Monday, December 15, 2008

My Disney Q & A

So early last week I get a number of phone calls from staffers at Disney Animation Studio ... which pretty much goes like this:

"Hi. We've had some meetings over here, in the theatre. And management is telling us that the studio is going to a 45-hour workweek, but nobody is going to get their salaries rolled back, and some people will be getting wage bumps, and that some production support people are getting let go.

"Can they like, do that?"

My answer is yes, with a long-winded explanation. Then I get asked to come over and visit, and a few days later I do ...

When I walked into the hat building last Friday morning, most everyone I encountered had similar questions about the meetings earlier in the week, about why the studio is doing the 45-hour thing. I responded to questions for an hour and a half, the same way I did over the phone; below is a compilation of my answers, attached to the employee questions:

Q: At our meeting, they told us the studio's moving to a mandatory 45-hour week on our next picture. I thought the regular work-week was forty-hours. What gives?

A: I assume the studio's going to a forty-hour week with five hours of required, pre-paid overtime. They have the right to demand "reasonable" amounts of overtime from employees, so the forty-five hour work-week is certainly doable. (Unlike DreamWorks Animation, most Disney Feature employees work without personal service contracts and are "at will.")

Q: They told us that a lot of employees would be getting the same pay, but some of us would be getting pay hikes. What's up with that?

A: Based on what I've been told, over-scale employees are getting their hourly wages cut, since they are now working an extra five hours of overtime (calculated at 1 1/2 times their hourly rate) at the same weekly salary. So, their previous hourly rates -- based on the old forty-hour week -- would have to be trimmed to accommodate the new five hours of o.t. being built into the same weekly wage.

Q: Can the studio do that?

A: Sure the studio can do that, if you the employee remain above the collective bargaining agreement's minimum hourly rate for his or her classification. What they're doing -- and this is a rough calculation -- is cutting above-scale employees hourly wages by around 15%-18% when they build in the extra hours.

Q: And some people are getting a bump because ...?

A: Because they're working at scale ... or close to scale. And the studio has to increase their weekly salary because it's adding five extra hours at time and a half, and everybody has to stay above the minimum rates. So ... more money for them.

Q: Why is the studio making these changes?

A: I think they want to cut labor costs as much as possible. But they have to make the cuts within the parameters of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Hence, scale employees receive more weekly pay, over-scale employees get lower hourly rates.

Q: They're not framing it quite that way.

A: I'm assuming they're putting a sunny spin on it. But they haven't confided in me, so I'm making an educated guess about their inner thoughts and motivations.

Q: Well, I'm happy I at least still have a job.

A: A lot of people have mentioned that. Great times we live in, huh?

Disney isn't alone in its Hollywood belt-tightening. We're in a recession, and every entertainment conglomerate is hack-hack-hacking away.

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

I responded to questions for an hour and a half, the same way I did over the phone; below is a compilation of my answers, attached to the employee questions:

Q: Well, I'm happy I at least still have a job.

A: A lot of people have mentioned that. Great times we live in, huh?


Steve, I can't help but notice how your tone is a little sarcastic in this post. It's your JOB to represent us and help clarify things that are unclear, not just walk around and hand out 401 brochure. You should be a little more compassionate when we are talking about labor issues and not box office numbers.

For example: With current event at Disney, many artist have ask, to ensure clarity, here's are the facts.

Mr. Sensitive

Anonymous said...

Yeah, well I DID get let go, even after 2 positive reviews, so excuse me for not feeling sorry for you, Mr. Sensitive.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, well I DID get let go, even after 2 positive reviews, so excuse me for not feeling sorry for you, Mr. Sensitive.

I am sure you'll land on your feet with a better job and more pay. Best wishes.

I was defending people of all situations. Employed or not. This is a hard time. My example was how Steve was a little caustic.


Mr. Sensitive

Jeff Z said...

Be glad you're not in the game biz. We don't have unions or CBAs, and a lot of us just got laid off.

Hooray unemployment.

Anonymous said...

Nobody's happy about it.

My personal situation is what it is, and I have to decide where I should be for my own career growth path.

But I'm wondering, Dear Union Rep, what's the outlook at other studios... specifically DreamWorks.

What I wonder is specifically the question of "Can Disney attract top talent" with this continual downsizing, cutbacks, shrinking pay, smaller and smaller headcounts... etc?

What's going on over at DW? They hiring? They increasing salaries, or cutting them? What's their workweek? Can we get a wage survey that ranks the studios?


Because, you know, that's information that our bosses have when negotiating with us.

Anonymous said...

Jeff Z said -

"Be glad you're not in the game biz. We don't have unions or CBAs, and a lot of us just got laid off."

I think everyone needs to realize that being in a union DOES NOT guarantee employment. It DOES NOT mean you won't be laid off.

Jeff Z you should be glad you are in the gaming industry. Be glad you are not in a union. You don't need a union to make a good salary. Alot of folks in the Anim and VFX studios that are not union shps make alot more than the union minimum. Free market competition for talent between companies determines the best salary not unions.

Anim and VFX industries have no growth. There are fewer VFX and Anim studios than Game development studios.

Games have more channels of distribution than Anim features: Consoles, PCs, Mobile, Online/MMO and handheld. An animated movie is distributed in the theatres and on DVDs. Fewer revenue streams.

There are more global opportunities in gaming You can go to Canada, UK/Europe, Austrailia, Asia. If you're in Anim and VFX your very limited by the number of studios and locations that you can work globally.

Gaming makes more money than Hollywood. The gaming industry is on track to make $22 billion this year. The studios in Hollywood would cut off their right arm to get that kind of revenue.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear that about Disney. Love the free market but 2009 is going to be another story.

Here's to hoping Princess and the Frog ushers in a new era in Disney animation.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that Steve's supposed "sarcasm" is what's getting flagged here. I'm one of the people Steve talked to at Disney, and he was plenty compassionate. But he was also realistic and honest with us. Unlike our current management.

Mr. Sensitive, maybe you're one of my coworkers, but if you are, you're in the minority for venting your feelings at Hulett. The rest of us are furious and depressed at the callous beam-counters calling the shots.

Anonymous said...

"Jeff Z you should be glad you are in the gaming industry."

Yeah, because working without overtime pay is so wonderful.

"Be glad you are not in a union."

Yeah, because having good, portable health coverage and a couple of different pension plans is for suckers.

"You don't need a union to make a good salary."

But it sure helps when you're promised one thing, and then given another. Without a union, when you're screwed you either bend over further, or quit, or go to court. The union may not be as powerful as the studios, but it's nice to know that there's an organization that has your back.

"Alot of folks in the Anim and VFX studios that are not union shps make alot more than the union minimum."

Really? Please, list these heavenly places where the milk and honey and money flow freely. Cuz I've worked at a few of the "top" nonunion places, and I'm only seeing a few supervisors making the big bucks. Most everyone else dreams of the day they can get into a union studio.

"Free market competition for talent between companies determines the best salary not unions."

Yet the funny thing is, all those nonunion studios usually peg their minimum salaries to something close to the union minimums. Funny how that works. Must be a coincidence, huh?

Steve Hulett said...

My example was how Steve was a little caustic ...

Steve was regurgitating questions and answers that happened between 10 and 11:30 a.m. last Friday.

Sorry you find the tone caustic. It wasn't nearly as caustic as a lot of employees Steve encountered over there.

Anonymous said...

There's more to blame here than a recession/depression. How many new employees can the industry take when the colleges are cranking out thousands of graduates? There's been an unrealistic proportion in the last few years. I'm not saying who should follow what career path, but a nomadic life jumping from project to project has been the best many can do for quite a while. A few hours a week to keep a job at Disney? What's the problem, really?

Anonymous said...

I don't blame the recession for the layoffs at Disney Feature Anim. Disney is going through is own problems due to the fact that Ed and John so far have not turned the studio around. We'll see if they can but only the next few years will tell.

You are correct with one thing in your statement and that is supply of talent in LA far exceeds demand. There are few major VFX and Anim studios.

In LA you have only two main CG Anim studios DWA and WDAS. Not alot of opportunity. Yes you can include SPA - Sony Animation but thats putting it loosly. The main business of Imageworks is VFX not Anim and so far SPA is a failure. We will see if Cloudy does decent B.O. but I think Sony will probably go the way of the dodo bird.

For VFX you only have three main houses DD, R&H and Imageworks.

Northern Cal is no different. For Anim there is only PDI, Pixar and Imagemovers. For VFX there is really only one place as far as I am concerned ILM.

Talent in LA are going to remain living a nomadic life going project to project.

Anonymous said...

"Really? Please, list these heavenly places where the milk and honey and money flow freely. Cuz I've worked at a few of the "top" nonunion places, and I'm only seeing a few supervisors making the big bucks"


I don't see folks at DD, R&H and Imageworks complaining about their salary and benefits. The mon & pop places in town have to compete for the same talent as the big boys. I don't see a big discrepancy in salaries. Places are not going to attract good talent unless they pay good wages. VFX houses big and small must deliver quality if they want to remain competitive and in business.

If working at a union studio is so great as you say then explain what happened a few years back when the union tried to convert Imageworks and workers unanimously voted against going union.

I don't know what non-union places you have worked at or how you got screwed but unfortunately it sounds like you have been approaching your freelance work incorrectly when closing job offers.

Anonymous said...

Why did Imageworks fail to unionize?

I talked to some people who were around Imageworks at the time the Unions came. I was told that the union offered nothing. The union must have done a poor job of educating the workers about what they had to offer.

Is working under a union better?

I used to work for Imageworks, now I'm working for a company that is under TAG. The difference is amazing, way better benefits with solid contracts. People at Imageworks make more money because they work more hours (55-60 hours a week). Talk to an Imageworker who is on artist-waiting-to-get-laid-off mode working 8 hours a day and you'll hear a different story.

What will it take?

With ImageWorks hiring more people who worked at DW and Disney the union issue is being brought up again. Especially ex-imageworks employees who are being asked to come back after stints at dw and wd. Why? Imageworks is asking them to come back non-staff, at will, same rate they left.

Anonymous said...

Solid Contracts....hmmmmm

Contracts don't guarantee that you won't be laid-off neither is being on staff. Staff and at Will is the same with regard to job security.

There are many folks who have been at Imageworks for years and they have good benefits and 401k's etc. When the union came in to make their pitch folks didn't want to give up what they have already earned during their tenue at Sony. I don't blame them.

I believe that Sony gives benefits to project hires.

I find your opinion to be a bit biased.

You have bounced around companies.

You never had tenure at Imageworks

Your post doesn't surprise me.

Steve Hulett said...

I talked to some people who were around Imageworks at the time the Unions came. I was told that the union offered nothing.

I was there. The union offered plenty to the employees who were production temperorary hires. The permanent staff (of which there are now way fewer), campaigned hard against the contract.

And prevailed.

The felt that their own generous benefits were at risk. Now many of them are gone, but at the time, fighting unionization seemed like a good idea.

I won't bore you with the details. Some former Sony employees have had second thoughts about what went down, but union opposition was fierce, and the IATSE selling itself left a few things to be desired.

We win some, and lose some.

Anonymous said...

The bush economic meltdown has made every business on every level to cut back on everything but executive pay and bonuses.

What a shame Bolt hasn't done better. It's a fine film, and I enjoyed it a lot (although the stereoscopic thing was crap and really distracting from the story). But it's lack of legs has really come at a bad time.

Sigh.

Anonymous said...

What a sorry industry we work in...

We wish so hard to be seen
And pray at night to be heard
And yet we have nothing to show
But false words and broken dreams

JOjo

Anonymous said...

Its not a sorry industry.

Its sorry leadership from Directors, Writers, Producers and Supervisors.

If a film fails its the failure of the leadership of the project not the rank and file. The rank and file only take orders they do not give them.

Anonymous said...

To the 12-15 7:18pm post:

I'm absolutly biased. Let me explain why:

Contract:
Currently at Sony everyone is at will. They can let you go anytime and call you back in for work. There are people being laid off one week and being called back the next week. There is no such thing as tenure. In fact, this happened to 2 senior people at Sony I know.

Benefits:
Sony offers a 401k with a 5% match that is fully vested after 5 years. The union offers a 401k. While it doesn't offer a match, you get 6% of your standard income and 30.5 cents for every hour you work put into a retirement account that is fully vested after 1 year. You don't even have to do have to put a dime in that account to get that match. On top of that you get a traditional pension after 5 years to top. Don't even get me started on the healthcare offered.

Sorry but it is just so clear to me that the union is the way to go.

Anonymous said...

But when Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs flops, they'll be shuddering the entire division.

It sure looks cheap.

Anonymous said...

I have no idea if Meatballs will succeed or fail, but I HAVE learned, through prior experience, never to judge a movie one way or another based on a single publicity still. The folks who decide what image(s) to release usually have no clue, and the finished movie may look considerably different.

If Sony Animation fails, the wage ripple effects will be negatively felt throughout all the other feature animation studios. That is just one of many reasons I hope it doesn't fail.

Anonymous said...

Cloudy will probably flop which means they should close down Imageworks. The question is will Sony corporate close it down.

Imageworks just doesn't fit into the business model at Sony. I mean Sony owns all of its content. They make consumer electronics, they own music, movie and TV studios and here is a VFX studio which is work for hire so Sony decides to create SPA but so far its a failure. If Sony can't get SPA to work they should close Imageworks.

VFX houses have very little profit margins. Even the best houses in a good year, that is a busy year with alot of work make about 7%.

I would never start my own VFX house - there's no money to be made.

True profitability is in creating your own content - but thats stating the obvious.

Anonymous said...

"Cloudy will probably flop which means they should close down Imageworks."

Wow. What a dumbass statement. If anyone knows anything about this industry, you can NOT predict what will flop and what will not.

Beverly Hills Chihuahua anyone?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Anon

Did I say definitely or probably?

Personally I didn't even waste my time thinking about BHC and if it was going to flop or not.

With the exception of the occasional anomaly you can tell what is crap and what is not. What will do good in the B.O. and what will not. I am rarely surprised by flops and successes.

The Global Magpie said...

I find it interesting, as a former animator, to peek in and spy on this blog.

True or False: Massive Profits & Unbridled Techie Gear Lust have crippled the American animation industry.

Discuss. *waves hands in coffe-talk like manner*

Steve Hulett said...

I find it interesting, as a former animator, to peek in and spy on this blog ...

Ain't the intertubes swell?

The Global Magpie said...

Yes, they are swell indeed. I can't say though that in reading this I am sad I never cracked into the studios in california - in fact, I sort of feel as if I dodged a bullet... ! :O

Anonymous said...

I love being an animator at a major feature film studio. Im creatively challenged everyday, Im compensated well, and Im proud of my work. To me, there's never been a better time to be in this line of work.

I just think most of the noise on this blog is from the Negative Nelly's. There's MUCH more of us who are doing just fine.

Anonymous said...

I'll agree with Anon just above.

Anonymous said...

Many people are ready for the return of the Disney animated classic. Looking forward to getting there sooner than later.

The Global Magpie said...

I'd look forward to any resurgence in classically animated anything (ad/short/feature) by a variety of different sized studios based outside of California and around North America & Western Europe.

Not holding my breath on that, though. Paper's gone and that's why I walked away from animation. *depressed sigh*

Anonymous said...

um... Magpie, Disney is doing a major animated 2D feature again, check it out.

The Global Magpie said...

I'm aware Disney is doing a classical film but one film does not a resurgence make...

My wishlist is the same - anyway not everyone wants to work for a big studio on giant projects, either. Some of us have more modest ambitions.

Anonymous said...

Disney is not doing a "classical film." There's no such thing.

The Global Magpie said...

Well I guess I'm really and truly out of the loop - or maybe I just don't like splitting hairs. I always thought classical animation existed. :)

Steve Hulett said...

But of course there's a "classical Disney film."

It's the first five -- SnowPinoFanBamDumbo.

Didn't you get the memo?

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