Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Complaints TAG Gets...

When I’m out and about, I hear various complaints from members/animation employees about current work situations. Here are some I’ve encountered of late, all from t.v animation studios:

· Extra Drawings for the Animatic: Some directors want more than just key poses in production boards. They want breakdowns and inbetweens so that the animatic “plays.” (i.e. no lengthy, “held” drawings.) The trouble is, often there’s no extra time for the additional drawings required.

· Tighter Schedules and More Complex Boards. Tying into the extra drawing noted above, there is also the specter of less time to do them. This isn’t a huge problem if you’re on staff and charging overtime (like that happens a lot), but the reality is: You’re given a schedule and expected to hit the deadline at the end of it. You’re also expected to stage layouts, do the extra drawings for the animatic, and do revisions. With some shows, the schedules are doable. With other shows, not so much. What often happens is that employees take the work home to keep up with the schedule. Naturally, there’s no overtime.

· Outlines getting labeled “Premises.” In days of yore, a premise was simple: a couple of sentences or a paragraph that broad-stroked the set-up and story for a half-hour or short. A story editor would look at the premise and decide whether to greenlight the premise to outline and script. Simple. Only now lots of story editors want a premise that is multiple pages. (Maybe five. Maybe ten. It’s kind of elastic.) This is really an outline (with a contractually-required payment) getting dressed up as a premise (with, naturally, no requirement of payment). Rule of thumb: a premise is one double-spaced page or less. An outline is more than a page.

The reality today is that many folks in the animation biz just suck it up. If they have a gripe, they keep it to themselves and refrain from rocking the boat or risking the imagined guillotine. The problem with this approach is that, over time, the workloads get heavier and heavier. Sometimes, despite the fear of hissing blades, it's a good idea to speak out.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

all of the major studios in los angeles are guilty of all of the afforementioned crimes (disney and nickelodeon are tied for the worst with WB coming in at a close 2rd place) and yet they continue to get away with it.
clearly artists are browbeaten by their bosses and continually heaped more and more responsibility with less and less compensation by writers-turned-producers who are inept and don't give a shit.
maybe the answer is to give union studios an ultimatum: double the minimum rate that storyboard artists recieve OR guarantee them a no-more-than-40-hour work week. if the production falls behind schedule as a result, it's the producer's responsibility.

Anonymous said...

It's a good idea to speak out? Then what, Steve? If we don't get what we want will our union authorize a strike, or will you tell us to just suck it up?

Anonymous said...

...and then even if they DID organize a strike, every other animator who had to go without working during that period would resent the shit out of you right along with the execs and producers you inconvenienced.

Floyd Norman said...

Regretfully, the threat of retribution is a real one, so I don't envy the people who have to put up with this stuff.

I'm fortunate enough to be in a position where I don't have to work for studios like this -- so I don't.

I'm sorry this kind of abuse goes on, however it'll never stop if you continue to take it.

Anonymous said...

I used to work at one of the big studios, but I got a job at a non-union studio seven years ago and I swear I've never been happier.
They never try to pull any of that crap with me because I negotiated my own deal with them and they know I can't be pushed around.
If you want to be treated better and paid more, find a non-union studio and submit work until they hire you.

Steve Hulett said...

It's a good idea to speak out? Then what, Steve? If we don't get what we want will our union authorize a strike, or will you tell us to just suck it up?

I know this is difficult, but let me reiterate:

1) The IATSE (the international) is the labor organization who authorizes strikes, not us. The last time they authorized strikes was in '79 and '82. I participated in the '82 strike. (Which I've written about elsewhere.)

2) I've never known anyone to be "blacklisted" for standing up for themselves. Example: A month after I started this job, a studio production manager pressured layout artists to work overtime for free. Many did. The veteran who was approached said "Fine. If you authorize overtime." They didn't authorize it, he didn't do it. And he went on working there.

Example 2: I know a couple of artists who are crackerjack at what they do, but they have poisonous personalities to go along with their talent. Result: They get hired on the strength of their skill, and then laid off because they can't get along with co-workers. ("Standing up" against job abuse doesn't enter in here. It's mainly just cantankerousness. You don't get along with co-workers, you quickly build a negative reputation.)

Example 3: Five months ago, a artist approached me and complained about working weekends for free. (Actual job abuse.) He was an "on call" employee, and had to work extra hours Monday through Friday without o.t. But he was also working weekends without compensation, which violated the contract. I suggested he politely point this out to the production people (which he did.) Result: they immediately backed off of the weekend work. And he's still there.

The point here is: know what your rights are, contractually and legally. Know when they're being violated. Strategize about what you want to do about it, what your goal is, what kind of relief you want.

3) Here's something you might not know: large studios are often grateful when a labor rep brings a problem to management's attention, because if some supervisor down the is allowed to run rampant, he or she can set the studio up for big lawsuits and government sanctions down the road. (I know about this first hand.)

In a decade and a half I have helped hundreds of animation employees plot strategies to help them with job troubles. Never do they include striking, or having a screaming confrontation with a supervisor. It does involve being smart about your career art-wise, craft-wise, politics-wise.

4) What's the biggest lesson I've learned? Your ability to get what you desire is directly related to the leverage that your skills, experience and resulting reputation give you.

5) There are times when it's fine to keep your head down. And other times when it's not. Experience (coupled with instinct) teaches you which of the two is appropriate, when it's appropriate.

Anonymous said...

clearly artists are browbeaten by their bosses and continually heaped more and more responsibility with less and less compensation by writers-turned-producers who are inept and don't give a shit.
maybe the answer is to give union studios an ultimatum: double the minimum rate that storyboard artists recieve OR guarantee them a no-more-than-40-hour work week. if the production falls behind schedule as a result, it's the producer's responsibility.


I personally would go for the no-more-than-40-hour work week, being a board artist who insists on having a life outside of getting the soul sucked out of my body by being worked too much during the week.

All it takes is nicely asking the production person, "Will I get overtime?" when asked to do work beyond 40 hrs. a week. No strike, no blackballing. It's your life, after all. Stand up for yourself. Encourage the other artists to do likewise. Things will change when you decide that you're worth it.

Anonymous said...

I would always prefer to just go home at a normal hour than overtime pay.

My boss continuously offers "pizza and beer" as my main compensation for staying until midnight to make his idiotic last minute revisions.

As much as I like pizza and beer, I'd much rather be able to go home and play with my daughter for a couple of hours every night before bedtime.

Managers, producers and executives who do this to their employees should be filled with shame.

Anonymous said...

"Managers, producers and executives who do this to their employees should be filled with shame."

Yes, they should be filled with shame .

When this sort of thing happens then let's ask: WHO is NOT DOING THEIR JOB ? The managers who are not managing. They let the production get out of control , then try to cover up their mistakes by pressuring the artists to put in extra time (usually for free, sometimes compensated with overtime pay, but even then it's not good if it continually leads to putting in extra long hours ... you'll never get that time back that you spent at the office away from your family and friends .) Life is too short. If you're a producer or production manager , then manage the show, dammit. Figure out how to make it work . Don't commit to delivering a show under impossible conditions , thinking in the back of your mind "oh, it'll be fine because I'll just pressure the artists work extra time when push comes to shove" ) .

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