Sunday, December 06, 2009

Animation Writers and Residuals

Dave McNary of Variety writes of the Hatfields and McCoys-style feud that is the WGA vs. IATSE:

The WGA West recently told members it had processed $136 million in residuals on feature films last year, without mentioning that virtually none of that went to animation writers. Animation writing, unlike most other areas of Hollywood scripting, is a hodgepodge of union coverage and non-coverage that leaves writers with little leverage ...

Uh oh. McNary brings up the dread "l" word.

Because that's the crux of the matter. If you've got leverage, you can go someplace. If you don't have leverage, you're mired in the mud or sliding backward.

A little history: In the 1930s, Hollywood workers are divvied up between different unions and guilds. For whatever reason, the Screen Writers Guild doesn't organize animation writers, but the Screen Cartoonists Guild (not us) does.

In the 1950s, The Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists (later the Animation Guild) displaces the Screen Cartoonists Guild as the principle representative of animation workers.

Still no Writers Guild in the mix.

So let's skip ahead to the the 1990s. (Somewhere in there, the Writers Guild negotiates an agreement with the movie companies that they don't/won't cover animation. I'm told the WGA has been attempting to get the language out of their contract for the last ten or twenty years, with about the same success we've had negotiating WGA-style residuals.) In 1997, the WGA negotiates a prime-time animation agreement with Rupert Murdoch's Fox. Under that agreement, The Simpsons, King of the Hill, Family Guy, American Dad and others are under a contract that includes WGA-style "mail box" residuals.

Since then, the WGA has negotiated animation writers' contracts that include residuals and animation writers' contracts that don't. (I'm informed that the non-residual contracts are for non-primetime animation, but I'm not a student of WGA contracts, so they would know better than I would. Generally, they don't advertise their non-residual deals.)

Both the Screen Writers Guild and the Screen Cartoonists began proposing residuals in the 1940s. By the time residuals happened in 1961, the Screen Cartoonists Guild was mainly history, and the WGA and the IATSE (the "mother international" under which TAG operates) had achieved a residual package for the television shows and features they worked on. The WGA opted for residual checks that went straight into the pockets of members; the IATSE went for residuals flowing into its pension and health plans.

Whether you think this structure is fair or unfair, it's the reality. And it's the reality that TAG and other IATSE locals have operated under for half a century.

So where are we now?

The WGA shares jurisdiction on animation writing with the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which covers most feature work at terms that aren't as sweet as the guild's. And significant titles are produced without any union contract, such as Pixar's "Up" and Blue Sky's "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs."

Those two titles will probably eventually sell 5 million to 10 million DVD units. If writing were covered by the WGA, the scribes would receive about a nickel per unit in homevideo residuals, so a hit film would deliver as much as $500,000.

As far as I know, the WGA covers no feature work, even as WGA members write on Blue Sky and Pixar projects. Up until now, the WGA has apparently countenanced Guild members working on non-union animated projects, but I don't know if that will go on forever.

Tom Schulman, VP of the WGA West ... had ... suggested during his VP campaign that the guild enforce Working Rule 8, which bars members from working for non-signatory producers. Under Rule 8, the WGA can fine the member for the entire amount of compensation, but it has not taken that step yet on animation writing.

It would be interesting to see what develops if the WGA starts invoking Rule 8 with members who write non-union feature animation. If this were to happen, the scenarios I can envision would include:

1) WGA members not writing non-WGA feature animation and producers getting along without them (using more board artists as writers? Like in the old days?)

2) WGA members performing the work anyway and getting fined.

3) Producers signing an IA deal that included animation writing and WGA members writing under the union contract.

My position in all this is:

A) I'm a TAG-IATSE employee, and I organize for TAG-IATSE because that's one of the things I'm paid to do. I'm not paid to organize for the WGA (east or west), so I don't.

B) I want every animation worker -- designers, animators, board artists, tech directors and writers to make the most money they can. I'm a spread-the-wealth kind of guy.

C) I agree with WGA Veep Schulman when he says: "producers will resist signing a WGA deal when an IATSE deal is available." This has been true since 1997 (when the WGA finally got into the animation game), just as producers will resist an IA deal when a NABET deal is available, just as producers will resist a NABET deal when they can get the work done non-NABET for say, $9 per hour.

Lastly. I've no clue why the WGA refuses to talk to Dave McNary. He's a very nice man.


Gary said...

Fascinating article, and very well researched. It's shocking that this kind of thing goes on, but what is to be done?

Anonymous said...

Were the WGA to cover all animation, it would be far more difficult for IATSE members to develop creative control over their day job. It would be more 'just draw what we tell you and go home.' For what? So the writers can take home more mailbox money?


Steve Hulett said...

It's shocking that this kind of thing goes on, but what is to be done?

The WGA keeps organizing where it can, and TAG keeps organizing where it can.

Nobody has a lock on representing animation writers or anybody else. The IA has repped cartoon writers and story people for fifty-eight years next month. The WGA has represented cartoon writers for twelve years. Any non-represented work is fair game for either side to organize.

The way it works.

Randy V said...

Dear Anonymous.

Why would it be harder for IATSE members to develop creative control? Who has much creative control these days anyway? And why shouldn't the writers get "more mailbox money"? Where is that money going?

Directors get the same raw deal in animation too. If Shrek 2 had been directed under a DGA contract then those guys wouldn't have had to work again. They would have been deservedly rewarded financially. Don't forget, that residual money has to go to somebody. Why not the artists who MAKE the movies instead of moguls, executives and board members?

Thanks Local 839!

Anonymous said...

-Who has much creative control these days anyway?

? that statement is just useless. where do you work, in accounting?

the dga has been approached countless times about animation directors, and - surprise, surprise, just like the wga and sag - here it comes, wait for it, wait for it...they could give a crap.

and dw directors are compensated very well as employees of jk's.

thanks 839 haters! glad we could be the perfect scapegoat for the rest of LA labor's collective failures.

Randy V said...

Dear Anonymous,

Who do YOU think all that residual money should be going to then?

Anonymous said...

Okay, so you're not in accounting.
Is the TARP also some magical pile of money sitting in a room somewhere where Geithner sits and pays bills?

WGA's awful timing and failure to see beyond their own noses, and SAG's embarrassing behavior has set everyone back. They've lost their audience in LA. The people who are least able to survive these failed job actions, everyday 9-5 working folks, suffered most. If you ever want to do a case study on exactly how not to conduct collective bargaining, the last three years in this town would be it. IATSE has a reasonable and equitable system of compensation that works hard to spread out compensation for its members. Instead of bashing us for 'caving', perhaps our pattern bargaining partners could learn something about how to provide benefits evenly over a diverse range of talents. Why should people look to SAG or AFTRA or the WGA if what they see is nothing but disorganization, internal contempt, balkanization, and failure?

A labor organization should provide a platform for fair compensation among all participants in a production, whether they represent them or not. What's the point of leveraging yourself a bigger cut of the bread when you put the baker out of business in the process?

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