Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Ageism Thing

Last week I had breakfast with a storyboard artist of 20-plus years standing; he told me this:

"I 'finished my assignment' on a project a couple of months ago. My exit interview was quick and kind of strained. They thanked me, said they were moving in a different direction, going with 'new blood' with 'fresh ideas and enthusiasm."

"A lot of the new blood I trained. And now they're working for the people I'm not working for, for less money. Which is fine. It was time to move on, and I want to work on my own projects anyway ..."

This gent is talented, and in my biased opinion he won't have a problem going on to new work someplace else. And he shouldn't take it too personally, since being let go in favor of fresher plasma is a grand old Hollywood tradition, and seldom pretty.

For years, actors have feared and loathed it.

[Sharon Stone] admits she was looking forward to becoming a 40 something back in 1998, but ageist attitudes to Hollywood stars left her floored.

"I thought... 'I'm fantastic and sexy and amazing!' (But) it was like, 'You have leprosy.' I couldn't get a dress or a job." ...

Older writers sue over graylisting. Directors of photography die their hair and get facelifts and hope their networks of contacts doesn't dry up.

And how is it for older animation artists? For some, they float from one job after another, year after year. A golden few spend long, lucrative careers at one or two studios, working on high profile hits. But for many, the job market gets tougher and tougher as you acquire more wrinkles and body fat ... particularly in an economic downturn.

Ageism isn't something on which you can always place your index finger. In most studios I stroll through, I can usually find older artists sprinkled here and there. But often in our down-sized industry, the race goes to the young, energetic and less expensive. As an older ex-Pixar artist explained to me a while ago:

"I went up there to the bay area when Pixar was new and wanted experienced board artists who'd worked on features in L.A. But when they'd made a bunch of hits and had kids out of art school banging on their door happy to work for way less money, they told me: "Hey, it's been great, but see ya bye.'"

Hollywood ageism has been with us for decades. While I don't think discrimination against seasoned animation artists is as virulant or as conscious as it is in live action, I do think it's out there. Trying to prove it legally, however, is something else again.

There is no magic-bullet remedy for age discrimination. The best defenses I know for avoiding underemployment as you get older is working hard, staying at the top of your game, and being better than the competition ... even when there is silver in your hair.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yep, the best way to beat ageism is to be better than the young snots who want your job. Or as Uncle Walt once put it, "Lick 'em with product."

Anonymous said...

Wasnt there a post here about 2 weeks ago on this very same subject? I think it's time for some young, fresher posts around here.

(nyuck nyuck)

Anonymous said...

I just passed my 20th year in the industry (animator). I've been dealing with this issue for years. Now that I have a family and refuse to work insane hours for no pay (non-union of course), it is sometimes very hard to compete.

Nevermind the experience. I'm convinced that most producers could give a shit anyway.

It sometimes gets to the point that I won't get an interview because I have so many years. I didn't know this until I talked to others working at that job that overheard a producer talking.

So what have I done? I've reworked my resume so it doesn't mention how long I've been working.

Is that fucked up or what? I'm downplaying my years. It seems to be working with some shows that have producers have my age. Pathetic.

Anonymous said...

See, I'm so old I misspelled a word.

"It seems to be working with some shows that have producers HALF my age."

I'm sure there are more. Chalk it up to being senile.

Floyd Norman said...

One producer I worked for was about the age of my oldest son. Anyway, his show was in deep doo-doo, and he needed an old fart to bail him out. He flew me in. Put me up in a nice hotel, and paid me a ton of money.

After completing my assignment, I walked out of the sound stage, and headed back to LA. The guy actually chased me down with paycheck in hand. How often does that happen?

Yeah, the studios still want kids -- and they don’t need you until they get into really, really big trouble.

drWho said...

well, it's only the kids who know what's cool and hip these days, after all...

I mean, since the media doesn't really dictate and force feed subculture into their little heads...

And what do we old folk know about pop culture anyway....or about being sarcastic.

r.

Steve Hulett said...

Wasnt there a post here about 2 weeks ago on this very same subject? I think it's time for some young, fresher posts around here.

(nyuck nyuck)


And nyuck nyuck to you.

Yes, some of the posts going up tend to get ... uh ... samey. But there's reasons for that.

I keep having conversations with folks who face problems, and the problems tend to be similar, month in and month out. And since this blog, among other things, tends to reflect my day-to-day experiences and the experiences of artists in the biz, the sameness thing does creep in.

Sorry for that. I'll strive to branch out a little.

Anonymous said...

Around 2002, I was in a production meeting at one of the major TV studios in Burbank. A producer stated that they would not want hire anyone over 40. An executive agreed, adding that "when they get into that age, you have to worry if they'll live through the production. Wonder if they have the same philosophy today as their creators begin to reach that age group?

Anonymous said...

This "ageism" thing of discriminating against older artists disgusts me. I am now 45 years old and approaching that time when I suppose I'm going to start being discriminated against , but those types of attitudes have disgusted me even when I was much younger.

What a different world of animation I came up in . My peers and I practically worshipped a group known collectively as Nine OLD Men and as I actually got into the industry I met many other older not-so-famous artists who I looked up to and admired . I wanted to learn from these people , to understand what they knew about animation. It was a privilege to work with them and to soak it all up .

What is amazing to me is that anyone would fall into "ageism" since aging is the great leveler ... we all get old . Is that how those people want to be treated when they are older ? What about the ethic of treating others the way you want others to treat you ? I guess there are people who are so arrogant and shortsighted that they don't get it ; that some day they will the "old guy" and what then ?

Over 40 and Fed Up said...

It sounds like my worst nightmare. At best age discrimination is arbitrary and mean spirited. We all know stories of the old timers who were more than productive well into what anyone would consider advanced old age, but 40???!!! Middle aged artists often have many more financial obligations and responsibilities that younger artists. So lets just slam the door in their faces. Who passed this profession to a bunch of malicious Peter Pans on crack? When it crosses the line to policy it becomes illegal. Why are you protecting these producers? Name names. They deserve to be outed. It will set an example. There must be a way to fight back.

Former Whippersnapper Still Learning from my Elders said...

"We all know stories of the old timers who were more than productive well into what anyone would consider advanced old age"

Exactly .

Just a few examples:

I've read that near the end of his career Ollie Johnston was putting out more footage than anyone else in the studio and it was GOOD , no lack in quality.

Tissa David is a NY based animator who is fast and good and has produced much of her best work past middle age and has continued to stay active in animation into her late eighties . (she is 87 now ... I guess she's going to out do her mentor, Grim Natwick) .

Both Richard Williams and Eric Goldberg both speak of their awe at Ken Harris's ability to put out 30 feet a week of high quality animation without breaking a sweat (or working O.T.) ... this was well into his seventies. Ken could turn out more footage without doing a 14 hour day because he had the experience to know how to animate . He knew it so well that he wasn't guessing or stumbling around in the dark hoping to get it right. That level of confidence only comes with long years. He's not the only animator of that generation who knew how to squeeze a lot out of a regular 8 hour work day . People like Ken Harris, Art Babbitt, Eric Larson, etc. trained a whole generation of new animators, but if they had been "put out to pasture" after they passed middle-age then where would all that collective knowledge have gone ? And where will it go now when the animators who were trained by those animators start to drop out of the industry if they are considered "unemployable" due to their "advanced" age (like 55 or 60 ? !) ?

Not that speed is the only thing to be valued. I'm not talking about hacking out crap animation for some Sat. morning show , which a lot of the older animators had to do to earn a living , but I'm talking about those wonderful times when they were given the opportunity to work on high-quality full animation projects near the end of their careers and they really spread their wings and soared. The quantity and the quality were both there as a result of long years of practicing their craft.

Outside of the Hollywood animation pool look at animators such as Frederic Back, Yuri Norstein and Borge Ring who did some of their best work when they were past middle age. Animators are not basketball players . Ours is not a profession that has a window from age 18 - 36 when you're at your peak and then pretty much useless after that .

"When it crosses the line to policy it becomes illegal. Why are you protecting these producers? Name names. They deserve to be outed. It will set an example. There must be a way to fight back."

Yes indeed. These people shouldn't be allowed to hide in the shadows. What they are practicing is a nefarious form of discrimination.

Anonymous said...

Just like anything else whether someone is capable in his/her later years should be looked at on a case by case situation and no assumptions should be made either way.
For every 'old' guy like Ollie and Ken doing superior work late in life there were just as many old timers that had spent so much time in crap factories like H&B that when given a chance to return to Disney (or other studios) and full animation weren't able to find their mojo any longer.
When hiring it should always be about the individual and not a generalization about age, education, experience or whatever.
There are plenty of 'kids' willing to work cheap that are getting paid what they're worth and many others that deserve the respect of their elders as well as their bosses.
It's not Black and White.

Former Whippersnapper said...

Yes, that's true.

I didn't mean to give the impression that every old animator is a good animator. Some people were never that good to begin with, others "lose it" due to health issues or having stagnated artistically from working on crap tv shows. Simply being old in and of itself doesn't mean you're better , just as being young in and of itself doesn't mean you're better.

I agree with what you wrote:

"whether someone is capable in his/her later years should be looked at on a case by case situation and no assumptions should be made either way."

(and that goes for the young animators , too)

Hire based on merit: skill , dependability, work-ethic, and attitude.

But what seems to be at issue here is the general assumption on the part of some studios that Old = incompetent or out-dated. If older animators are not being considered for work simply because of their age then they are not being given the benefit of being looked at on "a case by case situation and no assumptions made either way" . I'm not saying older artists shouldn't be held to the same standard as younger artists , but that it should be a level playing field based on ability , not age (or gender, or skin color, etc.)

robiscus said...

"Yep, the best way to beat ageism is to be better than the young snots who want your job. "

This is a very revealing post.


I'm going to preface my comment with an opinion of mine: I don't think much of my fellow animators in this industry. Time and again they let me down by lacking visions, complaining, and engaging in petty seniority squabbles. If I've become bitter about anything over the years its about the quality of the people I work alongside.

The quote above is another instance of that. I'm nearing 40 and I want to be working with younger talent. I need it.

Its a lesson I 've learned from Karl Lagerfeld. If you want to stay relevant, you have to surround yourself with younger ideas and the fast pace in which they emerge. Its better for you and your career. If my younger coworkers weren't around to challenge me(and me to challenge them) then I would shrivel up creatively.

So yes, I'm not surprised that this is lost on some of my fellow artists here in LA. I've seen it in many studios where they look down their noses at those younger(and thinner) than they are and you can see that they are bitter. How sad.

Embrace it. It keeps you young, whereas bitterness advances your age.

Anonymous said...

As usual, you completely miss the point, Robiscus. The issue is NOT that animators in their 40s and 50s don't want to work with younger animators, it's that they're not being given the chance.

Or do you suggest we all 'embrace' this brutal (and illegal) reality about the short-sightedness of many animation producers for fear of being labelled bitter?

Working with talented, creative people is what keeps me sharp and productive and happy. Sometimes those talented, creative people are much younger than me. More often they're more experienced than I am, and I'm hugely grateful for their willingness to share. In my experience, when I'm surrounded by animators much younger than me, I'm usually the one doing the mentoring and teaching and inspiring.

There are no such things as 'young ideas.' They're just ideas, either good or bad, and the more experience one has the more bad ideas one has had time to try out, and reject.

Embrace creativity. It keeps you young, but it's not just available to the young.

robiscus said...

And I'm saying one of the main reasons older people are let go is because they create a divide between themselves and the greener employees which makes producers see them(accurately) as dead weight. Talented, but not invested in the spirit of the show because of a haughty attitude towards youth in the studio.

There are too many people in this industry who are filled with incredible artistic talent, but have no sense of humor, no personality, are conceited, and reject outsider ideas.

A really talented older employee yeah... if he's not as enthusiastic as the rest of the crew he gets cut loose. I'd rather have an employee full of life than one full of talent.

But then I'm not a believer in talent. I believe in hard work.

Anonymous said...

"And I'm saying one of the main reasons older people are let go is because they create a divide between themselves and the greener employees which makes producers see them(accurately) as dead weight. Talented, but not invested in the spirit of the show because of a haughty attitude towards youth in the studio."

And I'm saying this is a fantasy that exists in your head. I've never seen this in any of multiple studios I've worked in. I've worked in big studios and small, and I've never seen a general trend that older animators are haughty, especially towards younger animators. I HAVE seen older animators be less tolerant of producer bullshit (like the expectation of unpaid overtime), and I've seen no-nothing producers chafe when experienced animators pointed out how things could be done more efficiently and better, but I've never seen this nastiness by experienced animators towards new kids that you claim.

"There are too many people in this industry who are filled with incredible artistic talent, but have no sense of humor, no personality, are conceited, and reject outsider ideas. "

You're right, there's plenty of conceit and rejection. The problem is, I've seen it as often from young punks as from greybeards. That kind of crap is independent of age. You're probably a good example of that, Robiscus -- I'll bet you've been a jerk with a superior attitude since you were a teenager.

"A really talented older employee yeah... if he's not as enthusiastic as the rest of the crew he gets cut loose. I'd rather have an employee full of life than one full of talent."

Enthusiasm over talent and productivity? Well, that's one good equation for crap work. I've worked with some of the best in the business, and I've known some of the retired (and now dead) greats -- they defined themselves by the high-quality work they did, not by being rah-rah studio cheerleaders. But hey, if that's working for you, keep it up.

robiscus said...

...and I'm saying your job is more than doing what you do and damn those who don't agree with you.
You have the same old tired cry if victimization.

"Its the producers! They're all idiots! Waaaaaah!"

Are they the idiots? Last time I checked, they have jobs, get paid more, and don't cry and moan a fraction of what you do in here regularly.

I've met plenty of producers and in the end they are just like anybody else. Most of them are detached and unaware of multitudes of wrinkles in the process, but you know what? Getting through to them is part of your friggin job.

If you can't get on a producer's good side and convince him of the better process - you FAIL at your job. Stop telling me abut how they are the idiots and you aren't because the predicament you are in proposes one very likely reality; that you are the idiot. I now, it may be hard to grasp, but when you write off a producer as a moron and dismiss his efforts as hair brained, you are the text book definition of haughty.

No one has asked anyone to be a studio cheerleader, but your condescending attitude towards those over you contributes more to your dissatisfaction with the situation than anything any producer does. I've worked with some real idiots in my time, but you win them over. You cndemn the process making your job harder, not the person asking for that process. It isn't easy to do. Its office politics for sure, Yet thats what it takes to endure those people, you win the office politics.

Quit your crying. You were dealt your hand. Now play it.

Kim said...

Hmmm. Having read this thread as a disinterested outsider, the one thing that strikes me most pointedly is that the poster who is complaining the most about haughty, bad attitudes, and is most upset about others' bad behavior, is the one displaying the worst, and most haughty attitude.

"Robiscus" seems to spend a lot of time lamenting others' bad attitudes, but it's clear from his discourse on this thread that he's the only one displaying a singularly unpleasant attitude, hurling invective at other posters, professing disgust at all his colleagues, and seeing nothing but "bitterness" from all of his older co-workers.

I see this a lot, and it invariably stems from projection. I suspect that a little introspection from "Robiscus" would reveal a great deal of personal bitterness, and a generally antagonistic attitude on display in his workplace. It may be that he bottles up this smoldering anger at work, but almost surely it will burst forth sooner or later.

I also suspect that if I were to interview "Robiscus"s co-workers, I would find that they find him to be generally moody and unpleasant to be around. In short, the one who complains most about such things is usually the very one who perpetrates these kinds of attitudes.

Just an observation.

Anonymous said...

Now you've gone and done it, Kim...Robiscus (the ultimate in animation knowledge and talent and get-alongess with everyone especially those he percieves that can help his rise to glory) will now start hurling invectives and snarky pseudo-intellectual remarks at you.

Brace yourself....

Kim said...

Oh dear. And today was looking to be such a nice day.

Graham Ross said...

Not to fan the flames or anything, but is there a possibility that a lot of the discrimination comes from technology?

My father worked as a graphic designer in Chicago fora long time and was rather successful. But as soon as people started asking him to use illustrator and photoshop, he lost all his work. He wasn't very computer literate and was even terrified of touching them.

Now that he's gotten used to using a tablet, things have changed. But he's still a bit of a curmudgeon about using it and laments for the old t-square and triangle days.

I wonder sometimes is that's part of the reason a lot of old timers get tossed, because they don't keep up on current trends and technology.

Personally I give artists who've been in the field for many years the respect they deserve. Just because you're young doesn't mean you know everything. In fact it's probably the opposite, since you haven't had as many opportunities to screw up.

Anyways, now that I've stated my case I'm going to go hide behind something sturdy.

robiscus said...

Hey, you can disagree with me all you want but you can't go back and change the very first oost of this thread that describes the younger people in the workforce as "young snots".

I'm saying you should never see them that way. I'm saying that more people who are older should embrace being at a studio with younger employees rather than feel threatened by it.

I've always railed against the belly aching of animation about "the suits who don't know any better" and "the management that are really to blame". Guess what?

They aren't going anywhere.


You will ALWAYS deal with them. Its part of your job. You might as well be complaining about your hand hurting from drawing all the time.


Now you are free to extrapolate my inner motivation from that Kim.

(*and my coworkers love me Kim, albeit they laugh at how opinionated I am...)

Anonymous said...

Hey, Robiscus, I'm one of your co-workers and none of us love you and we ALL think you're a douchebag...

robiscus said...

There's that bitterness of aging artists in the animation industry. You're proving me right.

Anonymous said...

Actually you're proving your co-workers right. You are a douchebag.

robiscus said...

: (

Anonymous said...

Sadly, this trail has devolved into the personal. As an interested outsider, and one who also works in a related industry that is "ageist", I see and hear these arguments all too often. They are divisive. They don't help the overarching problem: self-serving and false criteria for measuring value.

It seems to me that it is a combination of two things: arrogance (evenly spread across ages) and the almighty dollar.

But more importantly, the subtext is a lack of history. Brain drain is everywhere. It's appalling. And its effect is the very costly repetition of mistakes. But by the time the costs and failures rear their ugly heads, the agents of bad decision-making are long gone. On to something new.

As execs skip stones across various companies in their personal pursuit of getting to the other side faster, they leave a wake of bodies in their paths. There is a lack of thoughtfulness and true leadership. Age is not a realistic or trustworthy measure of someone's true value. It should always be the work.

We live in a time when we must spend a ridiculous amount of time and energy re-proving ourselves. There are no laurels.

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