Monday, March 12, 2007

Does the cartoon professional who represents themself have a fool for a client?

No, this isn't about the union.

However, in the whole arena of "why do writers seem to get more respect" than animators (I put the word seem in there, pointing out that again, from my perspective, there is respect), I think the above question is valid.

Most writers have agents. Most animators don't.

When those of us with representation walk into a studio, by the time we've gotten there, we've had somebody besides us hammering the studio for the best deal, a clear delineation of our duties, our pay, our end dates... all the important stuff. In my mind, this gives us a few legs up at the start of our term of employment:

* At no point did we, personally, have to compromise with anyone for our jobs. We stayed out of it. We walk in knowing we got the best deal we could get, and weren't taken advantage of by past relationships.

* Our agents deal with the studio (or production company) - not the line producer. Which means you're not negotiating with the person that you're going to end up working for. It takes the "what if I push too hard" out of the equation.

* Having a lawyer that works in entertainment in conjunction with an animation agent, or an agent that does more than just animation, means you have somebody negotiating for you that treats the deal like a "television deal," not a "cartoon deal." That person isn't going to care about minimums, they're going to fight for what they believe you deserve. They're not going to settle for "the raise everybody else gets," they're going to push for what you want.

All of that, I think, adds up to that person walking into their first day of the job with momentum, respect and boundaries.

My point isn't that people who take jobs without an agent get screwed - only the person with the job can answer that. My point is, with representation, you're walking into a negotiation the same way a writer, a director, a producer or an executive producer, walks into that job.

Yes, an agent costs 10%. A lawyer costs 5% or, perhaps, an hourly fee. The question then becomes... is it worth it?

Again, I want to stress - this is not a slam at the union. Unions represent everyone (ideally), but they have to do so with minimums, and broad ones at that. I believe that you need someone in your corner that goes for the most you can get, not the least that's allowed.

But I also believe that person cannot be you.

Those are my thoughts. Yours?


Anonymous said...

Writters get paid x amount more then animators, on your salary that extra 10-5 % is peanuts. On an animators salary it is unimaginable.

Bob Harper said...

It ain't worth getting an agent as an artist until you become a unique or name talent (i.e. Glen Keane, Genndy Tartakosvki, Brad Bird).

When you are one of the thousands with similar skills, such as cleanup, revisionist, animation etc. You get the rate based on experience. The 10% fee would nullify anything an agent could get you in the realm of service work.

I have an agent for my shows that I have optioned. He is fantastic and couldn't see going into all of this without him.

He's let me know plainly that he wouldn't be much help in negotiating higher contracts for the service work that I already do.
The best he could do is look out for opportunities that pay more and let me know about them.

We do get the respect of being hired based on proven ability through our experience, portfolio and testing.

The problem is that many times artists get pigeoned-holed as only being able to do their task and couldn't possibly contribute to the creativity of the show or stories.

Luckily the production I'm on now has a very open-minded attitude to hearing creative ideas from those of us in the trenches.

Steve said...

For the record, we're not talking about some of the "below the line" people, not to take anything away from them or their contributions.

This is a discussion of writing, and writers - so to me, I think this discussion probably is relevant to story board artists, supervisors, directors... at that level or higher.

Those are the artists who within the process absolutely contribute to the writing of the cartoon beyond the script and, in some productions, write the show.

So, on a board driven show that would put the board artists and the outline writers on the same tier... and both, I think, should be represented accordingly.

That's my argument.

Debate from there?

Steve Schnier said...

Steve, I think you're absolutely right in your position that a writer is better off WITH an agent than without. A good agent can also find some "wiggle" room in a deal - finding extra money, or possibly even work on 'partnered' shows.

Eugene said...

It's a thought provoking theory, but in the world of features, all the writers have agents and they still feel mistreated, ignored, and used. Screenwriters frequently complain about the lack of respect. Similar situation in prime time television, except that there, it's not the writers, but the directors who complain about the lack of respect.

Both feature writers and television directors have agents (and a big union) behind them - but it doesn't prevent their contributions being downplayed to the point that they feel marginalized despite having an important part of the process.

Feature screenwriters are ignored when it comes to their creative input, they're mistreated by executives, they're expected to do free work, they're constantly replaced one after another, they find their work re-done by people who have no business changing it, they're even fired off projects that they helped create. I'm guessing all the animators can probably relate.

I don't know why that there always seems to be one valuable part of the creative process that gets thrown under the bus, whether it's the screenwriter, the television director, or the animator. But I don't think agents for animators would fix the problem. I just wish I knew what the fix was.

I love my agent. I just wish he would stop encouraging me to write screenplays...

Anonymous said...

I'm the first person to admit that artists do a lot of bitching for a lot of different reasons, but when it comes to matters like this their bitching is 100% justified.

What writers never seem to understand is that no one above the rank of director truly comprehends the degree that story artists contribute to the cartoon. Drawing all day is hard enough just by itself, but story artists nowadays wear a lot of hats that they shouldn't have to wear like layout artist, cleanup artist, in-betweener, story editor, etc. and yet they get paid significantly less than the most inexperienced writer.

Because of this fact, it's hard for artists to get representation because agents don't want clients who don't make them any money. Of course if you create a show then it's easy to get an agent, but until then they want nothing to do with you because the real money is representing writers.

Writers go on to become producers and that's where the real money is made. Artists aren't allowed to become producers in an industry that has embraced the notion that artists are all just cogs in a big machine but its the writers who are the creative fuel.

And whats frustrating is that no matter how many times you try to explain this to writers or the union or whoever they always just tell you to stop whining or change jobs or something (as if its that easy).

Bob Harper said...

The second anonymous expressed what I was trying to say in spite of the casting off of below the line talent. And for the record animators can add to story and character, especially when the boards are rough and many layouts are drawn at the size of a needle.

Agents can only afford to represent clients, who's income justifies the time and expenses of the agency. I had no luck finding an agent for my boarding or animating, only when I got optioned. Getting an agent is extremely tough, until you've proven yourself. Once you've done that, you become in demand and an agent can definitely help in some negotiations.

The reality is, I know more writers with agents than I do directors or board artists, who are all working in the industry, but can't get repped.

Marty said...

Excuse me, Anonymous? Artists aren't allowed to become producers? Don't tell that to Bruce Timm, Eric Radomsky, Glenn Murakami, Butch Hartman, Gendy Tarkofsky, Craig McCracken, John K., Alex Soto, Steve Hillenburg, Everett Peck, Matt Groening, Seth McFarlane, Bob Boyle, or Audu Paden. And those are just the ones I can name off the top of my head.

Steve said...

Marty: Agreed.

In fact, if you look at the pattern, most of the time, cartoons are created and owned by artists...

...who then staff producers and writers...

...It's a pyramid. And unless you're the top guy (or gal) on the totem pole, you have two options:

* Love what you do and make the most of it or...

* finding it untenable, work like hell to sell your own thing so you can run it the way you want, and soar or fall on your own efforts.

Hmm. Might be a good topic for a 'blog, actually...

Anonymous said...

Being new to the whole having an agent and what not, I can definitely tell a difference in the way people in the business deal with me--even people who knew me before, who worked with me before, even. And frankly, it's kind of nice. Not in a crazily narcissistic way, but it does feel like you're brining a tick more…presence to a meeting or an interview.

Also, outside endorsement helps. People always seem to respond better when someone else talks you up than when you talk yourself up. If I say "no, really, I'm a great writer." people are like "Okay. Well, maybe..." but if my agent says "no, really, she's a great writer. So says this agency!" people are like "Oh, she must be good. Someone else said so." I find this to be especially true with people who don't exactly know what makes for a good piece of writing. I would imagine the same would go for artists.

(this is aydrea, by the way. i just forgot my login info)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the blog. So...anyone know how an unknown but talented writer can find an agent...?