Sunday, January 28, 2007

Afternoon at Starz Media

Friday, I ended up spending a long afternoon at Starz Media/Film Roman next to the Bob Hope Airport. Usually I breeze in and out of cubicles with a quick "hi how ya doin'?", pass out 401(k) booklets and move on, but I ended up spending long stretches of time actually talking to people.

At the moment, Starz Media is developing fewer original theatrical productions, pursuing more contract work, cutting its overhead (having fewer production execs). The theatrical toon Sheepish has completed most development of the pictures and now moves into full-bore production. My guess is: that Starz will decided where it wants its feature division to go after Sheepish frolics into theatres.

Several board artists at Starz who weren't around when TAG organized it during the time of IDT Entertainment's ownership, asked me how the company came to be "union" after so many years not. I told them the following tale:

One bright summer day two years and eight months ago, a Simpson's artist came into my shabby little office and said Film Roman's artists wanted to "go union" because their pension and health benefits had been cut, many were't happy with what they were making, and people were all around, ahm, pissed off.

I looked at him and said: "I've been up to Roman's a bunch of times and never gotten much of anyplace. I'm not sure I want to go up there now and go nowhere again. So tell you what? Here's a stack of union representation cards. You get them signed, then we'll talk."

The artist took the cards and went away. Two weeks later he came back with a pile of them signed. "Now will you help? Like, can we have a meeting?"

This time I said yes, and set up a meeting for Film Roman employees. And then, because I'm a brilliant organizer and strategist, I forgot all about the meeting, came within a whisker of missing it altogether, and showed up a half-hour late.

But nobody had left, because they were motivated to change the studio's status to a TAG-type company. (I didn't know this yet.) And when the meeting broke up, TAG had a lot more representation cards and was well on its way to having a majority.

Two months later, we filed a petition for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board. The company campaigned energetically to get its employees to vote "no" in the NLRB election. Happily, it made a number of mistakes that made its employees want to be unionized more than they already did. And when the election was held and the votes were counted, the animation guild won the balloting by 89%.

A month after that, Film Roman (now Starz Media) had its first Animation Guild contract.

The newbie Starz employees told me all of this was news to them.


Chris Battle said...

You should follow this up with the story of how Nickelodeon finally became a union studio, as well.

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