Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Artists Who Freelance (and the Companies who Love Them)

Given our weekend post regarding Chief Executive Officers who help themselves to generous stock options at opportune moments, we thought it a good time to expound a little on animation employees who freelance work outside their regular 9-5 jobs. First off, almost everyone freelances at one time or another. Second off, freelancing is something that often bugs employers... There's several reasons for this. One: lots of companies want artists to render services EXCLUSIVELY for them, and write up personal service contracts insisting on this. Artists sign the contracts, then freelance anyway. And companies know the freelancing is going on, but look the other way. Mostly. So we've got hypocrisy all around. Now there's a surprise. Me, if I signed an exclusive contract, I'd honor it. (I've had a few offers to write cartoons for money while here, but have turned them down, since it violates my employment contract.) But I don't care what other people do. I've never been a morality cop and don't plan to start now. However, when artists freelance, I think they should be SMART about it... Like for instance, when artists do another company's freelance work in their office or cubicle at their daytime gig. This is ultra-stupid, since it tends to get the company paying for the 9 to 5 salary ticked off. Years ago, I got an angry call from a supervisor at Disney TVA who walked in on a background artist doing work for Hanna-Barbera. For some reason he got miffed about it. On the phone the next day I advised the artist: "Maybe you should cool it with H-B's work being spread all over your office. " The artist allowed as how maybe that was a wise idea. Or the artist who takes on so much freelance work that he sub-contracts some of the overflow to somebody else. This is also not a good idea, since the company is paying for a specific person's talents, not some substitute's. On the other hand, the moral dudgeon studios occasionally fall into about "moonlighting" I find to be silly. I once got into a heated argument with a Disney lawyer who was yelling about how crooked and immoral Disney Feature artists were in picking up work from other companies, even as Disney paid them a good salary. I let him in on a few small secrets: Like that back in the fifties, sixties and seventies most animation artists worked multiple jobs as a matter of routine (and financial necessity). Animator Charlie Downs (a former TAG President) would animate at Disney or Hanna-Barbera during the day, then crank out Captain Crunch commercials nights and weekends. My father would sit at his desk in the Disney background department and paint Christmas card designs a couple of afternoons a week. The studio never complained because he always completed his quota of backgrounds for the week. In short, freelancing was part of the culture of animation, and studios couldn't expect to own an artist lock, stock and barrel. The idea of "exclusive contracts" didn't even find their way into the business until Jeffrey and Mike tried to lock up available talent in the early nineties. Back then, Disney was forcing new artists to sign personal service agreements at scale and demanding exclusivity. The other cute wrinkle was the contracts had no guarantee of work -- if Disney wanted to lay an artist off on forty-hours notice, it could. If it wanted to keep you tied to Disney forever, it could. When the Animation Guild found out about these contracts, we threatened to file grievances, and contract language was changed. (Always a good idea when contracts conflict with minor inconveniences like state and federal laws.) Most Personal Service Contracts over the past fifteen years have included boilerplate language that stipulated the artist-employee's work all belonged to the studio. Now, while it was reasonable that work performed on staff was owned by the company, it seemed kind of weird that EVERYTHING the artist did at home on his or her off-hours would ALSO belong to the company. But that's how the contracts were written. When worried creators came to the Animation Guild's offices about this language, we advised them that the studio couldn't claim to own anything produced before or after the contract was put in force, so it was a good idea to 1) negotiate exclusions with the company to exclude personal projects they've already started working on, and 2) be careful not to sell any work created outside of regular employment hours during the contract. Wait until after the contract had ended. And as for employees who moonlighted? Well, I told them that I wasn't nodding approval of anyone who breached the terms of their Personal Service Contract, but that I had never heard of a studio who went after anybody who did it. (I'm sure there could be cases out there that have escaped my notice.) As stated above -- lots of people moonlight, and studios (almost) always look the other way.


David Germain said...

Hmmmm, I guess I'm nothing but freelance right now (by that I mean I don't have a job in animation right now but I'd love one).

Yeah, read every piece of fine print before signing anything. And don't work for anyone who says "you'll gain experience in lieu of pay."

Unknown said...

I'm one of those that have usually freelance for other companies (in one form or another) while employed fulltime. It's never been a problem becuase I always did what was expected (or more) at my day job and the freelance never conflicted to any degree.
First rule of freelance while working fulltime: never screw up your dayjob and never miss deadlines for your freelance.
Sometimes this meant long hours at the board, but it was usually worth it.
The one thing you never mentioned, but I guess is sort of implied, is that all these studios that have exclusive contracts with artists often employ freelancers as necessary or if an artist they want to work with comes knocking.

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