This morning, at the request of the crew, I spent two hours at Fox Animation in a packed conference room answering questions.
Yesterday, board artists, designers and directors got the word from management that their employment on Family Guy and American Dad could end at any time. The show runners -- members of the WGA -- aren't coming into work, so there is only so much production work that can be done.
And it isn't very much.
The upshot (per the crew) is that the axe might fall within days, or weeks, or certainly by early 2008. Writers' assistants were given notice in the past twenty-four hours (this was confirmed by Fox Labor Relations).
There were a lot of different emotions in the room. Anger: "Why are we such second-class citizens?" "What good is the union?" Frustration: "We don't have any control over this, do we?" I told them that every live-action crew in town is impacted by the strike in much the same way they are, because if the scripts aren't ready or complete, then nobody on a given show will work.
I told them I had no idea how long the strike would last.
Some artists talked about taking action to get residuals like the writers. I said we were in the middle of a three-year contract, and a spontaneous job action would be not a real good idea, since a) the crew was close to layoffs anyway so b) why risk getting fired and putting unemployment benefits at risk?
I gave a brief history of residuals in the entertainment industry.
* Unions have been proposing residuals since the 1940s.
* Unions and guilds all achieved residuals of one kind or another in the early 1960s. Residuals for the WGA and SAG went straight into members' pockets. Residuals for the DGA went into the wallets of some members but not others. Residuals for the IATSE went into its pension and health plans.
Artists complained about too-short schedules and uncompensated overtime (a widespread gripe). We discussed ways to make these things better. I told them I would come over whenever they wanted a meeting, and we could kick more ideas around. A lot of them said it was time for them to get more involved, get more active. I said I thought that was a good idea.
After the meeting broke up, I rode back downstairs to Wilshire Boulevard reflecting on when I got involved with the animation union.
It was 1982, during a strike. It occurred to me in the middle of it that I should start going to union meetings and getting information so that I wasn't blind-sided when a job action happened and I was standing on a sidewalk, pretty much clueless about what was going on. (This strike, of course, is different, since it's some other union's job action and we're mostly on-lookers. But the same dynamics apply. The more you know, the more safety measures you can take.)
Artists weren't happy, since they're livelihoods and paychecks are now in jeopardy. Having once been where they are now, I know how they feel. I only wish there was more I could do about the situation