Sunday, May 27, 2012

Constants ... and Change

On Friday I was contacted by an agent who complained:
"We have clients who turn in script drafts and don't get paid for for one, maybe two months. The studio tells them they won't pay until "it's been approved," and sometimes it doesn't get approved for weeks. ..."

This is a sad story, an outrageous story, but not new.

When I was a fresh-faced business agent barely two months on the job, a freelance storyboard artist phoned to say that she had done a production board for Disney TVA, turned it in two months before, and still hadn't been paid for the work, sixty days later. I told her I would contact Disney toute de suite and get the problem resolved. She said:

"That's great. But please don't give them my name."

The paranoia about getting on somebody's shit-list was in full swing, even in 1990.

So ... that's been a constant. What's also constant is t.v. animation facilities not paying for overtime unless they absolutely have to.

But here's what's changed: Some feature animation studios that paid overtime as a matter of course, now sometimes don't.

Back in '77 Disney Feature Animation was deep into production of Pete's Dragon. For the first time, the studio had committed to a hard-and-fast release date. They were locked into a holiday opening at Radio City Music Hall, and everybody who could hold a pencil and trace a line was busy animating and/or doing cleanup on the picture.

Pete Young, a buddy in the Disney story department, had begun his studio tenure as an effects in-betweener, and management, frantic to hit its release date, put him on Pete's Dragon seven days a week, paying him his story artist rate, and overtime on his story artist rate, the whole time he was in-betweening.

He loved it. In fact, one Monday morning he said to me:

"Don Duckwall [senior production exec] stuck his head in here on Sunday, and thanked me for all the time and hard work I've put in. When he thanked me, I was making triple time*. I smiled and told him, 'Happy to do it, Don.' In-betweens at triple time my story rate? I'm okay with that. ..."

Ah, but things are different here in the 21st century.

During production of the last hand-drawn feature, I got complaints from Disney Feature artists of lengthy hours, uncompensated overtime, and (of course) nobody wanting to rock the boat with a grievance.

(Understand, this isn't corporate policy here, but over-caffeinated production managers striving to score Brownie points with high-level execs by coming in under the budget. A stinky practice, nevertheless.)

The times, they have most certainly changed.

* In that far-off era of Jimmy Carter and wide-lapel suits, unions were a wee bit more dominant than now. Then, over-time rates were: double time after eight, triple time after fourteen elapsed, and triple time on Sundays. Today o.t. is time-and-a-half and double time. Of course, the wage gaps were way less in the 1970s.


Tim said...

I knew a producer on a short who got many animators to work unpaid overtime, then was praised at the release for bringing in the show under budget.

And remember, people, many producers contractually get bonuses for meeting deadline and budget constraints. When you work unpaid overtime, you are not only cutting yourself out of a heftier paycheck, you are padding someone else's.

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