Sunday, June 28, 2015

We Get Letters

... on animation directing.

As many know, the Animation Guild negotiates with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers for a new three-year contract.

We've had a lot of input from members regarding what the guild should propose, what issues it should focus on, what goals it should pursue. Below are the thoughts of a veteran timing director on the challenges faced by directors in the age of animatics: ...

... I was unable to attend the May 26th meeting but would like to make my comments regarding Freelance rates for Timing Directors.

I'm sure that many have heard of my personal displeasure at the fact that there has been no REAL change to this rate for more than 30 years. Some studios do pay a little higher than others, but not at anything that would come close to matching inflation over that 30 year period.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and their Consumer Price Index from 1984 to 2015 the US has had an average inflation rate of 2.75%. What this means is that the freelance rate of $3.00/ft paid in 1984 when adjusted for inflation to 2015 should be $6.95/ft. Given that studios use a formula of calculation that takes the gross figure of a freelancers invoice and divides it by one of the contract rates for that job description to determine hours and contributions, (sometimes it's Journeyman rate and sometimes it's Apprentice and sometimes it's inbetween ) as the annual contract rates increase the formula calculates less hours of contribution. All this means that freelance rates not only DO NOT keep up with inflation, but FEWER HOURS are credited and contributed to our individual accounts with pension and qualifying hours for medical, etc..

I understand the need of the studios to project costs for their projects. However to not make the necessary adjustments to their budgets is unconscionable. If the studios are not going to make the necessary changes to the footage rates we have, I think, 2 ways to explore:

1. Day rate ...... Freelancer and Line Producer/Producer make an advance agreement as to approximately how much footage can reasonably be expected to be done in an average day ( note: every project has "difficult" sequences and "simple" sequences ..... the Animation Timing Director and Producer will need to keep in close communication should any "difficult" issues arise that may compromise the situation for either studio or freelancer )

2. Continue with a Footage Rate....... however the footage rate MUST be raised to match inflation over the past 30 years and future footage rates MUST be tied to inflation. Calculations of gross invoice divided by hourly contract rates then become reasonable and definable by both parties.

Given the unpredictable nature of production schedules and the often frantic Production Manager mandated by their Executives to move things through an already late schedule...... freelancers are NEVER paid "overtime" to meet what is often a schedule that has been compromised long before the production pipeline brings things to the Animation Timing Directors.

It is long since time for the membership and TAG to get behind the dreadful situation that has made Freelance Animation Timing Direction an occupation that pays considerably less than the plumber who shows up at my house to rooter the main drain for a clog ( I do appreciate his skill set but as a Timing Director I may have a considerably more unique skill set ) ......and he gets DOUBLE time for a Sunday call! Perhaps it's my ego or sense of self worth that thinks that the unique skill set and creative contribution that Timing Directors give to a production should be valued as much or more than that plumber.

I generally suspect that there is a great deal of mystery surrounding Timing Direction, There should be a great effort to demystify that lack of view. When production for TV animation was first being organized, it was clear that people who had a great deal of experience actually animating or assistant animating, were the very talents needed to communicate to outsourced animation studios exactly what was required in terms of the artwork that should be produced. How many drawings and where and when in the time-line of the show they needed to be done, was a critical skill. Overseas studios could only project costs based on the count of how many drawings were likely to be needed and the domestic studios needed to maintain creative control over their properties. After all, these were the very properties and projects that were representing the studios and what they brought to the screen. Their reputations were invested in a quality product and that meant that experienced and talented people here were called upon to contribute to the process in a major way.

Over the years many Executives, Producers and Production people have lost the knowledge or foresight of what Animation Timing Direction contributes to the process. This is the point that the writing, design, voice talents, and the storyboard talents are supposed to come together into the final package to be delivered to the sub-contractor overseas….. with the expectation that the creative control has remained with the “parent” studio. Too often there are parts of the production process that have inexperienced or under qualified people in important decision making positions. Their lack of confidence in their own knowledge that they have hired the right creative people for the task at hand or their misguided desire to make creative changes that, while are seemingly incidental and of little or no cost to the budget or the schedule, have an extraordinary “domino” effect that compromises everything.

Another subject: (though not too far afield) Neither Editors or Storyboard Artists who have no animation experience should be “slugging” these productions (assembling a “Quick Time Movie” of the Episodes). Too often these Quick Times are done because there is someone in the production pipeline who cannot read a storyboard or understand that “too long or too short” on a panel in the Quick Time is more about communicating information to the artists and animators who will execute the work and not for someone who can not understand the real application of these Quick Times……a production tool and not an entertainment tool.

I’m sure that far too much of a production budget is spent on making these movies “pretty” and not the production tools they should be. As an Animation Timing Director I have frequently encountered scenes that are too long or too short. The “cutting” rhythm of a scene or sequences are awkward and often are contrary to the particular style of movement of any given character or “acting” moment. Slugging should be done by an Animation Timing Director ….. the editorial time saved in man hours will actually reduce that line-item cost and save the production money. We are all interested in reasonable costs for production. After all, if a show costs too much none of us work on it again because it is canceled…….

Key here is REASONABLE COSTS….. and they are based on a clear understanding of what is required of the process and the REASONABLE amount of time allocated to do those things. At any point when some part of the pipeline is delayed it cannot be expected that some other part will be required to make up that delay without increased costs or compromised production quality.


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