Friday, April 23, 2010

A Tale of Two Animation Departments

I bopped through several cartoon plants this week, and here are two stories I picked up. They present kind of "Ying" and "Yang" situations, so I recount both of them here:

Story One: The late-working, under-compensated artists:

"Everybody in the department is working 'On Call'*. We've got tight schedules and nobody can make the deadlines without working late nights and coming into work Saturdays. Only nobody gets authorization to come in on Saturdays, so we work the Saturdays for free.

"And everybody is afraid of getting on [the producer's] shit list so nobody speaks up or rocks the boat. But the schedules are getting worse. A lot of us don't get to see families much. I don't know how much more we can take ..."

What do I do when I hear this? (And I've heard variations of this story for freaking years.) I offer to file grievances. Offer to come in on weekends and see who's working and take names, then file a grievance for non-compensation. ("Just call me up, and I'll drive over ...")

So far, nobody's taken me up on my proposal.

(I've also suggested that people work 5% or 8% over scale so they can't be "on call." Nobody has bit down on that one either. The artists tell me they'll be laid off at the end of the season if they do ...)

Story Two: The eight-hour per day crew.

"There's a lot of designers and board artists around here who get pressured with deadlines, get intimidated into working free overtime, and do work it for free.

"But not us. Everybody in our department has talked and has an understanding. And when a production manager comes around and says, 'The deadline's been moved up,' we politely say 'then you're authorizing overtime?' And if the production guy says no, we tell him, 'Sorry, we can't do it.'

"We've drawn that line and the production people know it. And we don't get hassled. But the people out in the other room? They get manipulated and pressured and work free o.t. all the time. But that's their problem ..."

Two different shows at two different studios (and of course I'm not going to name them, for obvious reasons.)

And two different groups of people with different approaches to dealing with management. Group #2 isn't afraid to draw a bright line in the sand and declare "no uncompensated o.t.," Group #1 is. I can't sit here and tell you that Group #1 is totally unjustified in their fear of possible layoffs if they don't "hit the deadline" without asking for authorized overtime, but I do know that their fear is overblown.

But what I believe to be true doesn't matter. I'm not the artist with his job on the line. And if everyone's perception is that they'll get canned if they don't falsify timecards and don't charge for the Saturday worktime, then that becomes the reality.

Everybody knuckles under, everybody keeps their head down and slaves away, and everyone is unhappy.

Sadly, I can't solve this fustercluck, because I can't guarantee that nothing bad will happen if people stop working for free. I can't take their fears away. I can't wave a magic wand and bend production managers to my will.

All I can do is be a squeaking wheel, nudge, cajole and stir the pot where it's stirrable, and try to convince people if they stop working long hours for free, the sky won't crash down. And I intend to go right on trying, because Mom always said I was the most trying son she had. And I don't want to disappoint Mom now.

* "On Call" is a clause in the TAG contract that's been there since way before my watch. It's basically a paragraph that creates semi-salaried positions for animation employees who don't have to be paid on an hourly basis under state or federal law. If the employee agrees to be "on call," and is more than 10% above minimum scale, they can work above and beyond an eight-hour workday without additional compensation. However, if they work a sixth or seventh workday (usually Saturday or Sunday), then they'll be paid "1 1/2 times one fifth of their minimum weekly rate."


Anonymous said...

The group that bands together are heros. It should be this way throughout the industry. Stop the upper-hands pushing their employees around. They are singling the artists out and fearing them into passitivity. Roar!

Anonymous said...

Fact is, if crew # 1 BANDED TOGETHER and refused to do free overtime the studio would have no choice but to change it's m.o.
They NEED this crew!! The artists are MUCH less dispensable than they are lead to believe..The show's one of THE biggest on a certain network which is making shit-loads of money..
But the banding together is the hard part.. everyone has to agree to it and DO it... If there's one defector, all bets are off.

Anonymous said...

A great example Steve.

The very essence of banding together into a union or a guild is to regulate professional practices. If everyone (I mean EVERYONE) in our industry (and I'm looking at you games animators) would agree to draw that line in the sand, stare the producers in the eye and NOT BLINK then we could in fact get things back to "normal".

Everyone's sick of this situation . Let's ALL collectively agree to change it by being like Group 2 who calmly and professionally ask "Ok, then you're authorizing overtime?" when asked to work on Saturday and when told that there is no OT authorized they all as a group reply :"Then no work on Saturday". Period. (and that's the law.)

We don't have to strike to make this point. Simply as a group stick rigorously to the guild contract and to state & federal labor law. Anyone who breaks ranks should be ostracized from the community. We are past the point of being "nice" and tolerant of those who wimp out when being manipulated by the studio owners and their lackeys .

Anonymous said...

In my head, I see these artists all watching Braveheart together and putting on some blue paint and drawing their line in the sand.

The post above is right we are not as expendable as they want us to believe. I hope this is just the beginning of the "PENCIL'S DOWN MOVEMENT." I would sign something if it went around.

This state has labor laws that protect us as well as the union contract. If you get canned for not working unpaid overtime, then I'm sure you have a case. And if you do get let go for not working for free then I say that is a blessing in disguise. I say file a grievance. We must show these producers we have a back bone and we are not like the artist in Korea or India who have no labor laws to protect them.

"Aye, fight and you may die. Run, and you'll live... at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin' to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take... OUR FREEDOM!"

-William Wallace

(sorry for all the Braveheart stuff. I just saw it again recently.)

Anonymous said...


You need to repost this entry every 2 weeks or so and let everyone have a chance to read this.

Anonymous said...

It'll be a great day when Crew #2 is the rule, not the exception.

jackshaocheng said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rufus said...

I want to be part of group 2....they rule!

In my experience, it is the recent graduates who engage in this working for free thing, for the most part.

How come we(them) don't value our own skills enough to react when we are forced to work for free? Tell the guy at the gas station to give you a free galon of gas, see what happens! Or ask your landlord to give you a free month, for "the love of it"...

Cause that's one of the lines we are fed time and time again...that we should do the ot for the love of it....makes me sick!!


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