Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Film of Roman

Interesting times at the studio by the Bob Hope Airport.

People are glad to be working, but morale is not at ... uh ... former highs.

"I don't know if they're going to keep the layout department here on The Simpsons going. They seem to be moving to just doing roughs here and do everything else in Korea." ... "Word's out that Starz Media has Film Roman up for sale, and they've got four bidders." ...

Longtime Film Roman/Simpsons producer Mike Wolf has just departed FR, and some of the employees I talk to are sorry over his departure.

"Mike wasn't perfect, but he always gave me a fair listen to when I had an issue, and he knew the show as well as anybody. It's too bad he's gone ..."

What I mostly pick up around the studio is the uncertainty of where the television series called The Simpsons is going. I hear things like: "We just don't know how much longer Fox is going to keep the show alive," and "They're squeezing the artists because they're paying so much to the voice actors, and they feel like they've got to hold the line somewhere. They figure we're an easier target."

Personally, I don't think News Corp. will be stopping episodes of the Yellow Family anytime soon (there's just too much money in those citizens of Springfield.) I ask one of the show's veterans if he believes that management is going to eliminate layouts in an attempt to cut budgets. He frowns and shakes his head.

"If they get rid of layouts, I think they destroy the character of the show. I don't know if The Simpsons could go on ..."

If the series doesn't continue for at least two more seasons, I'l eat my union card. Beyond that, there are those Simpsons animated features yet to be made. When I tell two anxious artists there is no way Fox is going to walk away from a feature franchise as lucrative as Homer's family, and more sequels are a dead-bang certainty, they don't disagree.

But how can they? If there's one thing that's bed-rock philosophy in Tinseltown, it's the love ... and continuation ... of a money-making franchise. Just ask Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

I say ship the writing overseas instead. You'd have better results and save a shitload more. Patric? What do you think?

Anonymous said...

Come on...I'm as in favor as anyone about keeping plenty of LO artists working, but the only real purpose of that is to allow the writers to continue tooling with their jokes as long as possible. It has little to nothing to do with any perceived quality by the public.
I doubt the Simpsons will go away since that's the only reason for anyone to want to buy FR and there's still plenty of milk in that teat.
IDT screwed it over BIG time by bloating it up and trying to make it look like a real studio with the crappy Sheepish (that no other studio wanted and put into production) and other misc crap projects that were there temporarily just to make FR look more desirable to Starz.
It took Starz awhile to figure out they got rooked and instead of playing the same game IDT played of bloating the studio to make it look better they're going the other way and trying to make it look lean and mean.
When Starz/Liberty was announced as the new owners it was whispered that they were really good at shutting down downscaling businesses more than they were at building them up.

Anonymous said...

Only the bean counters at Fox know whether it still makes financial sense to keep the Simpsons on the air. With a cost in the $5-6M per episode range and almost 500 episodes in the can, it's anybody's guess. There was considerable discussion a year ago about overexposure wht with the movie, an EA game and the Universal ride all breaking at once. And FBC is making animated pilots like it's going out of season.
My bet is another year or two on the air and then segue into a film franchise.

Anonymous said...

The boy genius Rick Raynis seems to be slashing and burning. The retake department on "The Simpsons" has been dissolved and retake directors given other jobs. Everything is rushed through on a tight schedule.

Will this work better than the old way? Will money be saved? Probably not.

Aniranter said...

If their layout artists are smart, they'll learn storyboarding.

If their storyboard artists are smart, they'll demand an actual definition of their job, so that they're not practically laying out the show themselves without additional pay since The Simpsons is slowly going digital and more and more poses are easier to add in storyboard phase.

The writers will go roughshod over the artists on rewrites/retakes unless the artists demand that they be paid for said rewrites/retakes.

Anonymous said...

What the Simpson's production has evolved into is a perfect example of what's wrong with the inequities between labor in LA animation and how constant leveraging from up top just rolls downhill to push the art further and further overseas. WGA and SAG negotiations perpetually fail to consider the effects their blindness to the art has upon the people who worked so hard to make animation truly great. At such enormous budgets per episode, artists still get screwed. I await a single person of influence in scripted television animation, a showrunner/writer/producer who doesn't draw, stand up in public for the people that do. Pathetic. And at this level of revenue and budget, we can't sit here and point the finger of blame at the evil corporate machine as the sole reason for this bullshit.

Where in the life in hell is artist Groening? His claims to not draw well do not excuse him from empowering those that are employed to draw poorly in his name. Where is Seth? Where is Mike? Could they just ONCE put the artists and directors first? If they can't do it within their own productions, at the very least they could do it in the name of keeping TAG from continually being the whipping boy of this LA television animation meat grinder.

Aniranter said...

Where in the life in hell is artist Groening? His claims to not draw well do not excuse him from empowering those that are employed to draw poorly in his name. Where is Seth? Where is Mike? Could they just ONCE put the artists and directors first? If they can't do it within their own productions, at the very least they could do it in the name of keeping TAG from continually being the whipping boy of this LA television animation meat grinder.

The artists won't come anything else but dead last until the artists themselves decide that they need to tell the higher ups that they are indeed worth something.

The voice actors get a ridiculous amount of money for what they do on The Simpsons. Did they get that money because the producers are benevolent? HELL NO. They got it because they banded together and said that they help make the show what it is. And they're right. The artists could claim the same thing, but so far they haven't made that known.

Whether that will change is in the hands of the artists.

Anonymous said...

There's a HUGE difference between the voices and the artists. Their skills are recognized by the public and can't be easily replaced whereas the artists are the complete opposite. Have you ever looked at any Simsons episode and said i bet ****** worjked on that scen and that's why it's so funny or works so well? Have you ever said that about any of the directors?

You're dreaming if you think the artists don't know their value and how easily replaced they are.

Nice dream, but it's only a dream.

Anonymous said...

"$5-6M per episode"

Fox is getting reamed.

Steve Hulett said...

Uh ... Fox has made billions from The Simpsons franchise.

Billions.

First run airings. Merchandising. Broadcast syndication. Foreign sales. Theatrical. DVD sales.

And a staffer told me yesterday that Fox hasn't sold the show to cable yet. (Figure it out. They sell 300+ episodes to cable at 500k-800k per show, we're talking serious money.)

Fox is many things, but reamed it is not.

Aniranter said...

There's a HUGE difference between the voices and the artists. Their skills are recognized by the public and can't be easily replaced whereas the artists are the complete opposite. Have you ever looked at any Simsons episode and said i bet ****** worjked on that scen and that's why it's so funny or works so well? Have you ever said that about any of the directors?

You're dreaming if you think the artists don't know their value and how easily replaced they are.

Nice dream, but it's only a dream.


There's a reason why Comic Book Guy exists...some people can see the differences in the directors and artists working on the show.

Can an artist get the moolah that the voice talent is getting on that show? No.

HOWEVER, every time the schedule is shortened or there's a rewrite, at some point the artists gotta say, "It'll cost ya to do that."

And I disagree that the artists are completely replaceable. That's NOT an easy show to work on, and a studio can think the artists are easy to replace if they so wanted to, but the cost of that would probably be comparable to just paying more to the experienced crew who knows how to get the work done well.

One last thing...it's not a dream to want to be treated decently. It's a right worth fighting for or else it goes away.

Anonymous said...

The lucky few of the Simpson's voice talent pool (what, were there like 8 of them?) banded together not out of any type of labor solidarity but out of the simple position they were in. Please do not confuse the two. THAT is a big giant f'ing slap in the face to working hollywood. Like the stars of Friends, they were dealt an amazing hand, and they played it. It was an easy thing to do. With their agents and attorneys, they simply pulled a little handle over a five minute conference call, people.

Getting fifty to seventy-five people on a crew with far less 'leverage' (I friggin HATE that word already) is a monumental task in comparison.

And now guess what! They get to run for labor cover under the banner of the massive upcoming SAG action - one that will twist the screws on their Simpsons below-the-liners A SECOND TIME.

They get the best of both worlds. They get to hold productions hostage for personal gain AND they get to wear the banner of labor.

Anonymous said...

Animators will always be frustrated if they continue to compare themselves to actors and writers. Hollywood considers them above the line. Animators are below the line, like cinematographers and art directors. If you're good you can command a big salary, but you'll never see back end, and even if you have an agent, you won't be getting any multi-million dollar paydays. That's just how Hollywood works.

Aniranter said...

Animators may never get big paychecks and backend deals like a popular actor, but that doesn't mean they should let themselves be taken advantage of, either.

Anonymous said...

Get your rant straight. Do you want animators to band together and demand big salaries and deals like the voice talent on the Simpsons or to just not be taken advantage of and get OT pay?

Maybe you should go hang out at Animation Nation and work up a head of steam for all the fanboys and wannabes that hang out there.

Anonymous said...

>>Animators will always be frustrated if they continue to compare themselves to actors and writers.

Congratulations. You've just validated, if not tacitly agreed with, class division. Labor was born out of a desire to fight the inequities born out of class division. Yet I can think of no other American industry as plagued with it as Hollywood.

Within a typical Hollywood prime time animation television production, all evidence points to the fact that individual labor organizations can do little more than sustain their respective self-interests. Comparative divisions and blatant inequities exist within live action as well. One can't just lie this at the feet of the corporations. I would challenge anyone to find a single significant difference between a media company CEO's contract and a SAG A-list actors contract. Perhaps it is a case of blatant capitalism dominating the landscape. But then again, I don't see SAG A-list actors doing much more with their earnings save for depositing them in hedge funds upon advice from their CEO counterparts.

You have a case where institutions created to offset inequity have de-evolved into institutions that survive by protecting it. I find that abhorrent. I find that repugnant.

But hey, thanks for the health care. I hope it survives a SAG walkout. I know my pension won't.

Anonymous said...

I work at the Roman empire, and heard today that there were meetings about the character layout crew being dismantled.

Amazing. Fox is willing to slash the budget there, but the few dozen producers on the show are all too valuable to let go.

Producer credits just from this week's episode, excluding Groening/Brooks/Simon, and the 2 producers and 3 executive producers for Film Roman.

Executive Producer: Al Jean (current showrunner)
Executive Producer: Ian Maxtone-Graham
Executive Producer: Matt Selman
Executive Producer: Tim Long
Co-executive Producer: John Frink
Co-executive Producer: Kevin Curran
Co-executive Producer: J. Stewart Burns
Co-executive Producer: Michael Price
Co-executive Producer: Bill Odenkirk
Co-executive Producer: Marc Wilmore
Co-executive Producer: Joel H. Cohen
Co-executive Producer: Ron Hauge
Co-executive Producer: Rob Lazebnik
Supervising Producer: Larina Jean Adamson
Supervising Producer: Matt Warburton
Supervising Producer: Jeff Westbrook
Consulting Producer: Carolyn Omine
Consulting Producer: Don Payne
Constuting Producer: Brian Kelley
Producer: Dan Greaney
Producers: Tom Gammill, Max Pross
Producer: Daniel Chun
Producer: Mike Scully
Producer: David Mirkin
Producer: Mike Reiss
Consulting Producer: David Silverman
Produced by: Richard Raynis
Produced by: Bonita Pietila
Produced by: Denise Sirkot
Produced by: Richard Sakai

And showrunner/executive producer Al Jean.

Constulting producer is a bit of a leap though, since they're often people who no longer work on the show. There are also over 10 assistants to the producers.

Anonymous said...

I look in on the TAG, from time to time, and I'm sorry I did.
Company's artist people cars houses
friends. Dogs 401k's wife's towns states. What ever you can think of it will change. This, the business of the entertainment industry.
So have a good ride, do your best and have fun.

Steve Hulett said...

Thanks for the incoherence.

Feel free to drop by again. The door's always open.

Aniranter said...

Get your rant straight. Do you want animators to band together and demand big salaries and deals like the voice talent on the Simpsons or to just not be taken advantage of and get OT pay?

Since you asked, I have a few rants.

BUT, the main rant for this particular case is this:

Artists in general are worth more than what they're getting lately. As has been pointed out, there are practically more "producers" on The Simpsons than artists, yet the artists get the short end of the stick schedule and budget-wise.

The voice actors realized they're worth something, so they banded together and said, "You want the funny voices? It's gonna cost ya."

The artists have to get more savvy and be more unified like that. They won't get residuals or big bucks, but somewhere along the line they should say, "You want the show to look good? It's gonna cost ya."

Just because artists are "below the line" doesn't mean that they're feudal property of whatever studio they're working for at the time to be treated like crap. Oh my, isn't that why the need for unions arose to begin with...because artists got tired of being taken advantage of?

It's time to stop being taken advantage of again.

Fast. Cheap. Good. Pick two outta three. No other business model survives.

Anonymous said...

They've picked. Fast and Cheap. Good isn't really a big deal with the Simpasons. Whether you like it or not it's the writing and the funny voices that make it "good". NOT the artists and the directors. If you can pick out one artists work from another then I'm impressed because I sure can't. AND since that't the case an artists can only use the fact that they might be faster than a fellow artist to try and get a better wage on that show. Just as a director can only point to how well he hits his deadlines and budgets to warrant whether they give him more money or work.

If you want to use these arguments for artit's rights you better find a different show than one done like the Simpsons.

Aniranter said...

They've picked. Fast and Cheap. Good isn't really a big deal with the Simpasons. Whether you like it or not it's the writing and the funny voices that make it "good". NOT the artists and the directors.

Ever worked on the Simpsons? It's not an easy show to draw. They do demand that you be good as well as fast and cheap. It's finally breaking down the artists, which will indeed make the show suffer, at least in the production pipeline, if not to the general public.

It's too bad that it seems that Gracie, Starz, or Fox don't see the value in the crew they have, since what they ask for gets more and more and more complex each season.

It's REALLY too bad that it looks like other artists who aren't in that place don't see the value of not burning out their fellow artists. We all lose in the end.

Who's gonna have your back when it's your turn on the chopping block?

Anonymous said...

That list says it all. Completely corrupt. It's a big fat gravy train. It makes you just sick.

ping ping said...

The artists have to get more savvy and be more unified like that. They won't get residuals or big bucks, but somewhere along the line they should say, "You want the show to look good? It's gonna cost ya."

For the artists to band together like that, or maybe say...walk out on the show, would be a true test of how unified the Hollywood animation community really is.

Let's say a great deal of The Simpsons crew finally got fed up, asked for more pay, didn't get it, and walked off the show. With the "any monkey can do the job" mentality that companies have, I'd imagine that Film Roman would attempt to fill a lot of the jobs and send out their 'help wanted' ads.

Now we would have to stop the unemployed hundreds of animators in Hollywood from accepting jobs on a proven successful show. I'd hope that other cartoon creators would form a letter of solidarity in support, and they and the walk-offs would dissuade as many as possible from accepting the jobs. How effective would this be? Are we really a union of animation artists? Or will those seeking work say "Sorry, but I really need the work." and take the Film Roman gig?

That's what's preventing a lot of people from asking the company for more money. They don't think they're irreplaceable enough. Actors do.

Anonymous said...

The directors are not irreplaceable. They could do it, with moral support from the DGA and other artists with influence - specifically Matt, Seth, and Mike. It's a no brainer. OR have they forgotten that they are cartoonists?

ping ping said...

The Simpsons directors would receive support from the DGA even though the DGA doesn't represent them? I think that's a bit of a stretch.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it deserves to be brought up once again. Its that LONG, LONG list of Producers.. THATS the REAL problem. Hard to believe it isn't one of the first things mentioned. Too many generals, not enough soldiers. I see the day coming when they'll have to have producer credits sprinkled throughout the entire episode. Or maybe they could just cut out the crew at the end and with the extra time just list all the producers in the beginning, each on their own screen.

What the hell do those producers do all day, anyway? Honestly- can anybody tell me what these people do? I've worked in animation for 12 years and I haven't got a clue.

Anonymous said...

Many of the names listed as producers haven't been involved with the show since the first season, but are still collecting paychecks.

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