Saturday, February 14, 2015

Biz Rep Questionnaire

TAG organizer/Peg-Board editor/utility infielder Steve Kaplan has been running profiles of Animation Guild Executive Board members in the monthly newsletter. Here's mine ...


What brought you to the industry?

I needed a job. I also wanted to write for a living. So I applied for work in the Disney Feature Animation story department. I didn’t have much professional background, but I got into their training program in the middle seventies, and wrote on a number of features over the next decade.

I was laid off from Disney in the middle eighties. I would tell you it was due to “management change.” Management would tell you it was because the new guys running the studio weren’t jazzed by my work.

After layoff, I worked for Filmation (long since defunct) and WB Animation, and also taught high school English (as many unemployed writers tend to do.)

I ran for the elected post of Animation Guild business representative in 1989, won the job, and have been doing the biz rep thing ever since. I’ll be retiring from the position at the end of 2016.

It’s understood that you’ve held this position for quite some time. How many years have you been the Guild’s Business Representative?

Twenty-five years. But if feels like thirty.

Why do you think you’ve held the position for so long?

I’ve come to work every day and focused on business. I’ve gone out to studios and talked to members on a daily basis. (Business agents who don’t do interactions with the rank and file tend to be gone sooner instead of later).

I’ve worked to be responsive to members’ needs/complaints/
frustrations. (Sadly, sometimes you can be more responsive – and effective -- than others.)

The reasons for my longevity?

A) I made sure I returned phone calls and did face time with guild members.

B) I worked to be cooperative with other elected TAG officers, also to be transparent and available to members.

C) Few other people wanted this job.

What does the Business Representative do? What inspired you to run for the position?

I ran for the position in ’89 because I had served on the guild board for six years, served as Vice-President, and thought I could make the organization more “user friendly.” I did a lot of outreach in the early years, phoning members at home and doing studio visits. The companies I dealt with in those earlier times were a lot less corporate and bureaucratic than they are now.

As to the job itself, you file grievances, supervise the guild office staff, negotiate contracts. But that’s the bare bones description of the position. A big part of business repping is being an ombudsman, helping members navigate the health and pension plans, assisting with people finding work and securing job training, and providing Dutch Uncle type advice to employees who are embroiled in disputes at work and don’t know how to handle an unhappy supervisor or ticked off co-worker.

I tell people that jobs in the animation business are three parts talent/hard work, and two parts politics/luck. If you don’t play well with others, you narrow the strike zone for achieving success. (I’ve learned this the hard way.)

Is this where you imagined you would have ended up in the industry?

No. I imagined I would be doing John Lasseter’s gig. It turns out I was delusional.

What would you like to accomplish this term as the Guild’s Business Rep?

Negotiate a good contract. Organize more studios. End my time here at a sprint.

Do you have any words for the subscribers of the Pegboard?

Never stop pursuing your dreams and ultimate goals, but recognize that you also have to make a living in the meantime. Savor and enjoy every day you’re in the business. (You’re making cartoons! One of the highest callings known to humankind!)

Finally, don’t take yourself too seriously. We’re all on a journey down a bright tunnel, and we’re all going to the same place.​

I should add that a sizable chunk of my job over the past seventeen years has been serving as point person on the Animation Guild's 401(k) Plan. It's been a valuable experience for me because I've learned many facets of the investing game. (The BIGGEST facet? Investing is simple; it's stocks-bonds-WIDE diversification. The hard part is sticking to your plan.)

Members now hold a total of $230 million in assets in the TAG 401(k); this is on top of the money they hold in the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan. The guild's added benefit has really become an integral part of members' pension benefits


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