Friday, June 13, 2008

Sit Down, Shut Up?

Just to be clear, a commenter's tip-off below was the first time I heard about this:

... 14 WGA writers and writer-producers on Sony's newly ordered TV animated series Sit Down, Shut Up! have walked off the show scheduled to air in primetime on Fox this fall. It's a dispute over who has jurisdiction over the writing staff: the WGA or IATSE. The problem is that all the Fox TV animated shows now being broadcast on that network are covered under the WGA contract, so the writers assumed their new show would be as well.

If there's a dispute, it's between Sony and the writers to whom (apparently) Sony has been selling a bill of goods for the last six months.

Here's a clue: if you "assume" you're under this or that contract, you have a problem going in, because it's good professional practice to get a little something about your status in writing. SDSU is -- to the best of my knowledge -- a Sony enterprise. And the Animation Guild has owned a contract with Sony Adelaide (which does Sony's television animation) for a dozen years. We organized the joint, collected rep cards, filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board, the whole nine yards, in the middle nineties.

Writers were part of the contract then, they're part of the contract now. And as far as I know, the WGA has no contracts in place with Sony for animation writers. (I could be wrong, of course. I get around so little. The WGA did have a contract for wordsmiths on the Sony-produced prime-time animated series Dilbert in 1998 ... because back then Sony placed the writers in a separate, non-Animation Guild company which the WGA ultimately organized. Bully for the WGA.)

But it seems with this current writing crew, that isn't the case. If they're housed at Sony Adelaide, then they're under a TAG/IATSE contract (horror of horrors). If Ms. Finke's article is correct and these scribes haven't signed deals, then they're certainly free to walk out from under that contract, and more power to them. No point in working someplace you're not happy.

Just please don't drag us into a fight between Sony and the WGA. This dispute is between corporate execs in Culver City who apparently misinformed some new hires on an animated television show. TAG ain't involved.

Add On: Whoops. Apparently I misspoke. It seems -- if the Hollywood Reporter is to be believed -- that the writers and their agents knew which union they were working under:

"The producer, Adelaide Prods., has been a signatory to the IATSE bargaining agreement for at least 10 years, and has been producing animated programming under that agreement," Sony said in a statement. "All of the deals made with the writers were specifically negotiated with their agents specifying that this program would be covered by the IATSE bargaining agreement."

Other industry sources also confirmed that the writers and the their reps had been informed early in the process that the show will be covered by IATSE, not WGA.

But there are stout hearts at the WGA:

"The writers of 'Sit Down, Shut Up' are Writers Guild members, and they want the show to be covered by a WGA contract," the WGA said in a statement. "We have been in conversations with Sony, and hope this will be settled soon."

Uh, there's nothing to settle. The Animation Guild has a long-standing collective bargaining agreement representing writers and storyboard artists at Sony Adelaide. The WGA doesn't.

Despite Ms. Finke's assertion that TAG all of a sudden waltzed in and snatched buttered bread out of unsuspecting writers' mouths.

(Variety gives its version of events here.)


Kevin Koch said...

I wrote a comment at Deadline Hollywood this morning, correcting some of Ms. Finke's misinformation, and quoted Steve's comments above. I made sure not to respond with the same kind of venom that pervaded the original article, since I thought I'd give her the benefit of the doubt (i.e., that she's guilty of sloppy reporting and not bothering to fact check, rather than assuming she's nothing more than a pot-stirring WGA shill). Not surprisingly, my comment wasn't approved.

There are, however, lots of angry comments from writers who have bought this nonsense hook, line, and sinker.

Oh, and carefully rereading her piece, I see she's conveniently edited out a few of the more ridiculous statements she printed earlier, though there's still this one:

And then IATSE's Local 839 -- the so-called Animation Guild Local (formerly Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists) -- arrived to everyone's shock and dismay.

Yes, the so-called Animation Guild arrived at Sony Adelaide . . . 12 years ago. And it's been such a huge secret all this time.

Anonymous said...

Jeeze, is there anyone besides WGA members who even read Nikki Finke anymore? WGA shill is being too nice. She's a pathetic attention whore who can't get a story right to save her life.

Expecting her to publish comments that correct her nonsense is like expecting the sun to rise in the west.

Unknown said...

As one of the writers on this show who has walked out, let me explain the situation: When we got the offer back in April, before upfronts, they proposed that the show be IATSE. We said we weren't interested, but we were assured that once it was officially picked up we could go through the process of turning it into a WGA show.

Both we and the execs we dealt with assumed it would be a no-brainer, because all Fox prime time animation for 10 years has been WGA. So because of the time pressure to get this show on the air, we started work without signing a contract and without getting paid.

After upfronts, it took about a month for this issue to work its way up the corporate food chain -- and then all of us were proved wrong. Apparently, someone high up at Sony had decided that this would be the show to break the WGA issue. So we walked. Simple as that.

If Sony has done WGA before with Dilbert, why can't they do it again with this show?

Kevin Koch said...

It sounds like there was a tremendous amount of naivety on the parts of a lot of people, many of whom should have known better. If a production company could just "change unions" like that, union jurisdiction would mean nothing. If that were legal, it would be the end of a lot of WGA contracts.

Steve clearly explained the Dilbert case. The writers were in a separate company from the start.

Tell me, did any of the writers like yourself consider taking 5 minutes and calling Steve Hulett if this was even legal?

Anonymous said...

As an artist working under IATSE for fifteen years now in animation, I would like to say that I appreciate Colton's candor and straightforward attitude. Nikki Finkes spin on the situation is disheartening because she places blame at the foot of IATSE when the issue is clearly one between Sony and Sit Down Shut Up.

As an artist, I myself choose not to work on WGA-written shows, as I believe they distribute the compensation unevenly to the creative team as a whole. More specifically, in my experience, the folks who draw for animation have just as much creative input, and make as many creative decisions, as writers, and any other creative discipline involved in the making of an animated show. On WGA shows, artists do not get compensated fairly in proportion to what is contributed to a show. This is not because IATSE has a weaker contract. It is because trickle-down economics is a farse. The creatives closest to the front of the train benefit first, most, and more often.

In turn, I respect any WGA writers decision not to work non-WGA. But that is a battle between Sony and the WGA.

Steve Hulett said...

Both we and the execs we dealt with assumed it would be a no-brainer, because all Fox prime time animation for 10 years has been WGA.

There's that word again. Nobody in Tinseltown should ever assume anything. It mostly leads to disappointment and heartache.

Fox is the only studio with an overall WGA deal for animation writing. And it's Sony that's producing SDSU.

Colton, more power to you if you can leverage Sony to give you what you want. But Sony won't be able to do it under Sony Adelaide, and you'll have higher ups fighting against you.

Steve Hulett said...

If Sony has done WGA before with Dilbert, why can't they do it again with this show?

A fine question for Sony.

Anonymous said...


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