Monday, April 30, 2007

Boarding, animation and live action

There are two labor organizations that represent storyboard artists. One is this one, The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE. The other is Illustrators and Matte Artists, Local 790 IATSE.

The Animation Guild covers board artists who do continuity boards for animation shorts and features. The Illustrators and Matte Artists cover similar work for live action features.

There are a number of board artists who work in both live action and animation. (Dave Jonas, a longtime Disney artist, was adept at both. For live action, he boarded continuity for Mary Poppins and Robert Zemeckis' Back to the Future films. In animation, he boarded The Black Cauldron. Dave is also a talented watercolorist.)

Thing is, to be a live-action board artist on a union show you have to gain entrance to Local 790's experience roster before you can work. For animation, all you have to do is get yourself hired. There is no experience roster.

This gripes many animation board artists who would like to transition into live-action, and I'm often asked how people can make the jump. (Which is why I'm posting this. I think it's useful to get the answer out.)

There are pretty much two ways to get on 790's experience roster: 1) You work on a live-action movie that starts "non-union" and then gets unionized. After thirty days, you have the recquisite amount of time to get yourself placed on the roster. 2) You get hired on a permit that 790 issues when all other qualified members of Local 790 are engaged. After thirty days, you're placed on-roster.

Over the years I've gotten complaints from animation board artists about how the Illustrators' roster requirement has prevented them from getting a job. I empathize, but the Illustrators' rules are the Illustrators' rules, and what the various studios agree to with another IA local is out of TAG's control.

One bright spot: on a number of live-action films that have had sections of animation in them, Local 839 and Local 790 have (sometimes) shared jurisdiction. It's always a good idea for an animation stry board artist not on 790's roster to check to find out if the live-action feature you have an inside track on can hire you or not.


John_Fountain said...

I've wondered about this for a long time... students ask me about this all the time and I never know what to tell them. Thanks for the info. While I have no doubt that most animation storyboard artists could make the switch to live-action storyboarding pretty easily, the two jobs have some fairly major distinctions, so I can sort of understand why the leap is sort of complicated.

Steve Hulett said...

I had an office next to a top-notch live action board artist for years. He had worked for Cecil B. Demille, Alfred Hitchcock, and finished up his career on staff at Disneys.

You're right about the skill-sets being different. I didn't appreciate how much until I viewed them up close.

Anonymous said...

Thanks much for the info.
I think most of us 839 board artists have wondered about this from time to time. In my 20 years I've only known of about 3 guys who worked both sides of the street, so to speak. I'm dubious as to whether all of them were hired "when all other qualified members of 790 are engaged", though(not suggesting you're wrong, Steve-I know you're not-just saying there's often an X factor); more often it was because they had a connection who knew the liveaction director on the film that hired them. Anyway, here's a few more questions:

-How large is 790 membership vs. ours(I know it's much, much smaller-but not exactly how small)?

-How do their pay rates compare to ours?

-How is it that those "employment agencies" like Famous Frames, etc. put storyboard artists on what I know are UNION shoots in Los Angeles, yet seemingly their hires aren't required to join 790 before doing the ("freelanced-out") work on those films?

It's a very different skill that personally I feel our artists are better equipped to leap to than vice-versa. In our boards acting is key--in L/A, not so much. Yet we have no problem letting one of those guys do some slumming in our union--hey, that's okay, really...but I will just say that years ago when I called the 790 office, explained that I was an 839 member and said I'd like to get some info on how one qualified to work in their union--boy, were they rude. As in nasty. Gave out a distinctly "dog in the manger" vibe("we can play in YOUR sandbox but YOU can't play in OURS. Now get lost!"). For shame, brothers and sisters! ; )

Anonymous said...

storyboard artists are the cornerstone of the entire entertainment industry.

without us, every movie, tv show and cartoon would either cease production completely or wind up costing a thousand times more.

Anonymous said...

I've on occasion been an "undercover" board artist on live-action shoots. This was always a non-union gig, and I wasn't sure if I was in violation of some union rule in doing so. However, these were never permanent positions in any case.

I know I saved them money on a shoot. Often I've arrived on a set, and the director didn't know what the hell he was doing, and was behind schedule. The storyboards got the crew back on track, and I was on my way.

As was said, animation artists are better equipped to leap to live-action than vice-versa.

Steve Hulett said...

-How is it that those "employment agencies" like Famous Frames, etc. put storyboard artists on what I know are UNION shoots in Los Angeles, yet seemingly their hires aren't required to join 790 before doing the ("freelanced-out") work on those films?

That's something I have no way of knowing, since TAG doesn't rep live-action.

If you know about a non-union freelance on a union show, let me know and I'll relay the info to Local 790. They generally are protective of their roster.

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