A Kick in the Head, Part Seven

This final one is a little bit different.

One day I was on CNN.com and I saw a story about how Conan O'Brien's closing words on his last show had really affected a lot of people and caused them to change their lives.

“All I ask of you is one thing, and I’m asking this particularly of young people: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism - it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.” – Conan O’Brien

Everywhere I've ever worked, certain things have always been the same. Our jobs are very difficult and there are a lot of long hours. In the Feature Animation world, you can work for years on a picture and never really know if the film you're working on will get finished, be released, and if so, will ever really be any good. The story process of making a Feature is filled with experimentation, blind alleys and false starts. People in every department tend to get nervous about the amount of work ahead and they have to have a lot of faith in order to believe that the ultimate product will be worth all the long hours and effort.

It takes a lot more energy to stay positive and have faith in the process. It can be easier to give in to the temptation to become bitter and cynical. Working long hours and seeing screenings of the movie that don't quite work can easily lead to complaining behind closed doors and becoming cynical about the whole thing.

Some people fall into this type of attitude because their personality is disposed to be that way. And some people are easily influenced by their co-workers and they end up becoming negative because that's all they hear from their office mates. And some people just don't want to sound like a simpleton, and they know they'll be ostracized by their friends if they try to stay positive, so they just give in.

Certainly there's never any shortage of people on the internet willing to be negative about our films before they're even completed and that can have a devastating effect on the morale of our crews as well.

As with any kind of faith, there's always way more reasons to give up and be cynical than to stay positive and believe that things will turn out for the best and that all the hard work will be worth it (I'm not a religious man, by the way, but I do have a lot of faith in the story process).

So the only argument I can offer is to ask you what kind of people you, personally, would rather be around. What type of people do you like to work with? Spend time with? Date? Marry? What kind of attitude would you like your kids to have?

If you became a supervisor, or director, or the head of a studio, what type of people would you want working on your crew? What would you want them to be saying about you and your movie when you're not around?

Cynicism and bitterness are very unpleasant and unattractive qualities. Everyone gets discouraged and frustrated and needs to express that sometimes. There's nothing wrong with that....otherwise we wouldn't be human. Relentless optimism in the face of all evidence to the contrary can be just as unattractive (and scary) as the other side of the coin. But once people become permanently embittered and react to everything with cynicism it becomes impossible for them to do great work. To do great work you need to be inspired at least a little bit and embittered people are incapable of any amount of inspiration. Once you become cynical it's very difficult to keep developing as an artist. We need fresh eyes and hope to keep seeing the world anew and learning and growing artistically.

So stay as positive as you can and always try to see the situation from the other side. If you were directing the project you're working on, would you look forward to meetings with you? Or would you dread them because your negative attitude is discouraging?

It's easy to fall into being cynical but it's also a very quick way to turn a job that can be uplifting and amazing into a living misery and your own personal Hell. If you bother to read this blog I know you're interested in doing great work and staying inspired at any cost. I know how hard that can be. Believe me, I do. But to do great work and create something of value it's one of the prices we have to pay.