Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Day Rob Minkoff, Alex Schwartz and Denise Cascino Chose Tea Time over the Dalai Lama; A Story.

Lana and George with Tea Time's brand new autographed Mr. Peabody and Sherman poster

In all of our time hosting the variety of honoured guests that we have, I must say, last night's event was quick to soar to the top of my favorites list.

After a month or so of planning, we were proud to host Lion King and Mr. Peabody and Sherman director Rob Minkoff, alongside producers Alex Schwartz, and Denise Cascino (Click their names to see their hefty IMDB repertoires) in a fantastic evening Q&A that I don't think I could have been more nervous for. Despite the fact that I've done this at least a dozen times by now, the time leading up to Friday night was disaster delivered by e-mail...

        "We've got a presentation we'd love to deliver about the animation development in Mr. Peabody and Sherman, provided the space can handle it!" I am told by the lovely and talented Kelda McKinney, my point person for Friday's shindig.
        "That sounds fantastic!" I immediately reply, "I've been to the space before and I am 98% sure that there is a projector there, so let's definitely plan on that. It will be perfect." To my dismay, we are quickly snubbed with the news that there is definitely no projector on the premises (it's a theater), and absolutely no way of setting one up as the stage is set for an upcoming play (which it wasn't). Good thing I didn't say 100%.

        "That's alright!" Says Kelda, "we can do this old-school and get some hand-outs for everyone to look at."
        "Great," I agree. "Plus then there's a take-home! It will be perfect."

Naturally, it in't too long until I hear back from her.
        "I'm sorry! There appears to be no hand outs available that we would actually be allowed to give to or show to the students." Needless to say I am a little bummed, but Kelda does mention that Rob, as a former Disney man and the talented artist that he is would be thrilled if he could do a drawing demo for us!
        "Well, that's wonderful!" I reply. "I've seen the school do this a few times. They set up an animation desk on the stage and everyone gets to watch the masters work. It. Will. Be. Perfect."

What next? Snubbed. Again.

         "We are unable to acquire the necessary desk/pen/pencil/paper for the drawing demonstration." I read through the palm on my face. At this point I'm feeling a little hopeless. "However, we can get you a whiteboard and some markers?" It will have to do.

I am quick to relay the news to Kelda who seems unfazed by what feels to me like utter despair at the lack of resources at my disposal (hint hint, TOWNHALL, hint hint).

         "That will do fine," she says.
         "Okay," I reply, "and the rest of the time Rob and Tiffany will talk about what it was like revamping the franchise into a modern film?"
         "Oh, that's right! Tiffany has been called away unfortunately and will not be joining us for the lecture on the 21st." My stomach sinks and all at once, a thousand advertisements reading 'ROB MINKOFF AND TIFFANY WARD' that we have had posted around the school for weeks begin spinning through my mind. I think my heart has stopped.

Luckily, I'm not left hanging long and Kelda tells me that we have some exciting replacements for Tiffany - two rather prestigious producers from the film.

          "Cool! And very relevant to many of our students' interests as well. The three of them will do a presentation on what it took to develop the film into the final product?" I ask.
          "Actually, I was thinking it could be one big Q&A. Do you think you'll have any trouble filling two hours?"
          "Nope!" I say, despite flashbacks of the Cannery. Room 301. 100 silent faces. "Two hours should be just fine." After having to turn town every other fantastic offer Kelda had extended, I don't want any further hiccups in the planning of this event. I am eager to please.

Jacob, Richard, and Kyle model all three flavours of Tea Shirt while waiting for the event to start

The day finally arrives, and the drama isn't over yet. Arriving at the theater, the signage I was promised directing patrons to the event is missing. It's 3:20 before the 4:00 start time and the doors are locked. After 10 or so impatient minutes waiting for security, I am finally let into the theater where I am quick to realize that I've forgotten my own Tea Shirt...after harping on others for doing the same...and the shirt I am wearing has been torn by my necklace in an unfortunate location. Naturally.

Morgan, one of Kelda's co-workers and another fantastic mind behind the execution of this event shows up shortly after...with signs! Hooray!

          "Good afternoon!" I beam, spilling my coffee as I go to shake hands.
          "Yes! Good to see you again!" she radiates back, and, indicating the signs, "where should I put these guys?" Before I can reply, she adds, "Oh! And I've got treats for you." Morgan quickly drops the variety of boxes, bags and foam core she has bundled in her arms and hands me 4 adorable pairs of Mr. Peabody and Sherman glasses complete with strap-on red, satin bowties for the Tea Time board to wear while presenting. I love it. Things seem to be looking up as the theater slowly fills. That is, until our guests arrive.

All of Tea Time filters in at the exact moment that Rob, Denise and Alex show up. Thus, the time I had hoped to have for a brief aside to discuss the rapidly changing game-plan with the Tea Time folk has vanished as I shake hands with Alex, then Denise then....Rob.

Now maybe it is just my nerves, but I am sure I've never seen someone look as displeased as Rob did upon arriving at the theater. He stares me down as we clasp hands, eyes wide, mouth locked firmly in a stern, subtle frown that seems to scream "Where is my drawing table?! Why couldn't you get a projector?! A white board? Seriously? That's the best you could muster for the director of your childhood dreams?!"

It takes every ounce of my courage not to run in shame. I put my best courteous smile on and say, "Lovely to meet you, Mr. Minkoff!" His reply is naught but a curt nod in my direction. "If you'd like, the three of you could feel free to settle in and take a seat at the table just to my left." Alex and Denise seem friendly enough. Still not a word from Rob. Not even so much as the hope of a smile. Internally, I panic.

Our stage complete with sad whiteboard

       "Mike! Jonathan! Mendel! Take these glasses! Team meeting!" But alas, I've spoken too soon... Rob, Denise and Alex haven't moved far enough away from where we're standing and must have had their ears pricked by the words 'team meeting'. All three immediately turn to join us in what I hoped to be our private huddle where I would explain the NEW new game-plan that I had thought up earlier that afternoon to the rest of the board.

       "Uhhh..." I stutter, not knowing how to approach the subject in an eloquent light, "So. You guys go on the stage and sit down." I repeat to the guests though they are clearly waiting to hear the end of the meeting, so I continue with, "We'll conduct a moderated interview for the first half,  and then open it up to the rest of the room for general Q&A for the second. Sound good?" Alex and Denise both chirrup a pleasant agreement. Rob, a very tall man, stares at the audience over our heads, silently listening, and, I assume, judging me. "It will be fun!" I blurt out, more for my own sake than anyone else's.

Finally, Denise, Rob and Alex make for the stage.

       "Okay, guys," I stage-whisper to the board. "Alicia and I wrote down a whole bunch of questions this afternoon and we thought it would be good to do a moderated thing at the beginning to keep the ball rolling before opening it to the floor, what do you think?"
       "Works for me," says Mike.
       "Yeah, sounds good," says Jonathan.
       "I can't see out of these glasses," says Mendel.
       "Oh! There's a film on both sides of them that you have to scratch off; I'll show you," I say and snatch Mendel's glasses and begin to fumble at the lenses. "Does anyone want to do step up and do the moderating? I will if you guys don't want to, but you can definitely do it if you feel up for it."
       "You can go ahead," says Mike.
       "Yeah, sounds good," says Jonathan.
       "Can I have my glasses back?" says Mendel.
       "Yes. Of course. I'm sorry. Great. Okay. Y'all know your roles. Let's do this."

Jonathan, Mendel and Mike are fantastic, I am struggling to stand upright through the shaking of my knees. After the schpeel, I walk to my seat, stage right of our trio of guests only to find sitting doesn't make it better. I nervously flip through my notebook of chicken scratch and try to ignore the feeling of Rob's eyes burning into the side of my head.

Messy interview notes

        "Um...Well.. perhaps you could start us off introduction? Who you are, where you got started and what you're doing now?" I'm tongue-tied and shaky like I'm talking through a mouthful of molasses while standing naked in the Arctic Circle. I look up at the trio of guests hopefully.

Alex speaks first. Powerfully. Elegantly. Denise is immediately both lovable and intimidating. Motherly kind of strong that knows how to get a job done. (or, as she will tell us later, the whip-cracker) Two strong women I can see myself looking up to.

There is a beat before Rob says anything and I feel my breath catch in my throat when he speaks: Booming, pronounced, and so....friendly! He's confident about his past work without even a hint of ego, and I can feel him immediately engage our audience. Before I can ask another question he goes on to tell us about a hitch in their own journey to get to us.
         "I'm sorry, I've just got to tell you guys this," he says. "We were just about to leave our hotel, it's very close to here and we knew it wouldn't be a very long walk, but when got down to the hotel lobby, it was absolutely packed with people; wall-to-wall!" He leans forward in his chair and I can hear the simultaneous groaning of the theater seats as all the students do the same.
         "Well, we didn't know what was going on, but we couldn't yet find a way to escape. We figured it must be some celebrity coming through...but you know who it was?" The audience simultaneously shake their heads. "It was the Dalai Lama."
The audience is tickled with laughter, but Rob cuts us off.

         "I'm serious!" he continutes "and you know what? Instead of hanging around and hoping for a chance to meet the Dalai Lama, we looked at each other and said 'we gotta go!' because we knew we were coming here to be with you."

Rob is greeted with a roar of joyful applause. I turn my eyes to all the Tea Timers in the audience and realize that Rob wasn't upset or displeased at all. What I took for a stern and judgmental man was really just all of my own fears reflecting back upon me. In fact, he's one of the more pleasant people I've had the opportunity to meet, though I didn't get the chance to speak to him candidly.

I look out at all the faces in the crowd and felt their enthusiasm building up the strength I needed to do the rest of the interview.

      "Well in that case," I say, "perhaps you like to draw us a picture?"

Rob draws us a picture as Denise and audience look on. Thanks Alicia for the video

Paraphrased by Lana Bachynski

As it was a simple Q&A, and not so much specific animation notes or tips or tricks, there's not really much I can provide by way of summary here, but you can find and discuss the rest of the 'story' in the event thread on our forums!

A big thank you to Rob, Denise and Alex. What an absolute pleasure! I could not have had more fun interviewing them, and I wish them all the best in their future endeavours.

Thanks to Becky Johnson for always having our back behind the scenes.
Thanks to Mike and Jonathan for rallying the troops at 180.
And a big thank you to everyone for your excellent, excellent questions.

Happy Animating, and we'll see you Friday.

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  1. I actually enjoyed the relative simplicity of it. That picture of the white board, table, three chairs, and the movie poster is inexplicably beautiful.

    All in all, a very pleasant panel with very pleasant people. Thanks for making it happen!

  2. Thanks, Kyle! Glad you could join us. :)