Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Up At Film Roman, Watching the "Gravy Train"

From comments down below:

... honestly, i don't have a hell of a lot of sympathy for the Simpson's crew. they've been on one of the biggest gracvy trains this town has ever seen animation-wise(has any other show had more longevity? any other job had more security?) ...

It's always heart-warming when you read this kind of all-encompassing love for co-workers. Somebody gets a fairly steady job paying okay wages, and they're despised for it.

Good will toward fellow artists, it's a delight to see. But let me say a few things about the "gravy train" ...

I was up at Film Roman this morning. There's like maybe a dozen artists working in the Simpsons unit. One of the surviving layout artists said to me:

"I've been off for ten weeks. We just came back two weeks ago, and on Friday we're through with everything and back on layoff ..."

He wasn't complaining, just giving me the cold reality when I asked how things were. And I'll tell you something about the Simpsons layout artists. They work incredibly hard, and for years they worked at below-scale rates: a grand a week or less when contract studios were paying twenty and fifty percent more. A thousand dollars sounds like a lot, but there were seasonal breaks and L.A. rents to pay, so maybe not so much.

And the last time the voice actors went to the mat with Fox, the artists had a real long layoff.

So yeah, the Simpsons crew has had a long gig, but the pay for many hasn't been, like, overwhelming. And the artists have sort of had something to do with making the long employment happen, haven't they?

One other thing. Long employment isn't always the end-all and be-all, and it doesn't necessarily make you even semi-wealthy. I knew plenty of Disney long-termers back in the seventies, guys that had been around twenty or thirty years. One grizzled board artists told me:

"I got to Disney in '55. I was managing a gas station before I was hired, and they paid me so little that I had to go on managing the gas station at night to make ends meet. That went on for three or four years ..."

My old man made $15 a week when he began his thirty-five-year Disney career; he was making $60/week when I was born. He ended up comfortably middle-class not from his Disney salary, but from all his non-Disney art jobs.

The first half-century of animation in Southern California, few got rich from animating or designing or drawing storyboards. Woolie Reitherman confided: "I got rich from Disney stock options, not from the pay."

Most, of course, didn't have Disney stock options. At a TAG Golden Awards banquet celebrating fifty-year animation employees, Disney veteran Joe Hale chortled: "Half a century? Hell, this is a business where you have to work that long to survive."

He wasn't joking.

So if you want to ride the bitter train because somebody has managed to work steadily in cartoonland, you'll have to ride without me. Because I know how hard it's been for even those who've had long-term jobs, and I ain't climbing on board.

60 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, thats kind of pathetic isn't it?

"And I'll tell you something about the Simpsons layout artists. They work incredibly hard, and for years they worked at below-scale rates: a grand a week or less when contract studios were paying twenty and fifty percent more."

Where was the union when this was going on? Wasn't Film Roman a union studio then?

Sorry to hold your feet to the flames on this, but the Writer's Guild went on strike and got a better deal. SAG is using the threat of a strike to negotiate better deals. The town is packed to the brim with executives who are talentless and grotesquely overpaid. And over and over again we acknowledge the inescapable reality that not just any art school dropout has enough talent and intelligence to craft feature and television animation.

Then here you are, wagging your finger at dues paying union members and telling them that they need to accept low wages.

The Simpsons has made upwards of $2.5 billion for Fox. Groening and Brooks have made over $150million off of the show.

It seems to me that professionals in the animation field in this town can count on one thing - the union being consummately toothless when it comes to getting better wages for its employees.

Animation is the staple of children's television programming(2 networks) and the medium that numerous studios count on for huge profits. For a guy that talks tall about leverage, you sure are unable to see even the slightest possibility of having to use it. Especially as every other facet of labor in this town passes us artists by.

Now I'll digest your solemn advice about making do with less. Thanks for nothing. Really.

Anonymous said...

Go ahead, Steve, let 'em have it...


What a dope.

Anonymous said...

I'm not an animator or associated with animation, but it makes me so damn angry to read how talent is treated in a very demanding industry like animation. But that's the way it is for so long for so many artistic professions: non-talent controlling talent, and being paid considerably more than talent. That's one reason I'm so glad there are a few outlets, like Dark Horse and Image Comics, where artists can at least own their creations, unlike the bad old days of DC Comics and the sad story of Siegel and Shuster. Overall, for artists everywhere, I don't know how things can really be changed for the better. If experienced animators/artists take a stand, there are always hungry young newbies ready to replace them, willing to take their lumps later just so they can take a shot at their dream. Sad really. Sad, sad, sad...

Steve Hulett said...

Where was the union when this was going on? Wasn't Film Roman a union studio then?

Excuse me? Film Roman was non-union at the time. And "where was the union when this was going on?" I was standing outside on the freaking sidewalk, waving fliers at people walking into the Chandler building, begging them to sign rep cards.

But guess what, Mr. Mendoza? Until a sufficient number of FR employees signed the cards, we didn't get to a union vote or a contract. It took a 50% pension and health plan cut by the company, along with Richard Reynis being his usual charming self, to get a majority to rally to the cause.

We ended up winning the election by 80+%. It only took fourteen years to do it.

Oh, and we hung tough during FR contract negotiations and got many of the artists sizable pay bumps.

You're welcome.

Sorry to hold your feet to the flames on this, but the Writer's Guild went on strike and got a better deal ...

Yeah, they did good. They helped juice the DGA talks (kudos to them), and then they got the DGA deal.

Then here you are, wagging your finger at dues paying union members and telling them that they need to accept low wages.

I'm dense. Could you point me to the part of my post where I "wag my finger at dues paying members" saying they need to accept low wages? I must have blacked out when I typed it.

For a guy that talks tall about leverage, you sure are unable to see even the slightest possibility of having to use it. Especially as every other facet of labor in this town passes us artists by.

Use what leverage how? The WGA got the DGA deal after proclaiming it wasn't good enough. Why didn't they use their leverage to get more?

Let's go back a few years. In 2001, after stating that the DVD formula had to be improved, I listened to WGA President John Wells say it was a "strike issue."

Guess what? That year the WGA didn't get any DVD improvements. It also didn't strike. Why is that, you think? Maybe they calculated they didn't have the juice or leverage. Maybe it was just general "toothlessness." Who knows?

Regarding TAG: this union is a part of the IATSE, a labor organization with 120,000 members. Like it or not, we negotiate deals within the IA template. That means when the IA negotiates the BASIC agreement for 40,000 of its members on the West Coast, we follow along. They do well, we do well. They do less well, ditto for us.

In 1960-61, the IA negotiated a residual deal similar to the guilds. Today it has residual percentages in some ways better than SAG/WGA, but all the money flows into the health and pension plans. Many people would prefer to have the bucks flow directly into their pockets, but that isn't the structure set up fifty-eight years back, isn't the structure now, and probably won't be in the future.

Over the past eight years, we've gotten improvements for writers -- specifically freelance writers -- in each contract. It hasn't been as much as we'd prefer, but like every other union and guild in town, we're constrained by A) pattern bargaining, B) overall leverage, and C) union contracts previously negotiated.

Life isn't perfect, but the fact that contract studios pay employees more across the board than their non-union counterparts indicates something, doesn't it? (And yes, there are any number of non-union leads who make way over union scale. But I'm talking here about the collective group, not this or that individual.)

Hope the above clarifies things for you. Any day I can correct misinformation is a day well spent.

Ruben Chavez said...

Good for you Steve!!!

Yet another misinformed has been educated. ; )

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,

Just wondering how this strike will affect other shows at Film Roman, such as King of the Hill? Will the next season even start in lieu of the SAG strike?

Steve Hulett said...

King of the Hill staffers should be filtering back in June. I think that scripts have been recorded (don't know how many).

This means the whole artistic staff can go to work until the voice tracks run out.

My guess is that there will be a flurry of activity in recording studios around town prior to the expiration of the SAG contract on June 31st.

Anonymous said...

" the fact that contract studios pay employees more across the board than their non-union counterparts indicates something, doesn't it?"

thats not much to crow about is it?

Guild actors make more than their non-union counterparts.
Guild writers make more than their non-union counterparts.
Guild editors make more than their non-union counterparts.
Guild directors...you get the point.

the inescapable fact of the matter is that animation production is a triad of EQUAL effort that combines writers, actors, and animators.

Animators work the hardest and make the least out of the three. period. there is no arguing that.

Anonymous said...

So, "mendoza," put your money where your mouth is and UNIONIZE FILM ROMAN and the SIMPSONS CREW. Make that facist murdoch pay you what you think you're worth. Lord knows those actors do--and are far more easily replaced.

Steve Hulett said...

the inescapable fact of the matter is that animation production is a triad of EQUAL effort that combines writers, actors, and animators.

Equal effort? Let's see, a voice actor records a half-hour t.v. show in what? Four hours?

A board artist takes six weeks (roughs and cleanups) on a production board. Eight to ten hours per day.

Sure sounds like equal effort to me. And most certainly an inescapable fact.

Animators work the hardest and make the least out of the three. period. there is no arguing that.

Actually, it's easy to argue that. The average working voice actor (I'm not talking about the actors on The Simpsons) makes less in a year than the average working animator.

The median 2D Animator salary, per the last TAG wage survey, is $2000 per week. Annually (50 weeks) that's $100k.

Average 3D animator salary: $75-80K

The average yearly actors salary in L.A., per the Economic Research Institute, is $45,274.

Yep, no doubt about it. Actors make way more.

I got these factoids off the web with ten minutes of search. If SAG has a wage survey breakdown, I couldn't find it. (I recall a SAG press release that said the average working actor made in the 50-90K range, and that the vast majority of SAG membership made under $10k per year.)

My question: Do you actually source anything? Or do you just pull assertions out of thin air and declare that there is "no argument"?

Just asking.

Anonymous said...

You are obfuscating the issue Steve.

The actors that work on The Simpsons reap the benefits of its huge popularity and revenue(they have done so by using their leverage as you have cited). Likewise, the writers get fat checks with residuals.

The animators get a standard wage that you are trumping up by comparing it to those who are non-union or work on other shows.

Lets get down to brass tacks here:
writers, actors and animators make the show(and we agree that animators work the hardest). All contribute their creative input to the process. Each of these three groups should get a fair cut of the shows success.

the actors do.
the writers do.
...the animators aren't.

When a show succeeds and proves itself to be a stalwart moneymaker for a studio, the people who contribute to it creatively should get a cut.
The writers and actors have figured this out and THEIR UNIONS have stepped in to rectify the situation. The local 839 won't step in for animators and say
"Hey, we contribute as much content to these shows as actors and writers and we deserve a bigger piece of the giant profits the shows garners."

Lets be honest, even if you did do that the studios would laugh in your face. SAG and WGA have power and this union has as much power as the studios let it have.

Lets be honest here, you will never strike. The studios will never take a hit for the animation union. They'll share with actors and writers but not animators, and that never gets talked about in here.

Steve Hulett said...

Almost forgot, Mendoza. You failed to answer my question about this:

Then here you are, wagging your finger at dues paying union members and telling them that they need to accept low wages.

Please show me where I wrote anything remotely like that. Just cut and paste. I'm eager to learn.

Anonymous said...

The only one wagging fingers is "mendoza." I bet he hasn't signed his union card.

Oh, and by the way, Steve, you're retorts are perfectly judged. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Mendoza, the simple fact of life is that on a show like the Simpsons the actors and writers are extremely necessary. Specific actors and writers. Don't kid yourself - the truth is any of the storyboard artists or layout artists and many of the directors could all be replaced at the drop of a hat. And often are.
If you want to start talking about a film or a show that is actually artist driven you MIGHT have something valid to discuss, but the FR/Fox shows are not artist driven.
Whether you like it or not the big money is, unfortuntely, going into the hands of the people that make a difference.
My guess is that you're not in the industry and have very little concept of what you're talking about. So instead of attacking Steve and those that know what they're talking about why don't you listen to them and learn.

Anonymous said...

You can't send acting to Asia, and you can't send writing to Asia, but you can easily send art and animation to Asia.

Steve Hulett said...

You can't send acting to Asia, and you can't send writing to Asia, but you can easily send art and animation to Asia.

It's about (have I said this prior?) leverage.

Fact (one that Mendoza ignores or doesn't know):

From '91-'97, non-union animation writers on The Simpsons received WGA style residuals and salaries, despite the fact they weren't WGA. (The show came under Writers Guild in '97.)

From 1991-2005, non-union layout artists worked below TAG minimums. After unionization, they worked at or above TAG minimums.

So what would this indicate to most people? Maybe that the writers on this show had more inherent leverage going in. Why? Because they had more perceived value in the market-place.

Don't buy this? Then let's go back to the 1930s, before almost any unionization in the Los Angeles film industry.

Top writers in the movie business were earning $1,000-$2,000 per week. (Source: Niven Busch - 1930s screenwriter who I knew for years).

Top animators at Disney -- the top studio of the time -- made $250-$350 per week (source: Art Babbit. He was making $300 before the '41 Disney strike).

So ... top-of-the-line writers, based on the marketplace, were making three to five times what a top-flight animator of the time made.

Is this the toothless union's fault? Not hardly, since no unions are in the equation at this point in history.

If we travel along the time-line 75 years, we'll find that a top-flight animator makes $100k-$300k (with a few high-flyers making more), and top-tier writers making $300k to a million+ dollars (including residuals).

Heey now! That's the same freaking salary ratio that we saw in the late 1930s!

How the hell can that BE?!

Because, when you strip away all the extraneous crap, over time the marketplace prevails. And if the marketplace values one class of worker more highly than another class, then one group is paid more than another. End of story.

Which leads to this: The WGA isn't more powerful than the IA (or us) because it's more powerful, but because it reps a class of worker that has been (over time) more highly valued and compensated in the marketplace.

This is the "inarguable" part of the story, folks.

Over time, the MARKETPLACE prevails. Unions and guilds make a difference, but they don't change the overall shape and arc of the market.

Steve Hulett said...

Lets be honest, even if you did do that the studios would laugh in your face. SAG and WGA have power and this union has as much power as the studios let it have.

Dear Mendoza: See my post immediately above. That'll clear things up for you.

Oh. TAG struck in '79 and '82. We can strike in the future if A) the IA gives us authorization and B) the membership votes to strike.

Steve Hulett said...

Lets get down to brass tacks here:
writers, actors and animators make the show(and we agree that animators work the hardest). All contribute their creative input to the process. Each of these three groups should get a fair cut of the shows success.

the actors do.
the writers do.
...the animators aren't.


To be technical, the animators on the Simpsons are in Korea. But I get your point, sort of.

I know this is difficult, but I'll make it simple.

There is no fair. There is only what people (collectively and individually) have the leverage to get.

Participants on The Simpsons get pretty much what their perceived marketplace value is (see above).

Harry Shearer, voice actor, makes far above the minimums laid down by his (toothless?) union the WGA. $260,00 per episode, last time I checked.

The writers got residuals before they went union, they get residuals after.

The animation directors on The Simpsons don't make more money week-to-week because TAG now reps them. But they now have better pension and health, particularly health. No co-payments.

The Simpson layout artists are making higher weekly salaries, hundreds of dollars more, because they're now repped by TAG. They have better pension and health benefits.

Artists on The Simpsons worked for fourteen years without union representation. Their choice. They all accepted the terms and conditions under which they worked. Most or all of them now work under better conditions than they did prior to the TAG contract, obviously it's been more beneficial for some, but everyone has benefited. (For a wide philosophical discussion, see by comments above).

Are these things fair? I don't know. I exist in the Real World where I have to deal with Real Things as they actually are. Grapple with Real Problems.

You, however, exist in Mendezland, where anything you deem to be "unfair" is just that.

How nice for you.

Steve Hulett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"You can't send acting to Asia, and you can't send writing to Asia, but you can easily send art and animation to Asia."

I don't think thats true. My case is that the storyboarders, the layout artists, and the designers are an integral part of the Simpsons show. AS integral as the actors and the writers, and yet the discussion is there:
why do they not get a cut of the HUGE profits the show reaps when the writers and actors do.

This is an instance that is unique to a show that proves itself to be a smash hit(Spongebob could also be considered). When the network gets windfall profits from a hit show - the writers get residuals that match that. the actors ask for more money and get it, because they can't replace them.

If the union requested that artists get a piece of the huge profits as well(because their contribution is JUST as important as that of the actors and writers) and the stuido said "No. The artists aren't entitled to any piece of the huge profits." then i think...
the artists are getting rooked.
Ergo the union should do something.

Its not a matter of "fair", its a matter of using the power you have to get what you deserve when what you work on is a smash hit. The actors and writers have unions that create a template for this. the animation union does not, and that why many have the perception that it is not a powerful union. to have power is to use it. that doesn't mean striking per se, but bringing the issue to the studios when the situation presents itself.

every actor looks to get on that show that strikes a chord with the public and goes into syndication so they can get a piece of the profits . Writers have the same aspirations. Yet, their sow would not exist without the hand picked talent of the artists - and the artists don't get that return.

Steve's post relates how, even if you have a long term job(on the Simpsons!)its hard to get by in this business.

Doesn't that strike you as wrong? Shouldn't that be addressed by the labor union? A hit show running for nearly twenty years with $2.5 billion in profits and everyone sees some kind of return except the artists??!?

I've face a lot of ire in the comments here, but i don't care because the issue i bring up is a valid and salient one.

Anonymous said...

"I don't think thats true. My case is that the storyboarders, the layout artists, and the designers are an integral part of the Simpsons show. AS integral as the actors and the writers"

That's where you are -unfortunately - absolutely wrong.

If these disposable aritsts were to try and use leverage that you m,istakenly think they have all they could do is have their bluff called and be replaced by one of the many that would be glad to have 6 months of work.
When the union hgas leverage they use it - unfortunately the union almost never has leverage. That is something left to the individualk artist. If there is a story artist that Starz feels they can't get along without on the Simpsons I don't doubt that they can actually get better pay, but I DOUBT if that same artist asked for residuals or anything that "above the line' talent gets thye would find out very quickly that they can suddenly be easily replaced - assuming the 'pwers that be' ever stop laughing. I'd be willing to venture that even long time directiors on the Simpsons make nothing more than a good salary.

Anonymous said...

A fair point, but i know a some of the artists who work on the Simpsons and they are extremely talented. If the studio wanted to replace them, then they probably could...
but i think they be over a barrel if they had to go outside the union to fill those positions. The union is a talent pool. Its a resource that has a lot of value and if they aren't denied its services, then they don't value it.

Harsh words yes, but the disparity in returns on the Simpsons profits is even harsher.

Anonymous said...

>>Over time, the MARKETPLACE prevails. Unions and guilds make a difference, but they don't change the overall shape and arc of the market.<<

So then what is the point of striking if unions don’t change the shape and arc of the market? Can we all just call TAG for what it really is - A HEALTH PLAN, ***MAYBE**** a pension.

I will never strike for TAG. From what is stated above, what would be the point?

And that’s why I absolutely don’t support Hollywood ’unions’ when they strike. Nor should TAG leadership.

BROTHERS, MY ASS. Walk the line with them as much as you want, it's all still just a f’ing pose.

Anonymous said...

While some of your 'best friends work on the Simpsons' you don't seem to know much about how it all works.
If some of these really talneted friends of yours left and Starz couldn't find someone in the union to replace them then anyone outside of the union they found and hired could easily join the union. To join TAG all you have to do is be hired by a union studio and pay your dues/initiation fees.

Anonymous said...

"While some of your 'best friends work on the Simpsons' you don't seem to know much about how it all works."

first of all, nice job misquoting me. i never said what you put in quotes. so you lose credibility right there.

second of all, i work in the industry. i'm an animator, a storyboard artist, and a director. I'm very well acquainted with how much artists invest in shows. you obviously don't have anything to contribute to the discussion if you are trying to throw the scrutiny upon me. i'm not the issue. artists blocked from receiving monetary rewards for a successful franchise is the issue.

third of all, you aren't even grasping the basic premise of my argument. its not if "some [artists] left and Starz", its if ALL of them left because ALL of the artists get the dirty end of the stick when it comes to sharing the mountain of profits the Simpsons franchise brings in. so the second paragraph of your post might as well have not been typed.

Steve Hulett said...

I don't think thats true. My case is that the storyboarders, the layout artists, and the designers are an integral part of the Simpsons show. AS integral as the actors and the writers, and yet the discussion is there:
why do they not get a cut of the HUGE profits the show reaps when the writers and actors do.


Because the studios know from eighteen years worth of hard, cold reality that they can produce a hugely profitable show WITHOUT giving the artists a cut of the HUGE profits.

So why would they start paying more when they've never had to do it before? They're in this to make as much money for themselves and their shareholders as possible.

What part of this don't you get?

You keep saying: "Well, the artists are just as important as the writers and actors to the show..." But if that were true, they would be getting a bigger cut. Would have been getting one all along.

The writers did, even when they were non-union.

The studios believe (rightly or wrongly) that they CAN'T do the show without giving the writers and actors a bigger cut.

The studios believe (rightly, from the evidence) that they CAN do the show without giving the artists a bigger cut.

Its not a matter of "fair", its a matter of using the power you have to get what you deserve when what you work on is a smash hit. The actors and writers have unions that create a template for this. the animation union does not, and that why many have the perception that it is not a powerful union.

Hm, I see. But ahm, Mendoza? Apparently Fox and Gracie Films believe the artists ARE getting what they deserve. Otherwise they'd pay them more, yes?

So what we've got here is a difference of opinion between you and Fox/Gracie. (Remember, the toothless TAG came in and improved wages and benefits. But prior, the artists were all okay with the wages and bennies, since they did the work for the salaries offered for fourteen years without. And Fox/Gracie were completely okay with paying those salaries.)

The actors and writers have unions that create a template for this. the animation union does not, and that why many have the perception that it is not a powerful union.

Mendozo, old top, I pretty much give up. I've shown (above) how writers make the same proportional money now to animators that they did before the L.A. entertainment industry was unionized. Before SAG, the WGA, or the IATSE had templates. Seventy-five freaking years ago.

You want to dispute that, fine. Show your work. Display the data.

The trouble is, you don't.

You keep harping on "fair." And when I swat down "fair," the argument morphs into "what artists deserve." Which is really the same thing.

Then the line of attack becomes: "Your union is weaker than the writers and actors unions."

Here's the baseline (and you can believe it or not): Employees are as valuable as their perceived worth in the marketplace. Unions are as strong as the perceived strength of their members.

I don't know why the hell you can't see this or acknowledge this, but there it is. Obviously things are different in Mendozaland.

Steve Hulett said...

So then what is the point of striking if unions don’t change the shape and arc of the market? Can we all just call TAG for what it really is - A HEALTH PLAN, ***MAYBE**** a pension.

Funny. That's what I've heard more churlish writers say about the WGAw.

Anonymous said...

You just don't understand, Steve, Mendoza is obviously an 'artist' of God-like qualities and abilities and he thinks that with all his knowledge that suddenly a whole studio of artists are going to walk away from a studio that can be easily replace them with another group of hungry artists to try and earn some perception of what he perceives as 'fair'.
After 30+ years in the industry I'm willing to venture this will never happen. The studio would sopend an hour or two laughing themselves silly before they called other artists to replace them.

My guess is he's never worked in even a medium sized studio (no way a BIG studio) if he has even worked in the industry at all and has no friends whatsoever at Starz.

Anonymous said...

So why would they start paying more when they've never had to do it before? They're in this to make as much money for themselves and their shareholders as possible.
What part of this don't you get?


and likewise, YOU are in this to make as much money for union members as possible.


" I've shown (above) how writers make the same proportional money now to animators that they did before the L.A. entertainment industry was unionized. Before SAG, the WGA, or the IATSE had templates. Seventy-five freaking years ago. "


Steve!- That has NOTHING TO DO WITH THE ISSUE. you are comparing apples to oranges. you are skewing the numbers by presenting a cross section of average salary figures.

Its a very specific premise: what are the artists entitled to when a show like 'The Simpsons' reaps huge dividends for the studio? Income that is unmatched in its last 50 years of programming. why can't the union help broker just a small slice of residuals for artists.

you acknowledge that artists contribute more hours and just as much creativity, and then reason that there is no argument for them to get any just deserves. shouldn't you be siding with the artists?

your rationale is to present an reasonable demand, but thats not how attorneys or negotiators do things. you start high, and in doing so you should at least bring the idea to the table.

The fact of the matter is that there are thousands of NON union writers in Los Angeles, but the best talent is in the union. this is the same way with this guild. why can't you recognize that???

you don't have any power unless you use it.

tell us, when was the last time this union had a success in negotiating a substantial improvement from studios for artists. there are many people reading these comments and would like to know. it certainly isn't in recent memory.

if this hasn't happened because the structure of the greater union prohibits it, then my assertion of this union being toothless is dead on.


#1. Actor: "Yeah i had a small recurring character on The Simpsons and i still get residual checks from that.

#2. Writer: "I wrote one script that wasn't that good but they used it anyway and i still get residuals from dvd sales and broadcasts."

#3. Storyboard Artist: "I worked on the Simpsons year round for over ten years. I designed what a lot of the most popular characters look like. I never saw any real return moneywise but i have a health plan."


1 & 2 had strong unions that considered their members as equals to other unions and not falling on the wrong side of fair(Ooops! tough luck!). They rallied their members demanded studios attention and stood behind the talent of the union. #3 has a union that considers their members to be technicians or skilled labor.

Tom Sito said it best:

This (WGA)strike is a great lesson to us animation people. You see what you can do when we all stick together? All you rugged individuals, can you think of a job that is more subject to personal ego and solo achievement than writing? Yet, they all understood if they stuck together, they would win for all. When I was animators union president, I had a steady stream of "arteests" whining at me " What has the union ever done for me?!" " I make my own deals!" and " If you guys strike, I'm working anyway and screw you!" then " why is our union so damn weak? It can't do anything!!"

Steve, when you tow the line that 'Apparently Fox and Gracie Films believe the artists ARE getting what they deserve. Otherwise they'd pay them more, yes?" you are ingoring the potential power of the union. that isn't the way you should be behaving. thats not the way to lead, and thats why this union is in such sad shape. thats why writers and actors get more money. pat yourself on the back.

Anonymous said...

"You just don't understand, Steve, Mendoza is obviously an 'artist' of God-like qualities and abilities and he thinks that with all his knowledge that suddenly a whole studio of artists are going to walk away from a studio that can be easily replace them with another group of hungry artists to try and earn some perception of what he perceives as 'fair'. "


I've never suggested anything of the sort about myself. I think i'm as good as any other union member(which is a lot more experienced and talented than non union members), but if you can't contribute to the conversation, then i see how you are so emotionally wounded that you have to try to insult me.

I don't thin a studio that works on televsion shows with tithgt deadlines that command big dollars from advertisers will replace their artists easily, and if they do i think that the quality and pace of the work being done will not cut the proverbial mustard.
i think our union is a giant resevoir of talent and i think if we stick together to demand more we can get it.

you, on the other hand must be filled with self loathing, cowardice, and bitterness to reject such a notion. comments like yours would make any other union quaestion if you were even a member, but thats how sad this union is... our ranks are filled with bottom feeders like you.

Anonymous said...

Mendozq-
I certainly don't disagree with your intent. And you're right to be angry--I agree that a massive success like the Simpsons would ideally "share its wealth" with all those who made it successful.

The issue is--whom to be angry at?

I don't personally believe the union should be beaten up for this. The question comes down to--what is our inherent worth to the studios? Are we replaceable, or irreplacable? Obviously, the more replaceable we are, the less valued we are, and vice versa.

A very, very few animation artists would be considered irreplaceable. But most would be considered replaceable, if push came to shove. But Nancy Cartright as Bart, or Dan whatshisface as Homer? Absolutely irreplaceable, period.

No union can change those facts. The sad, cold reality is that if we struck for massively better wages, we would most likely lose. The last several times the animation union struck, it lost. And the only thing it got was weeks and weeks of artists on the picket line getting no income, and in the end losing. The studios just wouldn't budge, and that's because they believe they can just hire someone else to do the job.

We all would like to think we're irreplaceable, and far more valuable than we're getting paid. But the sad truth is that for most of, it just isn't true. There are plenty of talented artists out there who can do your/my job, so if I walk out in protest, they can probably just hire someone else. Yep, I'm talented--but also replaceable.

Does this mean the union has no worth? No. I certainly believe we would be even worse off without it. But neither do I expect it to be an incredibly powerful weapon. There's just too big a talent pool out there for us to be irreplaceable, or prevent the studios from producing their animated shows.

Moral of the story: if you want to get rich, start your own business.

Anonymous said...

our ranks are filled with bottom feeders like you.


...and internet boards like this our filled with immature youth who have no idea what they're talking about like you.

Steve Hulett said...

why can't the union help broker just a small slice of residuals for artists.

Mendoza, you seem like a well-meaning guy. A nice guy. But let me give you some history.

Eight years back, TAG negotiated for the better part of a year for residuals for animation writers. We did research. We had wonderful, complicated formulas. We had a big, diverse committee of writers who'd won many awards. The studios, for nine months, told us to f*ck off.

There were a few other small flies in the ointment. The biggest one: Few members wanted to strike. Another: The IA wasn't keen on authorizing a strike.

In the end, we got some improvements in the contract, but no residuals.

Ansd farther back, in the mid-nineties, TAG President Tom Sito (who you quote above) went to the big Disney animators and said: "Will you help us get residuals by doing a work stoppage?"

The answer was "No. We don't want to risk it. But if you get 'em anyway, we'll take 'em."

We didn't get them.

I keep saying the same thing over and over: You can't get big gains if you don't have LEVERAGE.

Based on my experience, we don't presently have the leverage, juice, whatever you want to call it, to get a "bigger cut" of the wondrous Simpsons pie.

But tell you what. I'm pretty much a stupe who doesn't have your savvy or insight, so if you just tell me the magic formula, I'll go right out and implement it.

Better yet, since you obviously know what TAG should be doing ... and how it should do it, just give me a call (818-766-7151) and I'll put you on our upcoming negotiation committee, and you can hammer those bastards across the table and really show all of us how it's done.

I'm serious. Call me. Negotiations will probably start in the next few months. We'll make them sweat.

In the meantime, here's my clearly inadequate take on "negotiating for a bigger slice of the giant Simpsons pie" (again):

Companies don't give individuals or unions anything to be "fair" or "just."

You've got this theory that a labor organization just goes out and applies "power" to studios to "get what it wants." Who knows? Maybe you're completely right and I don't know what I'm talking about. I've done this for a lot of years. Maybe I'm just too old and jaded. So call me up (818-766-7151), you can get on the negotiating team, and we'll make it happen.

What could be better than that, Mendoza? Because you seem to know how to get the job done, and I don't.

Hoping to hear from you soon.

Steven Hulett
(818-766-7151)

Steve Hulett said...

Steve, when you tow the line that 'Apparently Fox and Gracie Films believe the artists ARE getting what they deserve. Otherwise they'd pay them more, yes?" you are ingoring the potential power of the union. that isn't the way you should be behaving. thats not the way to lead, and thats why this union is in such sad shape. thats why writers and actors get more money. pat yourself on the back.


So join the negotiating committee, show me how it's done. Climb on down in the trenches with us. Help me to lead.

Waiting to hear from you.

Steve Hulett
(818-766-7151)

Anonymous said...

Steve, let us know if you ever hear drom Mendoza and what tremendous insights he has that all us old coots don't.

Anonymous said...

>Funny. That's what I've heard more churlish writers say about the WGAw

by churlish, do you mean the majority of writers who already had trouble paying their mortgages and struck hoping to gain more for the future? and now they have neither?

Anonymous said...

Churlish:
1. Crass

somebody with bad manners
2. Unkind and Grumpy
surley, sullen, or miserly

Anonymous said...

Mendoza, you seem like a well-meaning guy. A nice guy. But let me give you some history....

Better yet, since you obviously know what TAG should be doing ... and how it should do it, just give me a call (818-766-7151) and I'll put you on our upcoming negotiation committee, and you can hammer those bastards across the table and really show all of us how it's done.



Ha HAH!!

Look, i'm sorry to get my ire up and be combative in a lot of posts towards you Steve, but its a very emotional issue. Especially to artists who work a LOT of hours and invest a lot of content into shows only to watch the writers strike for a deal and the actors threaten a strike for leverage. Then, when you check into the union blog there is the sentiment that our union is positive that we don't have leverage(with an insinuation that there is no use in even trying).

I'd like to think that my sentiments mirror those of Tom Sito in his quote above, that our goal is to have as much solidarity as the other unions in this town and and inclusive huge membership that the studios can count on for talented professionals and like wise we can count on them for at least some of the back end money.

If i held your feet to the fire by calling you out(and occasionally launching jibes at you), i'm sorry. It wasn't in vain in that you related a lot of information(and your important opinion), as many members have probably clicked on the comments button to see what the whopping 40 or so entries were all about.

We belong to a union that has been in this town a long time. with that being said i think the ONLY comparison for our wages should be to the other unions and not to the average salaries of non union or comparisons of average salaries from years ago. Those figures land with a dull thud on my ears. I think we need to look forward, and at the other unions in this town for a guide to how we should be treated. We know we are doing our share of the creative work.

Here's what i think:
If the union went on strike for residuals or another issue(not saying that we should right now) - if we really stuck together and everyone walked out...
The studios would be screwed.

Their dependancy on the money from summer kids movies, their commitment to tight tv schedules, their inability to grasp how difficult our work is to do, would leave them hurting.

^ that needs to be said. There are some people who disagree, but everyone in the union needs to consider their take on this. What is the power of the union you belong to? It is directly relatable to how far our artists will go for the union.

Have you ever asked that in a thread in here? I bet you'd get more comments than this one.

Anonymous said...

ROFLMAO....that's Mendoza's BIG idea? Have everyone go on strike during a recession and $4 a gallon gas.
And strike for something there is no way below the liners will ever get - residuals beyond the residuals that are collectively paid now into the pension plan.

Didn't he see how long the Producers stayed out against the writers? They're above the line, already receive individual residuals and have a strike fund to help pay the bills. Not to mention most of them were still receiving residuals throughout the strike.
By the time residuals could be divvied up between ALL the artists working on a project they would only receive a few dollars each at best!!!

Sure, let's take a vote and see how many Guild members are ready to stay out again for 3 months or more for a tiny percentage of residuals. Some of us actually went on strike and stayed out for months a long time ago for a realistic cause (or so it seemed at the time). We lost that one and I can guaranteee you we'd lose this one.

If Mendoza is that sure of himself and wants residuals, next job he's offered (assuming he is in the industry) he should refuse it unless they promise him residuals or points or whatever he thinks he has coming to him. And then after the producers are done laughing at him he can join the rest of us "bottom feeders".

And while were on the subject of all his mistaken ideas, being a union member does not make you "a lot more experienced or talented than non union members". Go ask the Pixar crew if they're so untalented and inexperienced.

Mendoza needs to accept the fact that actors and writers might actually be more important on the Simpsons then the storyboard and layout artists. If Starz and Fox were pushed into a position of having to pay more per episode to make Mendoza happy (and this show is already a very expensive show to produce) then they would start skipping the layout process and shipping it overseas and then if that wasn't enough - storyboards. They prefer not to at this time, but they have more options then Mendoza. His only option seems to be striking.
I'm sure Steve could use someone on the negotiating committee who's big plan is to strike everytime he doesn't get pie in the sky.

Anonymous said...

all of the above just underlines the need for artists to run and control animation shows, not writers and actors. if we can't have control over our contract in this town, at the VERY least we should have control of the content. the writer/producer template for animation is a f'ing joke.

Steve Hulett said...

I don't really have a lot more to add.

Everybody wants more money. If Howard Koch and the Epstein brothers had worked under a WGA contract that got them a cut of Casablanca money, their heirs would still be collecting checks.

But they didn't.

For the record, I believe more and bigger residuals are a splendid idea. I'm in favor of everybody getting bigger paychecks, a bigger cut. I go into negotiations every three years trying to get more; I walk though studios to protect the contract and make sure people are treated as the C.B.A. says they should be treated.

That's my job.

But I'm also somebody who's seen the way the town works. The WGA's strike last fall, its first in twenty years, helped the DGA get a better deal. A Director's Guild rep said to me: "The WGA's strike helped us get a better sell-through agreement on downloads. But we would have gotten everything else we proposed, WGA strike or not."

Is he right about this? I've no way of knowing with total certainty. But what I do know, that once the DGA had its deal, that agreement became the formula for the WGA ... and was. Despite the WGA's initial statements that "it wasn't good enough."

And what that means to me is: the Writers Guild strike gained them something, but it also had its limits. It couldn't get them jurisdiction of animation, or a better DVD formula, or a key into heaven.

According to some power-players, it wasn't particularly effective and didn't move the goal posts in a major way.

The reality is, the DGA and IATSE (of which we're a part) don't believe in striking. They believe in early negotiations and job actions only as a last resort.

No union today has the power to remake the labor-management status quo, even if they want to. I want to, but I'm experienced enough to know the limits.

Anonymous said...

“A very, very few animation artists would be considered irreplaceable. But most would be considered replaceable, if push came to shove. But Nancy Cartright as Bart, or Dan whatshisface as Homer? Absolutely irreplaceable, period.”

There’s your problem right there. A dismal disbelief in one’s own talent and importance that’s been an artists’ trait since cave paintings, I suppose.
Let me tell you something, Jesus – actors are just as “replaceable” as artists, period. They aren’t some human titans, you know; they’re regular people with a specific talent, and that’s it. Artists can draw, voice actors can do/imitate voices - that’s their talent.
I know it seems like a god-like quality, to do voices, but so does drawing a portrait - to someone who hasn’t got the talent for it!
And believe me, there are just as many actors out there perfectly capable of doing Bart’s and Homer’s voices, as there are artists capable of drawing them according to the show’s standards. This is not some joke – I personally know a dozen people (some not even actors) who can do a dead-on impression of any Simpsons character! And where does it say that it has to be Nancy Cartright that Has to do Bart?! Ok, she created the voice, so what of it? That’s like saying that the artist who designed Comic book guy should be the only one allowed to draw him! Makes no sense!

So that whole argument that artists are somehow more replaceable than actors is simply the artists’ inferiority complex, that’s been fed by the studios, because it serves them perfectly. The fact (and the trouble) is – artists a docile, introverted, voiceless bunch. Which is why there’s a Union! Yey!

Anonymous said...

Naturally, the Roman misinterprets the Messiah's point. My hands and feet hate it when this happens.

Of course the average actor is replaceable. We see it all the time! My argument, however, is that for the Simpson's voice actors in particular, their voices have become so identified, so thoroughly ingrained to the characters, that they are instantly recognized by the general public.

If Homer and Marge were suddenly voiced by different voice actors--even very good soundalikes--the fans would absolutely revolt. The entire run of the show would get divided into pre-soundalike vs. post-soundalike. The show would not survive, and the producers know it.

So as unique individuals, the Simpsons voice actors have tremendous power and name recognition. The show cannot replace them without committing suicide. Obviously, neither the average actor, nor the average animator enjoys such power. Therefore, we are replaceable, and the general public will not care. Undoubtedly, through the many seasons of the Simpsons, many storyboarders have come and gone, and the general public isn't the least bit concerned.

Not much of a message of hope, I realize. But just wait til my Second Coming, those producers are getting smited hard.

Anonymous said...

" If Starz and Fox were pushed into a position of having to pay more per episode to make Mendoza happy (and this show is already a very expensive show to produce) then they would start skipping the layout process and shipping it overseas and then if that wasn't enough - storyboards."

...and people think the viewers would revolt if the actors were replaced?!?

I've worked on shows where the layout goes overseas and it doesn't save any money - it costs more to fix their mistakes. I've never worked on a show where the producers are stupid enough to try and get storyboards done overseas.

When someone suggests that that is an option for studios it is a telltale sign that they don't know what the hell they are talking about.

Anonymous said...

There are shows that are being boarded overseas - maybe it takes more money to repair them then they save maybe not. But if an entire storyboard creww tried to force a studio into paying residuals by walking out I suspect the studio would see it as money well spent if for no other reason to not allow a precedent to be set.

Would any other than Mendoza like to test the theory?

Anonymous said...

What shows are boarded overseas?

Anonymous said...

Speaking of off-shoring production on animated TV shows:

For the last few years I've read a lot about how one of the great things about digital 2D apps like Flash and ToonBoom is that it allows the animation to be done inexpensively enough to forego the off-shoring.

So I wonder :

With its' simple line drawing & flat color style is there any reason that The Yellow Folk couldn't be animated in Flash ? Or does that just mean that the Simpson's head honchos would choose to
off-shore the Flash animation to wherever they could get it done cheapest ? (so basically no difference whether it's drawn traditionally or digitally )

Steve Hulett said...

Let me tell you something, Jesus – actors are just as “replaceable” as artists, period. They aren’t some human titans, you know; they’re regular people with a specific talent, and that’s it. Artists can draw, voice actors can do/imitate voices - that’s their talent.


Pontie, old Chum? It's not who's replaceable and who's not. It's who the bosses believe and perceive to be replaceable.

The would ship work offshore, change actors, writers, whomever in a New York minute if they believed it wouldn't hit them in the pocketbook.

But they're fearful of risking the loss of the high-salaried, corner office job, and so they stick to the tried and true. Which happens to be: Keep the actors happy! And keep the writers mollified!

And the artists? Well, they are but wrists, after all.

Anonymous said...

The question of the above poster stands. What shows are being storyboarded overseas?

Anonymous said...

What?! There's something Mendoza doesn't know??

Anonymous said...

I understadn that Transformers for one is being mostly storyboarded overseas as well as part of one of Marvel's DTV features.
I suspect there are others...

Steve Hulett said...

What shows are being storyboarded overseas?


Disney TVA currently has a show boarded in Canada.

There have been some others over the years. Some of the non-union houses -- DIC, for instance -- regularly board product overseas (and by "overseas" I also mean Canada).

What many studios have found is, they lose too much control of the shows they greenlight when they ship everything out but scripts.

Many times, it's a question of quality-control versus budget. Of course, the last few years have seen the dollar tank internationally, so shipping overseas has less cost advantage than previously.

Anonymous said...

"ROFLMAO....that's Mendoza's BIG idea? Have everyone go on strike during a recession and $4 a gallon gas."

Many people are incorrect on different issues, but that reality is not nearly as embarrassing as one who has such pathetic reading skills that they cannot grasp the most basic meanings from the posts in here. What i stated was:

"If the union went on strike for residuals or another issue(not saying that we should right now)..."


Take a deep breath before writing a reply to something you think you read. That was the voices of inadequacy ratting around your head won't constantly confuse you. Short of that, perhaps the union has a night class you can take that will help you with reading comprehension.

Anonymous said...

I know...let's put Mendoza in charge of when to strike!!


No, I think he read you right. When asked for suggestions of how to win these residuals you desire the only one you could offer was to strike. So what if you didn't suggest we do it immediately.
And, frankly, if some were to skim over some of your posts I wouldn't blame them since they seem to be full of nonsense and circular logic.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Mendoza seems to be the one with the limited comprehension skills. How many people - including Steve H., have tried to make it clear to him that, although it would be nice, the artists on the Simpsons are not on par or have the same leverage as the writers and actors on that show. And there's nothing that he has written that would in any way convince anyone otherwise.

Anonymous said...

"This (WGA)strike is a great lesson to us animation people. You see what you can do when we all stick together? All you rugged individuals, can you think of a job that is more subject to personal ego and solo achievement than writing? Yet, they all understood if they stuck together, they would win for all. When I was animators union president, I had a steady stream of "arteests" whining at me " What has the union ever done for me?!" " I make my own deals!" and " If you guys strike, I'm working anyway and screw you!" then " why is our union so damn weak? It can't do anything!!""

Anonymous said...

The real lesson - once you get past the hubris - of the WGA strike is that for months of unemployment for many there was too little gain for too few. If the WGA wants to declare what they did as noble and call it a win then they are only fooling themselves. Many BTL workers that were forced out of work for months will never see that money again - whether as weekly wages or residuals (HA!)
Even the vast majority of the writers that were working for union scale suffered more than they will ever recoup unless they happen to get lucky and break into the higher ranks and those that were already in that higher stratosphere had little need of the strike since they mostly negotiated via their agents better deals then the WGA could ever get for them. Unfortunately these few were the only ones who will benefit with more mailbox money. But I bet many of them are shocked that some of them lost their sweetheart deals.
Let's be clear - the strike was intended to defend and protect the little guy, but it's hard to imagine that's what happened when many of the little guys lost so much.
Negotiation is always better than striking. They should've followed the lead of the other unions and started negotiations sooner and not planned on striking from day one.
Who ran that union? Bush?

Anonymous said...

All right, all of you, this is so stupid. Just quit it!

Just quit it!!! Stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid STUPID!!!!!

SHUT UP, ALL OF YOU!!

JUST SHUT UP!!

SHUT!!!

UP!!!!

SHUUUUUT

UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

JESUS DOESN'T LIKE ALL THIS PETTY BICKERING!!!!

JESUS IS NOW PISSED!!!!

JESUS GONNA SMOKE ALL YOUR ASSES!!!!




YOU WANNA TALK ABOUT STRIKES????

THEN THINK ABOUT THE STRIKE JESUS GONNA SMACK YOU DOWN WITH USING HIS BIG ERECT PENIS IF YOU DON'T ALL

SHUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUTTTTTTTTT....


UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUPPPPP!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Boy, I bet no one saw that coming...

Anonymous said...

jesus of nazareth said...

All right, all of you, this is so stupid. Just quit it!


Praise be.

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