To beat on this bass drum yet again, I present to you a recent e-mail exchange between a veteran board artist and me. I've made redactions in order to keep the waters calm.
Didn't really have time to get into it [last week], but we are indeed having a lot of storyboard artists on **** doing lots and lots of unpaid overtime (I worked from home yesterday on my board, for instance).
6 board artists- including myself- met with [our supervisor] about this, and though he seems to be sincere in his effort to begin curbing the endless script rewrites and animatic corrections, paid overtime and/or reasonable deadlines are completely off the table. I now just try to do all I possibly can in 40-45 hrs. and say 'f*ck it' if the show isn't done on time. Of course, that makes me look terribly bad to my director.
I hesitate to mention this for all the usual reasons: fear of being blacklisted, fired, this is the norm for most board artists, etc. Also, we are approaching the end of the season. ... But I thought I'd seek your advice on what should be done- if anything. The only advantage [our show's] board artists seem to have at the moment is solidarity-- we back each other up anytime someone goes to management.
Anyway, just wanted to get your thoughts. Regardless, I am a regular lurker on the TAG Blog and truly appreciate and admire all you do for artists in this town. ...
What this artist writes about is pretty typical regarding what often goes down at various L.A. studios -- both union and non-union. But it's also true that in a single facility, one show can be a hell-hole while the series down the hall is comparatively stress free and the schedules sane. Here's my reply ...
Your experience isn't unusual. Every studio has some of this; it varies from show to show. (I met with one crew a couple years back. They were screaming about the scheduling and unpaid overtime. I went to the producer -- who complained about the budget constraints -- and some minor adjustments were made, but it was still a problem. [Blank] is considered a major hell-hole by many; [Double Blank] not so much. The difference is the show runners and production managers.)
The "work for free" problem has been around since the day I started this job. A production manager was pressuring the layout crew to work free o.t. on "Tiny Toons" in freaking 1990. Glenn Vilppu, now an art teacher for TAG and others, refused to do unpaid o.t., the younger guys knuckled under.
(Glenn stayed on by the way. He's low-key and amiable, but he tends not to take shit. He once worked for an art school that stiffed every teacher but him. They tried it on him once, and he told them he would need a cashiers check every time he stepped through their door. They complied because they needed him and figured out they couldn't screw with him. Everybody else went on getting stiffed, with some people not getting paid for over a YEAR. The owner-operator of the school was a snake with a gift of gab. He TALKED artist-teachers into working for free. "My ex-wife's suing me, I'm short this week, wish I had the money, it'll be here next week for sure.." and so on.)
Re your situation, I always tell people that I can do a variety of things with work problems: I can come in late at night or on weekends and catch people working, then file a grievance. (I'm the bad guy in this scenario.) I can go and complain to H.R. I can go to [the Big Kahuna]. ... Mostly what I hear is "There's unreasonable amounts of unpaid o.t., the union has gotta do something about this but don't use my name if you make a complaint or file a grievance," etc. Meantime the union is weak, don't you know?)
I'm willing to do anything you guys want, everything from nothing, to coming in and monitoring the late-work, going to management and raising a stink, you name it. Mostly everybody is frightened of losing their jobs and so they're hunkered down holding on and don't make waves. The problem artists make for themselves is that they falsify time cards, work extra hours for free, and then studios start expecting it. My realistic suggestion would be what you hinted at: Everybody should figure out how to work fast and efficient and cut whatever corners can be cut. Negotiate with supervisors. See if everybody can hang together. In my experience, the fear of discharge is always exaggerated, but artists know SOMEBODY might get laid off for pushing back, so they don't push back.
Happy to take you and the rest of the crew to lunch to kick ideas around about how to make things better. Let me know if people are up for it. Lunch will be my treat. ...
One note re the above: When I say, "... work fast and efficient ...," I don't mean to come off like some constipated production manager. What I mean is, people sometimes need to find shortcuts and make artistic compromises to keep up with the work load, otherwise they're going to be sitting at their computer screen until midnight. There is, of course, another solution: put down on the time card all hours worked.
And I'll restate (one last time) another problem attached to the first. If management gets sixty hours of work for forty hours of pay, they will tend to keep raising the bar until it's eighty.