Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Questions and Answers

So let me share actual recent questions I've been asked in the studios and on the phone, and the actual answers I've supplied.

(Happily, they're better than my "I've got no idea" of a couple of days ago ...)

How's the animation business holding up? (Often phrased as: "What's going on out there?")

The theatrical side is fairly robust, the t.v. side fairly depressed. The brighter area in television land is prime time animation. Fox owns the concept, and others are trying to get in on the act. But by and large, bread-and-butter kid cartoon shows are going through a rough patch because live-action has encroached on the usual ebb and flow of half-hour, animated product. Other studios are chasing the Disney model (live-action half hours), even though it's expensive. This has hurt staffing on the television side of animation.

The biggest gainers in animation have been on the theatrical side. DreamWorks animation was adding staff throughout 2008, also Image Movers Digital. The Disney Animation Studio laid off crew when Bolt ended, and will probably lay off traditional artists at the conclusion of Princess and the Frog, but staff will be increased as Rapunzel gets deeper into production ...

What do you do when your studio doesn't pick up your personal service contract, but wants to keep you on and renegotiate your wage increase to zero?

Studios have the right to exercise or not exercise contract options (that's why they're built into the initial deal). If they want to retain you but not pick up the option to extend, they're no doubt looking at market conditions and deciding that you will stay around ... even though you won't be getting that contractual wage bump.

My advice is: Seriously look around and see what other jobs and wages are out in the marketplace, and seriously consider taking one when you find it. And let your old employer -- the one that didn't pick up the option -- know that you'll be moving on if they don't match the newer job offer.

I suggest this approach because, if you're truly unhappy with the way you're being treated and want to be treated better, the only way you'll get what you want is by playing chicken ... and being willing to walk away from a deal you're not happy with. It's the only way you can negotiate with higher effectiveness. Having that willingness to say "no" is key. (And yeah, this could be tough to do in the present work/economic environment.)

My supervisor and I haven't been getting along. He doesn't think I'm a "team player." What do I do?

(My answer here ties in with the numerous other posts I've done on this subject; here is yet another version:)

Not what I did in the workplace.

When I worked at Disney, I was a feisty, stick-up-for-myself, mouthy kind of story guy. This was relatively okay under the regime that hired me, but wasn't okay under the regime that came in later. Sadly, I didn't get the memo about the rule change and so was shown the door.

One of the harder things to do in the studio environment is knowing the acceptable boundaries of behavior with your boss. After watching a lot of different studios for a long time, I've concluded there is no totally foolproof mode of behavior, but in general: 1) Don't contradict your supervisor in front of superiors, 2) Don't tell your supervisor "I told you so" when they turn out to be wrong and you turn out to be right, 3) Go the extra mile and be as agreeable as the law and your internal rheostat allows (and be sure your rheostat is properly adjusted for the reality in which you are working.)

My 401(k) has tanked. What do I do?

Stay at least partially in stocks. And wait for the market to rebound.

(Easy advice to give. Harder advice to follow.)

There is no super-great answer here. The market has already eaten it and is, as I write, moving up again. (And yeah, it might go down some more ... although I think it's far closer to the bottom than the top.)

There are no great pearls of wisdom to be given in this space. I'm far from an expert, but few if any financial advisors saw the stock market Tsunami coming, and fewer still know when the market will recoup its losses. (My guess is: a while.)

If you are young, you'll likely have time to recover from this fall off the cliff and should consider remaining in equities. If you are old and near retirement age, you should have been weighted in bonds going into this. If you weren't, calculate what you need to live on in retirement and develop a plan to claw your way there. Maybe it's working an extra three years, maybe it's taking Social Security earlier, maybe it's diversifying your reduced accounts. Whatever it is, develop a plan.

My general advice: Don't invest beyond the tolerance of your nervous system. And for heaven's sake, figure out the amount of punishment your nerves will tolerate.

Etcetera, etcetera. Now you know the kinds of questions I've been getting in the last few weeks and months. Also the accompanying answers.


Anonymous said...

My 401(k) has tanked. What do I do?

Stay out of anything remotely related to the greenback sitting in your pocket. And perhaps emigrate to Canada.

Anonymous said...

I just want to thank you so much for having this blog up here, there's a lot of very interesting and awesome advices/ posts around here. I happen to bump into it and found a lot of questions I had in mind being answered.

Thank you so much, I'm definitely keeping a tight watch on this blog. :)


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