editors. If we needed a copier or a computer
I could just walk into the owner's
office, present the reasons something was needed and he'd agree
or not." In contrast, "at a larger studio, there are
forms and approvals and usually a wait to get the item."
also varied between the studios. "Change in structure was
easier to implement at Kinofilm, too. If a system wasn't working
-- the writing process, how storyboards were handled, how we printed
models, whatever -- we switched to something else. Working within
a larger body sometimes limits you on how systems are changed.
They may have to be standardized to fit everyone. Not that this
is bad; it's just different."
Next, we explored
what advantages and disadvantages she found working on a show
with a small number of sets and characters (Mike, Lu, & Og)
versus shows that called for much more artwork (Invader Zim),
Monique felt that "the advantages to the smaller number of
backgrounds and characters were speed and money. On Mike, Lu &
Og, we re-using existing models, which meant we didn't have to
pay for new ones and storyboards could start sooner since the
designs were already done. By limiting our cast to essentially
the island inhabitants, we had a set maximum amount of payments
there. It was very predictable, which from my point of view was
great! Creatively, however, perhaps it presented less challenges
to the storyboard artists since they were always working within
the same environments -- I don't think it showed in their work.
They always found fresh approaches to the same locations."
Invader Zim in contrast, "our biggest disadvantage was time.
We'd go to a new location and the backgrounds would be wonderfully
detailed, but it would take forever, of course, to create and
color them. We wanted a very cinematic look and were constantly
fighting deadlines to get it."
formal training, like myself, originally began focused on live-action
television. Once she came to work at Disney Television Animation,
however, she says she "realized how much fun it could be"
and "just started learning as much as I could. I mercilessly
pestered Lisa Salamone to explain budgeting and scheduling to
me. I also asked Greg a lot of questions." The majority of
her learning, though, "was on-the-job training at each studio.
At one studio we did what we called 'triage production.' We were
constantly falling behind and I continually had to come up with
ways to get us back on schedule. That, more than any smoothly
run production I've been on, was a good education in how to produce.
More accurately, how not to produce."
if she felt that a Line Producer make the switch to a more creative
producer position, Monique responded, "Yes, it's possible.
All it takes is a good idea and someone willing to nurture it.
In fact, it's better, I think, to have in the Executive Producer
position someone who's had experience on both sides. I can cite
two good examples: Chuck Swenson, the executive producer of Mike,
Lu & Og, is also an artist. He has an excellent balance of
creativity and reality. So does Margot Pipkin, who hired me at
DreamWorks - she started as an animator and is now a producer
at Disney." Basically, her point was that both these people
understood what it was like to be part of the creative forces
generating materials for the show, and it seems to me that a non-artist
position such as Production Coordinator would also have the opportunity
to gain understanding as a point person for these materials.
she knows now, I wondered if Monique could offer any advice for
someone starting out that felt certain they would have interest
in being a Line Producer. "Don't be afraid to go outside
of your job description. Take on extra work, and let the people
above you know you're interested in moving up. I think it also
helps to have experience at different studios. By the time I got
to Kinofilm, it really helped. There was no system set up so we
took all of the good ideas from our past experiences at other
studios and came up with something really wonderful. We
used to joke that eventually we'd just be able to show up at 9,
push three buttons, and go home by noon. It really was a smooth
production, and we had work being done in LA, Moscow and Seoul
- virtually around the clock."
what she most enjoyed about being an Associate or Line Producer:
"In addition to having my name on television? That's a smart-alek
answer, by the way. That I love what I do, and that is the biggest
reward, that I get to do what I like to do. I still to this day
cannot think of something else I'd rather be doing. I love animation.
I can't draw a decent stick figure - and I enjoy working with
artists. I'm constantly amazed and impressed by what they create."
Monique, for giving readers an insight into what can go on behind
some of the producer titles seen on animated shows. Now that people
understand what those jobs can entail, it can help them make decisions
on the paths they might like to take in the industry.
You can email
Shannon Muir at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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