Friday, July 12, 2013

It's Not 1995 Anymore

While we're on the subject of wage surveys, here are a few comments the guild has received from survey participants:

... The studio is working us hard and fast, but at the same rate as 15 years ago. We have a smaller, crew, more work, and all of us are freelance. This amounts to a 35% pay cut. ...

$600 per page. * NOTE: 600 dollars per page is frickin' CHEAP!! (This from a freelance storyboard artist.)

Never asked to work more than 40 hours in five days in the past three years. (This from someon working 50 hours per week.)

We don't get paid overtime, but we work over 50 hours per week. Design is paid O.T. -- story isn't.

No paid overtime, salaried position only, including some Saturdays. Sometimes we work a 70-hour week. (This from a non-signator studio.)

No raises in the last three years. (This from a character designer.)

I'm making less than I was paid in 1997. I'm making $1485 now. (This from a storyboard reivionist.) ...

In the 1990s, animation artists were making two to three times Animation Guild minimum rates. Often I heard the cry: "What do we need a contract for? We're making three thousand dollars a week!"

But there was a reason for this: Demand, for a few happy years, way outstripped supply. (And Adam Smith isn't wrong.) But that reality didn't last, the industry dipped, and universities, colleges and art schools began turning out animators, board artists, and computer graphic tech directors by the thousands. And whattayaknow? Supply got up with demand. And overshot it.

So here we are in 2013, and the contract minimums again have relevance. Last week I spoke on the phone with the manager of a non-signator, L.A.-based animation studio who marvelled at another studio in New York who was paying artists $400 and $500 a week. "How do they do it?" she asked me. "How do they make movies and t.v. shows on some of their teeny, tiny budgets?"

I answered that there is no hindrance to paying low wages in New York City, because there is no union there putting upward pressure on wages. Added to which New York is a small animation market with little competition and a lot of hungry artists.

The entertainment industry in general, and animation in particular, is global. The United States has minimal trade restrictions on cheap and/or subsideized movie work. Little wonder then that the Los Angeles entertainment community has taken it in the shorts, work and wage-wise, for the last several years. Animation in Los Angeles has done far better than wide segments of live-action because the talent pool is wide and deep and not easily replicable.

However, "not easily" isn't the same as "not." Animation artists, as witnessed in the comments above, have taken economic hits along with everybody else, and they have long-term ahd snort-term remedies.

The short-term solution to not getting shorted on pay is to work cohesively with peers, and build a culture that demands to be compensated for actual hours worked. At union studios, this means encouraging people not to work for free when the schedule is tight, and letting the business representative (moi) know what's going on.. (This is often easier said than done, but I've seen artists that have worked together to not get shorted. I have been phoned. And I've seen artists succeed.)

For the long term, we've got to push for a level playing field where countries (Great Britain? Canada?) aren't being subsidized to the detriment of other countries. That should be simple to achieve, yes?


My Ocean said...

If the artists want schedules to change, then they should only be working the hours they're paid to work. Too many times I've seen artists justify working late beyond the 45-50 hour paid period to "get stuff done" because they don't want to disappoint their higher ups.

The thing is, we're killing ourselves when we work for free. When has that EVER paid off for us? If a production starts missing deadlines because of a ridiculous schedule coupled with a show with crowd scenes, tight board expectations, putting together an animatic, and then revising the heck out of it, then maybe the studios will rethink their stupid schedules or their board expectations. I'd like to have a life outside of the studio that's happy to lay me off at a moment's notice, don't you?

Steve Hulett said...

My point, over and over, is:

When employees work uncomped o.t. they are cutting their own throats. Because the employer gets a false impression about how long the work REALLY takes.

And the bar gets raised. Then raised again. And suddenly people have to work 80 hours per week, EVERY week, to stay even.

Steve Hulett said...

I spend quite a bit of time on uncomped o.t., by the way. Spent time over the past month, in fact. (There was also the organizing thing.)

I've come to understand that departments which stand together and push back get o.t., and those studio departments where it's "every artist for himself," with people working late and taking work home (and never contacting the guild office), work for free.

This crap was going on with "Tiny Toons," for cripes sake. I saw artists who refused to work uncomped o.t. then, and I saw artists who knuckled under. This isn't a new deal

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