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Animated Insights for Non Artists:
Monique Beatty Interview -
Associate Versus Line Producers
by Shannon Muir

Many people 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 Childrens' Entertainment.

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."

I wondered 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."

One thing 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.

"One 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."

After Extreme 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.

In regards 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."

System flexibility 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."

Looking at 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."

Monique's 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."

When asked 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.

Knowing what 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."

When asked 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."

Thank you, 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 shanemuir@aol.com.

All editorialized columns, including this one, that appear in Digital Media FX are not necessarily reflective of the opinions of Digital Media FX, its partner sites, and its advertisers.

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