Monday, April 19, 2010

Studios Come and Go

As does everything.

In February, 1989, Lou Scheimer called Filmation staffers into the studio's top floor screening room in staggered shifts to tell them the studio, after twenty-six years, was closing.

In 1985, Filmation had been the largest animation studio in Los Angeles, with 800 artistic employees.

I bring this up (again) because I got into a discussion with a couple of board artists the other day. The pair wondered aloud if the Animation Guild held contracts with any of the same studios we repped in 1952, the first year of our existence.

The answer, after deep thought and shallow research, is no ...

On this date in 1952 (we had been around for five weeks at that point), the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists had contracts with:

Walt Disney Productions

Warner Bros. Animation

M-G-M Cartoons

Walter Lantz Productions

Now, you're going to think I'm wrong here, saying "You guys still rep artists at Disney and Warners!", but bear with me.

The contract with the Walt Disney Animation Studio is now held by the IATSE, not us, though we still represent the animation staff under this newer contract. And Warners went away for a decade in the late sixties, so we have a contract with the new Warner Bros. Animation, not the original.

And Walter Lantz and M-G-M are but memories.

So what companies do we have agreements with today? Here's a partial list:

Sony Adelaide Productions

Bento Box Productions

Cartoon Network Studios

Crest Animation

DreamWorks Animation

Film Roman/ Starz Media

Fox TV Animation

Nickelodeon Animation

Pointy Hat Productions

Sabella-Dern Entertainment

Tom T. Animation

Tornanate Productions

Woodridge Productions

Etcetera.

The object lesson here? There is no permanence in Cartoonland, and like Lantz and M-G-M once upon a distant time, there is no way to know if that animation or visual development or storyboard job you're immersed in will last a month, a year, or a decade. I talk with the hardy elder statesmen on The Simpsons and they are amazed the gig has lasted twenty-two years. And I chat with veteran Winnie the Pooh staff people at WDAS who can't believe their feature careers -- riding high when Lion King was breaking box office records and Disney animated hits seemed as perennial as California rainstorms -- might be close to over.

The only remedies to the impermanence is to be good at what you do, live below your means, and help TAG organize the newer studios that will invariably, inevitably crop up. Because new companies will be coming into existence as surely as many of the old ones will disappear. And you've got to be ready for them when they arrive.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

By "might be close to over" are you referring to the older guys at Disney who might be coming to a close with their careers in general, because of age? Or to the fact that things are so shaky at WDAS that they're not sure if they'll be able to keep a job there?

Floyd Norman said...

Be afraid, be very afraid.

Anonymous said...

"800 artistic employees"

Clever way of stating that.

Anonymous said...

Are we getting hints here that WDAS is about to be shutting its doors?

Don't leave us with THAT much of a cliffhanger, come on now.

Anonymous said...

>The contract with the Walt Disney Animation Studio is now held by the IATSE, not us, though we still represent the animation staff under this newer contract.

What does this mean? We are IATSE, right? Is this a benefit, a disadvantage? A separate collective bargaining agreement for one studio? Please illuminate with the usual 'how-this-all-came-to-be' shrug of the famous TAG shoulders of sad resignation.

Anonymous said...

No offense Floyd, but that shit gets old.

Not that WDAS is immune to closure, but people have been predicting its demise for decades.

Unless you're spilling the beans (as you've been known to do) you're just being dramatic.

Steve Hulett said...

Are we getting hints here that WDAS is about to be shutting its doors?

No.

Only that the employees doing hand-drawn features aren't sure how far off the next hand-drawn project could be. Which means some (many?) of them could be looking at long layoffs.

Hard to stay in the biz when you're faced with a year or more of unemployment.

Much of the CG staff comes and goes. They hire CG animators, surfacers and other when a picture ramps up; lay them off when it's wrapped.

They run the CG part of the studio much like a visual effx house: Staff comes aboard as needed; exits when the picture ends, 9-12 months of employment. (Andrew Millstein says they want to offer more long-term -- and stable -- employment, but they keep doing things the hire/layoff/hire way. How about that?)

At some point, you pay attention to what they do, as opposed to what they say. Otherwise you turn into a ... what's the word? ... cynic.

Steve Hulett said...

What does this mean? We are IATSE, right? Is this a benefit, a disadvantage? A separate collective bargaining agreement for one studio? Please illuminate with the usual 'how-this-all-came-to-be' shrug of the famous TAG shoulders of sad resignation.

The Animation Guild is part of the International Alliance of Theatrical and stage Employes, correct. We are one local union umbrellaed by a large international union.

From 1952 until 2000, Disney animation was under a Local 839 contract.

From 2000 until now, almost all feature animation employees work under a Disney/TSL/IA contract, and TAG represents animation employees that it used to rep under its own local contract.

We no longer can file grievances under the TSL contract; the IATSE does that. The Disney animation employees are still TAG members. Benefits are the same. Wage minimums are by and large the same.

Anonymous said...

"No offense Floyd, but that shit gets old"

I agree. COMPLETELY. Floyd knows about as much about what's going on the business as jim hill.

But that doesn't prevent him from inserting himself into things as if he knows something.

I may be able to appreciate Norman's longevity in the business, but that's about it. "legend" or not.

Anonymous said...

So what is a TSL contract? Not that the information will enlighten the subject any more, as the deeper one digs into the workings of collective bargaining, the more convoluted, nonsensical, and purely moronic it gets.

Anonymous said...

Fuck you. Go away, troll.

Steve Hulett said...

So what is a TSL contract? Not that the information will enlighten the subject any more, as the deeper one digs into the workings of collective bargaining, the more convoluted, nonsensical, and purely moronic it gets.

The "TSL contract" began life in 1999-2000 as a visual effects contract, negotiated by the IATSE with Diz Co. when DreamQuest Visual Effects was purchased by Disney and merged with Disney Feature Animation.

The Visual Effects department that resulted inside DFA (called "The Secret Lab", hence the name of the contract) was only up and running a few years, but ultimately almost all the employees at Disney Feature Animation ended up working under it.

Anyway, those are the bullet points, you want to know more call me.

Judging from the rest of your statement, you've actually done minimal digging and know little about collective bargaining. And given your stated opinion ("...convoluted, nonsensical, and purely moronic...") I'm mystified why you asked the question in the first place.

Anonymous said...

I respect Floyd, but constantly predicting the demise of Disney DOES get old...

Anonymous said...

Are we comparing the "demise" of Disney to the demise of Filmation, as if there's some implied similarity of cause?
...No, really, are we?

(Seeing as all the studios ever had in common were Filmation trying to leech off Snow White and Pinocchio at one point.) ;)

Anonymous said...

"Are we comparing the "demise" of Disney to the demise of Filmation, as if there's some implied similarity of cause?"

I wouldn't over-analyze the "demise" of Filmation. Filmation didn't "fail" per se. It was bought by a French perfume company, (I believe it was L'Oreal), presumably for it's assets, which then simply shut the company down without even trying to make it work. (Something for you "free-market" true believers to think about).

Filmation may not have been good source for killer portfolio samples, but they did not believe in outsourcing animation or age discrimination. This would be a much better business and more humane profession if they were still around.

(Before you all turn on Floyd, remember; Disney shut down 2-D once before. Don't blame the messenger).

Anonymous said...

Where do we start digging? The minutes of the negotiations? Please post online so we might decipher the insider acronyms and have some clarity as to how this tidy little IATSE/TAG/TSL/grievance/RSVP/LOL machine works.

Floyd Norman said...

For guys in the cartoon business, you're certainly lacking a sense of humor.

As far as predicting the end of Disney, that's just plain silly. I happen to be a Disney shareholder, so what would I gain by that?

However, it sure sounds like somebody out there is really worried.

Anonymous said...

Definitely has the air of foreboding upon it, based on the lead in and comments.

Steve Hulett said...

Where do we start digging? The minutes of the negotiations? Please post online so we might decipher the insider acronyms and have some clarity as to how this tidy little IATSE/TAG/TSL/grievance/RSVP/LOL machine works.

Gee. You don't drop by here much, do you? Kevin and I have posted about various negotiations here on the blog for years. (Try the search engine, above.)

Beyond that, the trade papers report them, and we talk about them at membership meetings.

And beyond that, if you're a TAG member, active or inactive, you can volunteer for duty aboard the Negotiation Committee and see how the whole process works in real time. (Thrill to the airy conference rooms of the AMPTP*! Smile across the big, blonde-wood conference table at your friendly neighborhood corporate negotiators!)

And again, you want even more information than that, call me and I'll regale you with details until they are coming out of your ears, acronyms included.

* That's Alliance of the Motion Picture and Television Producers. I wouldn't want to confuse or befuddle you with more initials.

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