Some hours ago, I had an enlightening talk with a Wise Old Animation Director who works Everywhere (union and non-union) and knows Everyone (union and non-union).
Among other things, we talked about budget overruns we've seen over the years. I told him about some of the doozies I'd encountered (thinking of a daytime series a decade ago that ran up a tab of a million dollars an episode ... when a mill was real money; one 22-minute piece hitting the $ 2.5 million mark.) The W.O.D. said:
"I know a production exec at one of the studios who's in deep doo-doo. She keeps choosing inexperienced show-runners who keep having big cost overruns with their projects. She thinks hiring "new blood" is what her bosses want. But the newbies keep lousing up because they don't know how to run a production, where to put the dollars, what's important and what's not. They're not stupid, they've just never been in charge of a show and budget before.
"And now the production exec is uptight that she's going to be let go because she's hired all these smart but green artists who don't know how to keep things on an even keel."
What I've found over the years is that production costs aren't determined by the crew being "union", or the expense of the benefits package, or richness of the wage rates.
They're determined by the staffing decisions made before production begins.
If the right story artists are hired (you know, ones that can do the job?), the correct writers signed, and a savvy, experienced director who knows how to orchestrate the proceedings and personnel is put under contract, then the show (feature or t.v.) is probably going to come in at close to budgeted costs.
Oh. And be pretty good.
Wandering around as I do, I see lots of waste. There have been shows where directors come and go, characters get redesigned, storylines revamped. Some of this is unavoidable, but a lot of it is plain old waste predicated on lousy choices up front:
Hey! Let's get some new recruits! They're young, they're enthusiastic! They can draw real good! And they're really, really cheap!"
Except they're not. Because they've got no clue about the requirements of a professional production, so they make lots of mistakes. Expensive mistakes. And then some old pro is brought aboard to salvage the smoldering wreckage, and the exec who made the original decision to hire the newbie (who will end up being quite good when he/she gets a little seasoning) tries to fob the responsiblity for the debacle off on somebody else.
This all seems obvious and elementary, but it's not. Because over thirty-plus years, I've seen the same dumb choices being made again ... and again ... and again.