Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The April 11 Walkaround at Disney Feature

I cruised around Feature Animation late this morning. At the moment, things are pretty quiet. "Meet the Robinsons" continues to occupy the work hours of a lot of folks, but those folks tell me they know "a lot of changes in the second act" are rolling down the pike... Word is that Ed Catmull has been less than thrilled by the "leaks" from Disney employees about recent personnel hirings and firings. Good luck plugging them up, Ed. There are lots of flapping mouths at the feature animation building... (Re Bob Bacon's recent departure: Management pointed out that Bacon wasn't "let go," but chose to leave. This is, technically, true. Bacon was offered a low-level accounting job and turned it down. I mean, anyone really expect the man to stay for a terrific offer like that after being a Disney Veep?) Although the Local 839 agreement is now in the process of being ratified, Disney Feature Animation's IA agreement is coming up for renegotiation within the next few months. Employees are starting to come forward with ideas for proposals... Like I said, mostly a quiet day at the Mouse House.

19 comments:

floyd Norman said...

I've often found this idea of "leaks" amusing. Does anybody in the real world actually care about the daily activities of a cartoon studio? A few geeks, I guess, but these are the guys who live in the basement of their parent's home.

Brings to mind Apple Computer guarding information about new product announcements before MacWorld. Who are these people who crave "inside information," and don't they have a life?

In the old days the trade papers carried this stuff for the industry insiders who cared. Just when did the general public begin to take interest in what studio executive got canned?

Steve Hulett said...

When the internet became the fount of all knowledge...

Anonymous said...

A good start to plugging leaks might be to not let people from the union freely "cruise" around and then post their findings on the internet.

Ed Catmull thinks it might help the company to keep our secrets. I agree. So for the sake of all your union brothers who work at Disney. I think you should respect the wishes of Ed Catmull and stop posting things that are not germane to the union as a whole.

If you were having problems with your kids would it help to have the whole neighborhood know? No, it wouldn't. And you would be angry with anyone who might spead your problems around- wouldn't you?

Robert Jung said...

I've often found this idea of "leaks" amusing. Does anybody in the real world actually care about the daily activities of a cartoon studio?

Rivals, Floyd, rivals. If you don't believe for a moment that folks at Dreamworks, Sony, Paramount, et al wouldn't give their eyeteeth for detailed plans of what Disney (or any other studio) has in the works, you're far too trusting for the 21st century... ;-)

--R.J.

Kevin Koch said...

Robert, I think you're naive. "Rival" studios are amazingly well aware of what other studios are doing, how they're doing it, and what they have planned for the future. Just as it's a small community of animators, it's also a small community of producers, and they talk, and they gossip. At two different feature studios I've seen detailed lists, going 4-6 years into the future, of what the other studios had planned, who was slated to direct, possible release dates, etc., etc. The studios are hiring from the same pool of applicants, listening to the same pitches, and rubbing elbows at the same functions. They don't need internet leaks, because they're already two steps ahead of those leaks.

Kevin Koch said...

Anon, today Steve and I talked about the issue of the blog being viewed as a source of leaks. We're acutely aware of the need to maintain boundaries, just as we're aware that there are those with anti-union bias who will look for any possible reason to bash us. To that end, this blog will be an evolving organ.

Let me ask you -- has anything been published here that is different than the material that's been published in The Pegboard for years and years? That Pegboard information, about what's going on around town, has been freely available on the internet for years, and has virtually never been an issue.

Steve does in fact practice considerable self-censorship. The vast majority of what he sees and hears is never written about, just as he respects members requests to keep information quiet. The couple of items that he's posted here about films having some trouble (like Wilbur and Flushed having some story issues) were posted in the context that this is, and has been, exactly par for the course, and no big deal.

We're aware that there are other websites that tend to put out "insider info" in a, shall we say, breathless manner, often mixed in with some rampant speculation and wild spin. That's not what this blog is about (and, regarding those other sites, I think Floyd is correct that the wide world out there really doesn't much give a damn). Now, we could stop putting out any information at all, so the only news would be from places that are frankly far less balanced than the blog. I'm not sure that really serves the industry, but it is an option.

Kevin Geiger said...

Union business rep "walkarounds" are a valuable and time-honored aspect of the workplace system of checks and balances, not to mention a legal and contractual right of the union. :-)

Studio facilities and employees are always going to be exposed to "outsiders", whether a union rep, a reporter, the coffee guy or a family member. It's up to the employees to be conscientous about what they say, and to whom. I think that principle has been made pretty clear by our leadership.

That being said, a blog "leaking" news that a film is addressing story issues is like a blog "leaking" news that the sun rises each day. ;-)

Un-anonymous

Steve Hulett said...

Most of what I talk about with studio employees...and come across in the course of studio visits never gets posted here. In part because it's too boring and in part because it's too provocative.

About the incoming management of Disney we have posted (in no particular order.)

That Ed Catmull and John Lasseter held meetings with animation staff.

That John Lasseter gave a tub thumping performance at the Disney stockholder meeting without benefit of teleprompter.

That the new management team (Lasseter in particular) cancelled "Gnomio & Juliet."

That Bob Bacon was laid off and Andrew Millstein replaced him.

That "Toy Story 3" was cancelled.

That changes were occuring in the second act of "Meet the Robinsons."

That Ed Catmull doesn't like leaks (and I was mildly sarcastic about it.)

All of the above was widely known at the studio and elsewhere. Most of the above was widely reported across the blogosphere and in the press.

Darin Hollings said...

Any shop thinking about joining the union should know that one of the great benefits is having a built in observer who will leak information.

The difference between this blog and the past Pegboard articles is that Ed Catmull and John Lassiter have asked us to try to stop the leaks. These leaks can be very damaging- they can also make a very hard and personal job like directing a film even harder. I want to be part of a studio that can keep its mouth shut. If someone is getting mistreated- fine blog away.

In my opinion The Pegboard has always had a Disney bashing tone to it. I would like it to stop.

Darin Hollings

Kevin Koch said...

Darin, I've looked over the blog posts done here and I'm hard pressed to find anything that could really be construed as damaging insider information. Instead there has been discussion, with a meanful context that's generally missing in such discussions, of a tiny bit of what's going on inside the studios around town. Virtually all the info we've put out here has been also released by the company or cited in other outlets.

I think your comment that the Pegboard articles always bash Disney reveals more about your bias than it does about the actual articles. The fact is that there's been a lot of bad news coming out of Disney for the last 5-6 years, and that's been written about in The Pegboard. The recent, dramatic changes happening at Disney have been written about positively, both here and in The Pegboard. Looking at the blog posts, there are pieces about Disney that are frankly positive, and others that are simply meaningful information about some of the dramatic changes happening at a major studio. Should be not talk about a division being shut down (Circle 7) or a production being canned (Gnomio)?

As for your last sentences . . . A while ago a veteran artist accused Steve and I of "selling out" 2-d animation, and that we clearly favored CG. When I pressed her, she was unable to point to any articles we'd published or actions we'd undertaken to support the charge. A little later a CG animator made exactly the opposite charge, that we "always bash CG." I also challenged him to give me at least two examples of said bashing, which he was unable to do. Both those individuals went away still angry, and convinced they were right, even though they couldn't come up with anything to remotely support their case. So whenever some yells "you always bash (fill in sacred cow here)," I know I'm in an argument I can't win, with someone who has an agenda that likely predates the issue they've raised. Maybe that's not the case here, but I have a suspicion that pretty much anything we say or do is not going to be good enough for you.

Darin Hollings said...

Kevin,

Did you read Steves article in the Pegboard yesterday?

"but those folks tell me they know "a lot of changes in the second act" are rolling down the pike"

As a Director or a stock holder this could be news you don't want to get out of the company.

"lots of flapping mouths at the feature animation building"

These "FLAPPING MOUTHS" happen to be the folks you represent.

What good does it do you guys to spend your time blogging about what happened to Bob Bacon? Why don't you try to find the folks getting let go new jobs? Why don't you get us three weeks vacation after five years? Why don't you get us 401k matching? Is it because you are too busy "cruising" around Feature Animation looking for juicy information for your blog?

Darin

Kevin Koch said...

Darin, I'd like to meet the shareholders who will dump their stock on the shocking news that Wilbur has second act issues. John Lasseter has publicly stated that every Pixar film had a period midproduction where pretty much everything halted while newly apparent story problems were addressed. As we've blogged about here, this happens on virtually every animated feature. It's part of the process. We know it, and anyone in the public who is savvy enough to find and read this blog is going to know it.

The news of major executive reshuffling at companies is in fact noteworthy. Everyone knew when Lasseter and Catmull came in there would be changes in the exec ranks. You thought it wasn't worth noting, other people would disagree. If it's not interesting to you, don't read it. But I hardly think the 5 minutes Steve spent posting that item interferred with his other duties.

You seem to want to imply that the time Steve spends blogging is time he's not doing his job. As you'll see from the times his posts go up, he's doing most of this on his own time. And frankly, "getting the word out" and informing the membership is part of his job.

Regarding the 401(k) match, please show me any matching 401(k) in our industry where the company contributions match or exceed the company contributions to our union pension plans. (Seriously, find one and we'll post it here. I've looked before, and couldn't find one. Maybe you will.) Did you bother to read the blog entries about how our pension plans work? Do you have even a ballpark figure of how much, thanks to the Guild's efforts, goes into your IAP and DBP every year you work? To get a 401(k) match, we would likely have to give up our pensions. I think we would come out far behind in that exchange. The fact that we actually have a 401(k) on top of two automatic pension plans is amazing in itself. You won't find that benefit at any other entertainment union I know of.

Regarding better vacation benefits -- "we" (as in the Guild leadership) generally don't get anybody anything. It's the leverage of EVERYONE in our membership, yourself included, that gets us bump-ups in our contract. In the months leading up to our last local 839 CBA negotiations, not a single person raised the issue of more vacation. If they had, then we would have had a discussion about what we might be willing to give up to get more vacation, or whether we'd be willing to vote the contract down (and threaten to strike) if we didn't get it. That's how it works. It's messy, it takes lots of cooperation and effort by the memberships, but it's the system we have.

If you're under the TSL contract, then get involved. That contract is coming up for negotiation soon. Make vacation time an issue. Get your fellow TSLers on board. Get on the negotiating committee and put your money where your mouth is. Steve and the IA reps will be glad to lead that charge, as long as it's clear that that's what the TSL membership want.

And regarding the crack about helping find people new jobs, what would you suggest we do that we aren't already doing? It's awfully easy to sit in the peanut gallery and take potshots. The fact is that job finding is not, and never has been, one of the mandates of a union. But despite that, TAG does its best. We advertise any animation jobs (union or nonunion) we hear about to our members, and the union has been aggressive about assisting members to retrain and improve their job skills. I know quite a few people being let go from Circle 7 have talked with Steve about their options, and from what I've heard they've been grateful for his help. But at the end of the day, the union doesn't create jobs, and the union doesn't tell employers who to hire. Still, if you have a suggestion, we're all ears.

Kevin Geiger said...

Hi Darin,

To your "why don't" questions:

1.) The union is constantly apprising members of job openings, and runs a training lab in which members can sharpen their skills.

2.) Extra vacation time, sick time, etc... is routinely put on the table by the union during contract negotiations, and just as routinely declined by the studios. When you're ready to vote against contract ratification and go on strike over that extra week, and convince enough of you're colleagues to follow suit, by all means go for it! :-) The union is YOU.

3.) Union employees don't have 401k matching because the company is already putting money into your pension plan and your individual account plan, two things that employees at non-union companies don't have. Here again, if you'd rather see the non-matching 401k/pension/IAP cocktail replaced with a conventional matching 401k, get the item put on the table at the next round of negotiations, be prepared to convince your colleagues when it comes time to vote on the contract, and prepared to strike over it if the company happens to prefer the status quo.

These things aren't "imposed" by the union, or allowed to exist due to lack of initiative. Correction: they DO exist due to lack of initiative. Yours and mine. :-)

Cheers,
Kevin

Darin Hollings said...

Kevin,

I wasn't looking to literal answers to my rhetorical questions.

But- since you want to talk about them...

I had better benefits under Disney.

Darin

Kevin Geiger said...

> I had better benefits
> under Disney.

I'm sure you did. :-)

Likewise, I can introduce you to a number of Disney TDs who saw their weekly paycheck increase by 30% once they went union back in '96.

As far as literal answers to rhetorical questions, I did it more for the general reader than for you. I can't leave rhetorical questions unaddressed when they demonstrate bias or lack of understanding. Call it a weakness of mine. ;-P

Anyway, time to sign off of this forum. Back to work...

Steve Hulett said...

Not to make too large a point over this, but historically, Standard Operating Procedure with most companies was/is to make wages and/or benefits better for their non-union staff than the unionized staff.

For the obvious reasons.

Steve Hulett said...

Of course, better wages and benefits weren't the reality for non-union T.D.'s at Disney in the mid nineties.

As Kevin Geiger noted, those folks pushed to GO union.

Darin Hollings said...

Back to the subject-

The initial post was innapropriate. Especially for a union official.

I will be watching-

Darin Hollings

Anonymous said...

Darin,
What are you bitching about now?

Ladd Woodland

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