Monday, December 05, 2016

So Long, Farewell

In 24 hours, I won't be the Animation Guild's Business Representative anymore. I've done the job for twenty-seven years, but there comes a time to hang the biz rep thing up. To go off fishing. To take a breather.

Now is that time. ...

I became Business Representative of the Animation Guild on November 13, 1989.

It wasn't called the Animation Guild then. It was known as the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists, and it was at a low ebb, with 740 active members. Filmation, a large union employer, had closed its door several months before. Disney was ramping up a bit but wasn't a huge employer. Hanna-Barbera was chugging along with its normal output. Warner Bros. was developing a show with Steven Spielberg called Tiny Toons, but nobody knew how that would pan out.

One of the first things I did after taking the union job? I went to the crew screening and wrap party for The Little Mermaid because my wife worked on the picture and I went along as her faithful spouse. I was all prepared to not like TLM, but fifteen minutes into the picture I was thinking "Damn. This is GREAT!" and went along for the ride.

Soon after, the animation business changed in major ways. It stopped being the small, sleepy, side-water village of film-making, one that no self-respecting, big-time movie exec cared about and into which few of the big entertainment conglomerates ventured. The features rolling out of Disney feature animation all seemed to be blockbusters: Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Lion King, Pocahontas, the good times seemed to roll on forever. And television animation, whether it was created by Disney or Warner Bros. or the upstart Nickelodeon, seemed to rake in piles of cash.

Four decades on, animation is the most profitable corner of movieland, with every big movie company developing animated projects

And it all happened because cartoon features and animated television shows became audience magnets. Large corporations noticed, built themselves sizable studios, and the Animation Guild, formerly known as the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists, rode the slow-building wave. The 740 members at the tail end of the 1980s grew to 3300 members by 2016, making TAG one of the larger production locals in the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees.

Along the way there have been growing pains: Disney's string of animated blockbusters faded at the turn of the century as hand-drawn features were supplanted by their CG cousins, and employees who couldn't make the switch were let go. Television animation expanded, then shrank, then expanded again. Growing a production staff is pleasurable; laying one off is painful.

It's been an eventful roller coaster ride these past twenty-seven years. I would be lying if I said every day of the run was wonderful. There were mornings I hated getting out of bed. There were evenings I was grateful I could lock the office doors and go home and veg out in front of the TV screen.

But I can honestly say that there was far more good times in the job than bad. Helping people find work; fighting for a better deal in contract talks; helping artists get the wages or dismissal pay they deserved, all these things made the job meaningful.

And I hope that Jason Macleod, my talented successor, finds as much pleasure in the job as I have these last three decades. I wish him all the best, as I wish every TAG member a long and prosperous career in the years ahead.


hamletprimeiro said...

I am not a animation professional. I am just a Brazilian animation fan and have followed this blog for some years now.
I learned to respect the thoughtful opinions and the fresh information.
The beautiful Christmas cards from your father, that I knew just for his powerful animation work, were a revelation.
I waited anxiously your reports after the studios rounds. There was always little golden nuggets for a animation fan at those reports.
I think that the big complement that I can do, Mr. Hewlett, being you a writer, is this: your texts at this blog become a nice part of my daily life.
Good like.
My best wishes.
Life long and prosper.


Dave said...

I'm not as poetic as Rogerio - or you, Steve - but I echo his thoughts exactly.

THANK YOU for all your dedicated service, for your many visits to the studios - always bringing nuggets of info and entertaining banter - and especially for this blog and those wonderful audio interviews you conducted! I visit this site several times a day and always enjoy reading about what's going on in our profession.

I'll miss this blog - and YOU!

All the Best ---------- Dave Bennett (and Jill too!)

Mark Mayerson said...

This blog has been a valuable resource for animation professionals and fans far outside the Guild's jurisdiction. Thanks, Steve, for your regular updates and for keeping your finger on animation's pulse.

Leonard said...

Echoing the previous commenters - This has been an amazing source of information and knowledge, and I will definitely miss the daily updates and your commentary. Hopefully the Guild's new leadership continues to maintain the spirit of this blog in some form or another; I for one am grateful for everything I've learned by following it.
So long, farewell, and most of all thank you!

Darlie said...

Hi Steve,

You have been a sober and stable voice which is what we needed. Thank you for being there on the journey. We are in an odd economy now where employers cheat employees, rampant with agism,cheapness. greed and there is nothing anyone can do about it. You have done the best anyone could under these circumstances. To the board and you, thank you all.

Chris Sobieniak said...

I'll miss the recorded interviews you did. I still feel I have questions left unanswered.

goodboi said...

Thanks man. As an animation fan I've been coming to this blog daily for 7 years for animation news and tidbits. You were one of the best at reporting them and did so without being unbearable like some other animation news sites. It was certainly nice to see your posts every day. I hope your future is a bright one, and you have yourself a nice holiday.

Alex Dudley said...

Thanks for running this great blog!

Steve Hulett said...

Thank you, one and all.

I've enjoyed the blogging thing, and will likely pick it up again at another time and place. Jason Macleod, the new business representative, plans to keep the doors of this one open, and at some point I'll kick in thoughts, ideas, posts.

But not now. I'm doing one last post today, since today is (was) my last day as Business Representative. And then I'll step away for awhile. Get my head wrapped around something else.

Thanks to TAG President Kevin Koch for helping me kick this blog off ten-and-a-half years ago, and thanks (again) to everyone who read it.

Hulett out.

Svonkin said...

I'll really miss the blog. I learned a lot about the animation industry from you, Steve. Thanks so much.

Anonymous said...


Your blog and the insights and analysis I read through the years played a huge influence in the VFX Soldier blog. I think the most important analysis you made was your belief on what is fair:

"There is no fair or unfair. What you end up getting is what you have the leverage to get."

That realization helped pave the way for survival for me in the film industry and in business.


Daniel Lay

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