Sunday, April 25, 2010

On Overtime (Yet Again)

A comment from a half-week back:

I have never been shy about asking for OT. Unfortunately (for me,) these days, management has been just as eager to show me the door!

Is there really no cover from the GUILD for instances like these? I was a long term employee in one case as well as a *"short-timer" in the other[*within the 60 day "probationary period" afforded Producers under the guild contract.]

Here's the way it goes, at least in the time I've been doing this. (I can't speak to studio workplaces in, say, 1967. I was in high school then.):

Generally, few get laid off during production crunches for requesting authorization for overtime. They will get laid off at the end of the production crunch if they don't have the leverage to stay on. We'll define leverage as:

1) Skills the company really, really needs.

2) Everybody sticking together and drawing a bright line in the sand.

3) The company worrying about legal action by the employee, either through the union or through private lawsuit.

4) The employee having the protection from somebody in a higher position of power.

5) Market forces working in the employee's favor. (This ties in to Numero Uno up above.)

Here's what employees actually do when confronted with uncompensated o.t. (Beyond what I've already described here.)

They learn to cut corners and be more efficient. A director on a prime-time show told me:

"When the work-load gets crazed, I just start slamming through things. I don't linger over sections of the show to polish them, I just do what I think will get by and hope it gets past the producer. Most times it does. In fact, in a couple of instances I've gotten compliments ..."

From a board artist on a prime-time show:

"I've gotten faster as I've gone along, but there's still too much work for forty hours. But I found that I could get through my boards in forty if I came in right at nine, sat down and started drawing. And never stopped until lunch, and then never stopped until six. By the end of the week my brain was completely fried, but I could do the job in forty hours."

They quit. When there are other jobs out there, this is a viable option and I've known lots of animation employees who take it. Time demands vary from show to show and studio to studio. I've seen different series at the same shop with widely different work environments. The variances mostly come from A) budget and B) the honcho running the production.

They move to a different job classification. Here's one example:

"I was a board revisionist for two years. I worked forty hours, I got overtime when I needed it, no problem. Then they offered me a boarding position and I stupidly took it. I had a higher salary but I was on-call, and with the uncompensated o.t. I was making less money than I was as a board reviser. I've gone back to being a revisionist. It's less stressful, and I have a life."

There are no permanent solutions for the problems listed above and in the previous post. An issue will get "solved" for awhile, then it crops up someplace else. Studios are always trying to do production "cheaper, faster, better" but reality always intrudes to teach the lesson: "Not possible to have all three of those things together."

Bad systems of production will change over time. Good systems of production will change over time. This is because new executives will come into the mix and try and reinvent the wheel, even though the wheel needs no (or minimal) reinvention. It's crappy, but the way the real world works. If it were otherwise, Walt Disney Animation Studios would still be turning out mega-hits.

My job through all this as Your Humble Business Agent is to be an information gatherer and dispenser, a pot stirrer, and an enforcer of violated rules. Sometimes I'm effective, other times less so. The animation employees who end up with long and successful careers are:

1) The lucky. (They were in the right place at the right time with the right skill set.)

2) The hard-working. (They get the job done and work well with others.)

3) The politically savvy. (They know where the power centers are, know how to read the personality quirks of The Boss and The Immediate Supervisor, know how to negotiate the various shoals in the corporate river.)

4) The highly skilled. (They know Renderman backwards and forwards. They can draw like Rembrandt and Picasso combined. They can turn out fifteen feet of quality animation week in and week out. Etcetera.)

Like I always say, if you have one or two of the qualities above, you'll need less of the others.

Last thought: There are always forces outside your control that sabotage (or help) you. There's nothing you can do if the show you're on gets cancelled. Nothing you can do if the little job shop at which you've happily worked the last three years goes out of business. Stuff happens. All you can do is suck it up and move on.

So strive to move on with style, purpose and a light heart. It makes day-to-day living more bearable.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

>" I was making less money than I was as a board reviser. I've gone back to being a revisionist. It's less stressful, and I have a life."

Classic example of disincentive built into the system. Without animation directors having more creative and financial control over the production, this will never change. TAG could do more to negotiate better terms for animation directors. Otherwise, unpaid OT for artists will continue to blossom and people will be afraid to step forward.

Steve Hulett said...

Talked to a long-time director yesterday who opined:

"I worked for a studio that expected lots of free o.t. I refused to play. The studio didn't hassle me.

"But there are people at the studio who come in and work ever Saturday and Sunday, week after week. And the studio expect they'll do this, and dumps more work on them, and they do it.

"And they have dug themselves into a big hole. They tell me they don't know how to get out. I tell them, STOP."

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