Friday, February 08, 2008


Detail how to work in the industry fresh out of school without getting screwed...

Easier said than done. When I started, I was fortunate to get into a trainee program at Walt Disney Productions, where salaries and job classifications were pretty cut and dried. They paid you scale, and you worked your way up.

You didn't make a lot of money, but you didn't get shafted, either.

It's my experience after doing this job awhile that many companies play fast and loose with state and federal labor regulations. Some do it willfully (they know better but figure they can get away with some cheating), and some do it out of ignorance. Either way, it adds up to the same thing.

But to the question: "How does a newbie avoid getting screwed?" ...

The short answer is, you have to know what your rights are. You don't know the basic rules, you're going to just blunder along relying on the benevolence of your employer. Sometimes (not always) that's a dangerous thing to do.

So. What are these rules? There's a ton of them, so I'll only touch on a handful of important ones.

You work as an employee or an independent contractor. (I discuss the differences here.)

Generally, an independent contractor works with his own equipment and tools in his own workspace, has minimal to no supervision, gets paid by flat check, etc. (The Internal Revenue Service has a list of guidelines.)

If you're an employee, you're either exempt from overtime rules because you're "creative," or "managerial" or "professional," or you're non-exempt (non-exempt from overtime -- usually "time and a half" after forty hours in a week; double time during the seventh day worked.)

Under Federal regs, "animator" (in quotes) is a non-exempt category. Surprised? Well, the Fed's reasoning is that animators are working with pre-existing figures/characters (true for both traditional and cgi), therefore they are non-exempt from overtime rules.

This reg is pretty much ignored. (Game and cgi studios argue that digital ain't the same as traditional, but I don't believe the issue has been litigated to a final conclusion. I don't pore over law journals, so I could be wrong.)

Most assistant work is non-exempt. Most assistant type work on the production side ("p.a.") is also non-exempt.

In California, employees have the right to share wage information, something many companies strive mightily to discourage. (I've had employees complain about intimidation by production execs on this score numerous times. When the employee points out California law protects sharing salary info, the exec quiets right down).

In our corporatist society, there is huge pressure to keep employees ignorant of labor law. (I served on a federal workforce board for years, and pushed teaching workplace rights to high school students. I wasn't met with ... uh ... overwhelming support by companies on the board.)

The long and short of it is, the internet makes it easy to find out what your rights are, but most people don't make a lot of effort to learn, because it's sort of boring. In the time I've been doing this, the folks who know what the rules are and how they can protect themselves (state labor commissioners, unions and guilds, etc.) end up better off than those who don't. It boils down to:

Knowledge = Power


Anonymous said...

Excellent post!

Exactly the reason I come often to this site.


Anonymous said...

Disney has a trainee program again.

Steve Hulett said...

It never completely went away.

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