Marc Lumer: Journey of a Children's Book Writer / Illustrator Turned Animation Executive

Marc hops in my Uber and says he has a meeting at Paramount. He's running late.  We ride through Hancock Park and soon start chatting.  He tells me about his job as an animation executive and his children’s books and I tell him about my blog, World Brand Journal, once named Pimp Your Oatmeal.  He asks how I get interviews.  Between traveling, marketing, teaching yoga, and physical therapy, I meet a lot of people with fascinating stories.  I’ll talk to ya, he says, then asks why I changed the blog's name.  He says Pimp Your Oatmeal has a nice ring to it.  I tell him World Brand Journal seemed more dignified. “Dignified, schmignified,” he says and asks what I have to prove.

It’s a good question.  Pimp Your Oatmeal definitely more relaxed with an entrepreneurial flair. When he gets out he hands me his card featuring an animated boy wearing a cape.

A week later we meet for drinks at the Farmers Market. (This conversation has been edited and is ongoing.)

Amy Zimmerman:  How did the pitch go?

Marc Lumer:  Great!  I was pitching a movie about a gang of thugs chasing kids through a mega Indian city.  They didn’t think the slums would be the most kid-friendly backdrop for an animated feature.  They may have had a point.

Z : What are you working on now?

L:  I’m working on the promotion of our latest show, Mighty Little Bheem, by GreenGold, for which I’m also an executive producer.  It’s based on Indian Mythology.  Bheem is good, he’s nice, he can lift a building.  It just started streaming on Netflix. The previews of our episodes have already gathered 10 million views on YouTube, Netflix Kids and Family Channel.  It looks like we’ve got a hit on our hands.  I’m also directing a pilot episode for a chic spy show I created.

Z:  Do Bheem’s storylines follow present-day themes or is Bheem’s world purely imaginary?

L:  The stories are completely imaginary.  It’s a spin-off, built on the world of Chotta Bheem. Chotta Bheem is India’s number one show.

Z:  How did GreenGold find you?

L:  Luck, providence, divine intervention… a freak occurrence… I’m not sure.

Z:  Let’s hear it.

L:  I’m French and moved here to work for DreamWorks and Warner Brothers.  At my last job, Warner Brothers, I set aside a chunk of change because I wanted to open a publishing company.  Comics.  That didn’t pan out.  It was hustle every day. I tried a couple apparel lines that didn’t go.  I did interiors for a friends restaurant. It was tough going through savings after having lived comfortably. I made the classic mistakes.  Not funded enough.  Not researched enough.  I think it’s part of being an entrepreneur.  Abstract little trifles like security but keep the drive to build something.  That’s when I started doing children’s books and personal work.  I opened a graphic design and illustration studio and things started to pick up.  I was making money and setting things in place for the next step in my career.  Four years ago I had a separate idea for a show and I hooked up with a couple of friends who are animation writers.  We wrote a bible and developed the whole concept.  They knew a studio in India.  The studio turned out to be GreenGold. It took a few Skype chats with Rajiv Chilaka, the CEO, before I realized exactly how big the studio was.  Over about six months we developed a strong relationship.  He later flew to LA and asked me to open an office in Beverly Hills.  Today, we’re 1400 with studios in Mumbai, Calcutta, Singapore, Pune and of course here in California.  

Z:  What’s a bit of wisdom for artists and entrepreneurs?

L:  Try to be born rich.

Z:  What would Bheem’s advice be?

L:  Be nice to your mamma, your friends, your animals and remember your best weapon isn’t your brute strength but your toothless smile and of course, giggles.

Z:  What’s an unfair advantage you’ve enjoyed?

L:  I don’t want to get political.  The unfair advantage is that I’m an immigrant and I got off the boat with a few dollars in my pocket.  That’s an unfair advantage.  I was hungry.

Z:  Hunger is an unfair advantage?  Many would see that as an obstacle.

L:  Yes.  You cut corners.

Z:  Explain.

L:  I see it now that I’ve been here for 20 years.  I’m more polite now.  I’ll call someone’s assistant to make an appointment and I’ll wait two months for them to get back to me.  When I was off the boat I didn’t do it that way.

Z:  You weren’t as patient back then? 

L:  I think the second day I was here I wanted to meet people at Hanna-Barbera. So, I walked on the lot.  They’ve been absorbed by Warner Brothers now but they made the Flinstones.  I wanted to meet the artist because I had a project I wanted them to do.  Walked straight into reception and asked to talk to the CEO, Hanna Barbera himself.  I’d take nothing less.

At this precise moment,  I realize I’m late to meeting with girlfriends in Santa Monica and ask Marc if we can meet again later.  Marc heads to India for three weeks.  A couple weeks after that I’m in a cafe in Larchmont Village when my Citizen app blings to notify of a bakery robbery just up the street.  Squad cars sail by (who holds up a bakery at mid-day on a Monday?) and I decide it’s time to complete this interview and start texting Marc more questions as the robbery unfolds before my eyes.

Z:  So, how did it go?

L:  Trying to meet the CEO of Hannah Barbera?  I was escorted out.

Z:  This is awesome.  What did you do?

L:  The next day I called a different studio, the one that did Ren and Stimpy.  It was in the ’90s.  I called this time and spoke to the owner.  I said, “I’m an artist from Europe,  I have an idea for a show,  I wanna sell it,  I want it to be on TV.  I’m coming to see you.”  He said “Don’t come.  Not interested.”  I said, “Great! I’m on my way.”

Z:  How did you get away with that?!

L:  The guy was pretty well known but the studio was small.  On Melrose.  I walked up the stairs and rang the bell.  “Who are you?” he asked.  “I just spoke to you,”  I said.  “I told you not to come,”  he said.  Before he could ask me to leave I opened my portfolio.  We talked for an hour.  He put in a call to a buddy of his at Warner Brothers.  It turns out his friend was the guy producing the DC comics; Batman. Superman.  Justice League.  They did the spin-off from Michael Keaton’s Batman that became incredibly popular.  Anyhow, the guy from Warner Brothers asked me where I was living.  Brussels.  He told me to go home, pack up and come back.

Z:  Just like that?

L:  Yep.

Z:  What was Warner like?

L:  I was on staff.  I had a desk.  It was old school.  I got into designing architecture for productions.  You know,  big cities.  I loved it.  At a certain point they were playing around with an animated Superman idea and told me to design Metropolis. For months I doodled all the cityscapes that came to mind.

Z:  Some kids dream of that.

L:  One day they came to my desk and told me to grab my sketches because the Superman idea got green-lit.  "Yeah!"  My sketches went into production and I started getting calls from other studios.  Around that time I realized I was getting paid less than all the other illustrators and still had no visa.  Then Brad Bird called, the two time Oscar director of Ratatouille and The Incredibles.  I met with him and quit Warner.

Z:  More providence!  Did he give you GreenCard?

L:  No.  I sponsored myself.  No strings attached.  After Turner,  I went to DreamWorks.  These three guys, you know the three, had a press conference saying they were going to do things together.  Everyone sent resumes and I got a call.  Looking back it was really easy.  I did that for a few years.  Then I went back to Warner.

Z:  Which brings us full circle.

L:  Yes.

Z:  How do you utilize your time in animation and design when approaching your role as VP of GreenGold,  Beverly Hills?

L:   To run the studio from a creative standpoint, I draw from my experience working for Hollywood Studios.  When it comes to managing it as a VP and executive, I rely on a lot of skills I’ve learned “on the job” running my own graphic design firm for more than a decade.  I was doing everything I am now; HR, payroll, accounting, marketing, hiring, and firing…. just at a smaller scale.  Running a small business was like getting an MBA.  I’ll rephrase that.  Running my business is, in my opinion, a better learning experience than getting an MBA.  

Z:   What do you love most about children’s books and animation?

L:  Different things.  Books because I grew up going to bookstores.  I love the smell of the ink and holding the object in my hands.  I also like that, compared to animation which is a team effort, in a book you alone are responsible for your vision.  I like animation for the opposite reason.  I like that there’s sound, music and that the characters speak.  You work with an entire team so it’s a mix of art and industry.  It usually takes a hundred people to produce a single episode of any show.

Z:   Where are you most creative?

L:  Above the ground.  There's nobody there to interrupt your thought process when your on a plane.

Z:  If you could set up your studio anywhere in the world and get wifi, where would it be?

Lumer: Probably Paris.
New York.  Greenwich Village.  New York is really the center of the world.
Frankly, my perfect studio local would be on a plane flying direct between Paris and New York.

Z:  What song best described you?

L:  What is that queen song from Highlander? Who Wants To Live Forever.

Z:  Which projects are you most proud of?

L:  My latest book, American Golem, for a series of reasons.  It wasn’t a commission but it followed an inspiration.  I did it under impossible conditions.  I was traveling all the time and spent most of my time working on it, on airplanes and hotel bars and rooms.  I completed it during a challenging time in life and still was able to get it published.  Benny’s Mitzvah Notes was written as a love letter to my son.  I thought he would be happy to have a book out there written for him.  As of now, he couldn’t care less.  Maybe when he has kids of his own.  “Non is a prophet in their own land,” as they say.


Z:  Which collaborations are you most proud of?

L:  I have the opportunity to recruit and mentor.  I like being the first one to spot a new talent.  There were a group of talented guys  I discovered in an art school in an Indian town called Pune. I hired them as trainees in our Hyderabad studio.

They are all abroad now, on their way to international careers.  Among them, there was a young woman in particular with incredible potential.  The school only wanted to introduce us to 5-year students and she was a first year.

She worked at the studio on one of my projects for a year and did great work.  She later got accepted to a really good school in Paris.  It’s where she is now. In fact, we just talked this morning.  She was recently put in charge of a short film and she was asking me how to tell people what to do.  What if their ego gets hurt?  I said, well, there are priorities.  First the project, then the ego.  But the project is always first. Imagine, she’s a young Indian girl, very polite and proper.  We started debating about protecting ego vs. prioritizing a project.  I told her I got to meet a lot of women leading projects and in positions of power in this business and that I knew she had what they had.  She would be able to manage people, even if she couldn’t see it herself, yet.

She said she would try. I’m proud of that.


Press Inquiries for Marc Lumer & GreenGold
Marc Lumer
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GreenGold Animation


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