It’s time to finally “humanize” the workplace, argued Oscar-nominated director Nora Twomey at Annecy. And women are leading the way.
“There was a point when I wanted to prove myself and would spend long hours immersed in animation. It took me until I had kids to start working smarter,” she said.
“Then I got sick in the middle of making ‘The Breadwinner’ and that also made me think about working in a way that could empower people around me. Now, I really don’t give a fuck anymore,” she added to thunderous applause.
During her “fireside chat” with Ramsey Naito at the Women in Animation (WIA) World Summit, Twomey – co-founder and creative director at Ireland’s Cartoon Saloon – also underlined the importance of representation.
“If you don’t see someone [like you] doing the job you would like to do in five years, you don’t think it’s open to you. Having someone else having messy days, days when their kids are ill, humanizes the entire workplace and is great for everybody.”
As pointed out by Naito, president at Paramount Animation & Nickelodeon Animation, the pandemic, when co-workers got to see each other’s “barking dogs, talking cats and screaming children” made such an approach much more common.
“I hope it’s something we won’t lose and that we will still ask each other: ‘How are you doing?’,” she said, opening up about the positive example she got to experience at the very beginning of her career.
“When I first started working at Nickelodeon at 28, it was a company run by women, mostly mothers making content for kids. It was my second day on the job and my boss asked: ‘When are you going to have a baby?’ I went: ‘I don’t know. I need to find a boyfriend first.’ It was extraordinary,” she laughed.
“When I went on to work for other companies, it was a culture shock. That’s why I was so happy to go back. I was also excited to build a team and mirror the audience we were trying to reach. When creators come to pitch their shows, hopefully they can identify with someone in the room. They don’t have to feel like ‘the other.’”
Teasing upcoming projects from their companies – from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” to another outing of “Paw Patrol” or, in case of Cartoon Saloon, Louise Bagnall’s “Julián” – they also urged the audience, often battling gender stereotypes and prejudice, to keep up the faith.
“Failures are the biggest lessons in your career,” said Naito.
“The hardest part has been about not crumbling and picking yourself up, and reflecting on your journey so that you can be stronger. Animation takes a really long time. It’s highly gratifying and incredibly terrifying. The real goal of what we are doing is to alter the fabric of our culture. To tell stories that resonate and change the way people think.”
But it’s easier to achieve it with the help of others.
“My family is a pillar of strength for me in moments of self-doubt. Without that base, I don’t think I would be successful. Finding ‘your’ people is so important. My base are mostly women, but I also have great male allies,” she added.
“Traditional workplaces used to be more masculine, so how you were feeling or if you had commitments outside of it wasn’t necessarily valued. The more women you see in leadership positions, the more it changes,” Twomey tells Variety after the panel.
“When I started out, I felt I should be more ‘masculine’ too. Then I realized it was the other way around: I needed to create an environment where everybody on the team had a more human approach to life. It makes our stories better, because people who are telling them are fully embracing everything life has to offer.”
While the new generation is already embracing change – “they are going to shake it up for all of us in a very positive way,” she says – mentorship and support are still crucial.
“When we started Cartoon Saloon, the first short I made was funded by Screen Ireland. It made me feel they had more faith in me than I had in myself. I hung onto their letter for a very long time,” she recalls.
“Now, I try to make sure I encourage others as well. You never know: these might be the right words at the right time.”
The WIA World Summit panels can be accessed online at https://womeninanimation.org/