Thursday, November 08, 2007

Thursday at Fox Animation

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

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Some artists talked about taking action to get residuals like the writers.

I think that's something that should be address too. Artist have been creating shows from zero scripts in tv and feature. Where's the piece of pie for them?

Steve Hulett said...

Same place it is for editors, directors of photography, costome designers, art directors, etc.

The residuals collected by the IATSE goes into the pension and health plan.

Steve said...

True, but the WGA collects residuals as well, AND negotiated residuals for their projects.

And primetime animation.

I like my 839 health plan. I think it's awesome. But there's no reason we shouldn't get more.

Especially in animation - and especially in CHILDREN'S animation - where they rerun the crap out of the stuff we do.

There were a lot of different emotions in the room. Anger: "Why are we such second-class citizens?"

Because they are allowed to be. The fact is, board artist should be paid like writers. And there should be a formula that allows for residuals to be paid out on both a script and board based show.

* 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.

But they ALSO have health care, Steve. That's the point. There's no reason there shouldn't be both.

You're in the middle of a three year contract? Take a shot - during the next round of negotiations - at getting residuals for your writers: Both script and board.

What's the worst that could happen?

Anonymous said...

I agree. And I am a producer. You would not get fired. You deserve it. Make your union work for you.

Anonymous said...

I could be mistaken, but isn't it a violation of labor laws to be fired for partaking in union-based activities?

Anonymous said...

Yes Take a shot - during the next round of negotiations - at getting residuals for your writers: Both script and board. It seems the only thing that is in our way is the wall we presume to be there due to past fears and roadblocks. If a union is in place then it should be of some purpose! Let's make that happen!

Anonymous said...

"Same place it is for editors, directors of photography, costome designers, art directors, etc."

-Let's take care of the animators first, Steve, and then we'll worry about the editors and costume designers, huh?
God sakes, are we really that pathetic and blindsided to our own self worth? When you're a MAJOR part of a creative process, you need to share the goods with all the other parts (writers, actors, etc.)- it's that simple!
Ok, so may be you're not
"a creator" the same way the writers are, but neither are the actors, are they?? How is their contribution greater than yours?
Think of it as puppet theatre - the puppeteer is given a puppet, and s/he breaths life into it by providing voice and movement.
Same exact shit, people - actors and artists are given already created puppets, into which they breathe life TOGETHER - one providing the voice, the other the movement.
Actors and artists have to split the residual checks right down the middle, period!
We gotta make THAT happen! THAT'S our right!


-Cat

Anonymous said...

Amen

-the "producer"

Steve Hulett said...

Yes Take a shot - during the next round of negotiations - at getting residuals for your writers: Both script and board. It seems the only thing that is in our way is the wall we presume to be there due to past fears and roadblocks.

I've no problem with putting a residual proposal up. There's no wall to submitting proposals. The WGA, in the recent negotiations, proposed doubling the DVD residual from 4 cents to 8 cents in an effort to get out from under the bad deal they negotiated and ratified in 1985.

They pulled that proposal off the table last Sunday. The wall is in getting an agreement. Not in the proposal.

The Animation Guild spent nine months on residual proposals in 2000. The committee spent lots of hours researching and coming at it from different directions.

At the end, we got increased wages for writers, faster and easier health benefits. No residuals.

Nevertheless, if membership thinks a residual proposal is in order in 2009, we'll propose it.

I think it will be instructive to see what the WGA gets in the way of improved residuals at the end of its strike and negotiations.

Anonymous said...

Based on Steve's Q. and A. yesterday it seems that most guilds fail to get what they want from the studios when they act alone. Why doesn't our union figure out a way to unite under one absolute guild flag. Let's get actors, writers, director, artists, grips and everyone involved in making visual entertainment to band together and send a more impactful message to these greedy studios.

Jeff Massie said...

Anyone who went to last year's TAG holiday party should have gotten a copy of Drawing The Line, Tom Sito's book on the history of animation unions. It ought to be required reading, esp. for those who somehow think that getting residuals for animation artists is a brand-new idea.

Even those who are most militantly anti-IATSE concede that our health insurance and pension are by leaps and bounds the best of any union in the entertainment industry, not to mention the IAP. When the guilds and the IA were first negotiating residuals, "supplemental markets" meant T-shirts, and health insurance and pension were tiny parts of the total money pot. With benefit of some hindsight, the IA was smart to put their residuals and supplemental market monies where it would do the most good for the most people.

The people on the 2000 TAG negotiating committee who proposed residuals were not pushing to get them for artists -- only for writers. If we put another residual proposal on the table, who are we going to get residuals for? It's easy to say "everybody", but that's a lot of people per project compared what WGA or even SAG are negotiating for. By the time that pie gets divvied up, will the check you get be enough to get you a drink at that bar at Ventura and Vineland?

As Steve H. said upthread, putting a proposal on the table is not even remotely the same as getting it. Ask anyone who went on strike over runaway in 1979 or 1982.

Thomas said...

If you guys want to fight for better benefits and residuals, first thing you gotta do is be more open than being "anonymous". Look at the WGA- Tina Fey, Jay Leno, John Stewart all out in the streets. When SAG was out a fews years ago, there was Charlton Heston and the entire cast of Frasier marching side by side. If we could get the top artists in animation to think like that, what power we could wield!

-Tom Sito

Anonymous said...

"As Steve H. said upthread, putting a proposal on the table is not even remotely the same as getting it. Ask anyone who went on strike over runaway in 1979 or 1982."

So, in other words, Jeff, "We've tried that in the 60's or whenever, and it didn't work, so shut it."
That it? That's your answer for everything?
I keep hearing that from you guys, and frankly, gettin' little sick of it. Every time anyone has a proposal for action of any sort, Steve's answer is always some drawn-out history lesson about some last century strike that achieved nothing, so there's little point in trying again.
Well, what the fuck?!?
60's are over, man, I'm sure it was a glorious time, but it's gone! We're talking about action today, half of us weren't even born in the 60's!
Now how about you get with the times? What are we gonna do NOW???
I agree that asking for residuals for "everybody" won't be taken seriously, but how about starting with the directors? Let's get resids for them, ADs too, for that matter!
We have to start somewhere!
Now is that so fucken radical???

Jay Leno

Anonymous said...

Have you read my book "Taking It up the Butt for over 50 Years"?
-Morgan Freeman

Anonymous said...

Look at the WGA- Tina Fey, Jay Leno, John Stewart all out in the streets. When SAG was out a fews years ago, there was Charlton Heston and the entire cast of Frasier marching side by side.

That's one of the most stupid remarks I've heard. Artist do not have the same bank accounts as Jay Leno and John Stewart. How big were the voices for the teacher's strike. Actors rely heavily on writers to put words into their mouth. Actors can careless about animation artist. Animation artist has the ability to create things from scratch. Things need to change! I want my piece of the pie!

Steve Hulett said...

So, in other words, Jeff, "We've tried that in the 60's or whenever, and it didn't work, so shut it."
That it? That's your answer for everything?
I keep hearing that from you guys, and frankly, gettin' little sick of it.


Uh, you're not listening.

I said up above, I said at the meeting yesterday, you want to get active and make proposals, serve on the negotiating committee, great. We'll go for it.

... Now how about you get with the times? What are we gonna do NOW???

Fine. I hear you. We'll put your proposal on the table. I'll you have to do is show up, participate, do the proposal.

I agree that asking for residuals for "everybody" won't be taken seriously, but how about starting with the directors? Let's get resids for them, ADs too, for that matter!

Once again. You've got it, anon. Come to the General Membership Meeting, participate. Then volunteer for the negotiation committee. Make the case to the producers. We've got to make them agree to what we want.

To repeat: I'm saying "yes." I'm saying "Go for it." Or don't you want to take yes for an answer?

Anonymous said...

You're in the middle of a three year contract? Take a shot - during the next round of negotiations - at getting residuals for your writers: Both script and board.

What's the worst that could happen?


We won't get them. Like the writers don't get better DVD residuals.

Steve said...

To comment on a couple of things:

1) The writers will get better DVD residuals, or they'll use that as a give to get "new media" residuals. And considering we're a few years away from DVD going the way of the video tape, who cares?

2) Everybody doesn't get residuals. Residuals are for the residual value of work done. When somebody draws a prop, the work is done (In my opinion). But the value of the creative - the story, the script, etc - that's what continues to sell it after the fact.

So to me, that's the writing and the boarding.

My thoughts on it, for what it's worth:

http://animationwriters.blogspot.com/2007/11/residuals-how-id-do-it-but-nobody-asked.html

- Steve

Anonymous said...

"I agree that asking for residuals for "everybody" won't be taken seriously, but how about starting with the directors? Let's get resids for them . . ."

Brilliant. Now, read again the part about how, in 2000 (NOT the '60's) the negotiating committee tried to do just that for a small group, the writers. Nine months of heavy, bitter negotiating. And the companies didn't come close to yielding.

So the negotiating committee recommended that the general membership reject the contract. Something like 90% of the membership voted FOR the contract, because they weren't willing to strike for one small group to get residuals.

Now, do you think the entire membership is going to strike for directors alone to get residuals?

Anonymous said...

Oh, and Steve M., there IS one thing that will keep most animation shows from ever paying residuals. Budgets.

What's the typical budget for a live-action half hour? A few million? And in animation? I've seen shows budgeted at $125-250 grand, total. And even with that, places like Cartoon Network are shifting to live action.

When we get residuals throughout TV animation is when it all goes to Canada.

Steve Hulett said...

This is off-topic, but here it is:

I wish I didn't make so many bone-headed typographical errors.

Now. Back to residuals.

Anonymous said...

1) The writers will get better DVD residuals, or they'll use that as a give to get "new media" residuals.

Nope. Nothing better for DVD. They've dropped the DVD residual demand for this go-round.

About the second part tho, you're right. They want to use the withdrawal of the DVD propsal to get a better deal on the internets.

Here's hoping they get it. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. At this point, it's not clear they will.

Anonymous said...

A residual is money paid based on how much the show makes - not how much the show costs. The budget of the show is irrelevant.

How come the freakin' stagehands are striking? Soon we'll be the only union in entertainmant NOT striking.

Anonymous said...

Not quite. Residuals are not paid based on profits or on how much a show makes. They're a percentage of licensing fees paid for the specific uses of a show.

So neither budget nor profitability is a factor, just how much is paid for the licensing fees.

And, in animation, those licensing fees are tiny, except for a few primetime Fox shows.

Anonymous said...

Also the more times a TV show is repeated the lower the licsense fee and the lower the residual.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting how this forum has focused on the residual moneys. That is a great concern and may someday be resolved...if only for a few.
I think there is another concern that needs to be addressed now. It is similar to the stagehand's demands. There is an ever increasing vague idea of what the artist is required to do in a period of time. The schedules are unresaonable and we need to address that. This may have to be handled in a studio by studio basis. But it needs to be brought to the attention of the industry, inevitably.

Anonymous said...

"A few primetime Fox shows" ... these four shows equal millions of profits for that network, so lets not minimize the lack of residuals for the people who make these shows.

Steve Hulett said...

How come the freakin' stagehands are striking? Soon we'll be the only union in entertainmant NOT striking.

The stagehands are striking because their contract is up and they are trying to leverage a better (or not worse) contract.

The Writers are striking because their contract is up and they are trying to leverage a better (or not worse) contract.

TAG, the IATSE, DGA and SAG aren't striking because their contracts are not up, and those contracts contain "no strike" clauses.

Anonymous said...

If we work very hard, if we push the limits, if we work long hours without overtime pay, if we give all we can creatively and produce one of the most popular animated television shows of all time….we still lose our jobs.


Who of us think that by doing nothing, things are going to change for the better?

Who of us are ready to take what they deserve?


When I began work on Family Guy in 2000, it was in its second year of production. It was not the popular show that we have since made it into. At the time I was paid a good wage and a decent home could be bought for $250K. I could afford to live in LA.
Seven years later, the cost of living here has increased dramatically. In addition to a big jump in basic living costs, we have experienced a huge increase in transportation costs, home prices have tripled and rentals have increased by almost 50%.

The good news is that Family Guy became a brilliant success, generating huge revenues for Fox. American Dad is no slouch either, raking in a bundle for our employers.

My salary, however, has stayed the same.

Based on a mere 2.65% cost of living increase (the national average which is less than LA county) I should be paid 15-20% more. This does not account for the outrageous increase in housing costs we have experienced over the last 7 years or for the extraordinary work we have provided for Fox. We have produced one of the most popular shows on television, which in turn provides Fox ever increasing advertising dollars. They are making a killing off of our work and have yet to properly thank us for our contribution.

On top of the 15-20% cost of living increase it would be fair to ask an additional 5% for each year working on the production. When there is a new season pick up, it indicates that Fox has done well the previous year. We are the reason the show has done well. Show me the money.

In addition, I deserve residual payments.

We artists, in particular story artists, work on projects that often have short runs and a month plus hiatus each year. When times are lean we should have the residuals to carry us though. We artists, like the writers, have creative positions. We like the writers deserve a piece of the pie. I want dessert now.

Things are different now that WGA works in animation. A studio executive who understands the importance of hiring the best writers must recognize the need to hire the best artists to work with them and be prepared to compensate all accordingly.


I was impressed that Seth MacFarlane has chosen to walk out on Fox to support his fellow writers. This is important to show Fox he supports his fellow writers. Any one in a position of leadership can learn from this example of integrity. Seth is also an artist, and I expect that if he truly acts on principal, he will support us if we act as well. I hope that if we decide as a group to take a stand for what we deserve that Seth will do the same for us as he did for his writers. I hope.

It is time to change, and we are presented here with an opportunity to make some changes. Is there anyone who does not see the power a union has? The writers who make up a very small percentage of the work force here have effectively shut down this production by striking.

The producers on American Dad and Family Guy are having an incredibly difficult time keeping the show staffed. We are short on story artists especially. It is near impossible at this point to replace us.

We have the opportunity to finally make a change, and we may never see the likes of such an opportunity again.

Let’s have another Union meeting at Fox and I will explain there how.

Anonymous said...

Word. Let's make it happen, cap'n.

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