Thursday, September 10, 2009

This Week's Rant

Not from me, but a TAG member.

At one of our fine, signator studios this week, an artist I've known for years flagged me in the hall and complained about the following:

"I ragged on some people here about working unpaid overtime. It's been going on, and I told them 'You're f*cking me, you're pulling down every person who works here and it's got to stop.

"There are cleanup artists who come in for a few weeks at a time and then get laid off again. And they all do free o.t. They figure it will help them get rehired the next time ..."

I told the guy that what is happening at his studio has happened -- at one time or another -- at every studio I've ever visited. A zealous production manager says, "We gotta ship this act tomorrow! We need you to help out! (And by the way, we don't have any money in the budget for overtime) ...".

And so everyone hops to.

I offered to swing by the studio late at night and catch people at their desks. "But the problem with that," I said, "is if they lie to me about what they're doing there, tell me 'I'm making up time,' or 'I'm being paid,' that's the end of it. And most people lie."

There followed a general bitch-fest about the unemployment in the teevee animation business, the overall economy, and the jolly corporatist state in which we live. I moved on to talk to the shop steward who reported that no, he hadn't heard of anyone working unpaid overtime.

"But then, they wouldn't tell me. They know I'm shop steward. And when I come around and ask if they have problems, they always say everything's fine. Figures."

Over the years I've known plenty of artists who've bucked peer and management pressure to do layout, background, storyboard or cleanup work for free, and lived to tell the tale. None of them were blackballed. But in this era of economic anxiety, there's plenty of nervousness, and lots of employees are caving in.

I totally get employees' compulsions to "do whatever it takes" to extend their jobs. Times, after all, are rugged. I also get why studios are tempted to exploit the situation. If there's free money lying on the ground (which is what free work amounts to) why not pick it up?

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was just at one of these "we need to finish the show" meetings and it was interesting that there was no mention of overtime. I asked for overtime anyway and got it.

Anonymous said...

Working unpaid overtime is common. It's not such a bad idea, everyone has to put in there time. Obviously this person is new to the industry. You won't see big name veterans or highly respected artist do free overtime. I think the complainers should work harder.

Anonymous said...

"It's not such a bad idea, everyone has to put in there time."

What's not such a bad idea? Screwing the next production? The people running these studios don't care about you, and they budget future projects based on past ones--so you're not only screwing yourself, you're screwing everyone else who will be asked to do more and more for less and less time and money in the future.. By doing free overtime, you're giving them a false sense of what it takes to finish the job. They need to have realistic ideas of budgets/schedules.

Don't you EVER believe that doing "extra free overtime" will help secure you a job on a future project. It won't. Never. NO ONE CARES about your ass kissing--least of all the studio you work for.

Anonymous said...

Why do you think studios, production companies, and agencies pay $10/hour and mandatory 60 hour weeks to Harvard grads? They do it to teach them, indoctrinate them, where the bottom line is, so if and when they get lucky enough to step up for the opportunity to contribute to and share in a piece of Brangelina's career and a piece of the bonus pool, they know exactly where that bottom line is and how to not feel one iota of sympathy for labor. What does a producer who started at $10/hour have in common with a union artist who started at $25/hour? Absolutely nothing. Don't expect a producer to give a shit about your money issues. Stand up for the OT, they will either say yes or no. Then you say either yes or no. That simple. Either way, they will find a way to get it done. Because either way, they still only get promoted for holding the line they were paid $10 an hour to know like the back of their hand. It's a line producer's JOB to deliver to you the message that you are replaceable every single day. The ones that are good at their job enjoy delivering it. It's your job to show them that you are not. How you chose to do it is your business. But offering to work for free is not going to make you any less replaceable than the next guy.

Justin said...

Doing free overtime may not secure you a job on a future project, but would refusing free overtime prevent you from getting a job on a future project?

pud said...

In the good 'old' days :-){ mid 90's } at Disney feature, I had one of my supervising animators explain the reason for working some free overtime.

Inbetween projects, the company would value keeping the crew on, and pay them full pay to 'wait' until the next project is ready for production.

There could be months of 'waiting'. The company would set up classes for the artists, keeping them engaged and having them push themselves only to be better,stronger artists thus in turn making it a very ready and able crew for the company once the next film starts.

There was a general relaxed feeling within the hallways, as artists would be learning and getting ready for the next push.

Also longer lunches would happen, people leaving earlier for family time etc etc .... as the pressure was off.

And because of this, if in the future there was any needed extra hours to be done, then { as my supervisor mentioned } you'd just do them, as it sort of equals out.

I know the companies would disagree with this 'honor' system now... as they need to pay for every extra minute worked by artists.

Sometimes i think this old way was better, certainly NOT perfect, but there was a loyalty for the company as for the crew. And i don't think that's a bad thing.

rufus said...

You don't gain their respect by doing an extra 20-25 hours. They are not gonna by impressed by you. And you wont avoid a pink slip.

At the same time, you are ruining it for everyone else. because they will expect everyone to work more hours for free.

Go to the gas station and ask for free gas, see how they'll look at you. Or go to your landlord and ask that this month's rent be on the house. See what reaction you'll get.

"...preventing you from getting another job?"

why would you wanna go back to a studio where they don't respect you as a person, or where your skills are not appreciated enough to keep you? They have no loyalty towards you, why should you have any loyalty to them?

rufus.

Dave said...

At most of the studios where I have worked, I see an awful lot of socializing and goofing off going on during the day.

I don't consider late nights as much 'Overtime' as I do 'Make Up Time'.

Anonymous said...

>>would refusing free overtime prevent you from getting a job on a future project?

more likely what will prevent you from getting a job on a future project is new creator, director, crew, and staff. it's always a complete ground-up reset. no one even remembers who did what OT on the last project. you will be lucky if they even remember your name.

as for the downtime employment trade-off of classes and family time for OT during rush - yes, when times were good in film. not so much anymore.

Anonymous said...

At most of the studios where I have worked, I see an awful lot of socializing and goofing off going on during the day.

How awful! Im going to pray about this.

my 2 cents said...

The truth is, unlike the ninety's, it's a buyer's talent market. Employers feel free to play us against each other and exploit us counting on their workers feeling lucky to have a job at all and unwilling to call attention to themselves by resisting.

At least we have the union contract which puts a floor under our wages. Without that many of us would be working for salaries closer to minimum wage. Maybe a few more of us would be working, but how do you survive on third world wages? What's more, the level of pay would never recover after that, even if the industry bounced back.

The situation Pud described is so rare, it mostly doesn't exist anymore. Imagining myself in that situation, if a company kept me employed between productions, it would be difficult for me to feel victimized by being asked to do some OCCASIONAL uncompensated overtime in an emergency. The downtime employment would give me a vested interest in the employer's sense of financial security. We all see now how they behave without that.

Unfortunately, that is not the situation we are all talking about. The companies we look to for employment are feeling INsecure financially, justified or not, and exploiting us apparently gives them some sense of control.

Anonymous said...

i take my frustration out on my cat at home and that gives me a sense of control. it is very upset with our corporate state.

Anonymous said...

You actually think this issue, which has been going on for years and years is because "most people lie?"

We are liars then? We aren't really working free overtime for fear of losing our jobs? We're just making this up because we want to set up our employers by staying late in some fake sting?

This is how this problem is solved..by assuming we're generally a bunch of lairs so move on to the next room and forget about it?

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