What is your name and your current occupation?
Trever Stewart, Associate Producer / Special Projects.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Choreographer for a high school dance team.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I cut my teeth in live-action story development inBeverly Hillsright out of college which allowed me to participate on many large-scale films, but I can’t site them as my own because I carried a low station early in my career. From the live-action side I’d have to say ‘Wedding Crashers’ was one hell of a fun experience and working with New Line Cinema was a great blessing because they were effectively our ‘bosses’, but were never bossy. I think that had a lot to do with the creative success of the film. It was also a wonderful opportunity to work with ‘Married With Children’ writers Steve Faber and Bob Fisher. To this day, I hold my development experience with them as a bench mark for healthy business relationships between writers and producers. On the animation side, working on the film ‘Coraline’ was a life-changing experience. The entire business model and development process between live-action and animation is absurdly different, so much so, it took me the entire course of Coraline’s production schedule to realize I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing in animation. Thankfully I was surrounded by patient, warm-hearted folks at Laika and I eventually understood the advantage of animation’s particular anatomy. Beside the film being utterly gorgeous and me having the opportunity to work with Henry Selick, I feel proud to site ‘Coraline’ because – forgive me for sounding childish – I never fully realized that being brave isn’t about not having fear, it’s about overcoming your fears. I’m cheesy, I know.
How did you become interested in animation?
Ever since I can remember, my twin brother and I had a video camera in our hands and would make two things: silly live-action skits and stop-motion G.I. Joe animations. When I think back, it was one of the strongest memories from my childhood. I can remember my brother tattling to my mom because I refused to make a movie with him one day. Creative differences. At any rate, the stop-motion evolved into crude animations and the live-action evolved into short films (videos). My brother lost interest as we neared the end of our Junior Highschool years, but I was obsessed. Obsessed. Then two things happened that cemented my choice to make film and animation a career. The first thing was seeing NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. My god, I didn’t know humans could make these things. My forearms were covered in goose bumps and nearly a dozen times while watching the film, my spine did that thing that spines do when the universe feels right. You know it right? When there seems to be a cleansing energy that starts at the base of the neck and magically washes down your back and you are briefly filled with euphoria? That was number one. Number two was when some friends-of-the-family that used to live in Los Angeles told me ‘you will never make it in LA’. Granted, I was living in a culturally stagnant suburb of Portland where shooting stop signs with a shot gun for fun was commonplace, but what the fuck? Who says that to a kid who just told you about his life’s dream? From that point on, every effort I made was to get educated and to get to Californiaand never, ever let anyone tell me what I can and can’t do.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I was born in Newport News,Virginia along with my twin brother and drove across the country to Portland,Oregonwhen I was two. My parents say our van broke down in the middle of nowhere and they only had the radio to keep them sane. Then they heard a news report that there was a serial killer loose in the area. I think they turned the radio off at that point. After art school and halfway through film school, I landed a sweet internship at MGM working in the story development department. I read scripts all day and wrote reports (coverage) for the executives so they didn’t have to spend 45 minutes reading a single screenplay. I would summarize the story and then provide my insight (of which I had very little, if any) pin-pointing things like pacing, structure, tension and dialogue. Then the executives would sit me down and tell me how unreadable my coverage was. They explained that it read like someone’s ‘stream of consciousness’. Anyway, I got better at communicating my ideas on paper and landed a job at a production company in Beverly Hillsas a ‘reader / runner’. I was actually getting paid to provide my thoughts on incoming scripts. From there I rose up the ranks to a ‘development assistant’ and eventually jumped ship to become a story editor. It was here that I was blessed to work on some very high-profile pictures, but then I heard about a little start-up in my home town in Portland. Something about Nike and Laika. I did some research and sure enough, there was an animation studio and who was charged with doing their first feature? Henry Motherfucking Selick. It was destiny. My time in LA had tuned me into a story smith, but it had also turned me into a selfish asshole. It was time for change. I called some friends at Dream Works and asked them to give me the home number of a Producer that once did a show with Dream Works and who now holds a high-level position at Laika. Since no one was answering my calls at the Laika office, I decided ‘fuck it’ and called the producer at home. I had a job two weeks later and the rest is history.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Stressful as all hell. I work for a great studio right now, but we’re so busy with large commercials, VFX for several TV shows and pre-production on two animated specials, plus all the development for future shows, I don’t sleep much more than 4 or 5 hours a night. My typical day is all about multi-tasking: emails, phone calls, research, script reading, note-giving, training newbies, meetings, meetings and more meetings. I actually locked myself in the armature metal shop a few days ago with my laptop because I realized no one would find me there and I could have a chance to focus on things without interruption. It was a blessed 20 minutes. Ask me this same question in two months when both our pictures go into production and I may have a wee calmer day-to-day since at that point the ship just steers itself.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I love listening to people. I have spent my entire career in story development and have limited understanding of the challenges other departments face on a day-to-day scale and a global scale. Hearing other sectors of the process and allowing them to fully bitch and complain without judgment is actually crazy educational and allows me to be a more effective producer. I also think it strengthens bonds on set or in the studio when someone truly listens to you and can understand your core grievance. Listening to people, not just from a management point of view, but also from a human one, is by far what I like best about my job. But it also may be that I happen to really enjoy the 82 or so group of folks at the studio.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Not being able to curse in large meetings. I feel like I chose the entertainment field because I could wear flip flops to work and be hung over twice a week – which turns out is true, but honestly I have no complaints about my job outside of my selfish need to use foul language.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Emerging. The animation studio I’m stationed at now, BENT IMAGE LAB (which is kick-ass btw), makes more commercials than they do television and because the production cycle of a commercial is so brief, it turns out to be an incubator for innovative technology. Look at TV and FILM and point to something cool that technology has provided, and I’ll bet you a six pack that technology came from a commercial. My point is that Bent Image Lab has to be on the cutting edge of technology in order to stay competitive, so I have just about everything at my disposal. I’d love to share more about our technology, but I don’t want to get fired.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Not taking my work home. I realized after many years (I’m a slow learner) that folks who dwell on their work while in social situations are very dull. Conversation just isn’t interesting. At this point in my life, my career is difficult because life is so much more than your career and in this business it’s easy to get caught up in the bullshit, because yes our projects are high-profile, but in the end, when you are sprawled across your death bed and pissing clamato, what is truly going to matter to you? It ain’t going to be work – it’s going to be everything in between. Keeping that in perspective is a high priority for me, but it is also a great challenge to live that way without sounding line a loon.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Henry Selick, Tony Stacchi, Mary Sandell, Paul Diener, Kent Burton, Justin Kohn, Tom Gasek, Mike McKinney, Trey Thomas, Jerold Howard, Teresa Drilling, Travis Knight, Chris Butler, Jan Pinkova, Mike Cachuela, Marten Zagunis, Ray DiCarlo, Chel White, Ben Blankenship, David Daniels, Fred Ruff, John Carls, Frederator, Rob Shaw, Paul Harrod, Sol Burbridge, Greg Arden, Harry Linden, Alan Keith – just to name a few. My life is changed both professionally and personally from having worked with these animation greats.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I spent most of my adult life breezing about and not caring too much about people and their concerns, so I didn’t find myself in anything very tough, because when you’re an asshole, you can rationalize your way out of caring about others. Having said that, I strongly believe departing live-action and Los Angeles for Portland and Animation had somehow breathed a new awareness into my life and I often find it difficult to have genuine connections with folks who used to know me – or at least it’s tough in the first few interactions because they are usually used to a less emotionally available person and I can’t just say ‘hey I’m not an asshole anymore’ because that wouldn’t be enough evidence. So I’m often frustrated with older relationships, but I’ve learned to be patient because the burden is on me, not them.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I have literary representation in Los Angeles, so I write one screenplay a year (mostly live-action) and let them solicit production companies and studios on my behalf. I’m currently working on a dark moody creature story – which is very new territory for me, and I’ve hired a wonderful playwright to Sheppard me through the drafts as a sort of coach so I’m hoping this screenplay won’t be as shitty as my last attempts. Funny how I can work as a development executive on big films and animation, but when it came down to writing myself, I had to start from square one and make all the same rooky mistakes that pedestrians make. I’m also producing a live-action web series this summer here in Portland. I’m really excited because the director and writer are two folks I’ve wanted to work with for a long time and I’m curious to see how their two styles will come out on film (digital video). It will also be my first foray into web series – a medium where literature and content is more important than production value – which I find quite interesting.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I can always estimate the time to within 3 minutes.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Do not let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. And don’t be afraid to take risks. And don’t underestimate the power of your relationships. This career means being hired by your friends, leave cold calls and interviews to the retail industry.