Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mad As Hell ..

There is a good reason for you to be pissed if you're a visual effects artist. Its not bad enough that you have to worry about runaway productions, or if you'll be paid for the extra time you're putting in. Now, you have to wonder if your current employer is making an extra effort to keep you from a better wage or job at another company.

VFX Soldier commented on the recent discovery on the agreement between Pixar and ILM. He broke down the agreement as such:

According to the investigation, Pixar was the company that actually drafted the agreement and presented it to Lucasfilm no later than 2005.

They illegally agreed to 3 things:

  1. No cold calling of each other’s employees.
  2. Notification when making an offer to an employee of the other firm.
  3. No counteroffer above the initial offer when offering a position to the other company’s employee.
Both companies made management and select employees with hiring or recruiting responsibilities aware to follow this agreement.

Steve Hulett also posted on the matter in our little forum. In the comments, I posted that there's been little to no reaction to this from the press or community. While I was corrected there by a friendly anonymous commenter, I still feel less than satisfied by the community reaction.

To be clear, these companies agreed to not attempt to poach each others artist pools in order to keep operating costs down. They understood that if they were to try to take each others talent, the leverage would be in the hands of the artist. A savvy person would be able to use ILMs offer against Pixar and get more money. In their best interest, they COLLUDED to keep that leverage to themselves.

As Soldier points out, both companies got off with a relative slap on the wrist. While it was nice to see a couple of comments on Steve's post that seemed to mirror my strong feelings, I expected a bit more of an outcry from those whose collective bottoms have just been intruded upon so blatantly. Maybe my posts on Fear and Complacency have been right on target.


Steve Hulett said...

This shouldn't surprise anyone. It's what companies do. In my experience, this comes under the corporate heading of: "It's just business."

I'll be talking to TAG's attorney next week and see what we can do to get involved with this.

Anonymous said...

Hey Steve, that's real nice ... but when ILM's rank-and-file approached TAG about having them represent them, after years of sub-standard representation by IATSE Local #16, TAG told them to go fry ...

Seems a little hypocritical to get bent out of shape about this when you had a chance to represent the ILM artists over a year ago and walked away.

Steve Kaplan said...

Anon -

While Steve can answer the specifics best, allow me to chime in now so as not to leave this unanswered for too long (it *is* Christmas eve after all).

The ILM contract was held by the IA and not 839. It would have been the IA that assigned Local 16 the honorable task of representing the talented artists of ILM. From the stories I've been told, the artists weren't well served.

If anyone approached 839 with issues, Steve would have done all he could to rectify those problems. But, the end result would have had to lay with FX Crowley or then President Tom Short. Steve's hands would have been tied in the scope of what types of change he could effect.

Anonymous said...

The past is the past. Perhaps the issue with the IA should be reopened and another attempt at 839 representation of Lucas employees should be made. The legal judgment could inspire more involvement from the employees.

Anonymous said...

Prior to Disney owning Pixar, this was also the case between the two companies. Due to the distribution deal, there may be some obscure legal reason whey they shouldn't poach, but when I heard about it at the time, it sure sounded suspicious.

Steve Hulett said...

Hey Steve, that's real nice ... but when ILM's rank-and-file approached TAG about having them represent them, after years of sub-standard representation by IATSE Local #16, TAG told them to go fry ...

For the record, totally untrue.

We were approached by 2-3 individuals over eight months about organizing ILM (this was when Local 16 was pulling out) and encouraged people to sign cards.

What I explained was: the contract would be held under the IA, since our jurisdiction is Southern California only. But we would represent artists and techys under the IA.

Always happy to give it another go. Contact us at

(818) 845-7500

We are ready, willing and able.

Anonymous said...

As Steve says, it is pretty common. I worked at two different studios where I was informed that due to talent or execs having come to my studio from studio X, we could not "hire away" talent from studio X by offering better pay than studio X. I was told it would not be "fair" to studio X. As one exec told me, it would be like "competing with yourself".

rufus said...

Should'nt we expect more from the Department of Justice?!?



Anonymous said...

Steve and Steve, please stay on top of this issue of collusion, and keep beating the drum. It's new information to a lot of animators, and it's going to take some time to sink in.

I don't have any doubt this is the tip of the iceberg. I know for a fact that DreamWorks and Warner Bros. shared employee information and had an explicit non-compete agreement when Warners still had a feature animation division. I sat in meetings at DreamWorks where production people had lists of Warners animators, their positions, their salaries, and who Warners deemed worthy of rehire.

I was also recently told (just before this Justice Dept. case broke) by a producer at DreamWorks that they have a 'gentlemen's agreement' with Pixar that matches the agreement between ILM and Pixar.

It's not an accident that gross wages have been stagnant or gone down over the last ten years. Even as these companies have competed at the box office, they've made sure to treat the people making the monster hit films as indentured servants. When you factor in inflation and the amount of unpaid overtime that goes on, most of the working pros I know have seen their incomes shrink to about two thirds of what it was not long ago.

Anonymous said...

I can also second the comment about Dreamworks. They've been doing it for years with other companies, such as Disney and Pixar, and will continue to do it. Its part of their policy, and standard practice.

Anonymous said...

I had a conversation with a manager over at Imageworks when I was there who pretty much told me that they had agreements with R&H, DreamWorks, DD, ILM and everyone else that they would call to let the studio know that they were talking to one of their artists and that they'd not get into a bidding war if it came to that. I was told by her that was perfectly legal and was the way things were to be done.

Steve Kaplan said...

Perfectly legal? Apparently not according to the DOJ. A reason for all vfx artists to want a contract in place that they have a voice in creating and changing? I certainly think so.

Sign a repcard and Let the DOJ know what you think.

Anonymous said...

On a somewhat related note, there is a recruiter out there at a studio (whose name rhymes with Boney Spamagejerks) that asks all of those whom he has hired to then recommend him on Linked-In. Granted this is a far cry from the shenanigans that Pixar/ILM were up to, but still its unsavory. Its this guys job to recruit for the studio to then ask artists to sing his praises is unsavory, no?

Anonymous said...

Would his name rhyme with Baron Bankenson? If so, yeah he added me as a contact on Linked-in and then hit me up with a request for a recommendation. Of course the way it works is then he is supposed to write one for me in return. I can only assume that he's still been working on it these last 2 years.

Anonymous said...

What's especially funny about bankenson is that he asks for the rec before you are signed and on board at spi, while you are still in negotiation. Classy!

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