Thursday, May 15, 2008

Leverage and LEVERAGE

I beat on this leverage thingamabob, largely because I run into so many different incarnations of it. Here is yet another example.

A few days back, I had a meeting with an employee with one of the major studios, and he was a little miffed that he'd been passed over for some jobs he was clearly qualified for:

"They seemed to ignore me until I complained and said I wanted to leave. Then they came back with an offer. It took me bitching about the way I'd been treated and saying I wanted out to get them to realize I had skills sets they really needed, to get them to finally take me seriously."

An old story, many times told. When I heard his tale of woe, I flashed on this anecdote from Charlton Heston's autobiography:

...One evening after looking at dailies [for 55 Days at Peking I greeted [my driver] Ricardo [and asked how he was doing.]

"Well enough, Senor, except that I have not been paid in five weeks."

"Five weeks?" I said, stunned. "You should have told me sooner!" ...

I went inside to the comptroller's office ... When I told him the story, he was outraged. He pressed the intercom and chewed somebody out in a torrent of profane Spanish too fast for me to follow fully.

"A thousand apologies, my dear Chuck," he said, clasping my had. "Please tell your driver he will be paid tomorrow morning."

... I finally thought some days later to check on Ricardo's situation. "Your back pay all caught up now?" I asked ...

"Oh no, Senor. No one will speak to me about it. It is now more than six weeks." Now I was angry as well as appalled.

"What the hell is doing on here?" I said, striding into the comptroller's office. "You're spending however many million it is by now on this film, and stiffing a poor driver working for forty bucks a week?!"

[The comptroller] leapt to this feet and screamed "Frederico! Venga ... en seguida!" In seconds his head accountant ran in and stood trembling. For fully two minutes [the comptroller] stripped the skin off him, switching to English toward the end to make sure I was following...

...At the end of the day... I remembered to check with Ricardo. No, he had still not been paid. I walked in on [the comptroller] still in my uniform. He stood, amazed. "Chuck!! Please, please do not tell me your poor Ric does not yet have his money!"

"No," I said. "He's been paid. By me. Through this week and one month's advance. Now you don't owe him. You owe ME. I'd like the money right away, please."

[The comptroller] never turned a hair. He pulled open a drawer in his desk crammed full of neat stacks of thousand-peseta notes, peeled off a dozen or so, and passed them over ...

I told the above to the artist who had been crapped on. We both agreed it pretty neatly encapsulated the money, power relationships and bullshit that have always been part of film-making. And most importantly, the leverage it takes to achieve certain ends.

The question that animation artists with at least some clout have asked over the years: "Why do I have to become a jerk before I get a good response from management?"

Simple. It's not that the movie higher-ups are calloused a-holes. It's that they mostly have other fish to fry (like keeping those with Big Leverage happy). And they have little time or energy left over to care about ... or notice ... anything else.

It's probably what Charlton Heston would tell us, if he were still alive. But then, he's already told everybody ... in his book.


JayG said...

"The squeaky wheel gets the oil!", was one of my old bosses' favorite phrases. They were notorious for never giving pay raises unless you asked for it, meant it, and were ready to fight for it. They'd be ready with a notebook full of reasons why they couldn't give you a raise so leverage was always key.

Floyd Norman said...

I never got a raise when asking. The managers were well prepared to tell me why it wasn't possible.

When I told my boss I was leaving, they managed to find some more money. Amazing how that works.

I quit anyway.

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