Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sh*tty Producers

*

Yesterday's forum included this astute observation:

If you are the producer of an animated film/show/commercial and you can't get the job done on time, on budget and WITHOUT breaking the backs of your workers - you, sir/madame, ARE A SHITTY PRODUCER.

Executives don't seem to appreciate that accomplishing all of those tasks is a big part of a producer's job - and if you're unable to get your job done without your underlings working tons of overtime, you're not suited to be a producer.

True enough. But it isn't simply that there are louts at the helm of tv productions. It's -- in part -- the system itself...

When the production pipeline is structured so that line producers, exec producers or whomever are rewarded for coming in under the schedules and budgets that are already as tight as oiled drumheads, then the system is ripe for abuse.

Earlier this week, I talked to artists on a t.v production at one of the major studios. They're getting paid overtime. They're also working long weekends and weekdays because of the schedule. Arms are starting to get blown out.

So I went to a production honcho, and laid out the scenario her for her, detailed the problems and complaints. How arms and wrists are giving out. I've known this person a long time, and she's never been unreasonable. She said:

"We don't want people to break down from the schedules. If people need a weekend off, they should take it. We're not going to blacklist anybody. I've got one artist who works very little overtime and we always rehire him. We don't require they do every bit of o.t., we ask that people do it. But we would like them to do some..."

The artists' responses?

"If I don't take the work, they'll give it to somebody else, and my producer will remember"..."I won't get hired back"..."I gotta do it, I don't care what [blank] says..."

And on another production, an artist told me "They expect people to do a set amount of work week to week, and if they don't do it, those people aren't hired back for the next season..."

In the years I've roamed around the studio landscapes, here are (in order of perceived importance) the reasons people get cut loose:

1) They're totally inept and unsuited for the job.

2) They're hard to get along with.

3) They're slow and miss deadlines.

4) They come in at noon every day.

5) They're drunk every afternoon.

Obviously everyone can add or subtract from the above. I've left out "gross insubordination/stealing" because those are listed in the contract as firing offenses. (My father-in-law, at the end of a 35-year animation career, told his much younger supervisor at Warner Bros. Animation to "go to hell" one bright afternoon, and was dismissed. I was doing this job at the time, but there wasn't much I could do to save him, and he didn't ask me to. Gross insubordination is gross insubordination.)

In coming weeks, I'm going to run an informal poll about schedules and workloads, and try and determine how they've changed over the years. I know there is no perfect ideal. In my far-off youth, I used to listen to Disney veterans speak grimly about the working conditions they endured in the 1930s. Crappy conditions ebb and flow, for a wide variety of reasons. All any mortal can do is work to make conditions better.

*This is, ah, chocolate pudding, not the other thing. But it seemed like a nice visual touch.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you're giving this subject so much attention as it seems to be one of the biggest (if not THE biggest) problems in the industry today...

"When the production pipeline is structured so that line producers, exec producers or whomever are rewarded for coming in under the schedules and budgets that are already as tight as oiled drumheads, then the system is ripe for abuse."

- Absolutely... but it need not be the case... if they want those bonuses, it's still up to them to create a series template that can actually WORK and still bring the shows in ahead of schedule, under budget, etc. It's not impossible. The problem is, coming up with a way to do it takes actual talent, experience, creativity and smarts... traits that a lot of animation producers are sorely lacking. Consequently, they simply take the easy way out by overworking everyone - because, after all, why should THEY care? No one's actually going to DO anything about it.

"We don't want people to break down from the schedules. If people need a weekend off, they should take it."

- This is where these "production honchos" drive everyone crazy... artists shouldn't have to "TAKE" a weekend off, weekends should be ASSUMED as non-work days. When these people work out their schedules, they ASSUME that they can browbeat artists into working weekends - so their schedules always revolve around seven day rotations as opposed to 40-hr. work weeks.
People don't "TAKE" weekends off, they already HAVE weekends off. When they work weekends, they're doing YOU the favor.
Again, though, a truly good producer should be able to come up with a plan that will never "require" working on weekends. That, again, is simply shitty producing.

"They expect people to do a set amount of work week to week, and if they don't do it, those people aren't hired back for the next season..."

- This is absolutely true, and yet another way that production people bully artists. They don't come right out and SAY that they won't continue to use the artist, they'll just keep them around and have someone else pick up their percieved "slack" and then when hiatus time comes, they simply won't be asked to return to the project. This is how they get around union rules - because they didn't really FIRE the person nor can it be proven that they're "blacklisted"... they can simply claim that the artist wasn't meeting the demands of the job.

I maintain that the core of the problem is inept producers who have no idea how to customize a production so that it fits their budget, timeframe and manpower.

s.r. hulett said...

the core of the problem is inept producers who have no idea how to customize a production so that it fits their budget, timeframe and manpower.

Other areas:

The overzealous, self-absorbed supervising director who doesn't want to cut a script to length, so board artists get to board extra pages.

So the damn boards are slugged ... and cut down afterwards to conform to actual running time.

I've always found this bizarre. Why waste an artist's time? Director/producers should get the damn script in shape before handing it out. The artists have enough pages to visualize without going over.

Then there's this passion for having board artists do lots of extra drawings and semi-animate for the animatic. Because everyone gets twitchy if a drawing is held for more than ... oh ... half a second.

Naturally, few schedules get extended because of the extra panels. Everybody just has to buckle down and do them.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with anonymous #1. Nicely Put.

You should run for freaking president!!

Something Mark Simon mentioned on an article on awn.com is about how studios underbid to get a show (underestimating costs and tightening of schedules and that sort of thing). Which, in turn comes to bite them in the arse.

Rufus

Anonymous said...

"Why waste an artist's time? Director/producers should get the damn script in shape before handing it out. The artists have enough pages to visualize without going over"

The reason most shitty producers do this is because they can't visualize the show by reading the script and neither can the executives above them. Consequently, they don't even BEGIN to have an idea what the show is going to look like until they see the animatic - and even then they often can't really comprehend what the end product will look like, so they revise the shit out of it, second-guess every single panel and ultimately overwork the cartoon until it is drained of all charm. And, of course, all of this re-working is done by the already overworked artists.
Sure, it would be nice if directors took the initiative to cut scenes from the script before they get boarded, but then the producers and writers have a hissy fit.

Anonymous said...

Producer talk is so irritating. Where I work, my "short" weeks are 60 hour/6 day weeks. When I want to take both weekend days, I get a bunch of crap for it. Just as I do if I leave after working "only" 10 hours a day, no matter how much my wrist/back/eyes are hurting. People working (as I am) in non-union places are getting screwed even worse. I remember a place I worked where we were there 7 days a week, 14 hours a day and still were getting yelled at to work more and work harder.

We're in this industry and putting up with this bs because we love what we do, but until we all stand united and say enough is enough, we're going to continue to get taken advantage of.

Anonymous said...

...or until producers are held to a higher standard and forced to do their jobs effectively.
Producers who have overworked employees should be held accountable and reprimanded if they can't create work templates that operate in a 40 hr. work week.

Anonymous said...

"for the love of it"?

Go to your landlord, and tell her/him to take a month on the house with "for the love of it".

"for the love of it" doesn't pay rent,mortgage or car insurance...

why should we render our services "for the love of it"?!?

Rufus.

Anonymous said...

Because, Rufus, a lot of times it's our love for the craft that is the only thing that keeps us from blowing our brains out.

I do agree with you that artists need to adopt a more businesslike stance at times, but if you can't conjure up a certain degree of "love" for your work you wind up hating yourself more than your employer.

On top of that, if meeting deadlines means doing shoddy work, you won't be working for much longer - and there just isn't enough work out there to allow artists to take a "Don't mess with me or I'll quit" stance.

Artists are in a real bind with this issue and it really seems as though the only real way to deal with it is to start cracking down on producers who overwork their staff.

David Nethery said...

A quote from David Mamet's book "Bambi Vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose and Practice of the Movie Business" found via Mark Mayerson's blog :

"Robert Evans wrote in his book 'The Kid Stays in the Picture' that the best films seem to come from the most troubled sets, but with respect to Mr. Evans, I think this is a bunch of hogwash. I think that a producer likes a troubled set, because it allows him to "save the day" and otherwise exert undue and unfortunate influence upon a mechanism that, had he been doing his job correctly, should have run smoothly in the first place."

Anonymous said...

You're the one reading the"Don't mess with me or I'll quit" stance into it.

My stance is: 40 hours paid= 40 hours worked.

If They cared about quality, then the quota would be a lot lower, and they would be properly staffed.

On another note, many of my coleagues suplement their income by doing illustration/animation/teaching on the side, others work on their demo. Which is to say, we have better things to do with our spare time. I don't blame them for choosing spending their valuable time on things that'll be compensated, as opposed to doing work for free.

To be fair, I have experienced working conditions where the OT was paid, and it was catered. So not every studio is the same. An BTW, I have been told, by a manager, that I didn't have to do the OT all the time. That I could go home, this was because I was putting many hours extra.

Rufus.

Anonymous said...

well goody for you, Rufus, but not everyone has the good fortune you seem to. what you (and others) seem to forget whenever this debate resurfaces is that the artists shouldn't be put in the position of having to fight for overtime pay or ask to take weekends off. producers and managers and supervisors should be held accountable if they continually overwork their staff or make unreasonable demands.

Anonymous said...

We are in agreememnt here...

It's just that you seem to be such a prick about it...

You have a grievance? Complain! And stop being such a wimp!

Rufus.

jon anon said...

i'm totally with rufus on this.

if you don't complain to the union about being mistreated, you can burn.

i'm so SICK of pushover artists with all these excuses.

don't like it? either complain and take some sort of action or shut up and take like you have been.

when my friends complain and complain on a weekly basis and i ask them "so what have you done about it"..."well what CAN i do?"...

convo over.

Anonymous said...

your both oversimplifying a complex problem. artists complain to the union about this problem all the time and nothing seems to change. you people who keep repeating "stand up for yourself!" are missing the point. it should be the union's responsibility to stand up for us. otherwise what good are they? i'm glad your "tuff-guy" posturing works for you, but avoiding an advesarial relationship with your employer isnt "wimpy" its practical.

Anonymous said...

You know, you have the option to go to a Union for support. On this neck of the woods, there is no union. It's pretty sad that you simply don't have the guts to file a grievance.

Furthermore, you're perpetuating the problem, because studios that engage in this sort of thing start to expect all of their artists to behave the same, like a flock of sheep.

You know, the union is there to remind some studios that there are labour laws ALREADY in place.

OTOH, aren't there tons of studios there in LA??...

Rufus.

Anonymous said...

your going in circles. this discussion has become pointless.

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