Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Everybody Works For Conglomerates

Sometime back, I got into a discussion (some might call it a debate) with a bright-eyed young artist at one of our fine, non-signator studios. He told me:

"I don't want to work for one of those big studios, Steve. Give me the small place where I don't get the hassles. Where I can be less stressed. I make less money and the health care isn't as good, but I'm just not into being part of some giant company. It's not me."

He was working on a farmed-out show owned by one of the world's biggest entertainment conglomerates, getting short-changed in wages and health and pension benefits. I pointed this out. He shrugged ...

That was then. And this is 2010.

And nothing much is different. As I write, Neighbors From Hell is being jobbed by non-union Bento Box, even though NFH is owned by DreamWorks, Fox, and Turner Broadcasting (you'll note that we have a contract with that first name and the second two -- amazingly enough -- are parts of giant conglomerates.) And the non-union indie studio Wildbrain is busy with Peanuts and other shows controlled by conglomerates. And non-union Rough Draft is doing the Fox show Futurama.

Are we picking up a trend here?

All of this, of course, is perfectly legal, because the monster corporations that rule us have subsidiaries and subsidiaries of subsidiaries, so labor organizations have the challenging job of organizing one sub-group, and then another sub-group. (It's a like pursuing shape shifters on a familiar but slightly alien planet, hoping you'll get close enough with a net to actually trap and tame the damn things.)

Of late, we've gotten disgruntled phone calls from staffers at various indie places who, for some reason or other, have grown tired of getting shafted with lower wages and crappy benefits while working on big corporate shows. I tell them I'm happy to assist them with throwing off the shackles of low-ball compensation, but they will have to sign rep cards and do a bit of lifting of the piano from their end. Some are happy to do what it takes, while others are a little hesitant. I always tell everyone I understand the stress they're under, but I remind them:

We're ALL working for multi-national conglomerates. But some of us are doing it under union contracts, and some of us aren't. So some of us are getting screwed worse than others.

But that's the way life is in this fine, corporatist age through which we journey.


Randy V said...

It is pretty skeezy of the studios to treat some employees one way and others another. DreamWorks is sending the staff of NEIGHBORS FROM HELL a clear message that they are second class citizens. Those guys should sign the rep cards for their own good.

What about the independent studios like Blue Sky (owned by Fox?) and Laika? Are they in the union?

Anonymous said...

Blue Sky is not in the union. They've really shaped up lately too. Brand new facilities, more competitive pay, and they've always had healthcare benefits (no pension though, just 401k). And if you're a staff animator, the chances of you getting laid off are slim to none. (temps come and go)

Plus you get bonuses based on box office performance of the films, and for Ice Age, thats some decent coin.

But, you also crunch like mad, have to deal with slow rigs, its on the east coast, and the stories are just meh. But isnt that par for the course at most places?

Steve Hulett said...

TAG, at this point, has no jurisdiction of east coast studios.

Floyd Norman said...

Speaking of the glorious corporatist age we live in, the old "Disney liberals" used to tell what we had to look forward to.

Looks like that day has finally arrived. Well heeled corporations are hauling in the big bucks, and we're getting screwed. They saw it coming years ago.

Anonymous said...

I guess, what do you expect exactly? artists are the labor, supply and demand dictates your leverage. It's not all bad...DWA just moved up to #6 on the Forbes list of top places to work.

You could work at wholefoods, they have a salary cap that no employee may earn over 19 times the median wage, so execs would all be getting less that 1 mil a year. Maybe disney would go for something like that?

Justsayin' said...

Anonymous said...

Being an East coaster from birth I wish there were even more studios in that time zone. That is probably one of the greatest assets for Blue Sky is being outside of the Hollywood suit system. Pixar and Lucas have also benefitted from having their establishments outside of the committee film process of the L.A. studio system.

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