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Conversations with Atlanta's Movers and Shakers, Mark Simon

Producer, Director and the Godfather of Storyboard Artist, Mark Simon

A few weeks ago, we were fortunate to connect and have a conversation with Producer, Director, and the Godfather Storyboard Artist, Mark Simon. Mark has storyboarded hit series such as Stranger Things, Dexter, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, FBI, The Walking Dead, and over 60 feature films such Waterboy, and Father of The Bride.

Atlanta Film and TV: We gave you a brief bio. But, could you tell us about who you are and what you do in the Atlanta Film and TV community.

Mark Simon: “I work as a storyboard artist, illustrating the director's vision of a script for the crew to follow. Storyboarding is an invaluable resource for producers and UPMs to accurately budget and schedule, and it helps the rest of the crew understand how to prepare. I spend significant time drawing, collaborating with creative individuals, working on exciting projects, and deciding who gets to kill zombies."

Atlanta Film and TV: Take us on your journey, of how you found your love of the arts, to where you are today.

Mark Simon:  "I've been an artist for as long as I can remember, picking up a pencil and drawing on anything around me, a scrap of paper or a piece of cardboard. Throughout my school and college years, I was a cartoonist, creating editorial cartoons and drawings. Drawing has always been a constant in my life!

I didn't discover theater until high school. Unfortunately, during that time, I faced  bullying from a gang that targeted my family, leading to a mental breakdown. This period coincided with a failure in one of my advanced math classes, a subject I excelled in as a lead in honors classes.

 My art teacher suggested I join a theater class to contribute to design and artwork. The theater was where I found my passion for the performing arts, and I loved the people and their creative endeavors. My love for theater earned me a scholarship in theater, and in college, I pursued a degree in film. After college, I moved to Los Angeles and began my career designing and building sets. My first movie in the film industry was at Roger Corman Studios, where, within two weeks, I became the Art Director for a number of years before transitioning into Storyboarding."

Atlanta Film and TV: For those who may not know, can you talk about what storyboarding is, and how did you become interested in it?

Mark Simon: "The easiest way for people to understand storyboarding is to think of it as a comic strip version of a script. When different individuals read a script, they will envision distinct images in their minds. However, the only vision that matters is the director's. As a storyboard artist, my job is to delve into the director's vision, pull it out, and illustrate it in a standardized format. This storyboard then serves as a blueprint, distributed to all other crew heads, similar to how you need a blueprint to construct a house. Storyboards act as the production blueprint, detailing how each shot should look and the elements required and guiding the entire crew on how to prepare for executing a particular shot.

I began my career as an Art Director on feature films and commercials, and I was  the Second Art Director at Nickelodeon when they opened the Orlando Studios. While working as an Art Director was enjoyable, I wasn't drawing as much as I desired. This realization struck when I saw storyboards crossing my desk, which sparked the desire to transition more into the world of storyboarding.

While living in LA, I went to the largest storyboard agency at the time, Storyboards Inc. I walked in and asked to speak to one of their agents, showed them samples of my work, and expressed my interest in getting into storyboarding. The agent then told me that everything I had shown him was wrong and that nothing was right. I asked, 'Okay, what is the right way to do it?' The agent gave me a couple of samples and said, 'Here's an idea of how we present and what we need to see.' I showed up the following week with new samples. The same agent told me my work was better but still not great. He gave me more samples and a few more tips, and I continued showing up week after week. The agent didn't tell me I couldn't show up, but I kept doing so until finally, he said, 'Alright! Do you want a job with Honda?' He placed me on a Honda commercial. This job gave me my start, and I began promoting myself as a storyboard artist. At the time, I worked as both a storyboard artist and an Art Director. I worked as a storyboard artist for years at the live-action studio for Nickelodeon.

When Spielberg moved to Orlando  and started the NBC series called Seaquest, I left Nickelodeon and walked over. I introduced myself, and within fifteen minutes, I became the storyboard artist for the Spielberg series."

Atlanta Film and TV: You wrote numerous books. Can you share with us about some of those and how people who might be interested can purchase a copy?

Mark Simon: "I wrote a book called ‘Attacked! Bullied: Surviving Terror and Finding Justice’ which is about the gang that tried killing my family and I that I  wrote  during the pandemic, when all the productions were shut down, and can be purchased on Amazon. ‘Start At the Top: Paying Dues is for Other People. Stories To Help You Succeed ’ is a book I wrote right before I wrote ‘Attacked,’ and it’s inspirational stories that will help get you off your butt. It’s also all about how I never worked my way up. I always started at the top in whatever it was that I wanted to do. The first time I ever did storyboarding, was under Spielberg, and the first time I designed a training program was for Keller Williams and the founder, Gary Keller  bought it from me and used it to help them launch into the stratosphere making it the biggest realty company in the world. These types of things happen, when you take certain approaches. That book is  filled  with about three dozen stories in different fields of how I moved very quickly to the top, of whatever it was that I wanted to do. But, it didn’t always work, and why I have a chapter on screw ups about miserable failures when I reached too far on something.  Each chapter in the book ends with what I learned from it, good or bad because you can learn from failures. You can learn from failures if not more than you can from successes.

You can also purchase copies of his books here.

Lastly, my most popular book is  ‘Facial Expressions: A Visual Reference for Artists,’ and has been a best seller for many years. The ‘Facial Expressions’ book is a book of fifty different models I photographed, with a variety of expressions and I had artists do drawings based on the photographs. Most artists only look in the mirror as we hold different faces when they are drawing, but we get tired of drawing our own face. So, I put these photos together in this book for artists in my studio, and realized that every artist needs this - and it was easy for me to find a publisher for this book and have them bidding against each other, and have three different versions of that particular book in bookstores and on Amazon."

Atlanta Film and TV: What is a piece of advice for a high-schooler looking to pursue a career in storyboarding?

Mark Simon: "Storyboarding is more than just drawing. To be a great story artist, particularly live-action, there are differences between that and animation. To be great at live-action, understand directing and its terminology. Additionally,  understand what various lenses have on the image and why  a Director or Director of Photography may choose a long lens for a specific camera. What does this choice signify, and how does it affect your drawings, because there are huge differences.  You have to understand stunts and visual effects is essential since you contribute to breaking down scenes, which are the aspects we storyboard the most. It's important to understand how to translate the director's notes into clear instructions for how they intend to create the sequence in those shots.

Lastly, understanding editing because we're increasingly creating animatics - is a video storyboard that we sometimes add audio to so you can see both timing and motion, making it easier for people to understand the events and appreciate the humor in the action. Observing something in motion is far more effective than examining a printed page.  At my studio, we use both methods, and the directors and producers love it. The software we use, which I contributed to developing, is called Storyboard Pro, which allows us to create animatics as quickly as we can draw without incurring any additional time, allowing us to deliver more efficiently.

Study filmmaking on streaming platforms, which is how I learned, and  a lot of learning how to do behind the scenes things is from reading magazines."

We like to share G.E.M.S. with our readers and viewers. G.E.M.S. stands for Great Educational Moments with Movers and Shakers. Do you have any gems you would like to share?

Mark Simon:  "Get involved in the industry and join some of the associations. Here in Atlanta a strong association is Women in Film and TV. (WIFTA) One of the first reasons you should become a member of WIFTA is because the people who run it are the movers and shakers, and you’ll meet the right people. However, when I say get involved, I’m not talking about buying a ticket, attending an event, and being a wallflower. Getting involved is offering to help at both the big and the small events. Work the sign-in table because you’ll meet every person who’s attending. You will see their name and get a general idea of who they are working for. Your job is over when the event begins, and you can go in and enjoy the event, and you already know who you want to talk to! If you do a good job working for free, you show up with a great attitude, and the movers and shakers land a gig and need someone to help, you will be the first person they’ll call because you’ve already proven yourself, which is how you move quickly in the industry! 

Secondly, school’s teach resume writing the wrong way, and teach it in a way that corporations will tell you ‘no.’ Years ago, I wrote a book called ‘Your Resume’ Sucks,’ and the book is only one of two books out of all the resume books that I’ve found that mention the only thing that matters, which is job titles, which should be the top thing on your resume. For most people, their name is the biggest thing on their resume. I am not looking for John. I’m looking for a Prop Master, Storyboard Artist, or a First AD -which should be the first thing on your resume because I’m only looking at resumes for the job titles I am hiring for. I won’t even look at any other resumes. Next, never put dates on your resume, which are only added to to help someone say ‘no.’ Dates tell people how old you are and show if there’s been a job gap, which is a negative. Remove anything that could work against you. Removing dates allows you to organize your job history that the first sample that best supports the job you’re going for."

Atlanta Film and TV: Do you have anything else you would like to share?

Mark Simon: "A few weeks ago, I gave my first TED Talk, which was one of my lifetime goals, and was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done! I do a lot of public speaking, but doing a TED Talk is different from how you have to do it, to the full-rote memorization. The video just came out on YouTube. All in all, it was fun, and I used examples from books I’ve written, and having been a Storyboard Artist, and other areas of my life."

Atlanta Film and TV: How can people connect with you? 

Mark Simon: "The best way to connect with me is on LinkedIn. I’ve found that I make a lot of connections, as well as job connections on LinkedIn. I am Mark Simon there and I’m  pretty easy to find."

You can also check out samples of Mark Simon's storyboards and animatics by clicking here.

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