The journey continues…ITTB – We did it!

Ittb wrap

I wrote a note on my personal page that I would like to share with everyone.  A little on the long side, but it’s me.  Would you expect anything less?  This was originally published at around 7pm on July 17th.

And with that, I am done with my part of this epic journey that was the last three months. There are a few loose ends to tie up after tonight (return of rentals and such) and the final hand made project is literally less than 3 hours from being finished, but for me…that’s a wrap. Our first full season as builders for a major network television show is just about complete.

Once upon a time (actually it was the summer of 2012), the shop crew sat down as a group and had a heartfelt discussion about the future of ASI. What did we want? Where did we see this adventure taking us? How did that differ from the direction that we were heading? What, if anything, did we need to change? After much heated discussion and not reaching a unanimous decision, Hawk and I made the decision about the direction of the company. Even though we were riding high on popularity in the con circuit and had just come off of a very successful 16 week run, we were worn out, beat up and disillusioned. We were honest with ourselves, and made a hard choice. Even though the convention circuit offered a level of personal popularity for a few of us, it wasn’t going to offer the long term sustainability we were after. We wanted a business that would outlast us. That didn’t rely on just one or two people being well known. That when we were ready to retire, that we could pass on to our children. We started this company with a dream of offering a place for artists to be able to make enough money to be able to support themselves on their art. We wanted to inspire other people to be more creative. We wanted an encouraging environment for artists to feel free to express themselves. And up to that point, what we had relied on was sheer force of will and commanding personalities that spoke to the con kids about being inclusive and embracing fun and creativity in steampunk. But we were at a crossroads. It had already started to be a weird case of almost hero worship. On the one hand, the current plotted course had the potential to launch a few of our members to notoriety but the cost was overshadowing the team and potentially deviating from our intended course of having a sustainable art business in favor of individual counter-culture popularity. And even that didn’t appear to have a way of being self sustaining. In addition to that, most of us were starting to feel uncomfortable with the direction things were taking both in steampunk as a whole and as it related directly to us.

We made a choice to go back to our roots. We made a choice that popularity wasn’t the goal. Success was. And advancement of the team was more important that the advancement of the individual. We knew we weren’t going to do that in the convention world. So we made the decision to pull back and plot a new course. It meant after 3 years of hard work to push the convention world we would start back at the beginning and plow forward using our art and our talents to showcase us instead of our personalities. It meant expanding our audience. It meant more structuring as a business. It meant assuming responsibilities as decision makers and as advocates on our end, and meant assuming responsibilities as employees on the part of the crew. We were going to attempt to break into props and costuming in the television, movie and theatrical world. We decided that the French Market offered the most reliable way to keep us from starving to death while still producing art until we were able to achieve our goals, though even that was debated. This was done with the knowledge that we didn’t know when or even if we were going to be able to pull this off. We made no promises other than that we would work our asses off and do everything we could to make this a reality. We said exactly what we always had. Mission failure is not an option. We will work at this until we succeed or until we die, whichever came first.

As I said this was first approached in a leaky warehouse in New Orleans among the people who were at the time full time shop crew. On the surface, everyone agreed until we started talking about the real life ramifications of what we were proposing. We talked about one of our strengths being the ability of our artists to see into other people’s heads and bring the pieces they were seeing into reality. We talked about how our visions of art pieces would become display and example pieces or personal pieces, but that the business model would be bringing other people’s visions to life. That is in a nutshell what prop makers and costume makers do. We don’t create the vision. We see another person’s vision and create the item. Ego would have to be removed from the equation. It would no longer be about so and so is a great artist. It would be that the company can pull amazing rabbits out of hats and bring dreams to life. This brought the discussion to a screeching halt. To say that there were some heated exchanges about why people were here would be an understatement. I was told in no uncertain terms that some of our artists would never be willing to bring other people’s work to life without making it into their own vision. I tried to explain, calmly at first, and then not so calmly, that that wasn’t what our jobs would be. That if we were ever given this opportunity there would be ample time and money to make your vision all day long, and we could sell it too, but where we as a group fit into the industry wasn’t looking for our vision. They were looking for our skills, our talent and our ability to move from concept to creation. I was told I didn’t know what I was talking about. Which, to be fair, at the time I was really just guessing based on discussion and research I had done. I had no real life experience to draw on. Only intuition and study. The subject was tabled and we moved on to the next issue I suspected would be a sticking point. Props and costuming people aren’t in front of the cameras or audiences. They aren’t famous in circles other than their own. Most people don’t know who works behind the scenes to make things beautiful and amazing. Was everyone ready to more or less give up the limelight in exchange for being able to build worlds in which they would never get any recognition for other than a byline in the credits. No face time. No cultural popularity. But a somewhat stable job, doing what you loved, and creating beauty for others to enjoy. With an added long term goal of once we had a name and reputation enough in the industry, to start talking about arts education. This was even more contentious. For about half the shop crew, this was nothing. We didn’t have anything to loose in this issue and everything to gain. For the other half, it was a mixed bag. One outright refused even the idea. The other raised an eyebrow and said, I see where you are coming from and I agree with it to an extent. I think we need a strong image for marketing and for promotions. We need to maintain the image we have already created, but we need to focus what we’ve achieved towards our new goals. As for my personal need for face time, let me deal with that. And with that the discussion ended, the majority made the decision and we moved on to addressing the outlying members of the crew. It was decided that we would wait on moving forward until the end of summer in order to give Hawk time to get through surgery, and us time to earn money for the summer. We said we would readdress the issue at a later date, and we went back to work.

Before we ever got that far, the world exploded, and the end of summer 2012 was chaos. Forced move, lost friendships, a caved in roof and a hurricane punctuated a 4 week period of time. But now that the command staff was in full agreement, we moved forward with the plan without reservation. We announced to the crew our intentions and for the first time ever we didn’t ask for permission. We had been screaming amongst ourselves for years that we needed a focused vision and to remember that we were a business first, and this was the first real action we made as business owners. We simply stated that this was what was happening. Everyone was invited to join or that if they would rather just be socially connected that was fine too. No harm no foul. Things would continue as before until we actually succeeded, but this was our goal. This was our focus and these were our long term objectives. We lost two more. But that was it. Everyone else was either encouraging or apathetic. Both we considered to be acceptable responses.

It’s been 3 years since those moments. It’s been 3 years since the decision to focus on the company and the group over personal fame was made. Having our name out there did make a big difference in finding the door, but it didn’t make a lick of difference in our ability to do the work. Being popular doesn’t make you talented or successful. Sorry kids. It doesn’t work like that. Changing the focus made real what we always knew, but popularity often skewed. That we are better, as people and as artists, when we combine our efforts and recognize someone based on their abilities rather than, lets face it, how they look or how demanding they can be. If we are going to be heroes, it won’t be because somebody hired us to do our job, or assumed it in a vacuum or had it assigned to us. It is going to be because we earned that title. Earned. Not demanded. It is going to be because we went above and beyond what was expected, and out did even ourselves. It is going to be because people are inspired by our work and by our story. Anything less is not worthy of that title because a hero saves people. We make props. We build stuff. There are only a few instances where that makes you a hero and even then, only to a few select people. And if you want to be worshiped, I’m pretty sure there is a medical term for that somewhere that needs medication. Popularity? Cool. But be careful what you are known for. Be known for being kind. Be known for being inspiring. Be known for being talented. But there is no honor in being known for being a clueless, self important douche. Seriously, who wants to be the Kim Kardashian of steampunk? If that is what popularity has become, I think we will leave that honor to someone else. Seems Hawk and I were both right. Turns out, I was right on the money on what it meant and what it would take. In fact, in the end, the only way to do what we have done (all by hand mind you) is through group effort. Every step forward we have made, we made together. And there were times when it took everyone of us to make that step. When you see everything on AMC this fall, know that many hands touched and shaped each piece. Many hands worked together as a whole to create beautiful art, and each artist we employ is represented in those pieces. They all needed each other and worked together. As Airship Isabella. In the end, everything you see that we made was made by 14 people. 5 full time and 9 either part time or called in. It has been inspiring to watch. My husband was also right in the end. He was right about needing a solid and visible public image, and he has managed to still have face time and get face time for those who wanted it without impeding on our business goals. Leave it to him to be able to have his cake and eat it too, lol. Michael Ford, Andrea Izaguirre, David Orenday, Rebecca Harrison, Andrew Fox, Suzo Frazier, Derrick Duplissey, Josh Suit, Dominque Fleatis, Bryan Oliver, Chris Hasara, Jina Stockton and Jesse Thaxton, thank you for being part of an amazing project and an amazing team. Anything after this is gravy. We made it through the door. We did the thing. And you made it happen. If you aren’t proud of yourselves right now, you are doing it wrong.

For the most up to date information on Into the Badlands, check out http://www.amc.com/shows/into-the-badlands.  Airing November 15, 2015 at 10pm/9pm after The Walking Dead!

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