Sunday, June 15, 2008

Stone Cold Reality

A reporter called today while I had my feet up on the coffee table enjoying Father's Day. The scribe wanted to know about the Sit Down, Shut Up problem. I told her more or less this:

"No problem from where I sit. The Animation Guild has had a contract with Sony Adelaide for years. Writers on SDSU started working under that contract, decided they didn't like the deal, and split. I've got no problem with them exiting, nor that they use the exit to muscle themselves a better deal. That's Hollywood.

"The only thing that gripes me is the WGA issuing a comment about how 'These are WGA writers and they want a WGA contract,' the implication being that there is some rule which says the WGA covers primetime animation exclusively, and that script writers who have previously worked under Writers Guild contracts get the WGA terms and conditions on their next animated show because they desire it.

But sorry. That rule only applies if the Writers Guild holds contracts covering the work. And in this case it doesn't. It's neither fair nor unfair that the WGA reps no animation writers at Sony, it's simply reality."

Reality, what a concept. Six months ago it worked for the DGA, WGA and AFTRA in leveraging better deals from the AMPTP, because there was the obvious reality of these writers being out on strike, halting the work flow.

But sometimes reality cuts the other way:

With homevideo revenue flat, rising gas prices and a shaky economy, studios are under increasing pressure from corporate parents to trim costs — and they find themselves able to do so with production scarce because of the one-two punch of a writers strike and a de-facto actors strike.

They have leverage to make deals that lessen their risk and get their money back faster in a project’s revenue stream ...

Studios started to gain an upper hand before Hollywood’s labor problems and the economy got shaky. The change came after several studios were ready to cancel projects if talent didn’t re-draw signed deals. Tom Cruise at one point controlled more than 30% of the first-dollar gross on a “Mission: Impossible” film, with the understanding that any gross points for a director or other stars would come out of that pot. So it was telling when J.J. Abrams got no gross deal for “Mission: Impossible 3.” Paramount was ready to scrap the project until the terms were redefined ...

And the actuality of How Things Are isn't just crashing in on the Big Money players. There's also a new dynamic for journey writers and directors:

... "[T]here are 50 to 100 writers that are still getting the deals they were always getting," says J.C. Spink of Benderspink management-production firm. "For everyone else, it is getting harder, harder, harder."

A top manager-producer says studios invoke every reason except the recent strike for their tough negotiating stance. "They say things like, 'It's a new environment.' Or 'The landscape's different,' " he says.

Whatever the reason, midlevel scribes repped by his firm have been especially hard hit.

"The middle guys are getting killed," he says. "I had one guy who makes $800,000 --an established guy -- and they wouldn't go above $250,000 for him."

Worried about paying his mortgage and the prospect of another stoppage, the scribe took the deal, accepting a fee he hadn't taken in 10 years ...

(Must be some mortgage.)

Anybody who works below the line (you know, folks who do editing, camera, makeup, sound, animated cartoons?) knows that times are not flush and the conglomerates are playing hardball with semi-lethal steel pellets. Last week a rep for the cinematographer's guild told me:

"Man, things are tough out there. Boston Legal's cut a hundred thousand dollars out of their weekly-episode budget, and most of that is coming out of the hides of every person who works on set ..."

(As he talked, I thought about the cutbacks at Warner Bros. Animation and Cartoon Network, about the project-to-project mentality at some of the feature shops where you're gone five minutes after the rendering of your last scene.)

That's the problem with reality. Sometimes it works for you, but lots of other times it works against you.

Add On: Ms. Finke updates the tribulations of Sit Down, Shut Up writers. If her post is accurate (some are, some aren't), I hope Sony and the writers can dodge litigation and work it out.

I still find it astounding that nobody knew TAG had a contract with Adelaide, but less astounding that commenters judge the Animation Guild to be Satan's junior partner. (It sure felt like we were doing the Lord's work when we struggled to organize the place in 1996).

59 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, there's this reality too: when it comes to cartoon writers, some of them aren't worth a damn dime. Look at the recent animated series "World of Quest". It was well-designed, well-animated, had a great voice cast, an appealing central character in Prince Nestor...and its horrible writing killed it. Just killed it. CW4Kids has just dropped it from its schedule. It barely survived a season. Maybe one of the realities is that there is so much bad product out there in toonland that it's hurting everybody. You know the saying "a rising tide lifts all boats"? Enough disasters like "Quest", "El Tigre", "The X's" and "Catscratch" could sink an entire industry. Cartoon producers ought to be a bit pickier when they choose writers for their series, and not excuse crap because after all, "cartoons are just for kids".

Anonymous said...

I'm the last person that's a fan of cartoon writers (though they're are a few good ones out there), but to balme writers for a bad show just doesn't fly. There are producers, directors, head of sdtory and many others that don't haver ot accept the bad writing. If the writing on a show stank and killed it I blame those that accepted the bad writing and didn't ask for re-writes or the directors to fix it or any number of other solutions.
AND before you say there's no time or budget, there's always ways to fix bad scripts before they go through the pipleine. I've worked on many low, LOW, budget shows and we would always find a way to raise it above the level of letting the bad writing kill a show.

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm the first person that commented, and I readily admit that the the *second* person who commented has a valid point. In the case of "Quest", I read an interview with the show's producer just before the show premiered, and she was really hyping up the show and talking about its "classic" cartoon elements and characters playing well off each other, and blah blah blah, and nothing like that actually happened in the show. In other words, she talked a good game but struck out when it came time to choose good scripts. Part of the trouble is the contempt some in the industry seem to feel for kids. "Quest" was riddled with stupid fart jokes as a substitute for actual humor. It would be nice if more toon producers would give kids some credit for their intelligence and emotions. They're a lot brighter and more fair-minded than some people in the business seem to be aware of.

Anonymous said...

Animation is a medium where the visual possibilities have to be taken advantage of for it to be really good. With that in mind, there is no way in the world that an animated show can rely on its script for even half of the charm of the show. In my experience, the final product(in television animation) usually contains just 25% of the original script.

The rest is created and added by artists, and directors. If that producer was relying on scripts for the entirety of the show's quality then she doesn't know what she's doing. The above facts are also why artists in the industry are salty over the sweet deals WA writers get when they work in animation. Their contribution is never that big.

hoopcooper said...

Hey guys...

Don't forget that if an animation writer is worth his salt, he's not just writing dialog, he or she is coming up with visuals...as well as keeping the story on track. The real question here is for Steve, and applies to all of us in TAG.

He indicates that IA has a deal with sony, the producer on the Sit Down. But it was natural for writers from other Fox primetime shows to assume that Fox's relationship with the WGA would mean they were covered under the WGA.

So is the union stance that the production company is the one who calls the shots...and if that's the case...how do we protect ourselves against union shops like Nick and Disney not just running their productions through non-union production companies. That's bad for everybody.

I think while misguided and naive, it figures that a bunch of writers from a Fox primetime animated show who were used to WGA coverage, would assume their new Fox primetime animated show would be covered by the WGA. Like I said, naive. Studios are notoriously penny wise and pound foolish...and they're going to do whatever they can to save money short-run. In this case, that means working with IA instead of the WGA. When they can get around IA they'll do that in a new york minute.

Kevin Koch said...

Hoopcooper writes, But it was natural for writers from other Fox primetime shows to assume that Fox's relationship with the WGA would mean they were covered under the WGA.

If I understand what you're writing, you're saying it was natural for the SDSU writers to assume they were covered by the WGA, because the show would air on Fox. But if you look at the Friday post, one of the writers in question wrote:

When we got the offer back in April, before upfronts, they proposed that the show be IATSE.

It seem pretty clear that the problem WASN'T faulty assumptions (they knew the show was TAG 839), it was with a lack of understanding of how union jurisdiction works (a misunderstanding that I think is at the heart of your question, which I'll get to in a moment).

In the next line from the SDSU writer, he says, 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.

Did anyone bother to ask how the hell that would work? So they were going to work on an IA/TAG 839 show, writing the first batch of shows, and then later it would just morph into a WGA show? Didn't they ask how that could work?

I don't know what exactly anyone was told, and I know a lot of people don't understand how union jurisdiction works, but there were a million bright red flags flying in this deal from the start.

You can't start working under one union contract and retroactively convert that to another union contract. So to answer your question, the production company IS who a union signs a deal with. Who else would they have a deal with?

And that's not the union's stance. That's federal law. So yes, Nick and Disney can outsource their productions to non-union production companies. They do it all the time! We can wish they didn't, but it's been a reality of federal law since before we were born.

How do we keep every union studio from outsourcing everything, all the time? Our only defense is that animation professional sign rep cards, and insist on working union. And by making the highest quality product, a product that can't be matched by race-to-the-bottom out-source companies.

Anonymous said...

>>he's not just writing dialog, he or she is coming up with visuals

no offense meant here, i agree with 99% of your post, but let's break this one down.

step one - animation writer watches numerous Spielberg DVDs in office - films that were conceived, directed, produced, and completed upon the talents of star cinematographers, cameramen, lighting professionals, and technical crew experts. Visual maestros of our time.

step two - type that it should be a visual parody of what those guys did.

there is no 'visual' experience going on with cartoon sit-com parodyville. its a radio show with some scribbles that flash up on the tv once in a while. south park and comedy central leaped light years ahead of fox primetime with their take on the visual power of animation, and it is by far the funniest animated show in that arena.

f***, if Sit Down, Shut Up wants a WGA budget so bad, just script it, record it, box it up and ship it to china. then let the writers call all the f-ing retakes between their residual checks.

besides, the designs look too tidy and neat for that kind of writing anyway. overseas will unintentionally make it WAY funnier than anything a WGA writer could dream of tic-tap-typing out on Final Draft. And THAT is a fact.

(don't mean to undercut iatse jobs, but who wants slave labor under wga imperialism anyway?.... i'd rather work smurfs. hey, wasn't there a post about that earlier?)

Anonymous said...

There certainly was a big naivety component here, but what screams out to me more than anything else is Sony lies. The writers seem to have clearly expressed from the start that they only wanted to work on the show if it was WGA, but Sony lied to them suggesting there would be a creative solution one way or the other to the problem. Now Sony is saying otherwise.

Hats off to the writers for walking off. It's sad that IATSE vs. WGA is getting dragged in the middle, but Sony is the real scumbag here. Sony pulled a bait-and-switch and the writers fell for it, but now they finally realize it and are walking off.

While the info from Steve and Kevin is useful for everyone to learn from, I'm not so sure it would have changed anything if the writers knew this info going in. What I am reading into the situation is Sony assurances and suggestions to the writers that they would find a creative solution to the issue. So for me it's a further lesson in scumbag AMPTP tricks, and bottom line for me is hats off to the writers for walking off at this point. Simple as that.

Sony may fire the lot of them and hire other writers, but I'm rooting for the writers, just as I would root for animators if the situation were reversed.

Steve Hulett said...

when it comes to cartoon writers, some of them aren't worth a damn dime

That can also be said of bakers, animators, and candle-stick makers. I spent a dozen years writing animation, and knew both good ones and less good ones. But that doesn't have much to do with this discussion.

Sony is the real scumbag here. Sony pulled a bait-and-switch and the writers fell for it, but now they finally realize it and are walking off.

I don't know enough about the full situation to know exactly what Sony did. Based on evidence here, I gather some mid-level Sony exec made promises to writers that he couldn't keep, and the writers walked off.

But it might be less than that. It could be there were "informal" exec/writer discussions that the writing staff assumed carried more weight than they did.

What mystifies me is how anyone could automatically equate Fox Produced Animation and Sony Produced Animation Distributed by Fox Network as being "shows covered by the WGA".

Again, the only term deal the Writers Guild has for animation is with Fox. That's simple reality. And all it takes to find that out is a phone call.

hoopcooper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

So let's assume the best case scenario in terms of Sony's interactions. Then that missing phone call is both the fault of the writers AND the Sony exec(s) involved. In any scenario, someone at Sony knew this was an issue and was leading them on intentionally or unintentionally. The only case where I'd agree to lay the blame entirely on the writers is if they hadn't told anyone at Sony that they expect it to be a WGA project. The fact that this went on for two months makes me believe Sony knew this was an issue.

And I totally agree with your statement on cartoon writers. It constantly amazes me how groups of Hollywood employees fall for hating other groups of employees, which totally plays into the hands of the companies.

Kate said...

"And I totally agree with your statement on cartoon writers. It constantly amazes me how groups of Hollywood employees fall for hating other groups of employees, which totally plays into the hands of the companies."

Completely, totally agree.

I have a lot of good friends in WGA and IATSE, I'm not in either (I'm just a student), and it is monstrously aggravating to hear people from one side or the other whine about "stupid privileged writers" or "whingey bitch cartoonists". I don't know anybody like that and the few I have heard talk like that are just around to stir the pot because they'd rather listen to rumors than make sense. In all this screaming, how much listening is going on? Most folks on both sides are trying to make a living, not grousing for more gold to add to the pile. How many people here can say they've gotten the call from American Express with the offer for the Centurion Card? Anyone? Bueller?

One thing did get my attention in Nikki's article, if Sony knew this was going to be an IATSE show, why did they hire WGA writers? And if you can do that anyway, why would they then say they'd make sure the writers could keep their benefits and then all of a sudden, "whoops! guess not!" What was the production time like on this if they were going to start writing without being absolutely sure of what contract they were under?

My apologies if I've missed details or misquoted or misunderstood. I'm new in these here parts.

Anonymous said...

By the way, can you shed light on how it came to be so difficult for employees to work for the union they wish to work for? Are these federal laws that meant well but have gone awry or were they lobbied by employers? It seems to me like the desired result for employees is the ability to work for the union of their choosing. Animation writers to WGA, many AFTRA actors to SAG, etc. I understand the history of who organized first, etc., but why are the laws constructed this way when clearly it's not best for all the employees?

Anonymous said...

My point in the first post in this discussion was this: do good work. That doesn't always guarantee that you'll get what you deserve in return, but it surely helps.

Anonymous said...

from THR -

"This is all about the battle between IATSE and WGA," one studio topper said. "It's all bad, and the net result is the losers are the network and the viewers."

This is all hilarious. Same old tired finger-pointing story.

If Sony and Sit Down Shut Up really wanted to try to make a different animated show, all this bickering over how to put it together would disappear in a second. They're all clinging to formulas they perceive will help insure success - the typical cobbling together of production company financing and overpaid talent pools. Hurwitz must have a migraine asking himself why he thought animation would be a nice creative change.

hoopcooper said...

I know IA has a heritage of being a hard-assed, no nonsense union. And Steve's point is a good one. If a bunch of writers are so naive to not get something in writing, they basically deserve what they get. Did someone mislead them? Probably. Did they mislead themselves? That's probably true as well.

The real question is this...why did they walk out? Why do they think a WGA deal is so much better than an IA deal? I think Steve's argument that this is the way it is and IA covers Sony, is nice, but a little off point. The point in this situation is why do a group of craftsman...in this case writers...like one union so much better than the other? I know from personal experience, when I finally went to an IA job, I was handed an incomprehensible book of charts and asked for a couple of grand...and that was my orientation. That and the realization that at least the more vocal memebers of the cartoonists end of IA I was a pariah.

I'm not saying that writers get more for their money from the WGA ...that's a separate discussion. The question here is what can IA do to make writers welcome an IA deal instead of running from it? It may be as simple as education.

Although I wouldn't recommend time on this blog as part of the orientation. It's honest, but not all that appealing to a newcomer to the union.

I'd love to see the unions do something like they did in the EU...find a way to address the needs of workers who travel between these two countries so that their most basic needs are addressed. Believe me, if IA and the WGA found a way to maintain a writer's pension contributions when he left the WGA to work on an IA covered show, this discussion would be over.

Except for the part about hating writers...which will sadly go on forever.

Kevin Koch said...

One thing did get my attention in Nikki's article, if Sony knew this was going to be an IATSE show, why did they hire WGA writers?

Because those are the writers they thought were best for the show. Union membership cannot be a requirement for being hired in the U.S. There used to be "closed shops," which meant that only union members could be hired at that company. The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 outlawed that practice. When TAG or the WGA organize a production company, it's known as a "union shop," which means that anyone being hired must become a union member, but they don't have to be a union member prior to being hired.

And if you can do that anyway, why would they then say they'd make sure the writers could keep their benefits and then all of a sudden, "whoops! guess not!"

I don't think we really know who was told what. And I doubt we'll ever really know, since both sides want to paint the other as being the ones who screwed up.

By the way, can you shed light on how it came to be so difficult for employees to work for the union they wish to work for?

It's ALWAYS been difficult for employees to unionize. That isn't new. And when there's a union already in place, a simple principle holds -- if a production company has a union contract, then that contract has to be respected. Period. There is a process for 'decertifying' a union (which would allow the crew to later organize under a different union), but that's a laborious process that would require the majority of the crew (writers and artists alike) to act together. In general, the federal government has made it progressively harder for employees at nonunion companies to unionize.

hoopcooper said...

Kevin,

Decertifying...isn't that what the Soap actors covered under AFTRA were trying to do when everyone got so upset a couple of months ago? And if so...are there other individuals on soaps that are also covered by AFTRA? Maybe not, but you do bring up an interesting question. Apropos of my last post, if a union represents a lot of different craftpeople...does that same broad brush still apply?

And based on this blog...are there any artists who want the writers in their union?

Anonymous said...

Union membership cannot be a requirement for being hired in the U.S. There used to be "closed shops," which meant that only union members could be hired at that company. The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 outlawed that practice. When TAG or the WGA organize a production company, it's known as a "union shop," which means that anyone being hired must become a union member, but they don't have to be a union member prior to being hired.



I guess you've never tried to get work doing stroryboards for a local 790 production then?

Steve Hulett said...

if Sony knew this was going to be an IATSE show, why did they hire WGA writers?

This echoes Kevin, but ...

Think of it this way: There are no "WGA writers," there are writers who are members of the WGA.

Just as there are no "IATSE writers", but writers who are members of the IATSE.

When you write for a company that holds an IA or a WGA contract, you join the union with which that particular company is signed. (Many writers are members of both, just as many film industry workers belong to DGA, IA, or WGA because they work under each of those unions' jurisdictions).

Federal law makes it difficult for companies to exit union contracts. A majority of union employees would have to petition to decertify; if the Feds determine that the company has been involved in the decert in any way, it's disallowed.

And based on this blog...are there any artists who want the writers in their union?

This blog is hardly representative of all union members. I know many artists who have no problem with animation writers.

Steve Hulett said...

...are there any artists who want the writers in their union?

Welll ... there are three writers (two current, one former) on the Animation Guild executive board.

Sooo ....?

Anonymous said...

That's an excellent point about union cooperation, hoopcooper. Isn't the whole point of a union to serve the good of the workers? Unions should be working together when they cover the same class of workers, or if one union becomes the universal preferred one for that class of workers, the other should magnanimously step aside for the benefit of that class of workers.

It's true that in the past WGA thumbed their noses at animation writing, but they don't as a rule now, and most writers would prefer to be in that union. Wouldn't the magnanimous thing to do at this point be for IATSE to stop representing writers in future contracts? If that's in the best interest of the writers at this point in time, shouldn't that be a consideration for IATSE?

When some place becomes an IATSE shop, SAG can still come in later for the actors. Let it be the same thing for WGA and the writers.

hoopcooper said...

"This blog is hardly representative of all union members. I know many artists who have no problem with animation writers."

I think they call that damning with faint praise.

What systems are in place to work writers more elegantly into the mix? The WGA has the animation writers' caucus. What's the IA analog?

Steve Hulett said...

(Re decertification)...if a union represents a lot of different craftpeople...does that same broad brush still apply?

If I understand your question about employees decertifying from a union, a majority of the entire represented group, even if that group contained multiple crafts, would have to petition to decertify.

In other words, the writers couldn't vote to decertify out of a larger unit. A majority of the whole group -- writers, artists, technicians -- would have to agree that decertification was what they wanted.

Steve Hulett said...

What systems are in place to work writers more elegantly into the mix? The WGA has the animation writers' caucus. What's the IA analog?

Probably the executive board.

The Writers Guild has a tiny fraction of its membership writing in animation, hence the Animatiion Writers Caucus.

There is, so far as I understand, no "live action writers caucus" inside the WGA. They're already repped in the larger body.

Steve Hulett said...

Hoopcooper:

I can't count.

There are FOUR writers on the TAG executive board.

Three current and one former.

This satisfies the "elegant system" part of your question, yes?

Anonymous said...

"The real question is this...why did they walk out? Why do they think a WGA deal is so much better than an IA deal?"

One word...residuals.

hoopcooper said...

Steve,

Four writers on the executive board, outstanding! They should be more than receptive to the specific needs of writers represented within their union.

Is there already a forum on-line for animation writers to voice their specific concerns regarding contracts/payment/etc?

For instance, do we already have binding arbitration for credits? I would have loved to have the union on my side back in the Non-union days when I saw my cable ACE go to someone else.

There are a lot of writer-specific changes that would go a long way toward quieting some of this discussion. If they're already in place, I'd love to know where I can find a list...and if they're not...what's our next move?

If nothing else, maybe the SDSU discussion will yield something positive for IA's relationship with their writers!

Steve said...

Ugh. I had a much larger post, much more elegantly written, and then lost it.

So.

1) Steve - you seem to take a little joy in the fact that these writers aren't getting whatever every other prime time writer in hollywood gets. Try a spoonful of sugar.

2) I think these writers will win. I hope they do. Who the hell here is rooting for a large, multinational entertainment corp over individuals, anyway? How bitter is that?
But I also know it doesn't affect any of us. Their win is theirs. It's not like it will spill over to TAG writers.

3) The problem is that basic cable animation writers have no voice in the WGA, and we're a squeaky, tiny voice within IATSE as a whole. Until IATSE is willing to throw it's entire union at the studios to give writers what they get in any other position, it's not going to happen. In one union, we have no voice. In ours, we're not heard. Kinda blows.

4) If the SDSU writers do get the WGA minimums, would IATSE be willing to fight for that? Would they see it as unfair and bring it up during their negotiations? Math would need to be created so that board artists were compensated as well - especially for shows done in the model of Spongebob and Phinneas and Ferb - but it can be done.
My feeling? Probably not, based on nothing more than proportion.

So, I hope the SDSU writers get every dime they're looking for. Wishing otherwise is rooted in pettiness. But lets be honest - this is their fight and unless IATSE is watching to see if the bar can be raised it has no more meaning to anyone.

- Steve

Kevin Koch said...

To the poster way up there, Local 790 isn't a 'closed shop' union. They have a roster system, which is different. I agree that it's not a fair system, and that it's hard as hell for 839 board artists to get 790 gigs, but we don't have much say about it.

Anonymous said...

I could be wrong, but my impression is that it's not that they're not receptive, but rather they don't feel they have the leverage to provide the desired results for writers.

But the problem is they never will get that leverage because the writers are just a minority within another group that too often actively despises them and would never agree to strike over writer-issue contract deficiencies.

So what's the solution?

Kevin Koch said...

... if one union becomes the universal preferred one for that class of workers, the other should magnanimously step aside for the benefit of that class of workers.

Federal law doesn't work that way. Also, the companies that are signed to the union contracts have a say. It doesn't happen because it cannot happen. Begin magnanimous has nothing to do with it.

Wouldn't the magnanimous thing to do at this point be for IATSE to stop representing writers in future contracts?

This the IA/TAG could do. The question is, would this really be the best thing for the majority of writers working in animation?

Ask yourself, what progress has the WGA made in coving the animated shows out there that AREN'T covered by TAG? Except for the Fox prime-time shows, they've had little success. Not because they haven't wanted to, not because many of the writers haven't wanted them to, but because the studios have to actually sign off on these agreements. It's not nearly as easy as you imagine.

There is a knee-jerk assumption among many that, if the bad-ol' IATSE and TAG were out of the way, the WGA would cover all of animation. I think what is more likely is that a whole lot more animation writers would find themselves without health or pension or union protections of any kind.

Take a look at one of the very few animated cable shows the WGA has signed recently -- Class of 3000. Did you notice how the WGA kept quiet about this accomplishment? Even though President Verrone wrote for the show? Apparently, that WGA contract contained no residuals and lower minimums. It's simply not that easy to organize a production under standard WGA terms.

I have little doubt that if TAG gave up representing writers that in the years to come only a tiny handful of animation writers would be covered under standard WGA terms and conditions. I have no way of knowing for sure, but there's a pretty clear track record over the last dozen years that supports this idea.

Of course, then there's also the fact that this discussion ignores story artists, whose contributions to the writing of animated shows is often substantial, to say the least.

hoopcooper said...

Kevin!

Perfect segue. Tell us more about Class of 3000! The minimums are lower...residuals are a deal breaker...so what did the writers get under their guild deal?

I bet I know. I bet they got their pension paid into. That's the main thing writers care about. Even those of us who love animation work (despite being hated and underrepresented) hate doing it because it's just another paycheck that doesn't count toward our pension. And God forbid you're not vested...taking too many animation jobs would deny you that permanent payout when you're old.

So that's what we love, and what we fight for...and what we aren't paying into when we're working for IA. And, correct me if I'm wrong...but what the writers kept hold of when they got their WGA deal from Tommy Lynch et al.

Am I right?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response, Kevin. You may very well be right that animation writers would end up with no benefits whatsover in that scenario if they were ultimately unsuccessful in their bid to become WGA. I suppose it would come down to their leverage and if they all stuck together. Perhaps too tall an order right now.

Still, it would be nice though if there was more union cooperation and less turf wars. And more creative thought on how to move things forward one way or another. For me it's not about IA/TAG being bad and WGA being good. It's simply who can deliver the best results for which specific group of people, and how can we collectively accomplish results. I'm for all creatives being able to share in the success and profit of their work and wish there was more cooperation within all Hollywood unions instead of all the petty fighting that seems to always crop up. I'm not saying that's your fault. I'm just saying it's sad. There must be a way to move the ball forward. Let's find it.

Anonymous said...

It's not so much that artists in IATSE 'hate' writers working in animation. But there is an enormous built up resentment for the way animated content is budgeted, produced, and, if successful - rewarded. 99% of the issue would be resolved if artists retained more significant creative control over the artform, instead of having to abdicate the control to the writer/producer model that was lifted from live action television and imposed upon animation, for better or worse.

The artist director/producer model works more effectively in animation, and offers more opportunity for artists to advance to director and producer level, which translates into more employment security for artists. (I would suggest it would also cut down on the illegal types of 'test-taking' that artists are required to perform to land a job - a writer/producer animation show sin of sins.)

Major issues that the WGA fights for directly relate to creative control, and they are all very hotly debated issues within their ranks. Credits, residuals, separated rights. These negotiations translate into writers having greater creative control over the written artform, which in turn supports writers and their protection in all of their work-for-hire contracts.

Unfortunately for TAG, IATSE is not historically cut from that stone (is copyright law a class that is going to foot the bill for?), so artists enter the production chain from an already de-valued position. TV animation suffers the most from this lack of control, but the same issues do happen on animated films (they are swept under the rug quickly or, more often than not, compensated for with bonus checks when success comes knocking. Something, ANYTHING, that resembles a residual check keeps artists cool with the status quo.)

I'd suggest that WGA, SAG, and DGA, in addition to negotiating gains in financial compensation, all support their membership in trying to retain and protect the creative content their members contribute to a production - DESPITE the content's designation as work-for-hire. Hence, writers and actors have more potential to evolve, over time, into directors and producers by the leverage produced by these creative and financial gains. But not a single one of them have any interest in gains for people who draw. Fair enough. Why should they?

Of course, Pixar breaks the mold for all of the above, and blossoms in the absence of this bickering. Now why is that?

Kevin Koch said...

Tell us more about Class of 3000!

I don't know any specifics, I'm afraid.

Even those of us who love animation work (despite being hated and underrepresented)...

Two mistakes here. First about being hated. The vast majority of 839 members don't hate writers. That's a fact I know from talking with many hundreds of our members.

Second, how are writers underrepresented? There are 4 on the exec board. For as long as I've been President, there have been at least two. The last several negotiating committees have included 2-3 writers, and a few cycles ago virtually the entire negotiating committee were writers. And the gains that TAG has made for writers over the last few contracts has been proportionally greater than the gains that have been made of non-writers.

... hate doing it because it's just another paycheck that doesn't count toward our pension.

If you're working on a TAG show, you're getting pension contributions (into two separate IA pensions). Yes, it's a different pension plan than the WGA, but it's a pretty fine plan nonetheless.

hoopcooper said...

kevin,

apologies...all I'd heard of on the TAG side was a 401k program. I didn't know we had a pension we were vesting in. What is the company contribution?

Yes, and what I mean by under-represented is that in a union (even the subset of Cartoonists) are they going to walk out for binding credit arbitration?

As far as pensions go... considering you say there is a pension fund that companies are paying into on the TAG side...I AM JUST TALKING ABOUT the economic problems with bouncing between two separate funds...and possibly never being vested in either.

But thanks for the clarification. Sorry...I just didn't know about our access to the IA pensions. Can you steer me toward a site that can explain it?

Hoop

Kevin Koch said...

Regarding the TAG pension specifics, Steve and I have posted a bunch of times here about them. Do a quick search and you should find some of that info. Since it's been a while, maybe I can induce Steve into doing a new post summarizing the two pensions TAG members get in addition to the 401(k). ;)

As for the credit arbitration system, some serious efforts were made towards that a few years ago. The companies just made it a huge PITA, and it died a slow death. I don't recall the details, but maybe Steve can address that as well.

Regarding vesting, the Individual Account Plan (one of the two TAG pensions) vests after a single year (400 hours worked). The Defined Benefit Plan (the second of the two) vests after 5 'qualified' years (a qualified year is a calendar year with a minimum of 400 hours worked). The five years don't have to be consecutive, though if there are significant breaks in service before the 5 years, then some of the credited years can be lost.

Regarding representation, you might also want to ask this question: in the WGA, are the other writers going to walk out for binding credit arbitration for animated TV shows? During the last strike I read a fair number of WGA member's comments indicating they weren't keen on striking for either reality TV or animation jurisdiction.

hoopcooper said...

Thanks for the info...already reading the pdf's on the pension.

And as far as your representation question, your point is well made...but in the end what you're saying is "It may not seem like we're behind you, but either are they."

As a writer/creator/producer the two choices I see for cartoon writers is to either make their brothers and sisters in the Guild feel some investment in our future, or work to bring writers and artists working in animation onto the same page in terms of their creative investment in the shows we produce.

As much as I love the WGA and what they've done for me over and over and over again in terms of tracking down money (sometimes after years) and securing credits and protecting me from producers. I think it's going to be easier, on a show by show basis to create a world where animation drawing and writing aren't an either/or...win/lose...us/them issue.

Thanks for the patience and the insight.

Too many years at a bad studio left me battered.

Anonymous said...

Take a look at one of the very few animated cable shows the WGA has signed recently -- Class of 3000. Did you notice how the WGA kept quiet about this accomplishment? Even though President Verrone wrote for the show?

Another Cartoon Network show, Out of Jimmy's Head, also has a WGA contract.

Anonymous said...

Can the WGA pull out of a contract on a project if it turns out as awful as Jimmys head?

Steve Hulett said...

Steve - you seem to take a little joy in the fact that these writers aren't getting whatever every other prime time writer in hollywood gets. Try a spoonful of sugar.

Mr. Marmel. Can you point me to where I take this joy? Because I missed it.

I've said I hope the writers get terms that satisfy them. I've said that maybe somebody who couldn't deliver "sold the Sony Adelaide writers a bill of goods." I've said if they're not happy with their overall deals, they have every right to walk. (Based on what I know, I'm against Sony suing them.)

And I laid out the writers' problems, and that maybe they should have gotten something in writing before they assumed that some corporate functionary was giving them corporate Gospel. (Is that taking "a little joy"?)

I also laid out the facts of the situation: Sony Adelaide has a TAG contract, and has for the last dozen years. WGA has none. It isn't enough for Mr. Verrone to say, "Well, the writers there want a WGA deal." Federal regulations and a contract already in place get in the way. (No joy here, just the facts.)

But please. Instruct me on what kind of sugar I'm not spooning out that I should be spooning out.

And please detail what I've said that is so sour and offensive toward writers. Since I spent a dozen years of my life writing animation, and since I get regularly accused -- directly or indirectly -- of being "anti-writer," I'm eager to know.

Your pal,

Steve Hulett

Steve Hulett said...

Is there already a forum on-line for animation writers to voice their specific concerns regarding contracts/payment/etc?

For instance, do we already have binding arbitration for credits?


Steve Marmel (directly above) has an animation writers blog I think it's www.animationwriters.blogspot.com . I could be wrong.

TAG has binding credit arbitration, and in fact we've run binding credit arbitrations and filed grievances over the issue. Understand that TAG's credit arbitration procedure is considerably different than the WGA's, but it's there.

You can find a t.v. credit manual (negotiated in 2000) at our website: www.animationguild.org/_Contract/contract_pdf/CreditProcedure.pdf

Because the IA residual structure is way different than the WGA's, this short manual hasn't been used.

hoopcooper said...

Is Steve's blog associated with the cartoonists union? It that our venue for discussing inequities, goals, ideas and ideals?

If so...I'll start hanging out there and see how it goes.

thanks again for the insight, and let me say for the record, I know that the more vitriolic statements I see on this blog about writers and our dubious contributions to animation don't represent the bulk of artists.

I would call most of the time I spent in animation production a solid creative success...because of collaboration between writers and artists. You wouldn't know it was so common, reading this blog...but at least in my experience...it's what makes good cartoons good.

more later,
hoop

Kevin Koch said...

Hoop, Steve Marmel's blog is his own thing, with a focus on the issues of animation writers. This is the only blog that's specifically associated with the Animation Guild, though, as the disclaimer to the side notes, it "does not necessarily represent the official position of the Animation Guild."

Guild membership meetings are a choice place to discuss inequities, goals, ideas and ideals, especially before and after the meetings (the meetings themselves follow Robert's Rules of Order, in which there's really no venue for discussion disconnected from specific motions, though some of this does take place).

Steve Hulett said...

Is Steve's blog associated with the cartoonists union?

No, it's his own, so far as I know.

One more thought: I was elected to this job several months after I was laid off from a staff-writing job at Filmation. I have never felt any animosity from artists because I spent the 1970s and 1980s as a writer of cartoons.

Few artists, and I know thousands, dislike writers. (There is, of course, a noisy minority that does, but that's the minority's problem.)

And so that everybody is clear: My purpose with this and the preceding post was to lay out the way things in the industry are. Not the way I want them to be.

The only party who's annoyed me is Ms. Finke and her slanted screeds. Ms. Finke is, to my mind, blind to the actual workings of the industry, and opts to view things through her own rose-colored, fantasy prism. Sadly, she has numerous fans who enjoy looking through it with her.

Steve said...

Hey;

You're welcome to pop over. It's http://animationwriters.blogspot.com and, I'll be honest, it goes through spurts of activity based on how busy I am.

Right now, I have time for bursts.

Steve H. - I think Nikki Finke is great. Variety, Hollywood Reporter, the LA Times... their coverage of the writer's strike was (in my opinion) abysmally slanted toward the studios.

I can't cite right now - I'm simply remembering how I felt when I read their 'blogs or dead trees.

When I hear complaints about her, it feels like I'm listening to Republicans complaining about Keith Olbermann after so many years of Fox News.

One person's slant is another person's fair and balanced, I suppose.

Anonymous said...

The difference is that while Olbermann might be slanted he doesn't make things up - unlike Finke.

Anonymous said...

It's telling when someone as biased and self serving as Finke is seen as "great" and fair minded. Much as I may love it when she disses "moguls" (a word she's obsessed with), she becomes ludicrous when she rags on the LA Times for "editorializing" news while she's shilling for her partisan interests and delivering gossip that tends towards libel.

No wonder some writers can read Hulett's incredibly even-handed statements as "anti-writer." Some writers have such a chip on their shoulders that only constant ass kissing and fantasy "reporting" like Finke delivers is acceptable.

Steve Hulett said...

I think Nikki Finke is great. Variety, Hollywood Reporter, the LA Times... their coverage of the writer's strike was (in my opinion) abysmally slanted toward the studios.

Nikki is fine ... when she acts like a reporter.

But as I say up above in a newer post, too often she is little more than a propagandist, and as bad at getting at the full, actual story as the trade papers are.

Anonymous said...

I can certainly see calling her on slandering IATSE here, which you absolutely should and have done.

But as far as the issue of who told what to who, which is THE key point in this case as far as I'm concerned, it turns out Nikke was right. The regular trades, which initially reported (as if it were the truth) that Sony didn't tell the writers anything about it going to be WGA, now finally are reporting that Sony execs were telling the writers it was going to be WGA.

The IATSE slander portion of her "reporting" needed calling out, which you've just done. But ultimately that's a side show as far as I'm concerned. The key part of the case for me is Sony lying to the writers. Kudos to the writers for talking with their feet. Too many of us are so beaten down by big companies at this point that we're actually putting the blame on the writers for being naive. We excuse illegal business practice as just being business. That's just what businessmen do, so it must be okay. The focus of this case, and I think we agree, should be on bad Sony business practices, nothing else.

Steve Hulett said...

The IATSE slander portion of her "reporting" needed calling out, which you've just done. But ultimately that's a side show as far as I'm concerned. The key part of the case for me is Sony lying to the writers.

So we're reversed on that. Getting labeled a shill for Sony is the Center Ring for me.

But as to the corporate lies, we're agreed on that. Sony should have been up-front, told writers the work was IA, and allowed the chips to fall in their own pattern.

hoopcooper said...

I agree completely with the last post. The information coming from the trades is woefully slanted.

And it's true, Nikki doesn't like IA. But when you're a big union like IA you're going to take some hits. Look at the Teamsters. They were good-guys in the Writers' strike, supporting the writers, at least partially because their rivals IA didn't. They've taken plenty of hits in the media over the past half-century as well.

If you're outspoken you're going to take some hits. The WGA took plenty...just not from Nikki Finke, right?

hoopcooper said...

let me just add this...

The WGA was started by lefties, IATSE bears some responsibility for the Blacklist...that's all true. But give me Patrick Verone with his tacky suits or Tom Short with his burning cigarettes before I have to read Nicki Finke write "Toldja!" again.

Anonymous said...

Look at the Teamsters. They were good-guys in the Writers' strike, supporting the writers, at least partially because their rivals IA didn't.

Wrong on one score, and partly wrong on two others. What the Teamsters did had absolutely nothing to do with the IA. They just did what Teamsters do.

Second, the Teamsters and the IA are hardly rivals. Yes, each has stepped on the other's toes in the past, but it's never been anything like the bitterness between, say, the WGA and the DGA. Teamsters and IA members have honored each other's picket lines in the past, and likely will in the future.

And third, the "support" the Teamsters gave in the WGA strike was a lot more superficial than most people acknowledge. They made public pronouncements, parked a few trucks in the middle of the road by prominent studio gates, but by and large did their usual deliveries (mostly because the WGA specifically timed their pickets to NOT hamper Teamster drivers).

Once again, don't always believe the slogans and spin.

hoopcooper said...

I appreciated the Teamster's support when I was on the line. It did a lot to counteract the obscenities shouted by IA members as they roared into the lot.

I did meet some teamsters when I was handing out leaflets at 5:30 in the morning who felt very strongly that IA had taken control of a lot of crafts the Teamsters thought they should be covering.

So, my opinions may be misguided, but I came by them honestly.

Good to hear that IA and Teamsters honor each other's pickets. I appreciate the correction.

Steve Hulett said...

Hoopster:

Just so you know, I picketed with the WGA multiple times during the strike, at Warners and Universal.

I know what it's like to watch studio people crossing your line. I saw IA people, WGA, SAG, DGA people did it during TAG's strike in the eighties.

Never thrilling.

Anonymous said...

Pardon me Ted,
But you're an ASSHOLE!

Signed,
An "overpaid" animation artist

hoopcooper said...

Who's Ted?

And I've never met an overpaid animation artist.

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