Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Bonus Thing

The trades have picked up Disney's bonus story.

Steve Hulett, business representative at IATSE Local 839, told The Hollywood Reporter that he has received complaints from animators who reported that Disney handed out bonuses to those currently working in the division -- whether or not they had worked on Frozen. A Disney Animation employee told THR that the bonuses arrived on Thursday, amounting to 10 weeks pay.

The complaints arrive at a time when visual effects and animation artists are fighting for better working conditions. Frozen is now the top-grossing animated film of all time, having surpassed $1.1 billion worldwide.

Hulett acknowledged that bonuses are discretionary, but added, "my issue is philosophical" and that it's "morally bankrupt" to not give the bonus to those who worked on the entire picture. ...

To be clear, Diz Co. can do what it wants with this. It's under no obligation to divide part of the cash flow up with employees or ex-employees. But it seems to me that to share some of the good fortune with the people who worked long hours on a tight schedule helping to make the movie a record-breaker is the most enlightened course to take.


Matthew said...

Good... Fuck e'm right in the Bad Press department, and see if they become any more charitable. The tightwads that they are.

Steve Hulett said...

Use the tools at hand, that's my philosophy.

Anonymous said...

Steve, these animators SIGNED UP as temps, knowing full well that they were 'run of picture' only, which excludes them from discretionary bonuses upon the completion of the film.

Trying to claim they were laid off against their will is a flat out lie. NO STAFF ANIMATOR was laid off. And to claim they are now owed a bonus (because of the success of the film) is changing the terms after the fact. Maybe if a movie does terribly, Disney should ask animators for a refund.

I'm sorry but they got paid good wages, good overtime pay, and now have Frozen on their demo reels. I dont feel sorry for them.

Anonymous said...

There is no such thing as a "staff animator" at Disney. I've worked there and the people who have been there for years will tell you that no one is really staff. Sure they tell people they want to keep them around but it doesnt really exist in terms of a contract. Steve's point is that you do good to those who helped you succeed and not act as if you dont owe them anything. Based off of average pay of an animator the checks would come in around $15,000 a person. Say they laid off 60 people, that would come to $90,000. I am thinking that the Diz can do that.

Anonymous said...

So...the animators who stay between projects are..what?

Steve Hulett said...

Steve, these animators SIGNED UP as temps, knowing full well that they were 'run of picture' only, which excludes them from discretionary bonuses upon the completion of the film.

Anonymous, there are only "daily hires" and "weekly hires" in the contract. Period. And per Ed Catmull, few employees work under Personal Service Contracts guaranteeing them a term of employment. Which makes most everybody at Walt Disney Animation Studios "week to week."

And yeah, many newer hires come on with the understanding that they are "production hires", but are you telling me the division won't hang on to individuals they deem to be outstanding?

I find that difficult to believe.

Disney can give bonuses (or not) to anyone it chooses, under any rules it chooses. Nobody disputes that. (I certainly don't.) But please don't give me this claptrap about how "the rules" prevent the studio from giving out bonuses to individuals who were hired to animate or tech direct "Frozen", or "Wreck-It Ralph" and then were let go. The studio makes the goddamn rules. And WDAS can certainly pay separated individuals if it chooses to, just as DreamWorks Animation has done in the past.

If you're going to come on here and shill for Disney management, fine and dandy, but your arguments are going to have to be stronger.

Anonymous said...

"So...the animators who stay between projects are..what?" Lucky to have a job.

Anonymous said...

Steve. How much more clear does it have to be? You're hired to do a job with the expectation and clarity that you are a production hire and will be released after your pre-ordained time, and are not obligated to receive a bonus. Both parties agreed to this. WHY is anyone upset or surprised when they dont receive a bonus after their release date? NO ONE is being deceiving. I'll call an injustice out when I see it, but this is clearly not it.

"but are you telling me the division won't hang on to individuals they deem to be outstanding?"

If people are kept (which didnt happen on Frozen, for what it's worth) they are promoted and kept as studio overhead, and are entitled to the bonus. How is this not fair? Thats not claptrap. What planet do you live on?

Steve Hulett said...

I know this is difficult, but I'll try yet again.

I don't dispute that the studio can designate any bonus recipients they want. There are no "obligations" here. WDAS doesn't have to hand out ANY bonuses. The company can hand out SOME bonuses. The company can hand out NO bonuses.

But here's where we part company. I've received more than a few complaints from laid-off Disney employees who felt they should have had bonuses. Their argument is that they worked on "Frozen" all the way through, and helped make it what it is, and deserve (in their minds) participation in the bonus pool. That's why this thread now exists: because multiple individuals who have worked on "Frozen" and other features believe (for some strange reason) they should have gotten the extra money.

And what you're telling me is, the studio has a written, distributed policy about who gets bonuses and who doesn't. And that it's all perfectly clear and these folks who have griped to me knew the deal going in, and they are essentially disgruntled malcontents who are lying to me.

Because that's what I glean from your statement above.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to hear the argument from their point of view. A released employee should still receive a bonus from their former employer 8 months after their release from duty, with no written document or even verbal agreement by both parties that they would be entitled to a bonus if a bonus should ever be offered to existing employees?

Steve Hulett said...

I'd love to hear the argument from their point of view.

Their argument to me was simple:

They worked long and hard on the picture, the picture's success was a major reason for WDAS's large bonuses, they feel they deserve to be part of that.

You (and the company) think otherwise, but that's their reasoning. I happen to find the reasons they give compelling, because without Frozen's huge success, there is likely no or minimal bonuses for anybody.

But, again. Diz Co. can award bonuses under any formula it wants. It has no obligation to give anything to anybody. I just happen to agree with Frozen crew members who received no bonus money that the formula was wrong.

Joel Fletcher said...

I think this has always been Disney policy, as far as layoff crew. However, considering that Frozen made a gazillion dollars, it is bad faith, bad business policy, and definitely bad karma to not reward ALL who participated in the creation of the film.

Unknown said...

I do not think anonymous comments should be accepted. Period.

Unknown said...

Well, it's the first time I've attempted to comment, and I didn't mean for the above to be "Unknown."

Gordon K

Steve Hulett said...

Gordon? Is that you? I thought you were making a humorous (ironical?) statement.

Mickey Mouse said...

One of my only questions to my interviewers before I was hired for Frozen was "Is there a chance that there will there be layoffs after this movie? I know there were a ton after Ralph." A legitimate question if one is moving their family to the area, considering schools and month-to-month vs yearlong lease agreements. What was expressed to me in the interview, along with most new hires whom I talked to was "No. We are interested in growing a team here. We're trying to get on a one picture per year schedule and once we get to a specific number of artists we won't be hiring anymore. We're invested in your future."

While there were more than several artists hired to work on Frozen for the temporary run of show, a handful of us, including myself, were hired as so-called staff artists ('at-will' employment, i guess). After a half-year of working Saturdays, a month before production wrapped, all artists (not just new hires) were called into review meetings where you essentially were told how you did and were told if you were being kept or not. This was fairly commonplace across most departments as far I know. I, along with a number of others, were laid off.

So.. no, it wasn't all temps that were laid off. And no, I wasn't surprised to not get a bonus. Disney is a shrewd corporate machine. They can do what they want.

Disney is great at promoting themselves and their products. It's their synergy. So when they started hiring for BH6 coming off the Frozen wave of awards, their recruiting events were large and grand and everything you expect from the magic of Disney. I wouldn't expect anything less.

All I can do and what others who've worked for the Mouse can do, is share our realistic experiences with our friends and colleagues, who think about possibly applying there. Ask around. Look beyond the glitz and glamour. There are both great pros and cons to working at this company.

If you want to work at a studio where you can move up quickly if you're both talented and well liked by the right people; if you want to work for a studio where animation is king; if you want to feel like you're close to the very history of the art form; if you want to contribute to something where your friends and family outside the industry stop and tell you that they loved the movie you worked on; if you don't want to spend summer family vacations with your family bc crunch is always in the summer; if you enjoy working on saturdays for 6 months out of the year; if you want to work in a place where you're not sure from film to film if you are talented or liked by the head of your dpt enough to stay employed; if you work well under constant pressure of possible job loss -- then this might be the job for you. it's certainly not for everyone.

mind you, this is how it was like in my department and from what i hear a couple other departments. some departments i hear, is nothing like this at all. like most jobs there is an inner circle of people who will always be safe. everyone else, good luck from film to film.

Steve Hulett said...

You're not alone, Mick. Here's a newer communication from a former WDAS employee:

I worked on Wreck-it Ralph and was let go after the production was finished, I then got called to return to work on Frozen.

For the artists that were let go after the production of Frozen, we feel like we are not even part of the most profitable animated movie in history, and to make matters worse, when I asked why I was not kept for BH6, their excuse was that the budget would not permit to keep as many artists.

The politics in that studio are beyond anything I have ever experienced in all my long work experience in this industry. ...

I just wanted to express my frustration with the situation and join my fellow laid off co workers who went through the same pain that many of us have gone through.

I don't think Disney will do anything about it, but I really want to thank you for bringing this issue into the light and exposing the situation to the general public.

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