Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Non-Paid Animation Employees, Canadian Edition

The on-going tale of the visual effects crew that got stiffed by their employer continues with this letter from Dave Rand to a lawyer involved in the case:

Dear L:

First of all I am delighted that we will be able to speak of this following the settlement as it is my experience that this is usually not the case in these types of "negotiations" and from your letter I see you must have negotiated this for us..THANKYOU! I do not agree with the amount but that was a group decision as the law in Canada only guarantees $2,000 dollars per employee.

I completely understand your point of view as you are a lawyer and the law dictates your stance as it should. I'm not sure what you as in individual may think of this but I do believe if you had been in our shoes during the robbery, and had to explain it to your mortgage banker, and your wife and children right before Christmas, you may have formed some very strong opinions about the situation and the laws surrounding it as most of us did.

What happened to us was a crime, followed by a cover up. I believe, and have been told by the former management of Meteor, that the actions were premeditated. The employees were used because the current law allows it and it was the cheaper route. I do not agree with that law and because it is legal for me to speak about it I took advantage of the leverage provided by every opportunity to get the story attached, as I, and most of our group believed, it needed to be told. Discovery and Evergreen had no problem whatsoever using the law to their advantage as well.

They also were able to keep it out of the press in the US because The Discovery Channel, being part of Discovery Communications (worth over 6 billion at the time) have a very influential advertising budget. So we needed to fight them on every front possible. We needed this to be tried in the court of public opinion, the same public they rely on for their lively hood.

I have not met an artist or other employee today who does not know about our case, the usual comment is that they can not believe it even happened, and is still going on. Since our story was told, artists are more inclined to walk off the job, most recently with the Orphanage and Slash fx here in the states. The Animation Guild for all of North America has taken notice and are using our story to protect their members and future members from this abuse.

I believe this pressure actually helped our case as Discovery and Evergreen, like all crooks, would rather commit their crime under cover of night and not in broad daylight. Being a family network the word can not get out that they robbed families right before Christmas...so I had no problem facilitating the release of that fact in an honest and legal way.

As for some precedent regarding negotiations with talent and the press just google "writers strike negotiations and news coverage" there's 241,000 pages of links. I believe one day you'll see similar pages concerning fx artists as the single common thread that all top grossing films have for the last 17 yrs is stunning digital imagery.

I understand bankruptcy laws and their importance to the economy. I also understand those that abuse them, this was the latter. This was abuse. Had there been profits Discovery would have taken their cut for sure. We did not sign up to take part in their risk and believed their promise to pay. Meteor was always run like a family and that trust was abused also.

As for what you call the "lesson" I disagree completely, the only lesson from this is that when the paycheck stops, the work stops, that is the only leverage you have and the only time you'll have it, as further demonstrated by our case. Since Canada only legally obligates employer to $2,000, it's best to leave immediately.

The rest of the talent in the entertainment world went through this decades ago and it is the sole reason strong unions were formed...they don't care about insurances...their members walk when the money stops and the press does plenty of coverage both during the stirkes and during the negotiations.

In the wake of this and thanks to Eric's efforts a website went up that got us organized or we would have been forced to accept the first offer. We were all spread around the globe making it very difficult to bring the group together in time without this tool. Discovery, Evergreen, and the Insurance Company were using the law to continue to exploit us but they were only stopped by our organization.

In closing I'd like to personally thank you for all your efforts on our behalf. I need to once again make it clear I will not sign any type of release or gag order that dissallows me from speaking of this or the case in any way. I'd rather they keep all of my $12,000. To me it will be more satisfying to take part in making a change instead of going with the flow, to me it would be worth every penny.


Dave Rand

People go on working for companies that stop paying them for a variety of reasons:

A) Fear of ticking off the boss,

B) Desire to do quality, professional work, no matter how awful the circumstances,

C) Fear of being "blacklisted",

D) Desire to support the "Family"/"Team".

Companies, dear readers, are not above bullying, cajoling and manipulating employees, especially when they run out of cash and want to keep a project going.

Companies even, on occasion, start breaking laws and arm-twisting the people who work for them to "go along" with breaking laws too. (Things like hourly wage regulations, minimum wage laws, minor items like that.)

But here's what employees have to train themselves to do:

Refuse to work for a company that isn't paying. When there is no paycheck, get up from your desk, walk out, and don't look back.


You might be in the business for love. But you're not in it for charity. You want to work for free, go work for yourself, not some dink operation which is making money off your sweat and skill.


Kevin Koch said...

Dave Rand, I salute you.

mattanimation said...

Reading this makes being laid off not so bad and has prepared me to not be so desperate. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant. I suggest everyone copy this letter and post it to as many sites as you possibly can. I know I will.

Anonymous said...

A studio using fear and intimidation? Blatantly breaking the federal employment laws? Sounds like working for Laika. No union in Portland, no support from the front office, and a leader with a heart of coal. Working there is like driving a car across the continent backwards.

Anonymous said...

Can you even imagine a studio not paying a major actor? This is the same thing! No actor, no movie. No FX artists, no movie. All of these people should get above the line proceeds from this debacle... if there were any. If not, the least they should get is what is owed to them, in full plus interest. Call me naive but this situation blows me away. I don't know how some people sleep at night.

Anonymous said...

"I don't know how some people sleep at night."

That's waht makes an executive different than those below them. They don't have a problem sleeping at night and if you do the chances of reaching the upper levels of any studio are pretty thin. You either already have the lack of a conscience or you learn to ignore it.
That's why many artists - no matter how hard or how deserving they are - ever reach that level. By nature most artists have a conscience. Though I have met a few...

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