Man-to-Man with Animated American Producer Bill Schultz

Savas Abadsidis sits down with animation producer Bill Schultz to discuss baseball, entertainment, and the value of a good father.

Bill Schultz is an animation producer who has worked on everything from Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies and The Transformers to King of the Hill and The Simpsons (for which he won two Emmys). He recently hung  out his own shingle and began Home Plate Entertainment. With at least one hit out of the gate, Rob Dyrdek’s Wild Grinders on Nick Toons, and the upcoming Cosmic Surfari, Schultz talked with TGMP about his love of family, baseball and animation and how they all come together.

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Why Home Plate Entertainment, and why now?

I have worked in the animation business for over 25 years and have a very broad view of the business and a true vision for how I think things can be done. Animation is truly a talent driven business, and the artistic process requires a very tender and personal style of management in order to execute and maintain integrity. That’s what I bring to every project—because I know the tools and respect the artists involved. Home Plate Entertainment is my opportunity to work with all the great, wonderful people out there and provide them an opportunity to make entertainment that we can be proud of and enjoy forever.

When did your love of baseball begin?

When I was six. Growing up in Long Island, New York, I started out as a Mets fan, and then we moved to Chicago, where it was all about the Cubs. I wore a Cubs uniform six months a year—pinstripes and everything—the Cubs logo made me happy as a kid. Ernie Banks even signed his autograph for me: “Peace and Love, Ernie Banks.” But my love of the sport deepened immensely when I started coaching. I coached all my kids in sports: basketball, soccer and baseball. It eventually became a year-round, full-time passion. I coached 25 hours a week for over 15 years, from 6-year-old T-Ball to 15 year-old high-school JV baseball. It was while coaching that I learned the to appreciate nuances of the game and the love of working with kids. I also learned team dynamics and the art of spotting talent and casting it in the right role, very much related to producing. I learned the intricacies of every moment in a baseball season and in every game and what made baseball the perfect game.

What are the similarities you see between managing a baseball team and an entertainment company?

It is the right combination of talent, strategy, execution, teamwork, collaboration, and vision that leads to success in both baseball and entertainment. You need to get the most out of your talent by informing, coaxing, cheering and creating an opportunity where your teammates can be successful.

Something I am particularly proud of is the number of kids I have coached who have gone on to be professional baseball players (there are a few) and great solid members of the community – and I feel like that made all the sacrifice worthwhile.  In a similar way – I also love seeing the names of people I have given their start in the business to on the screen and in the trades.  It is very satisfying to feel like you helped people achieve good in the world.

One of Bill's early teams, with his youngest son Ben on the far right.

As a coach you’re not the pitcher or catcher, but you can help them to communicate better to work as a successful battery. As an animation producer for example , you try and find the right storyboard supervisor that will work best for the
director and the project and assemble a crew that works well together overall.

As a batter, you don’t try to hit a home run with every swing. Put the ball in play and move the runners over. Take a good swing and adjust to the the pitcher and look for the right pitch. If you do everything well, you can be very successful even if you fail one out every three at bats. You can make millions of dollars with a .333 average—go for a single or a double—not a home run—if you go for a
home run you will likely strike out because you try to swing too hard. It ruins your approach.  Similarly, in business, you try to run your operation in a smooth, well managed and focused way. Find good talent, let them do a their job, deliver and be consistent. If you blow your budget trying to make a “hit”, you won’t be in business very long and you will make some bad and desperate decisions. Adjust to the market, listen to feedback. Get your project properly financed and well made, just like putting the ball in play, and you have a chance of having a hit.

How did you get started in the business?

I started out working for New World Entertainment on their soap Santa Barbara. I worked with some very talented people in the industry, Mary Ellis Bunim (who created MTV’s “The Real World” – perhaps the beginning of all reality television) and Jon Feltheimer (now CEO of Lionsgate). Then New World bought animation studio Marvel and moved me over to help manage the studio. I immediately fell in love with the artist-driven medium and the whole business of creating animated worlds. It was very creative and collaborative. I got to work with people like Stan Lee, Margaret Loesch and Chuck Lorre.

If you had to say, what is a running theme through all your work?

Music and creative integrity. The music is the most delicious and wonderful part of the whole process of making filmed entertainment. It brings everything together in the way that only music can. Respect for creative integrity is the most important thing a producer can bring to a project. Find the creative integrity of a project and never let it get lost or diluted,  no matter the notes or the pressure.

A classic Schultz family jam night.

Music was a part of our family as long as I can remember.  Holidays and family gatherings became jam sessions. Everyone had an instrument or two. My mother even went so far as to build a stage for my brothers and I in our basement.  But coming from a family of Depression-era immigrants—music was not a career choice that was encouraged.  Both my Dad and Uncle could have easily had careers as professional musicians, but for practical reasons became a retail executive and foot doctor respectively.

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How influential was your relationship with your father in determining the man you’ve become?

He was a good man—a very good man. I always try to live up to what I think he would have expected me to do, which is the right thing.

What three words describe your dad?

Kind, generous, bald.

He was a very positive role model for you?

He was the best—but a bit too self sacrificing – completely unselfish. I think he could have been more balanced in what he did for himself versus what he did for his friends and family.  He was truly the salt of the earth.

What is the best advice he ever gave you?

Don’t mail a check if there’s not enough money in the bank to cover it, both literally and figuratively.

Who are the best men you know of? How do they earn that distinction?

My kids are great people. They have grown up to be truly fine human beings They have listened to what I said, not what I did.

How do you see the role of men changing in America?

They are evolving without losing their masculinity. They are getting smarter—kinder and gentler.

What advice would you give teenage boys trying to figure out what it means to be a good man?

Do the right thing. Be supportive, generous and protective.

What’s been the biggest mistake in your life, and what did you learn from it?

I was always a perfectionist and felt that imperfection was failure. The 80/20 rule is the way to go: get 80% from 20% effort. Do it four times and you have 400% from 100% effort.

Have you been more successful in your public or private life?

About equal—But I have work to do in both.

What is the your most cherished possession as a guy?

Without a doubt my kids. My wife and I have created four wonderful human beings who will no doubt bring 400% more love to the world.

Wrigley Field photo by Shutterstock.

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About Savas Abadsidis

Savas Abadsidis is a raconteur and regular wingman to fellow GMP editor Hannibal Tabu. They are as a rule, scoundrels, who try their best to be good men. In Savas’ free time he loves comics, photography, surfing, travelling and sleeping.

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